John Winn, Florida's recently retired education commissioner, has a new gig: Consulting for a national program that aims to prod more high school kids into taking AP tests in math and science, and, at the same time, encourage more college students to become math and science teachers. Winn told The Gradebook Wednesday that about the time he was retiring last month, he got a call from Tom Luce, a former high-ranking U.S. Department of Education official. Luce told Winn he had gotten a call from Exxon Mobil, which wanted to invest money in the production of more scientists and mathematicians, and that he had given the company a plan similar to the AP initiative in Florida, which is credited with making the Sunshine State tops in the country in the number of AP test takers. The company promptly offered up $150 million and the National Math and Science Initiative was born. Winn signed on as a consultant. "It was too perfect a match up," he said.
Winn resigned Feb. 28 after 31 months as commissioner and more than 20 years at the Department of Education. As Gov. Jeb Bush's choice for education czar, he became a lightning rod for Bush's tough accountability system. His new gig won't be controversy-free either. Among other things, Winn'll be pushing a program that offers both students and teachers financial incentives for participating in the AP program. Florida AP teachers have gotten the incentives for years, with little criticism. But in some Texas districts, which the new initiative is using as a model, students get incentives, too - $100 for scoring a 3 or higher. Supporters say the number of students taking and passing the tests has dramatically increased, but critics say dangling money in front of students is akin to offering students a bribe. Winn, a former middle school science teacher, said the bottom line is economic competitiveness - and the key role that better grounding in math and science plays in that. "Now that we've opened up more countries to capitalism, we have more competitors," he said. "The U.S. has got to get on the ball."
- Ron Matus