Taking Up the Jeb Bush Gang of Five On Their Offer to “Talk About FCAT”

Last week’s decision by Florida House Speaker-in-waiting Will Weatherford to put his name on an op-ed in support of Florida oppression test regime, increased the number to five of Jeb Bush loyalists attempting to defend what essentially is Bush’s education legacy. I’m skeptical that any member of Jeb Bush’s Gang of Five – Weatherford, Kathleen Shanahan, Patricia Levesque, John Winn or Gerard Robinson – would actually consider criticism of FCAT valid, but educator  and writer Marion Brady gives it a try. This from a column Brady wrote for Orlando Sentinel:

“Gerard Robinson, Florida’s Education Commissioner, and Kathleen Shanahan, chair of the State Board of Education, want to “continue to talk about the FCAT” (“Raising standards: FCAT is a portal to a lifetime of success,” Orlando Sentinel, June 10).

Great. I have some concerns.

It worries me that the tests:

(1) can’t measure complex thought processes

(2) provide minimal to no useful feedback to classroom teachers,

(3) lead to the neglect of physical conditioning, music, art and other nonverbal ways of learning,

(4) give unfair advantage to those who can afford test preparation,

(5) penalize nonstandard thinkers,

(6) radically limit teacher ability to adapt to learner differences and

(7) give test manufacturers control of the curriculum. It worries me that the tests

(8) encourage use of threats, bribes and other extrinsic motivators,

(9) use subjectively set pass-fail cut scores,

(10) assume that what the young will need to know is already known,

(11) produce scores that can be (and are) manipulated for political purposes,

(12) emphasize minimum to the neglect of maximum performance,

(13) create unreasonable pressures to cheat and

(14) reduce teacher creativity.It worries me that the tests

(15) take inadequate account of ethnic, social class and regional differences,

(16) have no “success in life” predictive power,

(17) are open to scoring errors having life-changing consequences,

(18) are at odds with deep-seated American values about individuality,

(19) create negative attitudes toward schooling,

(20) perpetuate the artificial compartmentalizing of knowledge and

(21) waste taxpayer money.It worries me that the tests

(22) put corporate profit ahead of learner performance,

(23) ignore the creative potential of human variability,

(24) unduly reward mere short-term memory and

(25) undermine the democratic principle that those closest to problems are best positioned to deal with them.

My list isn’t complete, but it’s probably long enough to start a dialog. It may be relevant that the National Academy of Sciences was asked by Congress to study the issue, and the academy said that standardized tests “have not increased student achievement.”

Hmmm. Millions of dollars for nothing? Shouldn’t somebody be held accountable?

Everybody agrees that we’re in a hole. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to stop digging while we talk?

One can wonder to which audience Bush’s Gang of Five believe they are appealing.  There’s bipartisan awareness to the realities of Brady’s points. Perhaps Bush and his Gang are looking to shout down opposition  while continuing to rely on legislative fiat. (See Robinson’s “it is the local school board’s obligation is to implement the laws approved by the Florida Legislature; to implement the regulations approved by the state board”).

Sure is an odd way to go about establishing “choice” for Florida’s families.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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