Adam Putnam: ‘If we lose the parents, we’ve lost the battle’

Editor’s note: Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was a late arrival and one of the last speakers at Wednesday’s education summit on Common Core in Orlando. But he delivered some of the most memorable lines, stressing better communication with parents about education reform and school choice. Here’s a transcript of his remarks.


This is all our responsibility. Making sure that our kids can compete in a global workforce. Our piece of the puzzle may be school nutrition. And working with Sen. Montford and MaryEllen (Elia) in Hillsborough and others. We’re going to be in Pinellas tomorrow kicking off a breakfast program. We know kids can’t do well on the FCAT (if they’re hungry). I know back when we took the HSCT 25 years ago, the home ec teacher made sure every kid had a glass of orange juice and a ham biscuit.

But as a parent of four public school students – my wife’s president of the PTA, Jean (to Jean Hovey with the Florida PTA). She has a spring fling planning meeting today. We need to raise $15,000 at the carnival. But the biggest challenge I think we face as we continue to push Florida where Florida is capable of going, is managing the expectations and preparing parents for what we are asking of them. Because as a guy who is amazed at the homework my kids have, and how technology has transformed their world – my daughter stayed home yesterday sick, she was devastated. She was ruining her perfect attendance record, which is not a guilt I was ever burdened with. As she felt better during the day, she got on the computer and had almost no make-up work because so much of her work was computer-based. It was easily accessible. It was web-based. It was already there. She could email her teacher on Edmodo and all these other things. My 5-year-old’s excited about the points he’s accumulated on Accelerated Reader.

I have parents, when we’re sitting around at Beef O Brady’s after a T-ball game, who may be concerned about the rate of reform, the rate of transformation in education. But they don’t realize they’re on the cutting edge of that transformation. You know, they got a daughter who’s about to graduate from high school with an AA, because she’s also been taking dual enrollment at the community college. They don’t realize that’s an extraordinary transformation in how we’re preparing a new work force in partnership with our state colleges. Or someone who has the opportunity to take PE online as a band member, on the computer, through the virtual school. Or any number of other things where they’re not going about the traditional method.

Parents are of course experts on education because they went to school, right? It’s the same thing in the Legislature. The two things that everybody is an expert on: ethics and election issues, and education issues. Because they all got elected, and they all went to school somewhere. It’s a very dangerous thing.

But parents are the same way. They think this is not what I did when I was your age, therefore, we’re trying to do too much. I didn’t have to pass Algebra to graduate from high school, therefore, we’re doing too much. We have to have champions, in the business community and in public life, who are constantly painting the picture. We’re not breaking through mediocrity. We’re celebrating greatness. We’re the sixth best in the country and continuing to do better. We’re closing the minority achievement gap, and continuing to do better. But here’s why it’s important. Here’s why your kids are doing things you weren’t doing in third grade. Here’s why they’re going to have to hit certain milestones you didn’t have to hit to graduate from high school. Because you weren’t competing against Bangalore and Beijing to get a job.

But nobody’s reminded them of that. And nobody’s reminded them of all the options their kids have that they didn’t have.

That they can graduate with an LPN degree. That they can have one child in a fine-arts oriented school, and another child in a STEM-oriented school, and another child in the community school, and another one in the collegiate high school at the state college. No one has painted that picture and sustained that picture for them.

And if we lose the parents, we’ve lost the battle. Because that’s where you get undercut at every kitchen table, diner, coffee shop, Beef O Brady’s in the state with these conversations that are taking place. That’s where we bring in the teachers. That’s where we bring in the parents. That’s where we reinforce the communication of why we’re doing all these things, to make sure our kids have greater opportunities than we had – and that we are the destination of choice for people from around the country who know that if they relocate their business here, their kids are going to be fine. A fundamental concern that they have, their kids are going to be fine if we continue to push forward with the right types of reforms for our state.

And finally, making sure that as we get it right, we don’t try to defend the indefensible. Which is, I was thrilled to be on the ground floor of education reform and help pass A+ in the Legislature and all of those things. And then I go to Congress, and I’ve got the same teachers and principals that I think the world of saying, “Explain this to me, Batman. How is it we’re an A school in Florida, but we get an F from the feds for failure to meet AYP?” That’s indefensible. So don’t defend the indefensible. We’re going to continue to push forward with what’s right for Florida, including implementing Common Core. But let’s be smart about what we’re asking people to do and make sure that they’re all invested in that vision.

Avatar photo

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