Archives for category: Indiana

Adam Wren at Indianapolis Monthly writes a compelling account of the search for the emails that embarrassed star “reformer” Tony Bennett and caused him to resign as Commissioner of Education in Florida.

As you may recall, Bennett was upset by Democratic educator Glenda Ritz in the fall elections in 2012, although he spent ten times as much as she.

Bennett was a superstar in the rightwing privatization movement and was quickly hired as state commissioner in Florida. But last summer, a treasure trove of emails were reported by AP investigative reporter Tom LoBianco, showing that Daniels had manipulated the A-F grading system to protect a charter school founded by one of his biggest campaign contributors. As a result of his largesse, the school received an A (the latest state report lowered its grade to an F).

But how did LoBianco get the emails?

That is the meat of this article.

What is fascinating, to me at least, is that the Bennett crowd cries foul because the emails were discovered, not because of what was said in them. They blame the Ritz team for leaking the emails, even though there is a law in Indiana that all official correspondence should be released on request. They think that once the damning emails were deleted, no one should have been able to find them. It’s not fair! they say.


Charter Schools USA took over some low-performing schools in Indiana, and its three schools are still low-performing.

The state paid out $30 million to five so-called “turnarounds,” but none has turned around.

The chief academic officer for Charter Schools USA, which operates Emma Donnan, Manual and Howe, says turnaround is not “a quick fix.”

“What is encouraging about our results as we’ve been tracking them,” Sherry Hage wrote in a statement, “is that while we may have received an ‘F,’ our schools are most definitely not failing any longer.

Ex-State Commissioner Tony Bennett’s wife works for Charter Schools USA.

The corporation donated to Bennett’s failed re-election campaign.




You remember Tony Bennett? Not the famous singer but the guy who was State Commissioner of education in Florida. The guy who led the effort to privatize public education in Indiana and led the charge for charter schools, vouchers, for-profit charters, virtual charters, high-stakes testing, the A-F grading system, and the elimination of collective bargaining rights for teachers. Remember that he was honored by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute as the leading “reformer” (translated, privatizers) of all state chiefs. He was also chair of Jeb Bush’s “Chiefs for Change,” composed of state superintendents who share Jeb’s antipathy to public education.

Now, you may recall, that Bennett ran for re-election and was trounced by Democrat Glenda Ritz. Despite Bennett’s more than 5-1 funding advantage over Ritz, she won more votes than the new Republican governor, Mike Pence.

Here is a recap: After his stunning defeat, Bennett was promptly hired as state superintendent in Florida, where Jeb Bush created the template for the privatization movement. Meanwhile, back in Indiana, newly elected Governor Pence has done whatever he could to strip power and authority away from Glenda Ritz’s office and turn it over to a parallel agency that he created or to the Legislature, controlled by his allies.

As for Bennett, he didn’t last long in Florida. In August 2013, he resigned after a journalist for AP revealed that Bennett and his team had changed the A-F grading system to avoid giving a C grade to a charter school founded by a major contributor. Bennett contested the journalist’s interpretation, but his resignation suggested tat he wasn’t prepared to fight to refute the allegations.

The Bennett story was one of the biggest of the year.

There is only one other important detail that has not been explored, at least not on this blog: Who put up nearly $2 million to re-elect Tony Bennett in Indiana? Was it supplied by grateful parents in Indiana? No.

Mostly, it was big out-of-state donors who fund the privatization movement across the nation, in state and even local races.

His single biggest contributor was Alice Walton of the Walmart family of Arkansas. She gave $200,000, nearly 11% of Bennett’s total. Alice Walton has generously funded privatization campaigns in Georgia, Washington state, and elsewhere.

His second largest contribution of $175,000 came from Dean V. White, an Indiana corporate leader who is a major on or to Indiana Republicans.

Christel Dehaan gave Bennett $90,000. It was her charter school that was at the center of the grade–fixing scandal. Dehaan gave a total of $283,000 to the Indiana Republican Party this year.

Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst contributed $64,000.

There were also contributions to Tony Bennett by Eli Broad of Los Angeles, who pretends to be a liberal Democrat; the voucher-loving, far-right American Federation of Children, led by the DeVos family; Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, who prefers to project an image as a liberal independent; Roger Hertog, equity investor in New York and former chair of NYC’s conservative Manhattan Institute; Dan Loeb, hedge fund manager in New York City.

