Accountability in the Indiana school system
July 29, 2013 1:44 PM   Subscribe

"I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the last 6 months." Tony Bennett, the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, had a big problem. Christel House Academy, a public charter school in Indianapolis founded by time-share magnate and major GOP donor Christel DeHaan, had come in with a C on the state's A-F grading scale, thanks to poor scores by 9th and 10th graders in English and math. "They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work," Bennett wrote to a staffer. Fortunately, Bennett's team found a solution, revealed today in staff e-mails obtained by the AP -- change the state's grading scale so that the offending grades didn't count. Will Bennett be able to hold on as Indiana's top education official? Not to worry: in January, he moved on to the same job in Florida.

Emails released by the AP:

exchange 1
exchange 2
exchange 3
exchange 4
exchange 5 (the "loophole," otherwise known as "option 1")
posted by escabeche (72 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is old school. If you pencil in the F just right, you can make it look like an A.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:49 PM on July 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


Floridaaah! *shakes fist*
posted by jaduncan at 1:50 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The invisible hand of the free market takes care of everything, eh?
posted by birdhaus at 1:51 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to worry: in January, he moved on to the same job in Florida.

I think you mean Alorida.
posted by jquinby at 1:51 PM on July 29, 2013 [121 favorites]


"They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work..."

The Orwellian nature of that grammatical construction is staggering...
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:52 PM on July 29, 2013 [36 favorites]


Absolutely fascinating how things like this seem to happen all the time with no accountability whatsoever. Will anything come of this? I'm so glad to read about here.
posted by MoxieProxy at 1:56 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It astounds me that people still don't think twice about using email when they're trying to engineer some sort of cover up. Never write when you can speak. Never speak when you can nod. Not only was this guy dishonest, he was incompetently dishonest.
posted by dortmunder at 1:56 PM on July 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


But, but, teachers unions!
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:58 PM on July 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think you mean Alorida.

Thanks for the earworm, jquinby.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:58 PM on July 29, 2013


It's almost as if "education reform" is a giant scam to drive tax money to campaign contributors.
posted by thelonius at 2:01 PM on July 29, 2013 [37 favorites]


If they're corrupt on that end, I wonder if they might be corrupt on the other end: Charter schools can't charge tuition, but I bet they can take bribes.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:02 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure that if a black superintendent had revised statewide assessment criteria so that a single underperforming school in the inner-city received a better grade, nobody would say a thing.

Who am I kidding? It's all we'd hear about for the next 2 years.
posted by R. Schlock at 2:03 PM on July 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


things like this seem to happen all the time with no accountability whatsoever

El Paso Superintendent sent to prison for cheating scandal
Atlanta Superintendent sent to prison for cheating scandal
posted by mattbucher at 2:03 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eh, I read through the emails ("exchange 5" seems to be an attachment that was sent with "exchange 3") and it's not really clear that there was any top-down order to "juke the stats." I will admit, though, that I don't quite understand what "option 1" is describing or what it's rationale is, if any. Are there any good analytical pieces explaining this? The first link doesn't seem to. I feel like this FPP is maybe a touch premature; we don't yet quite have all the facts as to what they did to revise Christel House Academy's grade.

Sidenote: "sent from my Kate Spade iPad." Really?
posted by yoink at 2:04 PM on July 29, 2013


They examined ways to lift Christel House from a "C" to an "A," including adjusting the presentation of color charts to make a high "B" look like an "A" and changing the grade just for Christel House.

To be fair, fun with colors and margins is an important skill learnt in school for when you leave your sixth grade science project's graphs until the last minute and your goldfish ate half your crickets...rarely is the question asked, "Is our children learning (to fudge the data properly)?"
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:05 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


From the NPR story:
Indiana education experts consulted for this article said they weren't aware the formula had been changed.
What's the point of having a performance metric if no one knows how it's calculated?
posted by compartment at 2:05 PM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is old school. If you pencil in the F just right, you can make it look like an A.


Homer: "'A+'!? You don't think much of me, do you, boy?"
Bart: "No, sir."
Homer: "You know a 'D' turns into a 'B' so easily. You just got greedy."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:06 PM on July 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


What's the point of having a performance metric if no one knows how it's calculated?

