Tom LoBianco appears determined to save journalism all by himself. Hot on the heels of his investigative story about former Gov. Daniels and his efforts to stifle teaching of Howard Zinn, Tom (I can call him Tom because I met him one time!) has a story that I think is a lot more substantively important.
He reports that e-mails from former Superintendent of Schools, Tony Bennett, reveals that the State gamed the school rating system to accommodate a favored narrative and a favored political contributor.
Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan’s school [known as Christel House] received an “A,” despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a “C.”
“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist.
Bennett’s response suggests that favored schools run by influential donor’s cannot fail; they can only be failed. Apparently the fact that the existing metrics gave DeHaan’s school a low grade was evidence of problems with the metrics, not the school.
Responding to news that Christel House would be getting a “C” under the existing metrics:
“This will be a HUGE problem for us,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012 email to Neal.
Neal fired back a few minutes later, “Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved.”
A weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble ensued among Bennett, assistant superintendent Dale Chu, Gubera, Neal and other top staff at the Indiana Department of Education. 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.
Stories like Tom LoBianco has been unearthing show how and why journalism can be saved. Digging for and examining evidence about what happened; and afflicting the powerful when they have it coming is what journalists do best and the value they add to the system. Bloggers will not often replicate this sort of thing. I think newspapers would be well-served to focus on this aspect of their business. Opinion pieces and classified ads can be imitated and replaced. Journalists can’t.