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July 30, 2013 1:04 PM Thumb on the Scales

By Ed Kilgore

So do you wonder why many supporters of traditional public education view charter public schools as dimly as private schools receiving publicly financed vouchers? It’s crap like this, via AP’s Tom LoBianco:

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.”
“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.
The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan’s grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive.

This makes me angry. The whole point of a “charter” public school is strict accountability for results. A “charter” is nothing other than a performance contract. If, as Bennett now claims, the bad grade for his pet school illustrated problems with the scoring system, it should have been discussed publicly after the results were released.

I’m a long-time supporter of public school choice (and a bitter, last-ditch opponent of vouchers). But it’s getting to the point where you have to put “charter” in quotations when you are talking about some of these schools, particularly in states where the underlying commitment to public education is lacking.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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