School firm still haunted by comments William Bennett's Comments School firm still haunted by comments

Posted: November 11, 2005

Ron Packard, cofounder of the K12 curriculum company, sat quietly in the audience as chaos erupted over the School Reform Commission's decision Wednesday to keep the Virginia-based firm.

He understands "the emotional response" that members of the African American community had to the racial comments made by William Bennett - who cofounded K12 with Packard.

But Packard said yesterday that he was disappointed that people still blamed the company, which acted within a few days of the comments to cut Bennett's part-time employment and get his resignation as board chairman.

"We've shown our colors and what K12 stands for," Packard said in a telephone interview. "K12 has taken every legal possible way to sever ties with Mr. Bennett."

The controversy, however, continues. Yesterday, State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland (D., Delaware), head of the black caucus in the Pennsylvania legislature, urged the school district to dump the company.

"These types of mindless racial comments can not go unpunished," Kirkland wrote in a letter dated yesterday to Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive.

Others, however, supported the commission's decision.

Barry Morrison, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Philadelphia, said school officials were correct that "the sins of Bennett should not taint K12" or have a negative effect on the company's curriculum.

The controversy started in September when Bennett suggested on his radio show that the crime rate could be cut by aborting black babies, although he immediately said such an action would be "morally reprehensible."

Bennett's comments and the company's decision to part ways with Bennett, which riled some of his supporters, have resulted in lost business for K12, Packard said.

"This was not a good thing for us," Packard said.

He said the company intends to stay in Philadelphia as long as the School Reform Commission will have it, and he noted test-score gains at the William H. Hunter School, an elementary school where the company has provided math, science and history curriculum materials for about a year and a half. In fifth-grade math, the percentage of students scoring at or above proficient levels rose from 23 percent in 2004 to 45 percent in 2005.

Olivia Dreibelbis, principal of Hunter School, said she likes the computer-based aspects of the materials and the way they are regularly updated.

"We're pleased with it," she said.

K12 also has a $3 million contract this year to provide science curriculum materials district-wide in kindergarten through third grade.

Packard said he had attended the meeting in case commission members had questions for him. They didn't call on him to speak at the session, which abruptly recessed when members of the audience rushed toward the commission table in anger after the vote.

A. Bruce Crawley, chairman of the African-American Chamber of Commerce, said yesterday that he had met with State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) on the matter. Crawley wants the legislature to withhold $3 million in funding from the district until the contract is ended.

Gov. Rendell declined to comment; his spokeswoman, Kate Philips, called it a "local issue." House Speaker John Perzel (R., Phila.) also did not comment.

Mayor Street's education secretary, Jacqueline Barnett, said Street agreed that the contract should be severed, but said there was little he could do. His two appointees on the commission, Sandra Dungee Glenn and Martin Bednarek, already voted to dump the contract, but the three gubernatorial appointees opted to keep it.

Barnett said Street would be willing to meet with Dungee Glenn and others.

But she said she did not support the personal attacks that were made by some members of the audience toward Vallas and James Nevels, the commission chairman, who is black and voted to keep the contract.

"It is disturbing to take it to personal levels," she said.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

From the Sept. 28 Salem Radio Network broadcast of William Bennett's show, Morning in America:

Caller: I noticed the national media, you know, they talk a lot about the loss of revenue, or the inability of the government to fund Social Security, and I was curious, and I've read articles in recent months here, that the abortions that have happened since Roe v. Wade, the lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30-something years, could fund Social Security as we know it today. And the media just doesn't - never touches this at all.

Bennett: Assuming they're all productive citizens?

Caller: Assuming that they are. Even if only a portion of them were, it would be an enormous amount of revenue.

Bennett: Maybe, maybe, but we don't know what the costs would be, too. I think as - abortion disproportionately occur among single women? No.

Caller: I don't know the exact statistics, but quite a bit are, yeah.

Bennett: All right, well, I mean, I just don't know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don't know. I mean, it cuts both - you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well -

Caller: Well, I don't think that statistic is accurate.

Bennett: Well, I don't think it is, either; I don't think it is, either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don't know. But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.

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