In interview, Tony Bennett blames familiar adversaries in Indiana for grading controversy

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Florida education director Tony Bennett’s resignation has “taken the shine off” both his reputation and possibly the whole school reform movement, according to Scott Elliott in IndyStar.com.

Bennett had been an advocate of a number of key school reforms, with his reputation as a “national school reform rock star” highlighted by an A-to-F rating system.

Now all those efforts could derail after Associated Press reports surfaced that suggest manipulated grades in Bennett’s home state of Indiana, favoring charter schools run by a prominent Republican supporter.

When he was director of schools in Indiana, the piece accused Bennett of changing a “C” score for the K through 12 Christel House Academy. A series of emails showed that he felt the assessment would undermine the authority of the state’s accountability system, leading to a system readjustment that would have an impact on 12 schools.

As a result, the report claims Bennett pushed Christel House up to an A.

After the AP story, calls for resignation forced Bennett to leave the Florida education commissioner position he has held since last January. Although he maintains he did nothing wrong, Bennett said the decision to step down was so not to become a distraction for Gov. Rick Scott’s education agenda.

Bennett explained that isolated grades were a “particular problem” for the system, which is based on independent elementary, middle and high schools, unlike Christel, which serves K through 12.

Bennett is now calling for an investigation in the case. So is Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who called on Democratic leaders, unions and GOP donor Christel DeHaan, organizer of Christel House Academy.

Critics of the A-to-F grading system, including teacher unions, say the Bennett incident proves they were right about the program all along.

Now that he has been “twice deposed” as a state director of schools, Bennett tells reporters he will continue to work for school reform, saying there are other options for him to consider.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.