LOGANSPORT - It is more than slightly ironic that the Indiana State Board of Education is hiring its own consultant to do what it could be doing collaboratively with its state school superintendent – improve education.

It would be nice if board members and a state school superintendent from different parties could be on the same page when it comes to the importance of education in this state, but state education reform has become so politicized that politics takes priority. The irony of the current Tony Bennett controversy involving a grade change for Christel House, the charter school funded by one of Bennett’s biggest campaign contributors, represents one of the worst kinds of academic fraud there is. Forget the NCAA hammering some college for giving a football player a D- in a math class he should have failed. What Bennett and his staff did for Christel House pales in comparison. He violated a public trust for the sake of a private school run by a campaign contributor.

Think about this for a minute: If the Indiana State Board of Education had really been holding Bennett accountable like it is holding Glenda Ritz accountable now, the Christel House controversy may never have happened in the first place. But the board didn’t. It gave Bennett, who now faces calls for his resignation as Florida education chief because of what he did in Indiana, carte blanche to rate schools however he chose. To use an old Hoosier phrase, the board has “Closed the barn door after the horse is gone.”The board has taken a “get-tough” stance with Ritz when it should be leading a “get it right” bipartisan effort to clean up the mess Bennett has left behind. To really reform education at the state level, the board should have members of both major parties as well as independents. Instead, appointments are political rewards. When was the last time you read an obituary for a State Board of Education member that credited them with making education better in the state?

The board and Bennett are among the problems facing Indiana education, but neither represent the only worm in the apple that is American education. There are those who criticized the entry of Harrison College into the higher education market in Indiana because it supposedly bought its way into educational credibility. In essence, it could be argued that Christel DeHaan, whether she intended to or not, did the exact same thing. At the least, there is the appearance of trying to buy influence at the state level. At the worst, it is apparent that Bennett may have been offering Indiana’s official state rankings of school quality for sale to the highest bidder.

While some have touted charter schools as a panacea for what ails education, if every school in the state was a charter school, we would simply have public education under a new name, not necessarily a better concept. Based on historical datea, charter schools overall do not outperform public schools. Private schools, which can be selective in admissions, are not the same animals as charter schools, yet the two have become muddled together because both represent something other than public schools.

What is probably most troubling about state government when it comes to education is that state officials don’t look at schools as a dashboard indicator of state support for communities other than in classrooms. State assistance that makes for stable communities could make for more stable school environments in rural and urban areas. The state school funding formula systemically solves budget issues for education, but Indiana needs a community development formula that makes the job of running schools easier for adults and succeeding in school easier for students.

The state grading system Bennett imposed succeeded in one respect: It deflected the blame for Indiana’s education from Indianapolis to 91 other counties. What the revelations of a gerrymandered system have succeeded in doing is diverting the attention of educational responsibility in this state back to Indianapolis.

Some would argue that public education has failed Indiana. After the events of the last week, it can be argued that the process that runs public education has failed this time.

Kitchell is an award winning columnist based in Logansport.