Are Florida's state, local education leaders headed on collision course over accountability?
Lengthy public comment Wednesday to the Florida Board of Education laid bare the vast divide between parents, teachers and superintendents, and the state's business leaders, when it comes to school accountability.
Dozens of parents came to, in the words of Opt Out Orlando leader Cindy Hamilton, "fight for what is right" for their children -- meaningful instruction, untethered to high-stakes tests that suck the life from the classroom. They didn't oppose holding schools accountable for student learning, but they reviled the model that Florida uses.
Superintendents, represented by Pasco district leader Kurt Browning, took a middle ground. They expressed support for accountability, but deplored the use of the "flawed" system that Florida's has become. Browning warned against taking the "wrong course" on school grading and other consequences that they could not back.
Business leaders, in strong contrast, urged the board to continue unabated, with the assumption that even a pause would hurt the cause. That cause, to be clear, was job creation. "This is about economic development over the long term, plain and simple," Chamber of Commerce president Mark Wilson told the board. "Education is economic development."
Seeing people at such polar opposites caused board member Rebecca Fishman-Lipsey, a former Teach for America organizer and teacher, great concern. As some of her colleagues pressed for the Chamber line, willing to override commissioner Pam Stewart's recommendations, Fishman-Lipsey called for compromise.
"It's important to partner with people across lines of differences," she said.
Now, Fishman-Lipsey was in no way advocating an elimination of high-stakes tests or even a pause to school grades. She's a big supporter of the movement.
Rather, she was considering reality on the ground.
How will it look to the general public when the state issues 2015 school grades if superintendents and teachers dismiss them out of hand? Couldn't that do more damage to the system than finding a compromise that everyone can at least hold their noses and grudgingly accept?
"In this moment, there's a lot of nuance that we need to be responsible for thinking about," Fishman-Lipsey said. "The most important thing we should be doing is thinking about the kernels of truth and wisdom from everybody from very, very different perspectives, and how it is we can use all of those things on the same side of the table as leaders of our kids."
Rules on cut scores and school grades are due by January. Any predictions on the outcome?