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Latest Education Scandal Buoys Critics Of High-Stakes Testing as Scott Scrambles

| August 5, 2013

Cogs in the testing machine. (Adrian Sampson)

Cogs in the testing machine. (Adrian Sampson)

For the third time in Gov. Rick Scott’s two-and-a-half years as governor, there is no permanent leader in place for the Department of Education.

Departures are nothing new for the Scott administration. At least 11 department heads during Scott’s term have resigned; the governor is also on his third chief of staff and is still looking for a replacement for Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.

But the state’s top education job has proven to be one of the most difficult to fill with a long-term hire. Commissioner Tony Bennett resigned Thursday after less than eight months on the job; he had replaced Gerard Robinson, who stepped down after little more than a year at DOE.

Even some Republicans concede that the situation is less than ideal.

“It’s a distraction, especially given how important education is to, really, the future of the state,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who chairs the Senate’s education funding panel.

Critics of the state’s education policies are now seizing on the resignations, arguing that the problem is less the person on the job than the state’s accountability system. Bennett was a strong supporter of that system, adding a twist of irony to his resignation in the wake of reports that he tweaked the Indiana school report card formulas to help a school founded by a political contributor. Bennett was Indiana’s elected superintendent of public instruction before coming to Florida.

Robinson resigned after the botched rollout of school grades in Florida last year, though he said he was leaving the post to spend more time with his family. Bennett was forced to extend some grading policies that Robinson put in place in an effort to avoid collapsing scores this year.

“It is baffling that some in the Legislature keep moving the bar higher on our children, while the bar for gubernatorial appointees to ensure their success seems to get lower and lower,” Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said in a statement issued Thursday. “Not to mention the instability of the ‘swinging door effect’ that undermines forward movement on the critical role of government to educate our children.”

Florida Education Association President Andy Ford was among those saying that Bennett was done in by the “so-called reforms” that he backed.

“As long as it is a political appointment, the office of the education commissioner will be a revolving door, and our students, schools and communities will continue to experience the whiplash of these policies,” Ford said. “It’s past time that we include teachers, parents and administrators in developing solutions, not just listen to the ‘reformers’ who have an approach that has been a disaster for public education in Florida.”

In many ways, it’s a battle that goes beyond Scott or the education commissioner, who is technically chosen by the State Board of Education but is often the governor’s favored pick. The fight over high-stakes testing and its role in Florida’s attempt to measure student performance has its roots in the education reform battles during former Gov. Jeb Bush’s term.

“Actually, I think it says even more, perhaps, about Jeb Bush and his policies,” said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, when asked what the repeated resignations said about the DOE under Scott.

Bush has remained an influential figure in the state’s education policies, largely through the work of his Foundation for Florida’s Future, which often takes a lead role in some of the toughest fights over schools in the Legislature. But Pafford said Bush’s sway is already weakening and would be hurt more by the departure of Bennett, who openly admires Bush.

“This should be the end of what Jeb Bush did in Florida, which is really destroying a system and taking it into the Dark Ages,” Pafford said.

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who doubles as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said the problems Florida has gone through during the last two years have less to do with accountability itself and more to do with “the mechanics of it.”

“But at the same time, when we moved as quickly as we moved in Florida, you can expect some growing pains,” he said.

Galvano dismissed the idea that there are any inherent problems at the DOE and said there was no need to overhaul the state’s approach to schools.

“We’re going to move forward,” he said.

For his part, Scott shows few signs of changing direction on education policy. A spokeswoman for the governor did not dispute Bennett’s claims that Scott encouraged him not to resign, and a statement issued by Scott also didn’t indicate misgivings.

“Florida’s education system continues to make incredible gains, and our number one priority is to keep that momentum moving forward,” Scott said.

–News Service of Florida

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7 Responses for “Latest Education Scandal Buoys Critics Of High-Stakes Testing as Scott Scrambles”

  1. Ben Dover says:

    Of course they are going to lousy on a test , you give them a freaking computer from first grade on , just hand them all the answers , then on the day of test you take their magic answer machine away and you are left with the same deer I saw in the headlights when the computerized cash register failed to tell the kid how much change I should get, I could of told him in the third grade what the change was, but then I went to a Catholic school where the nuns actually taught us, the school board is dumber then the kids they are producing , giving first graders computers is a sure way to stunt their learning from day one , one in thirty kids is going to get a job in the computer field , what do they think the other 29 are going to do ??????

    • Nancy N. says:

      You seriously have no idea what computers are used for in a classroom, do you? They aren’t “magic answer machines” anymore than a paper textbook is for a student.