Florida blogger Bob Sikes reported: “Rhee’s contribution to Bennett’s Indiana campaign places her among his top contributors. Among his contributors from Florida were three members of Florida’s board of education, Jeb Bush, Patricia Levesque and charter school giants Charter Schools USA and Academica.” Patricia Levesque is Jeb Bush’s top policy advisor.

Remember that Tony Bennett, after being beaten by Glenda Ritz in an election last fall, was hired to be Commissioner of Education in Florida? Remember that he resigned his position in Florida after the Associated Press released emails showing that Bennett had changed the grading system to lift the grade of a charter school founded by a big campaign contributor (both to his campaign and to the state GOP).

Indiana grades just came out. Christel House Academy, Bennett’s favorite charter, dropped from the A that he manufactured, to an F.

Lots of excuses from the charter school.

The dog ate its homework.

I posted a comment earlier from a reader in Indiana who said that the State Board of Education was set to strip State Commissioner of Education Glenda Ritz of the authority and powers of her office. Other readers from Indiana have contacted me to say that negotiations are underway between the board and State Commissioner Ritz to reach a reasonable settlement that does not destroy the powers of her office and that respects the will of the voters.

Let’s see how this turns out.

In the meanwhile, feel free to contact members of the Indiana state board and urge them to work collegially with the woman who won election fair and square.

Tony Walker –
Dr. David Freitas –
Cari Whicker –
Sarah O’Brien –
Andrea Neal –
Dr. Brad Oliver –
Daniel Elsener –
B.J. Watts –
Troy Albert –
Gordon Hendry –

Governor Mike Pence moves to strip the State Commissioner of Education Glenda Ritz of the powers of her office.

She won more votes last year than Pence.

From a reader:

OUTRAGEOUS!!!! From the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education FB post:

It looks as though the State Board is going to do the unthinkable this Friday.


The Indiana State Board of Education is scheduled to meet this Friday, December 20 at 9:00 a.m. Months of conflict caused by Governor Pence and his appointed board members is expected to come to a head at the meeting. It is widely expected that when the board votes on new board procedures they will remove roles that State Superintendents have possessed as Chair of the board for years — that is until 1.3 million voters elected Glenda Ritz.

We are asking ISTA members and friends who care about public schools to contact the State Board of Education members immediately. Tell them that you support Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz. Let them know that you voted for Glenda Ritz because you expected her to be the Chair and lead education policy maker in Indiana.

If you are a public school educator or support professionalism, please email the board members from home and on your own personal time.

The board members and their email addresses as provided by the SBOE website are:

Tony Walker –
Dr. David Freitas –
Cari Whicker –
Sarah O’Brien –
Andrea Neal –
Dr. Brad Oliver –
Daniel Elsener –
B.J. Watts –
Troy Albert –
Gordon Hendry –

In 2011, Rocky Killion, the superintendent of schools in West Lafayette, Indiana, had an idea: What if we made our own documentary about the schools? What if we became our own production crew? What if we traveled the country and interviewed experts with our questions?

They did it, and the film premiered in Lafayette to an enthusiastic audience of 1,000 people.

The tile of the film is “Rise Above the Mark.” It was directed by Purdue University student Jack Klink, with author Angie Klink, Jack Klink’s mother was scriptwriter. Political analyst Steve Klink, Angie Klink’s husband, was an executive producer. Emmy Award-winning actor Peter Coyote narrates.

The article says:

“The film was funded completely by donations made to the West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation; no tax dollars were used.

“That’s what the film is about: Let’s have a conversation,” Killion said. “Are we on the right track? If we want to become world class and have the world’s best competitive system, why wouldn’t we look at the best education systems and learn from them?”

“The film opens on an emotional Diana Rathert, a fifth-grade teacher who retired early from WLCSC after 38 years. As Rathert speaks about why she retired, she breaks down into tears.

“I still love what I do and I loved it up until the end,” she said. “But I feel like the legislators have beaten us down, and I hope some way we find a way to fight our way back up to the top.”

“It’s a scene that sets the tone for the 65-minute film, which aspires to shift the national discussion surrounding the education reform movement and speaks out against “corporate reform,” including the increase in public charter schools and an increasing reliance on standardized testing.

