New education commissioner followed Bush lead
As schools chief in Indiana, Florida's new education commissioner had a reputation as a hard-charging, caustic, union-battling advocate for the kind of conservative policies pushed by former Sunshine State Gov. Jeb Bush -- a friend and supporter of the Republican. Tony Bennett's style didn't sit well with Indiana voters. In November, they voted him out of office after one term in favor of school librarian Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, while electing another Republican governor and backing Mitt Romney in the presidential race. Bennett may fare better when he begins his new job Monday in Florida, where Republicans control the governor's office and Legislature. His agenda includes private school vouchers, charter schools, accountability standards for school administrators and teachers, high-stakes testing and teacher pay based on annual evaluations. Florida already has adopted many of the changes he fought for in Indiana. And in Florida, Bennett won't answer to voters. The governor-appointed State Board of Education has the power to hire -- and fire -- education commissioners. Bennett, 52, and most of the board members share a devotion to Bush, who continues to influence education policies through his Foundation for Florida's Future. "Gov. Bush is an admirer of Tony for his boldness and courage in doing the education reforms that were done in Indiana," said Patricia Levesque, the foundation's executive director. "There's a mutual understanding and respect that Gov. Bush has for education reformers and they have for him." Bennett is chairman of Chiefs for Change, a group of state school leaders formed by the Foundation for Excellence in Education and also created by Bush to promote his policies nationally. Bush, along with three of the seven Florida board members, contributed to Bennett's unsuccessful re-election campaign, according to Indiana campaign records. Indiana State Teachers Association President Nate Schnellenberger said he hoped Bennett learned something from his defeat in the race. "It was always his way or the highway," Schnellenberger said. Rick Muir, president of the Indiana Federation of Teachers, said he didn't have anything good to say about Bennett. "He completely devastated public education in Indiana," Muir said. He criticized Bennett for leading efforts to limit teachers' collective bargaining rights, bringing in for-profit companies to manage failing schools, and favoring private and parochial schools through a voucher system that's broader, though smaller, than Florida's two programs.
Schools need teamwork from Bennett to be in tune
Despite ranking, Florida schools still have far to go
The periodical Education Week recently published its annual Quality Counts State Report Card. Florida received a B- and ranked sixth nationally, so immediately the usual suspects engaged in the typical self-adulation. The Republican Party of Florida and Governor Scott rushed to tweet out their congratulations to each other for these successes. I don't relish being the guy constantly throwing cold water on the party, but a closer read of the Education Week report reflects what most parents of schools kids already know. All is definitely not well in Florida’s schools. The report grades the 50 states on a variety of education components, and where Florida did well is not nearly as important as where we tanked. Florida received top grades for its accountability and assessments. In other words, we got an “A” for the amount and quality of testing we conduct in our schools. This should come as no surprise to Florida teachers who feel forced to spend more time giving tests than actually teaching coursework. But testing is not teaching, and, in fact, in the category of “achievement” Florida was clearly subpar. We earned a “C minus” from Education Week because, according to its report, too many kids are not proficient in math or reading. Plus, our state’s graduation rate was ranked 44th in the nation. The report didn’t event take into account that graduating seniors’ ACT and SAT scores were among the worst in the country or that 50 percent of those who graduate need remedial work if they get to college. Of course you get what you pay for, and, indeed, our poor achievement score was very close to the “D plus” we received in the “education funding” category. According to Education Week, Florida ranks near the bottom in every relevant education spending metric. So before they uncork champagne bottles, Floridians should know that the failure of Gov. Scott and the legislature to support public schools adequately has created a palpable achievement deficit in our state. Getting straight A’s for having lots of tests is not the same as getting A’s on the tests. Weighing a malnourished dog every day doesn’t make him any better. We shouldn’t be celebrating how sophisticated our testing regimen is when we perform so poorly, and too many young people don’t graduate -- or graduate lacking skills to reach their full potential in the job market.
Browning, union discuss Pasco teachers' workload grievance (Jim Ciadella quoted)
Educator talks of integration, and today's teacher morale (Q&A with Marshall Ogletree)
Pinellas gets jump on school changes (Mark Pudlow quoted)
Even by Florida standards, Hillsborough offers low pay to special-education aides (Jean Clements quoted)
Charter schools are private businesses and taxpayers should not pay for them (Mark Castellano and Donna Mutzenard assisted in writing this)
Florida charter schools “being approved at a pace that outruns accountability”
Charter schools, testing, and Rhee
An explanation of VAM for non-experts
Teachers refuse to give standardized test at Seattle high schools
A standardized testing revolt in Texas
Levesque’s misleading defense of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education
First Book partnership makes bilingual books available
Experts debate whether Florida should allow teachers to bring firearms into classrooms (Mark Castellano quoted)
Will arming teachers make schools safer?
Marion principals would welcome officers, if cost was no factor
Okaloosa officials weigh high cost of school deputies
Taft shooting underscores urgent need to prevent future tragedies (Dennis Van Roekel quoted)
Group blasts proposals to send more police into schools
Legislature should review school security measures
Bill Gates, have I got a deal for you!
At Lakeside, Seattle's premier school, they say the graduates know better than anyone what makes the place so special. "Ask any alumnus what the best thing about Lakeside is," the school's brochure urges. "And they will likely mention an environment that promotes relationships between teachers and students through small class sizes." Any alumnus? Because one in particular is now going around saying the opposite. Bill Gates lately has been arguing that smaller-sized classes are among the biggest wastes of money in all of education. "Perhaps the most expensive assumption embedded in school budgets -- and one of the most unchallenged -- is the view that reducing class size is the best way to improve student achievement," Gates said last week to a gathering of governors. Smaller classes just haven't worked, he said. "U.S. schools have almost twice as many teachers per student as they did in 1960," he said. "Yet achievement is roughly the same." Gates called for an end to state caps on how many kids can be in each classroom. Now let me clarify: Gates is suggesting larger classes in public schools. Not private schools such as Lakeside or the ones his own kids attend today. Public-school classes already are growing, due to the recession. Add in someone as influential as Gates saying it can be the right thing to do, under the right circumstances, and look out. So -- is he right? Can we improve education by increasing class size? Well, as with everything in education, there's no easy answer. Gates' argument is hardly reassuring to those of us whose kids are the ones about to be experimented on. For starters, that the U.S. has added teachers in the past 50 years and yet seen only moderate gains on tests doesn't prove smaller classes are a waste. There are countless other variables at work, from more non-English speaking students to the rise of special ed to major family and societal changes.
“World-class universities'”pledge largely unfulfilled
Gov. Rick Scott promised on the campaign trail that he would build "world-class universities" as a part of his plan to jump-start the state's stagnant economy and bring new jobs to the Sunshine State. He pledged higher levels of state investment in research and business incubators, and economic-development grants for universities in specific research areas such as biotechnology. And his plan said the state should help develop stronger public-private partnerships between the universities and the corporate world. But halfway through his first term, universities have been operating largely on cruise control. The state's university system is searching for direction, enrolling 35,000 more students than six years ago with $1 billion less in state operating money. Scott himself has focused little on higher-education policies, other than to famously declare majors such as anthropology to be out of touch with labor demands. Tom Auxter quoted.
A recipe for mediocrity in higher ed
Some UF supporters worry crossed line to keep UF president (John Biro quoted)
Florida's elections supervisors seek more early voting days
Medicaid numbers add up for Florida
Will Scott's charm offensive become more than a hill of beans?
Scott rewards donors with high-ranking posts
Our economic pickle