Chesterton Tribune



Officials question state takeover of schools in the wake of email revelations

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Gary and Indianapolis school officials questioned the state’s year-old takeover of their schools Thursday amid revelations that Indiana’s former schools chief manipulated the grade of a top Republican donor’s charter school.

Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said the actions of Tony Bennett had possibly compromised and tainted the integrity of the Indiana A-F rating system that he introduced and led to the state’s decision to take over Gary Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy Roosevelt and four Indianapolis schools.

Pruitt called for Roosevelt’s takeover to be scrutinized and reversed.

“Public education is the equalizer and represents a tremendous opportunity for all students to succeed. The fact that this great equalizer has possibly been tampered with causes great concerns for the Gary Community School Corporation,” Pruitt told the Post-Tribune.

Bennett, who resigned Thursday as Florida’s top education official amid allegations he changed the grade of Indianapolis’ Christel House Academy, had denied Indianapolis Public Schools’ 2011 request for more flexibility in the grading of Howe and Arlington high schools, which both were also taken over last year, The Indianapolis Star reported.

IPS board member Michael Brown said the Indiana Department of Education owes the district some answers about the two schools. He said it was “totally unfair” that the state’s school-grading calculation incorporated seventh- and eighth-grade ISTEP-Plus scores into the schools’ grades.

“I think they need to take a look at it,” Brown said. “If the system was skewed to benefit Christel House Academy, then was it skewed to hurt IPS? That concerns me more than anything else.”

Former IPS Superintendent Eugene White had argued that Arlington and Howe had made sufficient gains in ninth through 12th grades to earn at least a “D” if the scores of middle school students weren’t considered. They faced the threat of state takeover after six consecutive years of “F” ratings.

During a news conference in July 2011 - a month before Indiana took over the two schools - White called Bennett’s school-grading approach “discrimination.”

“I don’t believe anyone would look at this and say that it was fair,” White said at that time.

Emails published by The Associated Press this week show Bennett and his Indiana staff scrambled last fall to ensure GOP donor Christel DeHaan’s school received an A, despite poor 10th-grade algebra scores that initially earned it a C.

The emails obtained by the AP began after Bennett learned the latest run of calculations had resulted in a C for Christel House.

“Anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all our accountability work,” Bennett wrote to his chief of staff on Sept. 12, asking for action.

In Gary, private school operator EdisonLearning Inc. has a four-year contract with the state to run Roosevelt. The company donated $1,000 to Bennett’s unsuccessful re-election campaign last year.

“Private businesses and companies have been allowed to get public money to make a profit while children have been left to fend for themselves,” Pruitt said.



Posted 8/2/2013