FL-DOE Chief Offers Praise, Challenges to FEA Leaders


Florida Department of Education Chief Offers Praise, Challenges to FEA Leaders


Florida education commissioner Eric Smith brought a mixture of effusive praise for Florida’s teachers and education professionals with a dose of reality at the challenges ahead for public education in the state in a talk with members of the Florida Education Association Governance Board in Orlando on Thursday, October 15.


Speaking to more than 100 FEA leaders and staff before the start of the union’s annual Delegate Assembly at the Rosen Centre hotel, Smith said the teaching profession is adapting to a changing world, but not fast enough.


“We’ve worked hard on change and worked hard on increasing the quality of our work,” Smith said. “We’ve made progress … not monumental progress … in the days since I began teaching 37 years ago.”


Smith became education commissioner two years ago. He began his career as teacher in Orlando in 1972 and held numerous administrative positions in Florida school districts. He spent 16 years a superintendent of school districts in Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland and worked with The College Board before returning to Florida as education commissioner.


His talk with the FEA leaders was a mixture of effusive praise for teachers and the work they do and unfettered support for the Florida Department of education approach to instruction. But Smith didn’t connect those two ideas very well.

For example, he drew applause for saying that FCAT wasn’t enough and that innovation and creativity and encouraging independent thinking were essential for our students. But he returned again and again to the numeric gains in testing to tout success in Florida.


“The progress we’ve seen is truly stunning, And it is because of teachers, who have made the difference in the past decade,” Smith said, citing a litany of improved test scores. “This is the winning team. It’s on the scoreboard for all the other states to see.”


He said that moving public education forward in Florida requires discussion and cooperation from all parties and adding that the state needed leadership at all levels, from top to bottom.


FEA President Andy Ford asked Smith several questions that had been submitted from Governance Board members, including one that questioned whether all the directives to teachers coming from the DOE and its consultants threatened academic freedom.


Smith said teachers didn’t have carte blanche to do what they wanted in the classroom and needed to stick to the standards and guideline coming from DOE.


“We don’t have cottage industries in each classroom,” Smith said, “we have rigorous, relevant delivery systems.”


Ultimately, Smith said, “the direction we’ve been going is the right direction. If we fail to succeed at this conversation, the result in the future will be more painful.”


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