The resignation of Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett couldn't have come at a better time. His disgraceful grade-fixing scandal is the perfect symbol of all that's wrong with the federal education schemes peddled by Bennett and his mentor, former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush: phony academic standards, crony contracts, big-government and big-business collusion masquerading as "reform."
Bennett stepped down Thursday after the Associated Press reported that he had meddled with charter school accountability ratings in Indiana last fall while serving as that state's schools superintendent. The beneficiary of his intervention? Big GOP donor and charter school operator Christel DeHaan, who has forked over nearly $3 million to Republicans (including $130,000 to Bennett).
DeHaan's Christel House Academy charter school magically went from a "C" rating to an "A" rating despite failing 10th-grade math scores. An abysmal 33 percent of the school's 10th-grade Algebra I students passed. Note: The school uses the widely panned elementary-level Everyday Math curriculum (which I've exposed in previous columns) and a newfangled secondary program called the Carnegie Learning Math Series, whose website prominently brags that its "courses were developed to align to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics." More on that in a moment.
Emails showed that Bennett was far more concerned about how a low grade would look than about maintaining the integrity of the grading system. Evaluators "need to understand that anything less than an 'A' for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work," Bennett complained. "This will be a HUGE problem for us," he worried in another message obtained by the AP.
Cronyism and corruption come in all political stripes and colors. As a conservative parent of public charter school-educated children, I am especially appalled by these pocket-lining GOP elites who are giving grassroots education reformers a bad name and cashing in on their betrayal of limited-government principles.
It turns out that Bennett's wife was hired by an outfit called "Charter Schools USA" to serve as a regional director in Florida. The group just happens to be the same one Bennett contracted with to operate schools in Indianapolis that the state had taken over. The Indianapolis Star reported: "Tina Bennett is now earning a paycheck from the company her husband handpicked to take over schools in Indiana, a decision that was very good for the company's financial fortunes." Like the Church Lady said: How conveeeenient!
Excellent charter schools across the country have a hard time as it is battling hostile public employee unions and far-left detractors. This dirty government scandal makes the fight for local and parental choice in education all the more difficult. Education analyst Jim Stergios at the Pioneer Institute sums up the damage caused: It's "bad for accountability, for the public trust and for education reform."
Amen. But instead of condemning his actions, the tone-deaf, ethics-blind Jeb Bush heaped praise on Bennett for his "leadership" after his resignation. Bush's nonprofit vehicle, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, chimed in, as well, calling Bennett a "bold champion for students" and "a good man and a good friend."
These good ol' boys bonded over their zeal for the top-down racket known as Common Core. As I've reported previously, this Fed Ed program is supported by both big-business interests (Microsoft founder Bill Gates and News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch's education arm) and government educrats. Progressive activists in both parties have worked on nationalized standards, tests and curriculum for decades under previous names: outcome-based education, national school-to-work, Goals 2000 and No Child Left Behind, for example. Obama administration bribery through "Race To The Top" greased the wheels for adoption of the Common Core program by cash-strapped states, many of which had more rigorous standards than the fed-imposed system.
Common Core cheerleaders falsely claimed that untested standards were "internationally benchmarked." Math and English standards have been dumbed down. And a plethora of data-mining firms stand to gain billions from student information gathered under the Common Core assessments umbrella. The Obama administration's sabotage of federal educational privacy protections will help supply that data to the highest crony bidders.
After Bennett was voted out of office in Indiana last fall over his efforts to ram the phony "standards" and nationalized testing scheme through, Team Jeb came to the rescue. In addition to greasing the wheels for the Florida schools chief job, Bush's foundation named Bennett one of its "Chiefs for Change." That group champions Common Core, and many of its members are part of a behemoth, federally funded testing consortium called PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), which raked in $186 million through Race To The Top to develop nationalized tests "aligned" to the top-down Common Core program.
Bush's foundation has now joined with the Common Core-peddling Fordham Institute under a new phony-baloney umbrella group: "Conservatives for Higher Standards." While its list of supporters includes federal bureaucrats, politicians and business interests, there are no grassroots conservative parents or teacher groups. So beware of this "conservative" front. And remember: Astro-turfing runs in the Bush family. Under George W. Bush, the federal Department of Education paid GOP mouthpiece/columnist Armstrong Williams to shill for No Child Left Behind.
Heather Crossin, a conservative Indiana mom who helped spearhead the drive to eject Bennett from office and reject Common Core in her state, put it best. She told me after the latest crony Republican education scandal this week:
"This situation illustrates why it is crucial that parents be reinserted into the decision-making process when it comes to the education of their children. When their voices and concerns take a backseat to 'command and control' approaches to ed reform, the public trust can easily be broken." It's elementary.