If this education thing doesn’t work out for Tony Bennett, the Indiana superintendent of public instruction may have a future in reality TV.
Bennett’s fellow contestants, the chief state education officers of Florida, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin, appear slightly uncomfortable to be taking part in a sort of questionable inside joke about changes that, for better or worse, will affect the lives of millions of students and teachers.
The “celebrity judges,” Jeanne Allen, Bruno Manno, and Richard Lee Colvin, seem never to have heard of American Idol’s Simon Cowell, never mind trying to imitate him. Despite prompting by emcee Michael Petrilli, most of the folks on the stage act like they’re at an education policy symposium.
Not so Bennett. He goes for the gusto, talking trash about his opponents, repeating his mantra of “competition, freedom and accountability” and drawing political lines in the sand.
He sets the tone by claiming he’s like Larry Bird at the first NBA 3-point contest: “I’m just here to see who’s going to finish second.” He scoffs at the notion that Illinois could be reformy: “Illinois is the state where Indiana legislators ran away to get away from education reform legislation,” he says, referring to the Indiana House Democrats’ walkout this session. He says reform in Indiana took off after we – that is, Republicans – seized control of state government.
Tossed a friendly question about helping teachers improve, Bennett takes it as an opportunity to zing education schools. He says Indiana lets teachers earn license-renewal credits through professional development “so no longer are teachers held hostage by the cash cows of higher education.”
“If you want to talk about flashy legislation, and implementing flashy legislation in a streamlined fashion, come to Indiana,” Bennett says.
If the judges won’t be Simon Cowell, leave it to Bennett.