AP Reporter Tom LoBianco Smeared Tony Bennett

September 10, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Just in case there is any lingering doubt out there about just what happened in the faux Indiana grading “scandal” the Sunshine State News very helpfully dispels it:

It was Tony Bennett’s successor in Indiana, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, formerly head of the teachers union in Washington Township schools, who turned over Bennett’s entire Outlook file — six months of emails, four years of calendar items, everything — to Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco, according to two of Ritz’s employees.

Ritz beat Bennett in the 2012 Indiana general election, becoming the first Democrat to win the job in 42 years. Bennett had been a favorite of former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Two employees in Ritz’s office spoke late Monday to Sunshine State News on condition of anonymity. “Glenda is Tony’s sworn enemy,” said one of the employees. “She approached Tom (LoBianco) and cooperated with the press right down the line.”

“I think the idea was to destroy what Tony stands for by tainting him with a little dirt,” the second employee added, saying what offended Ritz was his hard-driving agenda of charters, vouchers and high-stakes testing.

So you take someone’s entire Outlook file, sift through it, put out a few emails without any context whatsoever. Oh and you make up a story to go along with your out of context emails, and you don’t even bother to learn whether your story holds up to the most basic levels of scrutiny. Questions like “were the changes made reasonable given the circumstances and did they apply across the board?” don’t carry the slightest bit of relevance if your aim is to smear someone, which of course is precisely what Ritz and LoBianco accomplished.

I’m curious where have the rest of the Indiana press been during all of this. Why did it take a news outlet from Florida to reveal what ought to have been immediately suspected from the outset?

UPDATE: While I have a difference of opinion regarding “super-subgroup” and other details RiShawn Biddle’s analysis on this subject is a must read.


Tony Bennett Cleared in A-F grading controversy

September 9, 2013

(Guest Post from Matthew Ladner)

We now have a bipartisan analysis of what actually happened in Indiana grading-gate scandal. Rick Hess covers the subject here:

Flash-forward five weeks, and we finally have a resolution. The headline: Bennett exonerated. That’s the conclusion of a 56-page official report, requested by Indiana’s legislative leaders, and released Friday.  Authored by Democrat John Grew, executive director of state relations and policy analysis at Indiana University, and Republican Bill Sheldrake, president and founder of Indianapolis-based research firm Policy Analytics, the report finds that Bennett acted appropriately and fair-mindedly.  Grew and Sheldrake spent the past month or so investigating what happened and reviewing the data.  They concluded that Bennett and his staff made “fair” and “plausible” changes to Indiana’s school rating system before releasing 2012′s A-F grades.  They found that a lack of planning and capacity had forced Bennett and his team to make a series of on-the-fly “interpretations” and judgments, but that  Bennett and his staff “consistently” applied changes to Christel House and 180 other affected schools.  In short, nothing to see here.

Since Tony’s critics are on the whole fair-minded people with only a tiny minority suffering from some sort of derangement syndrome, I’m sure Tony’s inbox will be filling up with apologies. Some analysts who were willing to pontificate much with little in the way of facts just might be feeling a bit sheepish today as well. Pundits are extremely responsible after all and never just shuffle on to the next subject when they are way off base on something.

I have believed from the outset that no one from Diane Ravitch to Charles Murray sitting in Tony’s position would have told 16 schools without junior and senior students to simply eat getting zero points from graduation rates and AP completion categories. “Would you shut up already and get some juniors and seniors” is simply not a response that any half-way reasonable person was going to utter.  I have also believed from the outset that if the changes made applied to only one school then it was a scandal, but that if they evenly applied the changes across schools then this was a hatchet-job.

For the record it was a hatchet-job.


Choice First, Standards Second

August 1, 2013

cart-before-the-horse

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times are now reporting that Tony Bennett is expected to resign.

As I’ve said all along, this is not about Tony Bennett. This is about whether educational standards should be formulated by politicians and their allies behind closed doors and then presented as the One Best Way to which all schools ought to conform.

Does that mean there can be no standards? Of course not! It means school choice must come first, standards second. Common Core and its allies are putting the cart before the horse.

Creating standards and accountability measures requires judgment. Judgment requires trust. What trust requires is a huge metaphysical subject we don’t have space to get into today, but let’s cut to the chase – people don’t trust the government to do this job by itself, behind closed doors and with no alternatives permitted, and they are right not to do so.