. . . and that IS the point . . . . .
posted by birdhaus at 2:08 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


dortmunder: "It astounds me that people still don't think twice about using email when they're trying to engineer some sort of cover up. Never write when you can speak. Never speak when you can nod. Not only was this guy dishonest, he was incompetently dishonest."

Sssssssh...this only seems to happen with people who I think are pretty much evil and I don't want to give them any help.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:08 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


What do we do? Most, if not all, Superintendents are not elected. How do we hold them accountable? How do we pressure the government to get rid of the bad ones and start paying a reasonable salary? Reading how much guys like this are paid to rip off our education systems is sickening. What do we do?
posted by stoneweaver at 2:10 PM on July 29, 2013


...this only seems to happen with people who I think are pretty much evil and I don't want to give them any help.

*cough* weiner *cough*
posted by R. Schlock at 2:11 PM on July 29, 2013


It's worth noting, by the way, that in context, Bennett's line about "the lies I've been telling" is quite clearly a reference to the fact that he's been stating that Christel House Academy will get an A rating--and he's been stating that because he's been repeatedly told by his staff, who have been looking at test results as they came in, that it would be rated A. So it's not really a "smoking gun" statement. By "lies" there he means simply "statements which I made in good faith and which have turned out to be false: and it's you bastards who put me in that position."

There may well be a smoking gun somewhere in these emails (and if you've found it, please explain) but at the moment we only seem to have fairly circumstantial evidence: he made his displeasure at CHA's rating clear and CHA's rating changed. That certainly looks bad, but it isn't, in itself, proof of malfeasance. Nor, by the way, is the use of the word "loophole." There are lots of loopholes that it is perfectly legal to exploit.
posted by yoink at 2:11 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think you mean Alorida.

Actually, it's Flordia; the turnoff sign for the State College even said so. Twice.
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:15 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Atlanta Superintendent sent to prison for cheating scandal

She's not in prison yet. She's been indicted.
posted by dortmunder at 2:16 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's the point of having a performance metric if no one knows how it's calculated?

It's well known that people who have a performance metric achieve TWF scores 25% higher, on average, than those who do not have one - even if they do not know how it is calculated. With TWF scores like that, who can dispute the efficacy of the approach?
posted by The World Famous at 2:21 PM on July 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


That shit is unseemly.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:24 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm telling you guys...Keep an eye on Indiana. Our government is hell-bent on setting new standards for crazy. Just you wait and see.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:24 PM on July 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


yoink: So you're saying that he's pulling the Bentonville two-step? (Wal-Mart likes to keep plausible deniability between the home office and the stores, so there's never any official order to violate the law - instead, the message is sent between the lines.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:28 PM on July 29, 2013


I feel bad for the kids who took this test. Hearing that they've "dragged down their entire school" is not what I'd call pedagogically appropriate.

"A low grade also can detract from a neighborhood and drive homebuyers elsewhere." Good responsibility for children to have, right? Probably builds character.
posted by asperity at 2:34 PM on July 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


yoink: So you're saying that he's pulling the Bentonville two-step?

I'm saying I can't really figure out what exactly the attachment that comes up when you click on "exchange 5" means and whether or not "option 1" actually amounts to deliberately falsifying data or a defensible re-analysis of the data. I'm also saying that I've read all the material in the other "exchanges" and at no point is there any clear "I need you to fudge this data" line from Bennett or an "I've cooked the books sufficiently now, boss" response from any of his underlings. So far this looks to me like an accusation of wrongdoing without clear supporting evidence, although I'm sure someone with a detailed technical knowledge of the data involved could look at that attachment and tell us whether or not it's "dirty." So far, though, no such person seems to have done so.

If I'm reading the other material right, it would seem that "option 1" wasn't the last word on CHA's changed grade, either. "Option 1" wouldn't have got it's grade up to the A it eventually hit, would it?
posted by yoink at 2:38 PM on July 29, 2013


It's Win-Win, because I win because I win, and I win because you lose.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:43 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the article:

"There was not a secret about this," he said. "This wasn't just to give Christel House an A. It was to make sure the system was right to make sure the system was face valid."

Grammar: F
Honesty level: F
Rationalization level and skeev factor: A+
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:47 PM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Reminds me of the crap that was played at the charter I attended in the mid-1990s.

