1. The Education Gradebook

Antics of legislators, educational leaders have done real damage

Published Sep. 7, 2015

No offense to the folks who recently completed a $600,000 review of Florida's standardized tests. I'm sure it was a comprehensive look at these critical assessments.

But here's the problem:

They were not asked to measure the one thing that has become central to the entire conversation.

Namely, the lack of trust we have in our lawmakers and educational leaders.

This is no small matter. That mistrust is deep and is deserved. And, accordingly, it colors every debate and decision involving the state's Department of Education.

If you doubt that, consider the fallout from the study's release last week.

Essentially, what the analysts at Alpine Testing Solutions concluded was that the rollout of the new Florida Standards Assessments involved significant breakdowns and shortcomings, but the core principles behind the tests were mostly sound.

So Education Commissioner Pam Stewart cherry-picked her favorite parts and acted as if the state had been lauded for its ingenuity. Meanwhile, critics rounded up every negative word, and harrumphed that the new tests were a complete joke.

And any good intentions between them got a little bit lonelier.

This is what has come of the state's zealous adherence to Jeb Bush's educational reforms. Lawmakers have taken potential solutions and rammed them so far down the throats of parents and educators that additional discussion is nearly impossible.

The result is conflict. And confusion. And a generation of students being used as political pawns. It's gotten so twisted that we've forgotten the original debate.

Too many parents now see higher curriculum standards and statewide tests as inherently evil, and that's a shame. There's nothing wrong with testing students. And there's certainly nothing wrong with aiming higher.

The problem is, our Legislature has destroyed the value of these concepts with nonsensical overkill. They've given standardized tests — and thus the specific curriculum they are based on — so much weight in classrooms, budgets and careers that these reforms have swallowed education.

It's such a preposterous strategy that we are left wondering about secret motivations. Is it an attempt to privatize education? To break up the teachers union? To curry favor with the Bush machine?

And now critics have grown so loud that state leaders feel compelled to blindly defend policies, reforms and tools, no matter how wrongheaded they might be.

This is why Stewart reacted to the Alpine study as if it was a complete exoneration of everything the state has done. And her whitewashed version predictably led critics to pounce on every shortcoming cited by its authors.

What state leaders don't understand is that no one is expecting perfection. A misguided policy becomes a disaster only if we refuse to correct it. And for too many years, the folks in Tallahassee have turned a deaf ear to school boards, parents and educators.

Justifying every decision cannot be the state's default position. The time has come for the state to listen when parents and school leaders suggest changes are needed.

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You know what parents want out of our leaders in Tallahassee?

It's not sound bites. Or ideological purity. Or crusades.

They want to know that our leaders care enough to listen.


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