In Tampa on Thursday, I watched elected school board members from across the state in a conference exchange glances with clenched teeth or open-mouth surprise. The reason: Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson admonished them for considering a resolution against high-stakes testing.
Robinson told them the Constitution guarantees their rights as individuals to free expression but, as members of elected bodies, their responsibility is to follow the law established by the Legislature and the rules set by the State Board of Education.
When the commissioner sat down, the meal was served and the energy in the room ignited. Table chatter intensified as diners conversed with one another, and found allies across tables and around the room.
Later that day, the executive director of the Florida School Boards Association attempted the “Aunt Julia settle down approach,” suggesting they did not want to appear to oppose accountability. The engaged debate that followed was not whether to pass the resolution, but how to amend it to express concerns on which the body could agree.
The resolution passed by a healthy majority.
For too long in Florida, the people most responsible for the education of the next generation — the parents, teachers, superintendents and school board members — have not been invited to the altar rail of Florida politics, but have been confined to the choir loft where they have been expected to sing “Alleluia” to the power structure.
As a parent of public schoolchildren who took the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, I applaud the Florida School Boards Association for exhibiting the higher-level thinking we expect of our students.
Let’s craft an accountability system that works for all students, with the same rules and regulations for all adults, in every school where Florida tax dollars are spent.
Passage of a resolution by the entire body was not a sure thing, but that all changed when Robinson essentially informed a room full of elected school board members that they will do as they are told. He even put it in writing the next day in a press release. It should be clear now for anyone who remotely pays attention that the days of “local control of schools” are behind us in Florida. Especially if you ask the state’s appointed education commissioner.