Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson is headed for the exit. Whatever else he may have accomplished, Robinson's combative leadership style made him a lightning rod; seemingly forever at odds with the state's school superintendents and school boards. It has been suggested that Robinson's departure presents the opportunity to reassess Florida's heavy reliance on the FCAT as a measure of student progress and school accountability. But that's more a legislative matter than a bureaucratic one. That said, in replacing Robinson we urge the State Board of Education to look for someone who is more collaborator than combatant. Robinson's top-down approach to education "reform" drove an unnecessary wedge between the DOE and the school districts. He is leaving a department that recently admitted to botching the latest round of school gradings, which would seem to add weight to school superintendents' earlier call for an independent review of the DOE's testing regimes. "People in Tallahassee have manipulated the FCAT standards both up and down so many times over the last couple of years that it's hard to know what the results mean any more," Dan Boyd, Alachua County's school superintendent, wrote in May. In February, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents sent Robinson a lengthy letter detailing its objections to the DOE's ever changing grading and accountability standards and suggesting numerous alternative approaches. It provided a starting point for a cooperative effort that was largely ignored. Ending the cold war between the DOE and the school districts ought to be high on the next education secretary's list of things to. Collaboration, not confrontation, is key to solving the accountability puzzle.
Board selects interim education commissioner
FCAT continues to come under fire
Hernando schools staff refund slated (Joe Vitalo quoted)
Budget cuts loom for Franklin schools
Amendment 8 could allow funding religious schools
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has not shied from introducing religion into the public sphere, most recently implementing a state law that would allow students to offer “inspirational messages” during all non-mandatory school events. Now, however, his state may go further -- by excising any restrictions on financing churches and their affiliated institutions. That’s the contention of a proposed amendment on the state’s upcoming November ballot. Amendment 8 would overwrite language, similar to that found in nearly 40 other states: “No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious dentarian institution.” However, Amendment 8, named “Religious Freedom” and placed on the ballot by state Sen. Thad Altman (R-Viera) and state Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood), states that “no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding or other support … and delet[es] the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.” The measure will require 60 percent of the electorate in order to pass. While the state already funds numerous religious-affiliated organizations, proponents of the measure believe this will prohibit any discrimination of potential recipients on the basis of their religion. Opponents, however, believe that the measure will open the door to the kind of voucher system recently implemented in Louisiana, despite Florida’s already wide-ranging tax credit scholarship. Indeed, Plakon is one of the state’s strongest proponents of an educational voucher system. He’s backed education measures that would have cut tenure programs, and supported measures that would have allowed charter companies to take over failing school systems, based on the consent of the parents. His current reelection bid is also being backed by both national and statewide voucher organizations, which have used direct-mail methods to publicize Plakon’s stances. After the amendment was first proposed last year, the Florida Education Association joined a handful of rabbis and clergy in filing a lawsuit last year to strike it from the ballot. FEA President Andy Ford said the measure is “a shady way of opening the door for school vouchers for all,” and FEA attorney Ron Meyer noted that the state could no longer turn down religious institutions that requested state funds, as the religion-state barrier would have been sufficiently blurred. Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis appeared to agree, ruling that the measure’s language was ambiguous and misleading, and determining that the amendment would not appear on the ballot. However, Lewis allowed the state’s attorney general’s office to clarify the wording, the result of which will remain on the November ballot.
StudentsFirst organizer defends giving gift cards to commenters
Betrayed. That’s how regional StudentsFirst organizer Catherine Robinson felt when an email she sent to a small group of supporters wound up published on education blogs. The email announced a contest awarding gift cards for the best comments left on online education stories. Robinson says the $5 gift cards were a small tribute of thanks to hard-working volunteers. The gift cards were not a pay-off designed to impersonate a groundswell of public support for StudentsFirst ideas, she says. “I thought it was sad. It broke my heart,” Robinson said of seeing her email posted to a handful of education blogs. “I thought it might be nice to recognize that (volunteer effort). … It’s not much of a reward.” Led by former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, StudentsFirst is a potent political and policy force in education. The group is critical of teachers unions, and generally favors better teacher training, test-based evaluations and expanded school choice, including charter schools. The group has been tight-lipped about donors, though some contributors have been revealed in state-required disclosures. Rhee is also an adviser to Gov. Rick Scott. Earlier this year, StudentsFirst asked Florida lawmakers to approve a bill which included a parent trigger. The parent trigger allows the majority of parents at a chronically failing school to choose how to restructure the school. The options include firing some or all of the staff, converting to a charter school or closing the school. Parents at a California school are trying to use the law for the first time. The bill failed in Florida by one vote on the legislative session’s final day. The parent trigger bill galvanized a coalition of Florida activist groups, including the PTA. Many of those same activists were quick to criticize StudentsFirst’s gift card offer. Robinson called it “organized and well-funded hatred.” “It’s simply dishonest and unethical to bribe people to pose as supporters,” Caroline Grannan wrote in response. “It’s fair and legitimate for those of us who support public education to expose that trickery; it’s not hatred, character assassination, vitriol or nastiness (let alone “well-funded”). Bluster and contrived outrage aren’t an effective response.”
Report details troubling practices at for-profit colleges
FSCJ will release performance pay for employees
Florida economy faces long road to recovery, report says
8-day early-voting period for primary election starts Saturday
|The Prize Patrol Finds the Winner: Who knew a few computer clicks and a membership card activation could lead to a free vacation. Ashley VanHolten is the winner of the FEA/ ACCESS membership card activation contest. Watch the FEA Prize Patrol visit.|