A weekend interview with ...
... state Rep. Anitere Flores. A Miami Republican, Flores chairs the House K-12 Education Committee. She talked via e-mail with reporter Jeff Solochek about education reform, the FCAT and the 2008 education agenda.
In committee (the first week of November), you spoke about the need for school districts to stop teaching to the test, and instead to teach the curriculum. You pointed to news out of Broward County that the district there would be ending its "FCAT frenzy." Elaborate for me your views on the need to refocus.
Students, teachers, parents, and lawmakers alike are frustrated by the constant focus on the FCAT. The focus in our schools must be on student learning. I have complete confidence in our teachers' ability to teach. They have the curriculum - let them teach it and our students will perform.
Broward superintendent Jim Notter told me that he believes the state, and not local educators, are responsible for the stress on the FCAT and teaching to the test. Is he right about that? If not, why not?
The state administers only one FCAT. Districts have taken it upon themselves to create practice FCATs, FCAT rallies, and even reward students with bikes, iPods, even trips to Disney World for their performance on the FCAT.
The reward for student achievement is increased knowledge and better preparation for the future. I don't have an inherent problem with rewarding students with a tangible symbol of their success. However, it is when these become the only focus that there is a problem.
I strongly believe that the stress of the FCAT will be greatly reduced the day we go back to just teaching students, not teaching test takers.
I know a group of lawmakers (went) to New York to assess how Regents-styled exams might work in Florida's accountability model. What do you expect to see as a result of that visit? Does the FCAT need an overhaul?
We are always searching for ways to improve our system. No one believes that the FCAT or the A+ plan is perfect. There is a lot that we can learn from the NY system, and I suspect that some changes will be recommended this session. I don't believe we need an "overhaul", but we can always do better.
There is always room for improvement. The day we sit back and say, "OK, we're done with educational reform and accountability" is the day we fail our students.
What other reforms do you think are necessary to keep improving Florida schools?
I believe that we have done a good job with our elementary schools, and we have started to make progress in middle and high schools. I believe we need to prepare students for a future in the workforce. Vocational and workforce education must be emphasized further. We have a major need for skilled labor, and Florida companies are being forced to recruit out of state for employees - that is unacceptable.
Last year, you had several pieces of legislation move through your committee but not get any traction. One that comes to mind is the ability to split large districts. Will you still be pushing that concept? Why or why not?
I will certainly be pushing again for educational reforms such as curriculum reform, possible 9th grade reform to make the transition from middle to high school a little easier. Again, we can always do better, and there is always room for improvement.
I still believe that the idea of breaking up large school districts is a questions that should go before the voters of the state of Florida. This is an idea that has been around a long time, and I suspect that it will continue to stick around until it eventually gets on the ballot. Our school districts were set in the constitution to be the same as out counties at a time when Orange County was not much different from Pasco or Highlands and Miami Dade was not as large as they are today. I believe that we should give voters the option of deciding whether to not they want to stay with this system.
What about the idea of returning to an elected education commissioner? Is that needed at this time?
The appointed commissioner is still a relatively new concept. I think that we need to give it some more time in its current form.
If you feel like there's something important I haven't asked about, but should have, please feel free to comment about it before we end.
I believe in transparency in our school's accountability system. Before A+, schools were rated but they were rated 1 through 5. Parents and the community didn't know if 1 was good or bad. Now, parents know, and parents and students are empowered to make more informed decisions about their child's education.
As Governor Bush often said, "Success is never final." We will continue to work every day for the success of our schools and our children - because that is the most important legacy that we can leave behind.