That is not because one particular person or one particular party is corrupt. It is written into nature of things, it is woven into the very fabric of the universe, that human social systems don’t work that way. Not even Denethor, the most virtuous man in Gondor, could be trusted to hold the ring without using it: “If you do not trust me to endure the test, you do not know me yet.” “‘Nonetheless I do not trust you…Nay, stay your wrath! I do not trust myself in this.”

So if that’s not where standards come from, where do they come from? We obviously do have standards, for everything from technical specifications for smart phones to English grammar to the scientific method. Right now we don’t have standards for education. How do we get them?

We get them from the only place standards ever really emerge from: the open, free interaction of civil society, where people are allowed to try whatever makes sense to them and see what works.

Take the scientific method as an example. The early pioneers of modern science – Descartes and Bacon and that crowd – went down all kinds of ridiculous blind alleys. They tried things we would never bother with today. They set down rules for what you’re not allowed to do in science that we would now laugh at. Poor Bacon died from a pneumonia he caught while pursuing a cockamamie experiment, invented on the spur of the moment while travelling during the winter, to test the efficiency of snow as an agent for preserving meat.

So how did we get from there to here? Did the Royal Society convene the smartest smarties in the land and impose order on this chaos? No, we got here by giving scientists the freedom to try what made sense to them and seeing what worked.

They had endless debates. They disagreed about how to do science, about why they did science, about what science could and could not do. The debates were not a part of the chaos, the debates were the method by which order was eventually imposed on the chaos.

That’s what we need today. Instead of cooking up a One Best Way and then demonizing anyone who dissents, we need a forthright admission that we don’t have a consensus about what works, and to give people not only the freedom to experiment, but a social legitimization of their experimentation. Then we can have some really heated debates where we argue with each other over what works. This, and only this, can ultimately create consensus about what works.

I am not saying that government and political power play no role. I am saying government should play its proper role – as a servant of our civilization, not its master. I even think government has more of a job to do than simply forbidding force and fraud. That is why I favor school choice policies on their own merits, not merely as a stepping stone to “the separation of school and state,” as my libertarian friends would prefer.

A thriving marketplace of diverse options, where people are not only empowered to choose but also respected and honored for making their own choices, is the only path to standards. It is the only thing that can make standards legitimate and widely accepted. Of course this means giving up on the desire to impose them on everyone by force, but then, force is wrong and it doesn’t work anyway.

As long as the government runs a school system, it will need to set standards for that system. But it cannot even do that very effectively in the current environment, as we are seeing. A thriving marketplace of options would ultimately create standards with legitimacy and widespread acceptance. Those standards could then be imposed on the government system much more effectively than at present.

People who think standards are everything must choose – is it your goal to have the law tell everyone they must use your standards, and have everyone ignore the law; or to get everyone actually using some standards, even if they’re not yours? You can’t have both.


Are We Allowed to Be Neither Naive Nor Cynical?

July 31, 2013

balance
(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I have a question. Am I permitted to be neither naïve nor cynical about the Tony Bennett emails? Or is there some sort of law that dictates I must be one or the other? Indiana StateImpact places me with the Bennett supporters while Matt seems to think I’m attacking Bennett (I’m not sure how else to interpret “haters gonna hate”). I don’t intend to be either.

I find it difficult to buy the new house line, and I will continue to find it difficult until someone asks Bennett the obvious question: “If this was a glitch in the system, as we are now being told, why did you seek to change the grade only for this one school?” Rick Hess didn’t ask him that question. Matt seems uninterested in asking it, and seems to think I’m a “hater” for asking it. Until that question is answered, I don’t see why I’m a “hater” for pointing out uncomfortable realities.

Is it really so scandalous, does it really make me a “hater,” to acknowledge the obvious fact that politicians are responsive to their donors? When government sets educational standards and has to do what Bennett himself calls a “face validity” test, it is going to know which schools are run by major donors and it is going to be sensitive to that fact. Good grief, are we this naïve?

What we have now is not “the rest of the story” but a failure to seek the rest of the story. Or am I somehow missing something?

On the other hand, Ze’ev and others seem to think I’m saying all standards are arbitrary and there’s no such thing as a rational public consensus. I’m not; I’m just trying to be realistic about what I called “the sausage-making nature of the process” when those standards are being cooked up behind closed doors by a government bureaucracy and its political allies, as opposed to standards that emerge organically from the give and take of a thriving marketplace of options. Technology standards emerge in the context of a system dominated by consumer choice. Educational standards should emerge in the same way.


