A curious knock on Florida’s ed reforms

It does sound nefarious: The people who back accountability for Florida public schools, the argument goes, are really out to mine huge sums of money from their degradation and demise. In a weekend op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel, Florida teachers union president Andy Ford (pictured here) mashed the privatization button hard in panning the state’s “flawed and punitive” ed reforms. The accountability system, he wrote, has been “endlessly promoted by legislators who favor for-profit schools, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.” The state’s standardized test has been “abused by politicians and those wanting to make a profit off public schools and students.” The job of state education commissioner has “devolved into one solely focused on implementing the marching orders of Jeb Bush and the corporate community.”

Yikes! But if all of those folks really were out to make public schools look awful (so profiteers could swoop to the rescue with charter schools and vouchers) they’ve done a miserable job. As we’ve noted before, one key indicator after another and one credible, independent report after another has found Florida’s public school students – especially its poor and minority students – have, over the past 10 to 15 years, improved as fast as students in just about any other state. Matthew Ladner, a researcher at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, has more on this point today at Jay P. Greene’s Blog:

Notice that the “good ole days” in Florida (pre-reform) were a disaster for low-income children. A whopping 37% of Florida’s low-income 4th graders had learned to read according to NAEP’s standards in 1998. A lack of transparency and accountability may have suited the FEA fine, but it was nothing less than catastrophic for Florida’s low-income children. Thirteen years into the “flawed” system, that figure was up to 62 percent. The goal of Florida policymakers should clearly be to accelerate this impressive progress rather than to go back to the failed practices of the past.

Put another way, if Mr. Ford considers this system “flawed” then Florida lawmakers should quickly implement something that he would judge to be “catastrophically flawed.”

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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 [email protected] or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at facebook.com/redefinedonline.