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 theinspector 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 Floridas 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.