The Rest of the Story on Indiana Grading

July 31, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Rick Hess interviews Tony Bennett about the grading flap.  Odd that a few critically important details were left out of the AP story. Perhaps the reporter would like to come by and explain why 13 schools who lacked 11th and 12th grade students should have received zeroes for graduation rates and Advanced Placement work.

What if Tony had let those zeroes stand? Do you think for a moment that some of these same critics would have failed to howl at injustice of it all?

Me neither.


Tony Bennett Is Having a Bad Week

July 29, 2013

locke-and-walt-LostBG

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

What’s the best way to top off a really Walt-on-Lost level bad week for Common Core? How about a scandal in which emails show one of its most prominent supporters having manipulated his state’s “high standards” system to ensure that a particular school (one founded by a major donor) scored high? Just as that same state becomes the latest to move toward dropping out of a CC testing consortium?

I’d like to take Andy’s bafflement about CC supporters not anticipating pushback on the costs of implementation and double it in this case, if not triple it: why on earth did they discuss this so transparently in their government email accounts, which made it inevitable that the whole ugly show would eventually come out?

I feel sympathetic to Tony Bennett here. Any kind of evaluation system must involve qualitative as well as quantitative testing. That is, you not only have to make sure the numbers are accurately collected, crunched and reported, you have to make sure that what the system is calling “good” really is good. Of course you could in theory test your system by comparing it to the results of other systems, but if that’s all you do, the whole thing is circular. Ultimately you have no choice but to pick some examples of cases that you presuppose to be very good or very bad (or in the middle, for that matter) based on some kind of opinion – maybe yours, maybe your organization’s, maybe a consensus of experts, maybe a popular majority – and see if your system ranked those cases in accordance with the presupposed opinion. It is logically impossible to remove this element of judgment. You just can’t fully test a system for evaluating schools without at some point picking out some super-schools and asking “did these score well?”

Of course, everything hinges on what basis you use for selecting those cases – in other words, whose opinion of which cases are “good” you presuppose, and why. In the real world, if the standards are being set by government, that is always going to be a political process in which one or another set of powerful constituencies are privileged. The Bennett emails reveal the sausage-making nature of the process. What I want to emphasize is that this is not because Bennett is in some way specially corrupt but that this is what any such process must always look like. It is, again, logically impossible to avoid this type of qualitative reality check, and it would be naïve in the extreme to think that any set of political actors would carry out that reality check in any way other than something like what the Bennett emails reveal.

The lesson here is not “Bennett is corrupt” but “all educational standards privilege someone’s opinion of what is a good school, and government privileges the opinion of powerful interests.”


Hoosier Fiasco a Wakeup Call to Both Sides of Common Core Debate

November 9, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Let me start by noting that what I write here, as always, is my own personal view. It does not reflect the views of my employer or any other group with whom I collaborate. It is my hope, for reasons I will explain below, to serve as an equal opportunity offender. Three days later I can speak only daggers to both sides of our currently idiotic Common Core debate.

A few days before the election some polling data was released from Indiana showing that Superintendent Tony Bennett had a problem with-of all people-conservative Republicans. It has quickly passed into the Conventional Wisdom that Tony’s support for Common Core cost him re-election. This result is an insult to a dumpster fire for both sides of the Common Core debate.

Let’s get two things clear from the outset: no one has yet to convince me that Common Core is a good idea and Common Core opponents have revealed themselves to be unsophisticated ya-hoos as easily led by weak arguments as any Ravitch-zombie. Whether Indiana adopts or chooses not to adopt Common Core is ultimately of trivial to modest importance in driving academic outcomes in Indiana. Neither side of the argument in Indiana seemed to appreciate this stunningly obvious fact.

Supporters claim that CC is a little better than Indiana’s existing standards, opponents a little worse. This is all subjective and thus there is no truth to discern here.  Should Mississippi adopt Common Core-yes states where the stock picking chicken can pass the test have nothing to lose. Should Massachusetts? Certainly not-a state with the highest NAEP scores on all four main tests has much to lose. The correct response to “should Indiana adopt Common Core?” is “why should I care?”