One of the guiding principals of the school was that education should be self-paced and completest--you didn't just take your 'D' and move on to the next subject, you worked until you could demonstrate basic competency in everything. Grades weren't supposed to be a measure of quality, they were supposed to track how quickly and easily you were progressing. As such, there were really only two possible marks: 'Excels' which meant you passed on the first try, and 'Proficient' which meant it took longer for you to get it, but you eventually got it. There was also 'Incomplete', but that wasn't intended to be a grade and functioned more of a placeholder indicating that things were still a work-in-progress.

Given the obvious logistical problems, the school's self-paced try-until-you-get-it concept didn't last very long, and it was quietly replaced with a more traditional educational model. However, the two-grade system was retained with 'Excels' insidiously mapped to 'A', 'Proficient' to 'B', and 'Incomplete' to 'F'. Unsurprisingly, most students got As and Bs, a fact which the school's public relations office delighted in mentioning in every press release and during each recruitment drive.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 2:51 PM on July 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Charter schools are a huge clusterfuck here in Indiana. They're siphoning-off scarce funds from the regular public schools, and aren't performing up to claims. Ball State University got into charter schools big-time by sponsoring a slew of them, only to see most of them closed due to underperformance.

Meanwhile, the state continues head-long into its drive to, essentially, dismantle public schools, via moving public funds to private schools.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:58 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wisconsin's solution to a similar situation was to stop requiring testing in voucher schools. Oh, and if voucher schools kick a kid out after the third Friday of the school year, they get to keep all the money for that student for that year, while the school (usually public) that gets the student post-third Friday has to pay for their services. sifuabs
posted by drezdn at 3:08 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's almost as if "education reform" is a giant scam to drive tax money to campaign contributors.

This is certainly not all of what ed reform is about.
posted by Aizkolari at 3:14 PM on July 29, 2013


yoink -- your comment is very relevant to why I made the post. I read the NPR story and said to myself, "I'll bet there's some more defensible explanation for all this," and I was pleased to see that the article actually included links to the e-mails, rather than forcing me to reply on the AP reporter's summary. And when I looked at the actual e-mails, my response was, no, wow, I was wrong, this seems really crooked. It's interesting that we had such different responses.

Bennett's line about "the lies I've been telling" is quite clearly a reference to the fact that he's been stating that Christel House Academy will get an A rating--and he's been stating that because he's been repeatedly told by his staff, who have been looking at test results as they came in, that it would be rated A...By "lies" there he means simply "statements which I made in good faith and which have turned out to be false: and it's you bastards who put me in that position."

It's clear to me that his false statements were being made to CHA, yes. It's not clear to me in what sense they were made in good faith. Either:

1. He didn't know two-thirds of their high school students had flunked the math exam, and told them "you're getting an A" when he meant "it seems likely you're getting an A"

2. He knew two-thirds of their high school students had flunked the math exam, but he didn't understand the grading system he was in charge of, and told them "you're getting an A"

3 His staff knew CHA wasn't getting an A, but told him CHA was getting an A, whether through incompetence or fear of his anger.

In any of these three cases, surely the right response is to go, hat in hand, to CHA, and say, either:

1. "I thought based on your progress in other areas you'd easily sail to an A, but you blew it with your math scores, do better next year"

2. "I screwed up and told you something that wasn't true, I apologize for getting your hopes up"

3. "A staff member misinformed me and that person has been fired."

But surely not to say to one's staff:

"I promised them an A and they're getting an A, no matter how they did on the test, because not giving them an A would mean breaking my promise."


Nor, by the way, is the use of the word "loophole." There are lots of loopholes that it is perfectly legal to exploit.


I didn't have any sense from the AP story that Bennett was in any legal jeopardy. The question isn't whether what he did was illegal, the question is whether it was crooked. For me, to read those e-mails and construct a narrative where Bennett wasn't crooked requires some pretty convoluted storytelling.

I can't really figure out...whether or not "option 1" actually amounts to deliberately falsifying data or a defensible re-analysis of the data.

