By Teresa Meredith
President Indiana State Teachers Association
It’s time to call the Bennett school letter grade scandal
exactly what it is—cheating.
Emails obtained by the Associated Press and released Monday
show that former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony
Bennett and his staff worked furiously last September to artificially raise
the letter grade of the Christel House Academy, an Indianapolis charter
school created by a prominent donor to both Bennett's political campaign and
to others in his political party.
There are no excuses for the actions taken by Bennett and his
staff as revealed in the string of emails other than favoritism, cronyism,
self-interest, and hubris—none of which has a place in public school
To my fellow educators who have lived, breathed and worked
under the long history of Indiana's string of accountability laws—dating
back to the A+ program in 1987—there was no joy in the revelations exposed
There was, however, a degree of affirmation. The emails
affirmed to teachers that their palpable unease over how Bennett forced his
agenda—that "My way or the highway!" approach without including or trusting
the expertise of the people on the frontlines—was founded unease.
We felt it last fall when the announcement of school letter
grades was delayed. We felt it during the REPA 2 teacher licensure rules
changes when Bennett and the State Board tried repeatedly to force licensure
revisions without complying with Indiana's rulemaking process. And we felt
it when we learned that out-of-state takeover companies were being paid
$800,000 per school to do nothing more than to observe a school for an
entire year without lifting a finger to assist those schools.
Sadly, the unease lingers beyond this school letter grade
scandal. At the State Board of Education meeting just a few days ago,
members of the Board openly suggested creating a separate governing and
legal structure to operate parallel to the Department of Education—and
presumably outside the scope of Superintendent Glenda Ritz who was elected
to oversee Indiana's public education system. This new display of audacity
is not only unnecessary, but it is a monumental waste of taxpayer resources.
As teachers, we often share with our students that adage,
"Cheaters only cheat themselves." Today I understand more clearly how
incomplete that simple lesson is. I understand the message, but the damage
done by this latest revelation runs much deeper. This disgrace taints—and
has an impact on—the state's accountability system and Indiana’s local
As the newly-elected president of the Indiana State Teachers
Association in my first week of office, I would like to say to Indiana's
legislators from both sides of the political aisle, to Governor Pence and to
Superintendent Ritz that it’s time for all of us to turn the page on the
aftermath of Bennett and work together to support policies that make sense
for all Hoosiers and of which we can all be proud. Let's talk.