Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett sees teachers and their unions as worse than Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) snaking throughout the locker rooms and hallways of Indiana’s public school buildings. Yet, after setting out on his pilgrimage to prove in his doctoral dissertation that teachers’ unions and teachers’ contracts were negatively influencing Indiana education, the former principal and basketball coach stumbled across a rude awakening. His research suggested the direct opposite.

In The Effects of Just Cause Contract Language on Teacher Dismissals in Indiana Between 1999-2004, Bennett (2005) discovered that school corporations in the Hoosier state “have not encountered measurable resistance by teachers’ unions against their recommendations to dismiss teachers” (p. iii). Additionally, Bennett wrote: “Just cause contract language has not presented insurmountable hurdles for school corporations as they work to improve teachers’ performance and behavior” (p. iii). Neither did he find administrators claiming they were in any way handcuffed from holding teachers to high standards (iii-iv).

Given that many doctoral candidates statistically analyze survey data, one can give Bennett the benefit of the doubt for not doing enough preliminary work before embarking to disprove his own thesis. Yet true scholars change their arguments to fit the data, elaborate on those arguments, add more sources to back up those arguments, and put that knowledge into practice in the real world. If anything, you’d think that after confirming his ideas wrong, coach Bennett would be out in full-force tailgating for the teachers and teachers’ unions every step of the way. Sadly, this will never happen.

Truthfully, Bennett has staunchly supported school privatization for years as a way to one day financially cash-in.* With the plutocrats now applauding his every rant and rave, the counterfeit Bobby Knight of State School Boards might very well become a millionaire as soon as he exits the superintendent’s office and fully joins the charter school cartel. Or they may just laugh him off, since I don’t think Tony Bennett is bright enough to write believable school-reform propaganda. But, then again, neither are many of the Ph.D.s/Ed.D.s who are spitting out and spinning the research funded by the school privatizers. Although he’ll never be a straight-shooter, Tony Bennett could still become a dribbling hero after all. Let’s hope he just bounces himself right into the dumpster of Hoosiers long forgotten.


* Among those who donated to Bennett’s campaign for Head School Chief were Christel DeHaan, co-founder of Resort Condominiums International (RCI) who runs her own charter schools and is a member of Mitch Daniels’ Educational Roundtable; Hoosiers for Economic Growth, a pro-school choice front group which receives money from the Walton Family and Amway wife Betsy DeVos; Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.Com and chair of the board of directors at Milton Friedman’s Foundation for Educational Choice which was behind the “Why Not Indiana?” ads; internet school company, K-12, INC.; Apangea Learning, an online tutoring group whose CEO, Kevin McAliley, used to lead Channel One Communications (a news program which runs with ads in the Indiana public schools); Jason Bryant, the regional vice president of Imagine Schools’ charters in Fort Wayne; McGraw-Hill, publishers of Indiana’s textbooks, ISTEP tests, and long-standing friends with the Bush Family; Todd Rokita, now U.S. Representative for Indiana and co-member with Bennett of Purdue’s Indiana Council for Economic Education’s Director’s Circle; Jeff Abbott, member of Bennett’s educational transition team and the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, the local branch of the right-wing State Policy Network; Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, who helped found the Charles A. Tindley charter school; Rollin Dick, of the charter operator GEO Foundation and former CFO for Conseco; Anne Shane, former Teach for America Indiana board chair, now of the Mind Trust; David Shane (Anne’s husband), the CEO of LDI, Ltd., LLC holding company, TechPoint member, assistant to Indy Mayor Peterson’s Mayor’s Charter School Board, a former Daniels’ Policy Advisor for Education and Employment, and now member of the Indiana State Board of Education; Neil Pickett, former policy advisor for Daniels and past official at Eli Lilly, director of Health Policy Research and Analysis at Clarian Health, and member of the Indiana State Board of Eduction; Chris Faulkner, right-wing political consultant who employees Indiana State Board of Education member Jo Blacketor.

For more state board and dissertation news, see the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette’s coverage of plagiarism allegations against another Indiana State Board of Education member, Gwen Adell, and Karen Francisco’s call to Mitch Daniels to suspend Adell immediately.

Doug Martin

Doug Martin

Doug Martin is a Walt Whitman scholar, poet, fiction writer, editor, musician (the Delicious Militia), and teacher.