Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson has resigned from the job he's held for a year, his time marked by glitches in the state's school grading system and standardized testing program. Robinson, who came to Florida from Virginia, wrote that he could not overcome living apart from his family in letters of resignation that he submitted Tuesday to Gov. Rick Scott and State Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Shanahan.
The board, not Scott, appoints the commissioner, but the Republican governor gave Robinson his enthusiastic support after pressuring his predecessor, Eric Smith, to resign shortly after Scott took office. The governor does appoint board members but when Robinson was hired most were appointees of former Governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. Florida officials courted Robinson who had been Virginia's education secretary for about a year before he took the Florida post. "He has been a tireless advocate for creating quality learning opportunities for all of Florida's students and he will certainly be missed," Scott said in a statement. Shanahan similarly praised Robinson for working with the board to raise standards for schools and students and as "a leader who embodies and understands the importance of education reform." Robinson, though, has had to defend falling scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and lower school grades on the state's A-to-F scale as the result of efforts to increase rigor that began before he took the job. In his letter Robinson cited the tougher standards as one of his accomplishments. The board, though, passed an emergency rule to revise the scoring criteria for the FCAT writing test after preliminary results indicated only about a third of students would pass compared to 80 percent last year. The rule kept the passing percentage about the same as 2011. The panel also agreed that no school would lose more than one letter grade this year. The grades are based largely on FCAT scores. Robinson wrote a letter that was distributed to parents telling them they shouldn't be overly concerned about this year's FCAT results. He has also defended Florida's testing requirements against a rising chorus of critics. They include the Florida School Boards Association, which has called for an independent review of the FCAT's reliability following its most recent problems.
The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, has been at odds with such programs as high-stakes testing, school vouchers and merit pay that have been pushed mostly by Republican politicians as ways to improve the state's schools. Robinson's departure will give the board and Scott a chance to "reconnect with the parents and educators whose voices have been ignored for too long," said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow. "The new commissioner needs to have an honest and meaningful dialogue with parents, teachers and administrators to improve our schools."
Rumors have swirled for months that Robinson was on his way out. But Scott and the state board seemed to stand behind him. Robinson has traveled statewide to public forums to quell rising frustration among many parents, teachers and school leaders. But he has been criticized heavily for sounding tone-deaf in the face of growing testing fatigue, blaming school districts — not the state — for the amount of testing in schools. Rita Solnet, a Boca Raton activist who has played a prominent role in Florida's anti-testing movement, said she didn't view Robinson as a long-term leader but rather "he was the guy who was going to come in, execute the most egregious changes possible, be the fall guy and leave." At a national teachers union conference in Detroit this past week, Solnet said comments were circulating that Robinson was on his way out because former Gov. Jeb Bush wanted to stem criticism against a testing system he helped create and still champions. "Complete bull," the former governor said in an email Tuesday, and wrote he was sorry Robinson was leaving. Shanahan said the seven-member board would work closely with the governor to select a new commissioner. Before the last selection, Scott called board members to lobby on Robinson's behalf. The vote took six minutes and it was unanimous. Activists like Solnet said Robinson's resignation will not temper the concerns surrounding too much testing. The selection of Robinson's successor also will be closely watched, Solnet said.
"The problem is, if they think this is going to quell the outcry and the criticism and the issues, it's really not," she said, "unless they put someone in place who is willing to listen."
Robinson’s convenient departure
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