      They are used for students to replace paper text books (so their materials are more up to date because they were written less than 10-15 years ago and can be updated immediately if an error is discovered), they are used as reusable worksheets that don’t waste paper and don’t have to be paid for over and over again – and in some cases can be graded automatically so students get immediate feedback on how they did and can correct mistakes and LEARN from them. They are used for kids to write multimedia reports, and for study aids like flash cards and instructional games. They can also be used to show a student a concept instead of just describing it to them – they can see Shakespeare’s plays performed to their true potential instead of just read the dry words, see history unfold before their eyes (from the last 100 years or so anyway), see physics principals in action instead described in words…As the owner of an online media company and editor of a digital magazine, I could go on and on about the possibilities of interactive text books.

      • Ben Dover says:

        Nancy I know damn well they are not writing their own papers, they look up the subject they are suppose to write about , dumb it down a little to make it seem like they wrote it using spell check to help them do that then hit print, and they certainly are not doing math on paper writing out the problems and showing how they got their answers, you look at any kids Facebook page and the English or ebonics they use is almost unreadable, giving little kids computers is not going to make them smarter thats for sure , its going to cost parents money with them being lost , stolen or broken, they are going to be exposed to porn and violence at a very young age , when we were kids in school there was never kids bringing guns to school and mowing their class mates down, that comes from video games where the main objective is to steal cars , shoot cops and rob hookers, technology has corrupted kids , they shouldn t be allowed to touch computers or video games till they are in high school, let then learn the basics first before you give them all the answers a few clicks away.

      • Ayn Rand's Spleen says:

        Being the owner of a multimedia company and the editor of a digital magazine doesn’t mean you know anything about how computers are implemented in the classroom, fyi. Sure, there are many many good uses for computers in the classroom, and yes digital textbooks are fantastic under the right circumstances. The original poster does make a good point, however – technology can and will breed laziness in the classroom if it isn’t used right. It’s all fine and dandy to wax poetic about the benefits, but in my classroom I routinely see students that are victims of the negative aspects of it, e.g. a dependence on symbolic algebra packages instead of actually being able to do algebra, an assumption that the answer is correct because it came out of a calculator, an inability to write well because grammar and spellchecking are built into all modern office packages and even cellphones. This might seem trivial at a glance, however, demonstrates a lack of fundamentals.

  2. Binkey says:

    @bend Over

    That is not what I see in first grade or in schools. I see kids reading, writing answers using complete sentences, doing math, including counting change, learning basic facts, explaining (in writing) why they choose the strategies they use to solve math word problems. I see them learning science and social studies writing and creating projects.

    At the schools I see teachers working with whole group instruction and with small groups or individual students. I see teachers on their feet and teaching meeting with other teachers to discuss strategies to help students.

    When I see the students using computers I see them use them to practice reading and math. I see them creating Keynote or PowerPoint presentations. They do research with the computers and check to make sure their sources are legitimate. I’ve seen students making video book reports for other students to use to see if they would like a book. I’ve seen them create and implement plans for community service projects, including creating a websites and arranging for donations to fund a project for special needs people.

    When was I in school last?
    Sunday volunteering for about 20 teachers who are in school during their summer break preparing for students to have a successful year.

    The tests and the school grades should be taken with a grain of salt. The criteria is determined each year and if the results make the politicians look bad, they just change the rules to suit them.

  3. Mike says:

    @ Bend Over, welcome to the 21st century, technology will dictate how we learn so you must get used to it, or fall far behind the rest of the world. My child uses his laptop for all his work, he writes in complete sentences, and he does his written assignments in about half the time it would take him with a pen and paper. He learned to type at the age of 12 and now he can type around 80 -100 WPM, this gives him more time to get all the assignments done plus actually get to bed at a decent hour. There is nothing wrong with using a computer, at my job if I didn’t have Excel and had to do a hand written ledger or spreadsheet I would have to work a 100 hours per week, technology speeds up very field, not just the computer job market.
    The disappointing thing about this article is it shows just how broken our public school system is, no one wants to head up the Dept. of Education, Gov. Scott cannot find anyone to keep the job. Our entire government system is crumbling, we spend what we do not have, we have people who fail at their positions yet are still employed (our school district is a good example of this) our own district is a failure on most days; we have way to many administrators and not enough teachers. A school Board who cannot balance a budget, or make the hard budgetary cuts when needed, lets fix the system before we worry about the students laptops, after all this is who we owe an education

  4. Raul Troche says:

    Hey governor Scott I will take the job and will most likely make things better

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