Even for Florida, a state that has put education policy on overdrive for 15 years, Monday’s summit was remarkable: Three dozen education leaders, business leaders and lawmakers, all but locked in a room to hash it out over the state’s contentious approach to standards, testing and accountability.
Gov. Rick Scott called the three-day event at St. Petersburg College after a tough summer for those who back Florida’s current vision of education reform. The goal, if reachable, might be even more remarkable: A common road map for an education system that has generated some of the biggest academic gains in the nation over the past 15 years yet has also been subject to relentless criticism and, more recently, self-inflicted wounds.
The participants, who also included teachers, parents, superintendents and school board members, politely hinted at the divisions during introductions.
Florida’s accountability system “has had a great deal to do with rising student achievement,” said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who was House speaker when the heart of the system was installed under former Gov. Jeb Bush. “I hope we don’t take a step backwards.”
“Florida has been on the right course,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. But “it doesn’t mean we’ve done everything right.”
Now, he continued, we have the opportunity to fix the rest.
The state’s fledgling teacher evaluation system, one of four areas targeted for discussion, also surfaced as a sore point.
Teachers “don’t trust the system,” said Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association.
But Keith Calloway, with the Professional Educators Network of Florida, said teachers were not uniformly opposed. “There are many of us teachers out there right now that like the evaluations,” he said.
It remains to be seen whether parties long at odds can agree on meaningful steps in the short term, let alone stick together on common ground for the long haul. History suggests it will be tough. Continue Reading →