This is a very interesting point that cuts right to the gut of the thing! The point is that these aren't the only two choices. You see this issue in science all the time, e.g. in this post from earlier today. If you know what answer you want to get, and you have a lot of choices as to how to analyze the data, and you pick your mode of analysis in order to get the answer you want, that is not exactly data falsification, but it is crooked, and it means the results can't be trusted.
posted by escabeche at 3:17 PM on July 29, 2013 [22 favorites]


Idiocracy was not a road map forward for our country, despite the growing evidence to the contrary.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:18 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yet another scene change in the Michelle Rhee Flim Flam Show. I'm embarrassed to admit that I ever thought the point of these changes was to improve the quality of education when, as mentioned already, it is to put public money into private hands.
posted by 1adam12 at 3:24 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not clear to me in what sense they were made in good faith

If he's telling the truth in his emails (and given that they're written to the people involved and clearly not intended for public consumption, it's hard to see why he wouldn't be) what happened was that he asked the numbers people "so, are they getting an A?" and was consistently told "yep, no doubt about it, they're on track for an A." You seem to be straining the narrative to find some way in which he knew that this wasn't the case--given that we have harried emails from the people actually actively crunching the numbers saying how hard it is to get a clear sense of what happened and then triumphantly telling him they've figured out that it was all the fault of the algebra tests that's pretty implausible. This whole exchange would have to be stage-managed for that to be the case. I'm not sure how it gets to be both stage-managed AND a smoking gun.

"I promised them an A and they're getting an A, no matter how they did on the test, because not giving them an A would mean breaking my promise."

That is not a plausible paraphrase of any of Bennett's emails. One thing, by the way, that I think you have misread here is that he's not primarily saying "OMG, how can I break it to CHA that they're not getting an A"; he is saying "OMG, I've been telling everyone that CHA represents the Way Forward for schooling in the state, and now everything I've been saying about school reform will seem like BS." So when he is talking about having been made a liar by these results he is talking about that, not talking about whatever he has said to CHA.

If you know what answer you want to get, and you have a lot of choices as to how to analyze the data, and you pick your mode of analysis in order to get the answer you want, that is not exactly data falsification, but it is crooked, and it means the results can't be trusted.

That's going WAY too far as a blanket statement. There are hundreds of significant scientific findings where the data on original analysis looked uninteresting, but when reanalyzed by a different method turned out to be dramatically significant. The devil in these kinds of questions is entirely in the details--details that, unfortunately, no one in this thread seems qualified to analyze (or, it would seem, interested in analyzing).
posted by yoink at 3:47 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it common for a State Superintendent to be so involved with the test results of one school in the state? That seems really inappropriate to me, but maybe that's just SOP.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:51 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've tried to get my around the idea of charter schools and voucher programs, but I have yet to see anything proposed that was anywhere near reasonable. The idea is always floated by some conservative wingnut who has a burning hate for public school. They never have a reasonable response for how the great majority of children who will remain in public school will fare when boatloads of money are redirected (so fuck them, I guess). And they, invariably, are connected with a charter program in one way or another - usually financially.

Then, when a charter program actually begins and underperforms, the argument is always about ideology. It's like the kids don't even count.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:52 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


The devil in these kinds of questions is entirely in the details--details that, unfortunately, no one in this thread seems qualified to analyze (or, it would seem, interested in analyzing).

Bullshit. I can read the exchanges with my own eyes, thanks, and it is obvious that the staff involved are manipulating figures or the presentation of certain figures to get better, less embarrassing numbers to report. That's dishonest.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:56 PM on July 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Bullshit. I can read the exchanges with my own eyes, thanks, and it is obvious that the staff involved are manipulating figures or the presentation of certain figures to get better, less embarrassing numbers to report.

So, would you mind explaining for everyone exactly what "option one" entailed, what effect it had on the ranking of CHA and other schools, what the rationale behind it was and why that rationale is flawed? Or is it simply enough to say "Tony Bennett is on the Other Team, and this kinda looks bad, so we don't actually have to look at any details to condemn him?"

Look, I'm perfectly prepared to believe that this was all as crooked as can be, but I'm not seeing anyone here point to an actual smoking gun in those emails or elsewhere. All we have is the fact that Bennett expressed unhappiness that the early results looked unlike what he expected and that the final results were more like what he hoped. That is sufficient reason to investigate further, but it's hardly a complete case.
posted by yoink at 4:10 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just as a point of clarification because some folks above have wondered: Bennett was the state superintendent of public instruction, which in Indiana is an elected position. Bennett was defeated in last year's election by a Democratic teacher who, among other things, wants to get rid of the A-F grading system and review the state's voucher program. She's the first Democrat to be elected to that position in something like 40 years. The response of the governor and Republican legislature has basically been to argue that the state superintendent's position should be appointed by the governor rather than elected and to try to remove power from the office in the meantime.

