Give the governor credit. He’s tremendously unpopular throughout the state, particularly with teachers and parents of public school students, but Gov. Rick Scott is traveling from Jacksonville to Miami this week to hear about their concerns.
Good for you to get out of Tallahassee, governor.
Voters have good reason to be upset after more than $1 billion in education funding was gutted during Gov. Scott’s first year in office. Then, after part of the money was restored in his second year, the governor pretended he had “increased” funding.
This year, the state’s testing system to grade schools and students imploded, with the Board of Education having to step in and redefine what constitutes a failing grade on the writing test because so many students who had passed the FCAT last year had flunked this time around under the new requirements. In all, 73 percent of fourth graders flunked, and high school students didn’t fare much better.
The problem wasn’t setting a higher bar with new requirements but the speed with which the new rules were implemented. Teachers were not given sufficient time to train on what the focus should be for their students.
In fact, thousands more Florida students, including minorities, are scoring ever higher on prestigious exams like the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and more black and Hispanic students have been heading to college as schools have been forced over the last decade to focus more on the FCAT basics.
The key, then, is to partner with the schools, not have the governor acting like Public Enemy No. 1.
Then there’s the issue of accountability. By 2014 the state will use students’ test results to grade teachers’ performance, tying that performance to each teacher’s pay.
We support accountability, and performance pay. But using one test — whether it’s the FCAT or end of year exams, as is now planned — as the be-all and end-all without giving more weight to other factors, such as a child’s family life, income and whether English is that student’s first language, is a recipe for failure.
Grading teachers based on their work with each student — not simply one test — and measuring the gains each one has made during the school year makes much more sense.
Another big concern for the Florida PTA is the governor’s support for a parent “trigger” bill that would allow for-profit charter companies to take over poor-performing schools. That bill failed, but you can bet it will be back next year.
It’s no wonder so many good teachers are leaving after just a few years, and so many parents who support public schools are starting to think there’s a systemic attack from Tallahassee to dismantle them.
Worse, that revolving door leaves schools with disenchanted educators who are not exciting their students about learning.
On Tuesday, Gov. Scott was at Southwest Miami Senior High School to listen. That’s a start.
Cynics will say the governor is just trying to shore up support for his re-election. Certainly, the Republican Party of Florida has done its best to sugarcoat the governor’s poor education record.
On his website and in ads, the governor says: “No more teaching to the test.”
But the reality is, that’s exactly what’s been happening, and not always for the right reasons.
If the governor’s listening tour turns into a listen-and-learn tour, Florida’s schools may have a brighter future.