Local teachers glad to see Bennett’s grade change come to light

Local teachers are glad to see Tony Bennett's grading scandal come to light, but sad for teachers and students negatively affected by the grading system.

Posted on Aug. 1, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Aug. 1, 2013 at 4:33 p.m.

Just as many local teachers were active last fall in campaigning against Tony Bennett leading up to the election for state superintendent of public instruction, so were educators glad to see the Associated Press examine how Bennett changed a charter school’s grade during his time as Indiana’s public schools chief. The allegations resulted in Bennett’s resignation Thursday, Aug. 1.

“Thank God somebody looked into it,” said Jenna Labash, a kindergarten teacher at Roosevelt Elementary in Elkhart.

Alex Holtz, who is preparing for his 17th year of teaching math at Elkhart Memorial High School and is president of the Elkhart Teachers Association, was sure to note in an interview that “teachers definitely welcome accountability, if it’s fair and reasonable, and I don’t think that’s what the A to F system we have is.”

At least some local educators have been wary of Bennett’s A through F grading system for schools and the accountability standards tied to them since it was introduced.

Though now a teacher, Labash first earned a master’s degree in accounting before switching to a career in teaching and getting a master’s in early childhood education. She taught preschool and first grade for several years in a high-poverty school district in the south side of Chicago before moving to teach in Elkhart Community Schools.

“Coming from a business background, it sounds like a good idea to have these accountability standards,” Labash said. But schools don’t all have the same starting line and there isn’t a formula to achieve higher success in schools, she explained. “Public schools don’t chose. You work with what you’ve got.”

“Teachers have always known this is completely bogus,” she said about the current accountability standards. “I mean, it’s something we have to do, but it’s bogus.”

There’s a need for accountability, but as it is, “there are too many stakeholders uninformed and too many stakeholders with ulterior motives.”

Leanne Geary, who has been in education 21 years, felt similarly about the grading system. Geary is an instructional coach at Nappanee Elementary but worked in Elkhart Community Schools for 19 years.

“It was interesting to see how schools deemed failing were meeting students’ needs,” she said. “They just couldn’t pass tests.”

“The kids then feel that they are not worthy and they aren’t smart,” she continued. “And a lot of those schools are in high-poverty areas, so those kids already have a lot against them. For the state to come out and then label them, it just breaks my heart.”

She’s glad to hear that Bennett has resigned from his position in Florida before he could do any “damage” there, she said. “Now Indiana just has to regroup and move forward.”

Labash said Bennett’s conduct with the school grades situation, though, makes her concerned about other measures in the state. If he would do that, she posed, “then, what else is out there?”

Elkhart Superintendent Rob Haworth said that he hopes the situation with Bennett will at least result in an accountability instrument that can better measure a school’s growth.

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