When the accountability program runs afoul of the accounting department, something's got to give. Count on it not to be the money.
At least that's the inference begging to be drawn from the revelation that Tony Bennett, when Indiana superintendent of public instruction, rushed to retool his vaunted A-F grading system for schools after he learned the charter run by star Republican contributor Christel DeHaan was getting a C.
Yes, another email scandal out of the Statehouse. Do their keyboards not have delete keys? What campaign donor sold them these cheap machines?
In a textbook exercise in Orwellianism, Bennett, now the Florida schools chief, defended his damage-control frenzy by saying the rating apparatus as a whole was in jeopardy.
Educators, from those with traditional public schools to those operating charters to those teaching teachers in universities, already had warned him about A-F. But they saw the jeopardy the other way around: It was and is a blunt instrument that treats parents choosing schools like shoppers for backpacks. And it sets schools up for state takeover, and management by private businesses with political connections, without giving them and their communities a fair chance to explain their numbers and describe their needs. It tends to financially reward the affluent.
A-F, and the overemphasis on testing that goes with it, helped Glenda Ritz get elected. Her vow to try to correct the imbalance between testing and teaching that was driving educators, students and parents crazy fueled a grass-roots surge that overcame a more than 10-to-1 funding advantage for the incumbent's million-dollar-plus campaign.
One of the most generous of those donors was McGraw-Hill, the testing giant that proceeded to screw up some of the new superintendent's first ISTEP round, causing delays that exacerbated the normal high anxiety but providentially not hurting scores.
Ritz, understandably, has not commented on the latest embarrassing news about the flamboyant and inflammatory Bennett; but the consistency is clear.
Money - from foes of public employee unions, hawks on taxes, business groups that want schools to be run like businesses and crank out useful employees, education consultants, professional school reformers, school managers for hire, testing companies and other self-interested parties - is what the self-styled accountability movement is about.
People - teachers, parents, school administrators, university deans, neighborhood collectives - are of many minds on how to improve education but close to unanimous in their conviction they are not at the table where "reform" is hatched.
When people whipped money in the 2012 election, stunning journalists who had swallowed Bennett's Kool-Aid and had presumed his easy re-election, the vanquished golden boy of the national conservative school crusade opined that he had been too busy rescuing our children to devote sufficient time to politics. His sponsor, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, suggested that illegal campaigning by unionized teachers had derailed vitally needed reform.
Sadly for the uncongratulated Ritz and the Hoosier majority who chose her, most of the Daniels-Bennett agenda was locked in by the GOP-dominated legislature and the stacked State Board of Education before she took office. As she seeks to undo or at least ameliorate the simplistic, punitive, mercenary posture the state in recent years has taken toward local schools, disclosures of the meddling and hypocrisy by her predecessors, from Bennett's A-F to Daniels' Zinn, cannot hurt. Her own formidable communication skills count most, but "accountability" has gotten a lot across via email.