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Eric J. Smith, another Floridian worthy of being Romney’s education chief

EdWeek’s Politics K-12 blog offers an intriguing list of possible education secretaries in a Romney administration, including one prominent Floridian: Jeb Bush. But the otherwise great list overlooked another Floridian: Eric J. Smith, the state’s former ed commissioner.

Smith, nudged out last year by Gov. Rick Scott, was hired by the state Board of Education in late 2007 and immediately found himself on a high-wire: Shepherding the state’s proposed new science standards, which for the first time included the teaching of evolution, through public hearings and a divided state board. Ultimately, the board approved them 4-3.redefinED-at-RNC-logo-snipped-300x148

Smith led the way on Florida’s Race to the Top application and was a strong supporter of legislation that changed the way Florida teachers are evaluated and paid. Like Indiana’s Tony Bennett, he was an original member of Chiefs for Change and enjoyed strong backing from Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. One Bush ally, T. Willard Fair, was so upset by Smith’s ouster that he resigned from the BOE in protest.

“Dr. Eric Smith would make an outstanding U.S. Secretary of Education,” Roberto Martinez, another board member, told redefinED via email. “When he was Florida’s Commissioner of Education he proved himself to be best in the nation. During his tenure he led Florida to the top of the nation in achieving several significant educational benchmarks. He is a successful reformer because as a former hands-on teacher, principal, and superintendent he knows what works in the classroom.”

Smith’s is now a fellow in education policy at the George W. Bush Institute. His successor as commish, Gerard Robinson, is stepping down at the end of this month.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at