DeSantis education advisory panel calls for more choice, accountability in Florida schools

The committee plans to meet twice more before the governor-elect is sworn into office.
Kim McDougal, former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Scott, discusses education policy ideas with Gov.-Elect Ron DeSantis' transition team on Dec. 13, 2018, in Tallahassee. [The Florida Channel]
Kim McDougal, former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Scott, discusses education policy ideas with Gov.-Elect Ron DeSantis' transition team on Dec. 13, 2018, in Tallahassee. [The Florida Channel]
Published Dec. 13, 2018

After two hours of discussion Thursday, Kim McDougal was enthusiastic.

"It's a great day," the former chief of staff and top education adviser to Gov. Rick Scott told colleagues attending Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis' education transition team meeting.

"We're moving from school choice to informed, high quality school choice," she said.

McDougal's was the last word at the session that featured conversation that pointed to four years of amping up what has become the status quo of Florida's schooling system.

Participants called for improved accountability for achieving desired results, maximized and expanded opportunities in education, and as much individualized attention and personalization as possible to meet each student's unique needs.

"The closer we can get to individualizing education for each child, the more success we will see," said Marva Johnson, Florida Board of Education chairwoman and co-chair of the transition committee.

Key to achieving that goal, members said, is ensuring that parents and students have adequate information about the options available to them from kindergarten through college and university.

That means greater transparency in the accountability measures that are available, they said.

"They need to have transparency so they can decide what school is going to work," said Erika Donalds, a former Collier County School Board member who identified herself as a school choice advocate.

Miami-Dade School Board member Lubby Navarro pointed out that many choices are available in the public schools, in addition to other options such as charters and vouchers. She urged the group to advise DeSantis to keep the broadest definition of choice available as he moves forward with his agenda.

Another key, said Walton County superintendent Russell Hughes, is to create a establish a clearer definition of what accountability is.

Florida State University president John Thrasher, a former state Senate president who helped create the A-Plus plan under Jeb Bush, noted that the goal at the time was not to punish schools, but to identify and repair deficiencies.

That meant measuring performance in key academic areas, to ensure children were achieving and not simply being passed along.

"Metrics work, in my opinion," Thrasher said.

But if the state is to set measures, chimed in Don Gaetz, another former Senate president, it must have the rewards and consequences to go with them.

"Whatever we decide is important, we also better link it to resources," Gaetz said. "Because if we don't it's simply a footnote in an auditor general's report."

That's true in K-12 and higher education, he and others agreed.

"What you don't measure, you don't get to," said Madeline Pumariega, retiring Florida colleges chancellor.

Donalds suggested having well established accountability measures makes it easier to grant schools flexibility in getting to those goals, because everyone knows where they are headed.

Gaetz acknowledged that, during his tenure as Senate leader, the Legislature got too deep in the weeds, telling everyone how to do the process of education rather than keeping the focus on results.

He suggested a reversal could be helpful, with a new focus on mastery rather than on measures such as seat time.

"In higher education, money follows the student as a student makes choices," he said. "Maybe it should be that in K-12 we focus more on demonstrating competence and once we see it, we reward it."

Committee co-chairman Mori Hosseini, also chairman of the University of Florida trustees, said the challenge remains to find ways by which Florida can have high standards, measure achievement and reward results, while also allowing teachers to teach in a way that meets all student needs — regardless of their academic level.

"All of these questions are challenging questions, and they're not easily solved," Hosseini said.

He encouraged the group to continue seeking ideas, and to send thoughts directly to the DeSantis transition office.

The group plans two more sessions, on Dec. 19 and Dec. 28, at which they will discuss issues including workforce training, school choice and "parental empowerment," and how they tie into the DeSantis education platform.

Related coverage: Hillsborough schools lobbyist Connie Milito finds a 'duty to say yes' to DeSantis transition team nod