From the AP in the Indianapolis Star:
Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold “failing” schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett’s education team frantically overhauled his signature “A-F” school grading system to improve the school’s marks.
Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan’s school received an “A,” despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a “C.”
No smoking gun as of yet, but the emails are pretty damning:
“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist.”
“This will be a HUGE problem for us,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012 email to Neal.
Neal fired back a few minutes later, “Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved.”
By Sept. 13, Gubera unveiled it was a 2.9, or a “C.”
When requested a status update Sept. 14, his staff alerted him that the new school grade, a 3.50, was painfully close to an “A.” Then-deputy chief of staff Marcie Brown wrote that the state might not be able to “legally” change the cutoff for an “A.”
“We can revise the rule,” Bennett responded.
Over the next week, his top staff worked arduously to get Christel House its “A.” By Sept. 21, Christel House had jumped to a 3.75. Gubera resigned shortly afterward.
I hope an investigation follows. It will be elucidating to see how the grade for this school could have jumped so much in just a few weeks, with no additional data. As Jeff Butts, superintendent of Wayne Township schools in Indianapolis, said, “That’s like parting the Red Sea to get numbers to move that significantly.”
As a pediatrician, and a Hoosier, this is incredibly concerning.