Romano: Education 'reformers' want choices for parents — except in public schools

Published Nov. 18, 2014

Apparently, the new buzz word in education is customization.

Jeb Bush used it the other day. So did state Sen. John Legg, who was the education committee chairman the past two years. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio wrote about customization, and so did Patricia Levesque, CEO of Foundation for Excellence in Education.

It is part of a philosophy that says parents should be calling the shots when it comes to the education of their children. That means more charters and more voucher money. It means home-schooling and virtual schools. Essentially, it means parents know best.

So here's my question:

What about customization in traditional public schools?

If parents have concerns about Common Core-inspired standards, shouldn't they be able to request an alternative curriculum? If parents feel their children are not ready for cookie-cutter standardized tests, shouldn't they be able to opt out? The short answer:


Florida legislators — as well as Bush and the Foundation for Excellence group he inspired — are so zealously devoted to testing and teacher accountability that parents and local school districts are given virtually no leeway in those matters.

In other words, these politicians are fighting for customization and parental choice, but only in their narrow view of the terms.

To me, that's a contradiction. Some might even call it hypocrisy.

Obviously, Levesque disagrees. She says Bush's accountability reforms have raised the standards and the performance of students throughout the state. And her foundation advocates for vouchers and charters because she says parental choice is critical.

The problem is the two arguments do not align. If accountability is crucial, then why aren't private schools, with taxpayer vouchers, held to the same standards?

Levesque argues that private schools are already held accountable by parents who can pull their children out of the school.

But since magnets, fundamentals, charters, vouchers, home-schooling and virtual schools are all available, wouldn't that same argument exist for public schools? Why make the stakes so high for standardized tests when we have so many choices?

That's why I'm concerned that this feels less like reform and more like an agenda.

When his first voucher program was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 2006, Bush vowed to use any means available to continue what is essentially the privatization of the public school system.

So the consequences of tests have grown absurdly high. Curriculum is changed almost annually. Money is taken out of public schools and handed to private education companies. Lawmakers have decided they know better than local school boards, and have left their fingerprints all over your neighborhood school.

And then they encourage parents to consider their options when it comes to school choices.

What's frustrating is I think most parents and educators agree with accountability. And testing. And limited vouchers. And specialty charters.

They just aren't given a voice on how it works because reformers insist on shoving it down everyone's throat.

Customization of education? I'm all for it.

Let's start with public schools.