Florida school accountability no punishment, former State Board chair writes
Florida's education reform and accountability system looms large in this year's election cycle: many Republican leaders up to presidential nominee Mitt Romney hold it up as a model, while some parent and teacher groups vilify it as what's wrong with education today.
Phil Handy, chairman of the Florida Board of Education during the time the plan was adopted, writes in the Orlando Sentinel that, like it or hate it, Florida's efforts have "fix(ed) the mess." Granted, Handy is advising Romney and serves on former governor Jeb Bush's education foundation. But his insights are worth some consideration.
His point, in a nutshell, is that Florida needed to bolster its educational program for children, who were falling behind dropping out. It wasn't to punish teacher unions or break public education, he insists:
"We used data-driven reforms, we measured results, and we held schools accountable for doing the job they were being paid to do. We didn't care about what was in the best interests of the adults. We focused on the academic requirements of kids.
"We graded schools, not to demean them, but to force districts to improve them. We created school choice not to destroy public schools but to force them to improve through competition.
"We didn't retain illiterate third-graders to be harsh. We retained them to teach them how to read before sending them to fourth grade, a strategy that research shows is working.
"We didn't continually raise academic standards to be unfair. We raised them because the standards were not high enough."
The counter arguments are many. Although Florida has seen successes by some measures, such as students taking and passing AP exams, for instance, its students continue to fare poorly on the SAT and ACT college entry tests. We've heard complaints that teacher independence to act as professionals in deciding their students' instructional needs is vastly diminished. Insert the opposing view of your choice here.
But what of it? Does Handy make a convincing argument of his own?