School Choice Lets Donors Buy Grades

Here’s a fun news story for the School Choice, TEA Party Extravaganza Awards show to discuss tomorrow night in Billings: how political contributions and pressure are already compromising some of the nation’s school choice efforts.

The AP is reporting that, in Indiana, the commitment to excellence in school choice was far less important than the commitment to satisfying Republican donors:

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.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the grading system, it’s been a large component of the “choice movement.” Schools are graded by state or local agencies–most often for the purpose of punishing school officials and/or teachers who are called failing.

Let’s just say no school in a poor district with unique hardships probably had its grade revisited.

It’s probably entirely unsurprisingly that Bennett, who was intimately involved in the discussion to change the school’s grade, moved on to Florida to develop a grading system for schools there after losing his re-election bid in 2012. He was also named the Alliance for School Choice’s Champion for School Choice in 2012. Oops.

It’s bad enough that corporate interests are pushing school choice models so that they can monetize education as well as they have our prisons, but now they’re gaming the system after imposing evaluations systems already stacked against public schools.

Perhaps someone should ask Dave Lewis (R-Helena) and Greg Gianforte, Steve Daines former boss, how they feel about corporate politics in our schools at tomorrow’s event.