Florida's search for a top-flight education chief

Published Sept. 25, 2012

It took less than five minutes for the Florida Board of Education to make the smart move Tuesday and extend its search for a new state education commissioner by two months. The list of candidates was unimpressive, and the education challenges facing the state are too serious to settle for mediocrity. It's better to find someone well-qualified than to appoint someone quickly.

It should come as no surprise that top-quality national candidates are not rushing to apply. Gov. Rick Scott forced out highly regarded Eric Smith last year with no good explanation. The next education commissioner, Virginia education secretary Gerard Robinson, turned out to be just passing through and poorly handled a mess involving FCAT testing. Scott's listening tour on public education suggests the governor has finally learned his lesson that Floridians care about public schools, but whether it will make a difference in his policy recommendations remains to be seen.

Florida should be an attractive job for an education leader interested in tackling tough issues such as standardized testing, the achievement gap and teacher accountability in a diverse state. But micromanaging by the governor and the Legislature and a failure to adequately invest in public education make it difficult for any education commissioner to function effectively.

Several education board members understand that dynamic and have let the governor and legislative leaders know the next education commissioner needs more room to operate. That's good — and so is the decision to keep looking for better candidates.