Thursday, May 24, 2018
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott has a chance to get education right

This is your chance, sir.

This is the re-election issue you've been circling for more than a year.

The teacher pay raises, the school funding numbers and the folksy campus chats are all petty details compared to this choice of a new state education commissioner.

What you have before you today, Gov. Scott, is a chance to reshape education in Florida, a chance to restore confidence in public schools and a chance to prove you care more about people than policies.

Either that, or you can look like Jeb Bush's errand boy.

It really is that simple. It's been nearly seven years since Bush left Tallahassee, but he still looms over classrooms like some sort of education Godfather.

You already know that because you know three former Bush chiefs of staff have served on the state's Board of Education since he left office. And you know the last two education commissioners hired on your watch — neither of whom lasted more than a year — have been devoted Bush disciples.

So now that the job is open again, I hope you will endorse a leader willing to think outside the box as opposed to inside the Bush bunker.

The time is certainly right. The Board of Education, which technically is in charge of this hire, finally has a majority of appointees who are not Bush acolytes.

That means a forward-thinking governor has a chance to persuade his own appointees to find a true educational leader instead of a political operative in disguise.

Because, you have to know, a goodly amount of voters are tired of this perpetual mess.

What once started out as an admirable-sounding attempt to raise standards and hold educators accountable has turned into a farce.

All the gains made under the accountability banner have been jeopardized by an increasing devotion to a horribly flawed grading system.

If you need reminding:

• Upon seeing lousy FCAT writing results in 2012, the state had to refigure its own standards due to previous changes made in haste.

• Educator evaluations were recently revamped when it was finally acknowledged that teachers were being evaluated for students who weren't in their classes.

• The state got 213 school grades wrong last year.

• The state had to implement a safety net each of the past two years to avoid school grades dipping too far.

That's all within the last 15 months. And it doesn't include the grade-changing scandal in Indiana that claimed our latest education commissioner, Tony Bennett.

And you know the Bennett mess — jumping through hoops to change a grade for a charter school run by a political benefactor — fed into the paranoia that Bush-style reforms are simply a subterfuge to privatize education and hand tax dollars to friends.

So, yes governor, this is your chance.

Nobody is asking you to lobby for an education commissioner who does not care about accountability or standards, or who is anticharter.

What we are asking is for you to step up and make it clear that you recognize Florida has become a slave to fanatical policies that have backfired. And you recognize that socio-economic factors have a far greater influence on test results than individual educators or principals.

What we are asking is for you to make it clear you care more about helping children than scoring political points.

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