Hoosier State loss

I first met Indiana’s state superintendent Tony Bennett by phone in mid-2009. I had written something for Flypaper about reports of his frustration with Race to the Top. So and he (and his then-chief of staff and now state representative Todd Huston) called me, out of the blue, to discuss it.

Ed Reform Idol
Tony Bennett lost his re-election bid yesterday. 
Photo by Joe Portnoy.

I walked away from that call very impressed by Dr. Bennett. He was not only passionate about meaningful reform; he was also clear-thinking and strategic. As I got to know him in the years since, my admiration for him only grew.

Hence my enormous disappointment at the news that he lost his bid for re-election last night.

During his tenure, Tony pushed through a nation-leading reform agenda. Under his watch, Indiana made huge progress on teacher evaluations, accountability, choice, and much more. Last year, TBFI recognized Bennett for these remarkable accomplishments.

I also got to see him in action through our joint work on the PARCC governing board. In a room full of star state chiefs, Tony always stood out as among the smartest and most innovative and decent people around. He could identify emerging problems and articulate potential solutions as well as anyone. And he always volunteered to step up when individual initiative was needed.

Tony is a rare breed—someone who built a career inside of the education establishment but who is still willing and able to point out and tackle the system’s biggest flaws.

In recent months, I was occasionally asked who should be the next Secretary of Education should Gov. Romney win the presidency. I had two names, and Tony Bennett was one of them.

His electoral undoing should cause the reform community to pause. He was, of course, attacked by the defenders of the status quo. But he also came under assault from his right by fierce opponents of Common Core. It says a great deal about Tony’s character and mettle that he continued to defend all parts of his reform agenda despite the crossfire.

The reform community has enjoyed many wins in the last several years, but I’ve been increasingly worried about the inevitable counter-offensive from the establishment, the striking back of the empire. The result of the Indiana election concerns me because it shows not only that reformers can be vulnerable to sustained bombardment from the left, but also that we need to be concerned about our right flank. A year ago, I never would have thought that possible.

The ed-reform world is better off because Tony Bennett was a leading state chief for four years. I’m confident and hopeful that he will continue to contribute to this work in substantial ways for years to come.

Thanks, Tony, and very best.

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