Common Core in Indiana thus was not a hill worth dying on to defend, nor anything worth putting a teacher union puppet in charge of your Department of Education to prevent. If you think otherwise you have earned a spot carved in stone on my “Drooling Idiots” tablet that I keep out in the rock garden.

My ESP detects objections from Common Core opponents reading this now. What about the Obama administration interfering in state/local control of schools? States adopted CC voluntarily and can leave voluntarily. Yes Duncan put points into Race to the Top for CC adoption but note that participation in that was purely optional and RTTT it is now long gone. Virginia also got a waiver from NCLB despite not adopting CC, busting another cherished myth. There was some chatter about conditioning Title I on CC adoption, but that was all it was thus far-chatter.  Everyone should be on guard against this, but let us be rid of all illusions in noting that the reality of the situation “federal takeover” remains such an exaggeration that it constitutes a tin-foil hat argument.

Think the federal government violated a law from the 1970s to bankroll Common Core? Maybe they did-how would I know? Either put up by going to court to prove it or shut up because you don’t really believe it.

Mark however that the fact that Indiana’s adoption of Common Core is relatively unimportant cuts both ways. An Indiana school board official said something to the effect that rather than picking his battles, Tony never saw a mosh-pit that didn’t make him want to jump in and start breaking noses of punks who deserve it. True enough- one of the many qualities that I love about Tony. Tony believed in Common Core and he fought for Common Core. Tony however gave a great deal more to the Common Core effort than it gave back.

The pitiful weakness of the Common Core nexus in making a coherent and visible case for Common Core against unsophisticated attacks like “federal takeover” and “Obamacore” means that Common Core does not deserve champions like Tony Bennett. This effort needs to be more convincing that “ummmm……….high standards are good or something” and needs to move beyond the Beltway blogo-echo chamber into the public quickly. If Common Core supporters have a persuasive case to make, now would be a great time to start making it.

The reason is simple: the reactionaries now have a play book to peel off uninformed conservative voters and add them to their coalition. This lesson seems unlikely to be lost on teacher unions or upon either political party in states with elected Superintendents.  It remains to be seen whether some enterprising group of reactionaries will successfully scale this model up to a Governor’s race, but I can’t see any reason for them not to give it a try.

In short, the combined ineptitude of the Common Core effort and the mouth-breathing stupidity of Common Core opponents stands as a risk to the broader education reform agenda. Love Common Core or hate it, let’s be perfectly clear that Tony Bennett was up to far more things, and far more important things in order to equip Indiana children with the academic skills they need. This farce has ended in tragedy with an entirely avoidable setback.

A plague on both houses! I hope both sides will accept my invitation to pull their heads out of their asses. This is very serious business we are engaging in here and we do not have the luxury of this kind of pointless stupidity.

P.S. Just in case no one else was going to say in public what many are saying in private, I hope that Governor Daniels enjoys those faculty teas discussing the finer points of Mechanical Engineering  because his decision to opt out of races is looking terribly misguided right about now. Tony deserved much better from all of us, but I am trying to imagine a better person than a popular and successful conservative Indiana Governor to talk sense to right-wing Hoosier yayhoos.

If any of you take offense at any of this, regardless of the tribe you hail from, feel free meet me by the bike racks in the comments section.  I will be happy to make further efforts to beat sense into you.


John White Walks into the Lion’s Den

August 2, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Great article about John White’s plans for public forums to discuss Louisiana’s education reforms. In so doing, White is following in the footsteps of Indiana’s Tony Bennett, who faced the public and his critics in public forums repeatedly. Dr. Bennett let Indiana’s reform critics take their best shot at him over and over again, all the while explaining the rationale for the bold package of reforms.

After explaining his reasoning and providing his evidence, Dr. Bennett often said “This is what we believe and this is our plan. What do you believe and what is your plan?”

I don’t know whether Dr. Bennett changed the minds of the uber-reactionaries in his audiences or not, but he earned respect by giving his opponents the chance to take him on. This is the type of leadership the reform movement needs, and I commend John White for providing it in Louisiana. The Advocate seems to agree:

So we hope that White keeps up his efforts to communicate with the local systems that educate the vast majority of Louisiana students. The local boards may not become believers in the entire Jindal catechism, but the changes are coming — and those that can’t be avoided must be implemented with the interests of students in mind, once the political slogans have faded from the headlines.


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