Tony Bennett Vindicated by Indiana Grade Change Report

By: Allison Nielsen | Posted: September 6, 2013 12:40 PM
Commissioner Tony Bennett


The controversial grade change of an Indiana charter school that ultimately led to former Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett's resignation is making headlines once again, as an Indiana investigative report has found the grade change to be "plausible" and "consistently applied" to all schools.

Bennett made headlines during the summer after the Associated Press got hold of emails between Bennett and his staff discussing the need to change the grade of a prominent charter school, Christel House. The high-performing charter school was founded by prominent GOP donor Christel DeHaan, who gave $2.8 million to the Republican Party since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett himself. 

The grade change quickly turned into a media frenzy, saying Bennett had made the grade change out of political influence from DeHaan. The former commissioner of education denied political motivation, but admitted he had changed the grade of the school. A few days later, Bennett resigned from his position at the Florida Department of Education.

Lawmakers in Indiana requested a closer look into the grade change. Christel House had originally earned a "C" grade, but then ultimately received an "A" based on the grading change, which Bennett said occurred due to an error in the grading formula. He also estimated that Christel House wasn't the only school that would have suffered without the grade change -- 12 or 13 other schools also benefited from the grade change.

Bennett denied any wrongdoing and seemed confident he had not made a mistake. He asked the inspector general in Indiana to investigate the case because he was "fearless what they [would] find."

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, both Republicans, hired outside investigators last month to determine the validity of the new "A" to "F" school rating system for the 2011-12 school year. What the investigators found in their report, released Friday, backed Bennett's claims and ultimately concluded that he had fairly applied the grade change. 

The report also noted that Bennett's staff was overburdened by developing the grades and noted there was a widespread distrust in the "A" to "F" grading system, but found Christel House did not receive any special treatment. 

"The effort to 'raise the Christel House grade' was, according to a wide range of testimony, both an attempt to save the credibility of the New Accountability Model and a desire to treat a recognized good school fairly," read the report. "Any further motivations underlying these actions are beyond the scope and documentation of this report."

Bennett arrived on Florida's scene last January and worked with the governor and legislators to overhaul Florida’s education system to prepare it for the new Common Core State Standards, which are expected to be fully implemented in Florida by the 2014-2015 school year. He was Florida's second commissioner of education to resign in two years.

Bennett said he found vindication through the report. 

“I am pleased with this vindication, not for me but for the work of my colleagues at the Department of Education and for the 1.1 million Indiana students who have benefited and will continue to benefit from a clear and rigorous school accountability system,” he said.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.

Comments (10)

1:35PM SEP 16TH 2013
Nothing Wrong Here!!! "Look the other direction" says dishonest Republican Party!
4:05PM SEP 7TH 2013
Bennett changed the rules because the grading system counted heavily on how many students graduted. If a school did not graduate anyone, it drastically lowered that school's score. The charter school in the center of all the noise did not have any graduating class as they had not been in existence for long enough. The grading system did not account for such circumstance.

That said, Bennet's support for Common Core is enough to give me relief that he is no longer in any control of FL's schools.
Tom Reynolds
12:44PM SEP 7TH 2013
Investigators hired by two Republicans ? Wow, I buy this story ! Like I buy Rick Scotts pleading the Fifth because he didn't steal more money from the US taxpayers then anybody else in history .
10:21AM SEP 7TH 2013
If you bother to read it, it does not clear him, just excuses him. As the report admits it did not do a complete investigation. More whitewash.
Caring Senior
8:23AM SEP 7TH 2013
I was always proud to watch Bennett in debates on the Florida Channel. His PASSION was a joy to watch. This creative personality has no room for political nonsense when children are at stake.!!
I am VERY glad about this, it was only a matter of time.
John in Cortez
7:36AM SEP 7TH 2013
I wonder if this information will appear anywhere in the Miami Herald, St. Pete Times or any other major newspaper in the state. I seriously doubt it. Most of them only publish information that throws a negative light on Governor Scott. I’m really glad I found the Sunshine State News.
5:49PM SEP 7TH 2013
Yes, vindicated . . . that's why the Indiana minority leader said about the Republican legislators' report: "The fact is people will never fully trust grades doled out by politicians for political purposes" . . . we will wait and see what the Investigator General's report has to say when it comes out . . . . perhaps it was all innocent . . . but just politically naïve . . .
Jeffery C.
2:04PM SEP 6TH 2013
Once again the Scott Administration forces a good person out before they have all the facts. Did it with Jennifer Carroll, Bennett and others. This is truly messed up.
3:55PM SEP 7TH 2013
The Scott admin did not "force" them out. Both Jeiinfer Carroll and Tony Bennett are honorable people who, realizing the cloud the controversy, justified or not, puts over the Governor and the State, resigned of their own volition. They were forced out, but it was by a news-media-lead smear job, not by the Scott admin.
12:52PM SEP 6TH 2013
Republican state Rick Scott still has pull there rick scott As IN gov. for A favor

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