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A trip south for Tony Bennett

To no one's great surprise, Indiana state Superintendent Tony Bennett is headed for Florida, where he just was named education commissioner by the State Board of Education.

His appointment won't please a number of education groups, whose leaders submitted a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking him to reject Bennett and the two other finalists for the job.

"We will not be silent as our state Board of Education, who serves at your pleasure, considers candidates who are a comfortable fit for them, but a poor choice for the 2.74 million public school children who will bear the brunt of this decision," states the letter. "We strongly urge you to convince the Board of Education to reject these last-minute political applicants, who are not the product of a thoughtful search independent of ideology."

The letter is signed by the president of the Florida PTA and representatives of eight other education groups, including Parents Across America.

In his interview with the board Tuesday, Bennett conceded that he can be "caustic" at times. The Miami Herald reported:

"I do forget that the interpersonal touch, the human touch is so vitally important," Bennett said. "And I would tell you that probably some of my sharpest critics would tell you that sometimes I come off a little impersonal, that I can be a little caustic, and that's not because I'm a mean spirited person."

"Bennett said his strong suit is carrying out polices that are best for children. In Indiana those were similar to many that fellow Republicans, starting with former Gov. Jeb Bush, have instituted in Florida such as school grading and accountability and teacher evaluation programs.

As for policies that are "best for children," – the verdict is still out. None of the policies pushed through by Bennett, Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Republican-controlled General Assembly have been tested over time. The effects of vouchers, charter school expansion, degradation of teacher standards and more might not be known for years.

The bigger problem for Bennett, however, might be with his new governor. Scott said he "wants a commissioner who would carry out his agenda including adequate funding, accountability, treating teachers right and not teaching to standardized tests," according to the Herald.

Bennett will demand accountability, but his record in Indiana suggests he'll struggle to deliver on the other points.

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Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at