So I was totally unsurprised to hear this. As a parent, I've always considered these ratings bunk (it's convenient to rank the majority of the urban district schools as failing so you can either open more charters or give over individual school administration to some private corporation), and I don't particularly trust a system that relies on them. I've got a kid entering kindergarten next year, and trying to wade through all the nonsense about school choice and reform is disheartening and frustrating. It definitely does feel as if the actual kids are less important than money.
posted by percolatrix at 4:31 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or is it simply enough to say "Tony Bennett is on the Other Team, and this kinda looks bad, so we don't actually have to look at any details to condemn him?"

As far as the "Other Team" stuff goes, I'm not really familiar with the political side of it. I'm just going on the email text, his initial questions about the legality of modifying performance data after the fact, and what the emails document about pursuing that option as a way to deliver better results.

Legal or not, that's some opaque, shady, backroom shit and you know it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:02 PM on July 29, 2013


Seriously, yoink, it's not hard to see what happened. Bennett has been one of the front-line soldiers in the education "reform" movement, and used his position in Indiana to push charters as hard as he could. At the time this all happened, he was in a bruising race with the Democratic candidate, Glenda Ritz, who was running on an anti-charter platform. When he found out that his pet charter was going to get a C, this was going to be a giant problem for him for a number of reasons:

*Once again, his opponent was running on an anti-charter program (and having a lot of success in doing so.) Announcing that his pet charter, the school that he used as the model for the whole charter push, had only merited a C would have been a gift, complete with pretty bow, delivered straight to the Ritz campaign.

*Second, said charter school was owned by a major GOP donor. The C rating would make the school much less attractive to parents, which would mean reduced enrollment, and in turn reduced profit. Which would mean an unhappy donor, and less funds for the Bennett campaign.

*Finally, it was pretty clear that Ritz was not going away, and that Bennett had a good chance of losing. If he let the C grade stand and he lost, Bennett would be out in the cold. Making sure the school got the A rating was most likely a large factor in why Bennett had a nice soft landing in Florida.

Frankly, after El Paso, Atlanta, and DC, I no longer give members of the education "reform" movement the benefit of the doubt.
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:10 PM on July 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


While it's commendable not to jump to conclusions, this looks pretty bad to me. At a minimum, they were tinkering with the formula just days or hours before releasing the results, after the data came in, with knowledge of particular schools' results, and under pressure from the boss because the data about one particular school appeared inconsistent with statements he'd made in the past. It could be that the formula they applied was the most reasonable one, but those don't look like circumstances that encourage the formulation of fair and outcome-neutral analyses.
posted by burden at 5:17 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


his initial questions about the legality of modifying performance data after the fact

Where does he ask this question? I just reread the emails and I still don't see any such question.

the emails document about pursuing that option as a way to deliver better results.

Pursuing "better results" is absolutely fine, legitimate, and above board. There is no scandal in saying "wow, those results sound crazy; are you sure we haven't failed to compensate for some obvious source of error in these results?"* This is only a scandal if they did not do that, but simply futzed around with the figures until CHA looked good. And obviously you, like me, have no idea at all if that is or is not what they did.

*(Imagine, for example, that you set up a system to rank US universities. Your initial results come out and The University of Phoenix comes out at #1 and Harvard comes out at #142. You would be perfectly justified in saying "wait, did we screw something up here in how we're defining the parameters or how we're categorizing different aspects of these schools or what?" It would not be a "scandal" to revisit your algorithm and see if you can't account for that unexpected result. What would be a "scandal" is to simply say "ah, fuck it, we all know what the real rankings should be, so let's just release those." We just do not have sufficient information yet to decide which one of those scenarios is going on here.)
posted by yoink at 5:18 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously, yoink, it's not hard to see what happened. Bennett has been one of the front-line soldiers in the education "reform" movement, and used his position in Indiana to push charters as hard as he could. At the time this all happened, he was in a bruising race with the Democratic candidate, Glenda Ritz, who was running on an anti-charter platform.

