The last thing you want to give people waging a scorched-earth campaign against you is a gas can and a match.
Though well intended, the hard-charging Florida Board of Education moved too far, too fast last year when it raised the bar on academic standards. The short-term result for the state’s standardized writing test isn’t pretty. According to scores released this week, the percentage of passing fourth graders alone dropped from 81 to 27.
In an emergency session, the board tried to mitigate. It revised the passing scores downward so the percent passing will be roughly the same this year as it was last year. Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson also admitted the state should have better communicated the new scoring criteria to teachers.
But (sigh) the damage was done. The people who have bitterly fought every major education reform in Florida since Jeb Bush was elected governor – and who will never admit there has been real progress – now have a bit of real ammo. They’ll use it to take fresh aim at everything from new teacher evaluations to expanded school choice. They’ll be even more aggressive ripping into the next batch of reading and math scores, which will also look a lot starker this year.
Conspiracy theories are spinning wildly. This was a well orchestrated plot, goes one, to make traditional public schools look bad so charter schools shine by comparison and the privatization agenda can reign supreme. Never mind that just a few years ago, the state had a record number of A and B schools. Or that charter schools take the same tests. Or that, if the past is any guide, a disproportionate number of them will be tagged with F’s.
You won’t read this in the papers (except, thankfully, in this Orlando Sentinel column), so here’s the backdrop for Florida’s latest ed reform flap.