Tony Bennett’s “astonishing act of statistical chutzpa”

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Thursday’s resignation of Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett was a result of a suspicious grade change while Bennett was Indiana’s school chief.

Bennett, whose popularity was based mostly on his A-to-F grading system to promote accountability, was accused of changing the mark of a for a political donor’s charter school. Although the Associated Press discovered emails implicating him in the grade change, Bennett insists the charges are unfounded.

According to Jordan Ellenberg in Slate, Bennett has a “different” explanation for changing the “C” for the Christel House Academy to an “A.”  He was simply correcting a math error.

Ellenberg writes that Bennett’s account is “perfectly mathematical reasonable,” and it could get him off the hook, except for one thing — it appears to be completely false.

Bennett says the state system unfairly penalizes schools without grades 11 and 12, and those schools (13 in all) received a “zero” in those upper grade rankings. This created an “unusual grade configuration” that officials caught and “fixed.”

Unfortunately for Bennett’s version of the situation, the schools were already using weighted numbers, which take in account the two “missing” grade levels. Upon closer examination of the actual numbers used, the “unfair” zeros look more like a “complete fabrication.”

Since Christel was not technically a high school, Bennett asserted the formula used for high schools didn’t apply, and it was acceptable to change the grades as he saw fit. In essence, he completely ignored both ninth- and 10th graders at Christel who were not performing well. Bennett felt the school was good at what it does, regardless of the scores it received.

Ellenberg says that it was “an act of astonishing chutzpah.” Bennett should have stuck with the “C” for Christel and delivered some “tough love,” forcing them to accept the lower grade as an incentive to improve.

That is, in fact, what accountability in education means.

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.