It simply adds to my sense of an unhappy rush to judgment here that your "it's not hard to see what happened" leads simply to a list of why we don't like Tony Bennett and not to any, you know, evidence of actual wrongdoing. If someone could say "here is what they did to the formula they were using and here is why that is arbitrary and unjustifiable" that would be nice. More "here is why the circumstantial evidence is really really IMPORTANT circumstantial evidence" doesn't seem very helpful.
posted by yoink at 5:21 PM on July 29, 2013


the man could sing his ass off.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:27 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, would you mind explaining for everyone exactly what "option one" entailed, what effect it had on the ranking of CHA and other schools, what the rationale behind it was and why that rationale is flawed?

From my reading of the five emails, the reference to 'option 1' in email 3 is to the doc in the fifth link, where comment 2 says 'hey it says to measure the high school section with reference to four grades and they don't have four grades so this doesn't apply!'. Comment 5 is where they notice that this case (fewer than 4 grades in a high school) has been accounted for in the rules, but they say that because this was not stated in the section dealing with combined schools that also have primary/middle school grades, they can safely say it does not apply either. If you now refer to exchange 3, Jon Gubera says that they can safely not measure the high school grades at all and thus improve the special charter schools rating by ignoring the fact that 66% of their 10th graders failed math. According to the 'open question', this change affected 13 schools, but it doesn't tell us how the other 12 were affected.

As written in email 3, the rationale for doing this was 'ensure CH receives at least a B', or (my wording) 'fiddle the fucking numbers to make it look like my pet movement is not a fucking scam that is failing to deliver the results I have promised'.

It seems to me pretty clearly arbitrary and unjustifiable to say that a school that includes at least one high school grade (but not 12th grade) and any non-high school grade should be scored only on the results of the non-high school students, but any school that doesn't contain that exact combination of grades will be scored on all their students.
posted by jacalata at 5:34 PM on July 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


You'd be surprised at how many cases are won on circumstantial evidence, yoink. When you look at everything, to argue that somehow, a formula that had been considered to be accurate us suddenly becomes inaccurate when the pet charter winds up failing doesn't pass the smell test. Occam's Razor cuts quite fine.
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:37 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Personally, I want to know more about the unecessary antics of Rich's 3.30pm phone call to the second floor, and why the Charters measurement excludes 4 schools which magically improved the overall rating of charter schools so that 'over half are C or better'.
posted by jacalata at 5:38 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think there's a difference between "Our model is wrong because it's producing obviously absurd results" and "Our model is wrong because it's producing results that are different from what I've told people in the past." From the emails, it looks like the changes to the formula were motivated more by the latter than the former.

The original formula from email 2 was (average of elementary English and math scores * percentage of students in elementary school) + (average of high school English and math scores * percentage of students in high school). The tenth graders at Christel did terribly on their algebra exams, and this dragged down the result.

As jacalata says, they appear to have replaced this formula, which seems pretty reasonable to me, with one where they just didn't count the 10th grade algebra results. That seems less reasonable to me. It's hard to understand how reported results would be made more accurate by just excluding unfavorable datapoints.
posted by burden at 5:43 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


To me, this just displays the inherent risk of charter schools--once you have third parties controlling what used to be public education, whether those third parties are corporations or individuals, you run the risk of this huge conflict of interest where private money "donations" are indistinguishable from bribes of public officials to get the outcomes favorable to those third parties.

When schools are being run as "businesses", it no longer matters if students are learning anything, it just matters if there is the illusion of success which brings in the students which bring in the profits to the third parties.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:07 PM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


The purported purpose of charter schools is that they are all about parental choice. But the parents are unable to make an informed choice if the supposed regulators are being bribed to misinform the public about the success of charter schools.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:10 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is no scandal in saying "wow, those results sound crazy; are you sure we haven't failed to compensate for some obvious source of error in these results?"

No, but I cannot find in the released e-mail any sense that anyone involved thought that the results were "crazy" or in any way incorrect. What Bennett says about them is that the low grade is "problematic because we told Christel and Bosma that, given the 162 day threshold, their data made them an A." And that "if this is our answer we must be prepared through legislation to lose our entire PL-221 efforts to date and have no hope for improving accountability this coming session."

