“The thermometer of success is merely the jealousy of the malcontents.”
This quote from the late Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dali could be used to describe the current state of education reform efforts in Florida. As transformative education bills move through the legislature, (SB 2, class size reduction modification, SB4, H.S. Graduation rigor and assessment, and SB 6, Teacher assessment, compensation and tenure overhaul) some seek to derail forward progress for inane, ideological reasons—putting continued increases in student achievement at risk.
In 1999, Governor Jeb Bush’s A-Plus Plan became a reality, much to the dismay of teacher’s unions and entrenched special interests at that time. A Google search of news articles from the 1999-2001 era clearly displays the angst and gnashing of teeth the special interests and teachers unions displayed toward Bush and his reforms back then. “Education in Florida was going to be ruined” was the overriding sentiment prior to and just after enactment of A+. “The Sky was falling, the Sky was falling.” The sky did not fall, though; thankfully, most of Mr. Bush’s plans were embraced and now Florida is steadily improving every year.
In the decade since enactment of the A-plus plan—Florida education has sky-rocketed forward, to the point where our Florida schools are now ranked eighth of fifty states according to a recent report published by Education Week. An honest explanation, or at least a partial explanation, has to assign some credit to the accountability and reforms put into place by Governor Bush. These reforms, carried through by Governor Crist and executed around the state by local districts, schools, and teachers, continue to improve education in our state for our students.
At a recent press conference the Florida Education Association president said “Florida Schools have made great strides…our learning gains are the envy of other states”—yet his organization vehemently opposed Gov. Bush’s reforms of 1999— and many of Jeb Bush’s policies (along with hard work by students) helped to produce Florida’s current successes. So that’s where many rational thinkers see a striking disconnect. Unions opposed reform, yet when reforms were enacted despite union opposition and these reforms worked, unions claim credit for the resultant success? How can someone have it both ways and hope to have any credibility with the average Florida taxpayer?
Now comes 2010 and a bold new course in education is being set, led at the national level by President Barack Obama. At the state level, several very important bills are being contemplated; These three bills deal with a common sense rebalancing of class size, a common sense increase of relevance, assessment, and rigor for H.S. graduation, and a common sense prioritization on achievement and effectiveness for employee compensation--- (SB 2, SB 4, and SB 6). As one might imagine based upon recent Florida education reform history- the entrenched special interests (AKA the guardians of the status quo) are coming out of their bunkers, lining up in opposition, and threatening lawsuits. What a sad spectacle.
These same groups openly oppose President Obama’s “Race To The Top,” (RTTT) yet Florida is on the cusp of winning a part of this historic Federal RTTT grant (despite their objections) because Florida policy makers and average Florida taxpayers want educational reform.
It appears as if Floridians are tired of the same old lame and shopworn refrain from these out–of-touch with reality, bunker mentality practitioners that cry “we’re only funded 31st out of 50 states—we need more money.” For these special interest people it is all about money. But even a fifth-grader knows this-- in education it is not only about money—if this were the case, the best funded U.S. school districts would be among the highest performing, and we all know this is a fallacy (see Washington D.C., Detroit, and NY Public Schools)
Conversely, according to those who have it badly wrong on education priorities, school districts and states that do not fund lavishly should be near the bottom with respect to student achievement. Again, their assumptions prove to be incorrect. (see Florida, Utah, North Dakota, and South Dakota schools’ per pupil funding levels) It is not just about dollars spent, and the average taxpaying American knows that—but some want to keep that “we need more money” banter up until they have everyone dumbed-down enough to believe it.
Think of it this way--
Who in their right mind would ever use a “more dollars spent for same item = better quality” rationale in real life?
In real life, people (like most taxpayers who actually work hard for their money) try to find the best quality at the best price—the best value.
Who would ever watch their neighbor “A” pay $300 for groceries at store “X”-even if the same or similar items could be had by Neighbor “B” for $200 at store “Y”? Who would ever argue, in this hypothetical, that neighbor A had it right and Neighbor B needed to “fund his store to the level of Neighbor A”—it simply wouldn’t happen in real life, it does not make sense economically, and it shouldn’t happen in government spending---even for education. (Right now Florida is getting a great value for it’s educational buck)
Taxpayers are hurting and they want Florida to keep spending wisely; they want Florida to keep accountability high, and keep moving our education system forward-- recognizing there are limitations on funding levels due to this double-dip recession we appear to be approaching. The average Florida taxpayer appreciates our system living within its means just like the average Florida taxpayer has to live within his/her means.
Will SB 2, SB 4, and SB 6 be able to survive the onslaught of negativity form the special interests?
All that can be said with certainty is that, eleven years ago, Floridians may have pondered a similar question about Jeb Bush’s A+ plan.
We all know that the A+ plan passed and Education in Florida has moved forward in stunning fashion ever since.
Will the memories of A+ be factored-in when SB 2, SB4, and SB 6 eventually head to a vote?
We’ll all have to wait and see.
I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.