“Through stories of those like Rathert’s, the film’s creative team hopes to put a face to those teachers directly affected by reform movements that champion private school vouchers, charter schools and other measures that they say put more restrictions on teachers.”

I was interviewed and I can’t wait to see “Rise Above the Mark.”

At some point the PR bubble will burst, and the public will realize that school choice solves no problems and that charters and vouchers perform no better and often worse than regular public schools.

Blogger Steve Hinnefeld analyzed Indiana’s growth scores and found that public schools usually showed greater gains than charters or religious schools.

Hinnefeld writes:

“You can download 2012-13 growth scores for all the schools in the state from the Indiana Department of Education website. Sort and rank them, and what do they show?

For Indiana’s 1,400-plus public schools, the median score – the value at which half the scores are higher and half are lower – was at the 51st percentile in math and the 50th in English. That’s about what you’d expect: Most Indiana schools are public schools, so naturally the median score will be in the middle.

For private schools reporting growth scores, median scores were at the 46th percentile in English and only the 40th percentile in math.

For charter schools, median scores were at the 46thpercentile in English and only at the 36th percentile in math.”

This is the great secret of our time: Our public schools are doing a better job than the competition.

In a shocking affront to the democratic process and to conservative principles, Governor Mike Pence stepped up his efforts to strip away the authority of Glenda Ritz, the elected state superintendent of education.

Her predecessor Tony Bennett was treated as a hero. Ritz is treated as an illegitimate outcast because she disagrees with the Governor’s radical plans to privatize public education and reduce all education to Big Data.

The Governor created a shadow agency, to which he is transferring decision making. The staff of the shadow agency writes proposals for the state board appointed by Pence and his predecessor Mitch Daniels.

The board’s decisions are made by email, and it does not bother to include Ritz, the chair of the board, on its email chain. Ritz and members of the public have lodged complaints about violations of the state’s open meetiings law, this far without success.

Now a group of citizens has filed a lawsuit to stop this travesty and violation of democratic process and state law.

The greatest insult is not to Glenda Ritz but to the voters of Indiana and the rule of law.

Journalist Todd Smekens in Indiana blogged about the struggle by Glenda Ritz to stop Governor Mike Pence from destroying her position, to which she was elected by the people of Indiana. This is a battle for democracy, not for an individual.

Smekens sees the struggle as part of a national attack on public education. He tied it to Sue Peters’ upset victory in Seattle, where the zillionaires put together what they thought was a big enough campaign fund to crush her.

Smekens recognizes that Pence is trying not only to usurp democracy but to make Indiana a friendly home for “free market capitalists.” Pence wants to protect Indiana as a zone where entrepreneurs can make a profit by feeding off the public schools with false promises.

He writes:

The free market capitalists are bankrolling school board seats to expand charter programs or advancing the privatization of our school system.

The same billionaire free marketers who are driving to eliminate unions, cut government regulation, strip workers of their rights, etc. are also behind Common Core standardized testing. You saw how important it was to Tony Bennett – he had to increase grades from a C to an A so they could keep pushing their privatization agenda – it cost him his job in Florida.

However what most journalists in Indiana are missing is the underlying fact that charters do not outperform public schools. Even with all the hype, new equipment, the opportunity to screen students, etc., they still don’t outperform public schools. The hundreds of millions of dollars thrown at “fixing the education system” by corporations, foundations, and non-educator politicians, the bottom line is they make decisions based on profit schemes versus the needs of teachers-students-parents.

So, if you think Gov. Mike Pence is simply playing politics with the formation of the CECI to usurp State Education Superintendent, Glenda Ritz, you’re only scratching the surface. Gov. Pence hired all the education reform players who worked with the former superintendent Tony Bennett. Who also worked with Mitch Daniels, the Gates Foundation, and reformers like Jeb Bush to privatize Indiana’s schools. They have a financial stake in Indiana, so they will not give up until Glenda Ritz is removed from the equation.

These billionaire free market capitalists could care less about our democratic process in this country – they’ve now shown their hands from the billion dollar Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement being negotiated behind closed doors, the dysfunction in shutting down our government in Washington, the dysfunction in our statehouses and gerrymandering districts to prevent competition, and all the way down to simple school board seats in our community.

If you think these free market libertarian billionaires and their Tea Party cowboys are about “freedom of choice”, you’ve been badly misguided by corporate media spin owned by the same people.



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