The director of accountability, Jon Gubera, then writes:

"Finished growth analysis and there is nothing in "rounding" that can help... ran every possible scenario... they [Christel House] are just too many students away from getting the growth bonus in either subgroup for E/LA."

I find it very hard to read that as a message coming from someone whose first priority is to get the right answer, rather than to give Christel House the highest possible score.
posted by escabeche at 7:07 PM on July 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


It simply adds to my sense of an unhappy rush to judgment here that your "it's not hard to see what happened" leads simply to a list of why we don't like Tony Bennett and not to any, you know, evidence of actual wrongdoing.

Maybe, but those of us in Indiana and familiar with what a snake Bennett is are entitled not to give him the benefit of the doubt.
posted by Gelatin at 5:58 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


So I hope this isn't too much of a derail, but being a graduate of a fairly successful charter high school, I'd like to remind the thread that charter school administration and oversight does vary considerably from state to state.

Some definitely seem set up to funnel taxpayer money into private hands, but other states seem to do a decent job at ensuring charter schools are at least not corrupt or horribly inept, though they don't always succeed at actually guaranteeing quality. (Though that last bit is probably part and parcel with the whole idea of charters.)
posted by thegears at 7:04 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bigger picture: Bennett was Governor Mitch Daniels' guy. Daniels stacked the Board of Trustees at Purdue University, and was appointed President of Purdue by the Board soon after he was done being Governor. Then the emails came to light, about Daniels (as Governor) trying to remove credit for courses using the Howard Zinn book, 'A Peoples History of the United States', as well as "efforts to silence IUPUI professor Chuck Little, a frequent critic of Daniels' education overhaul."

For a conservative state, Indiana has a history of high regard for education. I am an Indiana University alum, and Purdue is The In-State Rival. But you want your rival to be worthy, on all fronts, and there is serious concern that Purdue will degrade as it's people get tired of talking about Mitch Daniels instead of the work they're doing, and go elsewhere. Sad. Education in Indiana is taking a serious hit.
posted by dragonsi55 at 7:07 AM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


For a conservative state, Indiana has a history of high regard for education.

Unfortunately, Indiana is now deeply invested in the whole anti-tax/government/union movement, and public education, being dead center in the Venn diagram for all three, is the favorite whipping boy of conservatives looking to score dogma points.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:14 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most problems in school districts can be attributed to the top 5 salaried positions.
posted by judson at 9:00 AM on July 30, 2013


"A low grade also can detract from a neighborhood and drive homebuyers elsewhere." Good responsibility for children to have, right? Probably builds character.

Oh, yes. I sure remember my dad giving me hell when I flunked trigonometry. "What the hell were you thinking?" he screamed. "Do you know what you're doing to the property values around here!?"
posted by Spatch at 9:14 AM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]






wow, mattbucher, that article appears to be written by someone with a completely different interpretation of the events than I have.

It’s not that big of a deal and calls for Bennett to resign pretty obviously overstate the issue. Clearly IN officials did discover a problem with their grading system that unfairly penalized 12 or 13 schools with non-traditional grade configurations. It was one particular school that brought it to their attention. ... the need for a fix looks clear here
posted by jacalata at 11:07 AM on July 31, 2013


Uh, yeah, if there really was a systemic issue with the grading system for schools with those non-traditional grade configurations, why did no one raise an eyebrow when various public schools with similar configurations had dismal results? Case in point: Howe High School in Indianapolis, a "community high school" with grades 7-12, was designated repeatedly as failing by the state and recommended by Bennett for private takeover beginning in the fall of 2012. The operation of Howe, as well as 2 of the other 3 schools in Indianapolis up for takeover, went to Charter Schools USA, based in Florida and whose president/CEO, Jonathan Hage, was part of Gov. Scott's education team.

Huh. Go figure.
posted by percolatrix at 6:20 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]




Break given Christel House could have spared two IPS schools from state takeover. One of those schools was Howe, which I mentioned above.

The Indianapolis Star is also reporting today that Bennett's wife currently works for Charter Schools USA.
posted by percolatrix at 9:44 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Buh-bye!
posted by lalochezia at 5:34 AM on August 2, 2013


I got so het up about this story that I wrote a piece about it for Slate.
posted by escabeche at 11:13 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


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