After coming under fire for allegedly changing the grade of a charter school while he was serving as Indiana's schools chief, Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett announced on Thursday he would resign.
Bennett said at a news conference it would be "unfair" to the children in Florida for him to continue to serve as the education commissioner, and that he did not want to get in the way of Gov. Rick Scott's efforts to reform the state's education system.
The Florida Department of Education called an emergency meeting to appoint an interim commissioner and said in a notice that Bennett's departure "created an immediate danger to public welfare." Bennett was appointed to the position in December after he failed to be re-elected in Indiana.
Bennett has faced increasing pressure to resign since The Associated Press published a story on Monday showing he and his staff worked to change Indiana's "A-F" grading system, which he created, to ensure the Christel House Academy, a charter school which is run by an influential Republican donor, would receive an "A" rather than a "C," despite poor test scores.
The grading system evaluates schools each year based on students' performance on annual English and math assessments, year-to-year improvement, graduation rates and "college and career readiness."
The school's founder, Christel DeHaan, has given millions to Republican political campaigns over the last several years, the AP reported.
But Bennett denied that the school received special treatment, saying the reports were "malicious" and "unfounded" and that several schools benefitted from the changes.
He maintains that the schools received lower grades because they were penalized for not having 11th and 12th grades, and that scores for those grades came in at zero. He even called on Indiana's inspector general to investigate the issue and says he is "fearless about what they will find."
"That wasn't rigging anything," Bennett told reporters. "We did the right thing for Indiana schools and Indiana children."
Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida, defended Bennett's actions and said he created a system to help students achieve their "God-given potential."
"Today, more Hoosier kids are graduating high school ready for college or a career and fewer are dropping out," Bush said in a statement. "The data is clear; thanks to Tony's leadership children are better prepared for success."
In order to prepare students and teachers for the Common Core State Standards, many state education officials have implemented higher standards and say declines in school ratings reflect a push for more rigorous assessments.
In some cases, student performance measures affect overall school grades, which can influence how much state funding a school receives, or if they will receive assistance and oversight from the Department of Education.
During Bennett's tenure as education commissioner in Florida, for example, state officials pressured him to implement a "safety net" that would prevent schools from dropping more than one letter grade each year. Despite the padded grades, several schools in Florida saw declines when the grades were released in late July.
Other states, such as Georgia, have proposed tying teacher pay to student performance. The state received a nearly $400 million grant from Race to the Top, a multi-billion dollar fund from the Education Department intended to spur educational reform. A portion of Georgia's grant was intended to create a teacher evaluation program, but the Department of Education notified the state it may withhold nearly $10 million of the grant when state officials said they wanted to delay implementing the merit pay plan.
"We will continue to work with federal officials to develop a plan regarding this issue," said Georgia School Superintendent John Barge, in a statement. "But it is critical that we establish an accurate measurement tool for educator performance before we ever consider linking it to merit bonuses for Georgia's teachers."