Educators in Florida have been screaming for some time about the irrationality of the state’s standardized test-based school accountability system — which is being sold around the country by former governor Jeb Bush as a model for education reform. But now the powerful president of the Florida Senate, Republican Don Gaetz, has become part of the chorus.
Gaetz said in an interview with the Florida Current that the system used to evaluate teachers and schools — which is based largely on the highly controversial Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests — is too complicated. “There’s a danger of all this imploding and causing a real credibility problem for the Department of Education,” he said.
That’s an understatement. The teacher evaluation system is so skewed that some teachers are being evaluated on the standardized test scores of students that they never taught. Really. Read all about it here.
Of course, Florida education officials have had a credibility problem for some time. For example, last year Florida gave a new standardized writing test as part of FCAT to students in different grades and scores plummeted. Only 27 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient, down from 81 percent the year before. So the Florida Board of Education lowered the passing score on the exam so more kids would pass.
Here’s the start of a story in the Florida Current that includes part of an interview with Gaetz (who represents a place called Niceville), in which he makes what Florida education blogger Bob Sikes calls a “stunning” admission:
“If you have a C school, 90 percent of the teachers in a C school can’t be highly effective. That doesn’t make sense,” Gaetz said.
Results released in December by the Department of Education revealed that 96 percent of all Florida teachers are rated effective or highly effective in their job. But school grades from earlier in the year showed that 27 percent of elementary, 36 percent of middle and 21 percent of the state’s high schools were given a letter grade of C or lower. The disparity in the ratings of the statewide faculty and schools raise questions about the reliability of the measurements Florida is using.
Newly appointed Education Commissioner Tony Bennett told lawmakers this week that the evaluation system may need to be “tweaked.”
“We want to make sure that we provide flexibility to implement the law with fidelity because the law is really not useful if the law is not well implemented,” Bennett told a Senate committee.
Gaetz said he did not know whether problems with the evaluation process are the result of procedures that originated at the state, district or school level. He called on Bennett and other educators to simplify the process.
“I also think that it can’t be such a complicated process that people can’t explain it,” Gaetz said. “When you add that to end-of-course exams, and you add that to other things that are happening in education, there’s a danger of all this imploding and causing a real credibility problem for the Department of Education.”
Sikes notes on his blog that the sentiment has been expressed before in Florida, including last year by outgoing Seminole superintendent Bill Vogel, who said, “We have an accountability system that is going to fall apart like a house of cards.”
Bush has traveled around the country touting the reforms he instituted as Florida governor, and persuaded more than a half-dozen states to sign on.
In fact Bush still has extraordinary influence in education policy in Florida through two foundations that he runs. Bennett, was just tapped as commissioner of education in Florida after being tossed out of a similar position by Indiana voters who did not like his Bush-style education reforms. The current governor of Florida, Rick Scott (R) was not believed to be a big backer of Bennett, who was chosen by the Bush-appointee-dominated Florida Board of Education.
Here’s a question: Has anybody told President Obama, who embraced Jeb Bush in 2011 as a “champion of education reform,” that Florida’s education model is in trouble?
Update: Chris Guerrieri of the Education Matters blog notes this about Gaetz’s comments: “He got it right but for the wrong reason. He doesn’t understand how good teachers at suposedly bad schools can get good evaluations. He wants more teachers to be rated poorly.”