Jeb Bush’s Betrayal of Special Needs Kids AND Conservative Values in Florida’s NCLB Waiver


Jeb Bush wanted Arne Duncan’s NCLB waiver for Florida even though Marco Rubio said Duncan didn’t have the authority to grant them.

Standing alone, this is a stunning tidbit that’s gone unnoticed by the Florida media.

But both are so 2011.

Here we are today with the reality of what Bush wanted. Education Week reporter Nirvi Shah writes of the difficult spot Florida is in as a result as a result of the waiver:

Florida education officials are taking steps to undo requirements that schools for students with significant cognitive disabilities are rated on the same scale as other public schools.

For the first time, Florida is including the performance of most students in its grading system this year, a concession the state made to have many of the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law waived. Some of the changes meant including the scores of all students with disabilities and nearly all students learning English and grading special education centers where students with the most significant needs attend. The changes took effect at the same time the state’s tests in reading, math, writing, and science became more difficult.

The result: School grades across the state dropped, and they could have plummeted further had the state board of education not taken action to keep any school from dropping more than a single letter grade. (That escape hatch disappears next school year.) And at schools that exclusively enroll students with the most severe disabilities, F grades are expected all around.

He was responding in part to criticism from the Hillsborough County School Board, where four special education centers are expecting F grades. The centers’ only alternative to being graded like other schools was to have their students’ scores count at the neighborhood school they might have attended if they didn’t have a disability, schools that in most cases have never worked with these students. Some of the other special education centers around the state chose this route.

Florida republican voters and legislators have gotten into the habit of reflexively acquiescing to any Bush pronouncement on education policy. A consequence has arrived for Floridians as a result.

Florida Education  Commissioner Gerard Robinson is correct in stating in a letter-to-the editor in the Tampa Bay Times that the inclusion of students with disabilities or special needs in the state’s school grade formula is required in its NCLB waiver. He received a letter on February 27, 2012 from Duncan’s Acting Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin which  Shah summarizes this way:

Its accountability system had to change so that all students with disabilities and those learning English are included. If the state doesn’t comply, its waiver will expire at the end of the next school year.

According to the PDF copy of Yudin’s letter that I have, the flexibility ends in 4 days on July 27. Whether all special needs students or a selected portion end up included in Florida’s system, they’ve all ended up as pawns in a political tug-of-war between federal, state and local policy-makers. The folly of creating a grade system in the first place – a cornerstone  of NCLB and the Florida model Bush sells to states all the time – continues to be exposed as a Catch-22 of epic proportions.

Yudin used “accountability” seven times in his February letter to Robinson, again demonstrating the insane fixation on somehow assigning a letter grade to schools with  an infinite number of variables. The champion of such thought is Bush and his rigid zeal has put our most vulnerable kids at-risk. With it being one Florida county – Hillsborough – to raise the alarm, Bush’s call for federal power in the NCLB waiver usurps local oversight. Hardly a model of conservative doctrine.

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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2 Responses to Jeb Bush’s Betrayal of Special Needs Kids AND Conservative Values in Florida’s NCLB Waiver

  1. Ro jensen says:

    Bob… I got to hear Mr Yudin,”my mother was a teacher so therefore I’m qualified for this job”, speak in Palm Beach County two years ago at the behest of the Democrat rep. It included a live feed of Diane Ravitch refuting his points. At the event I believe he was stunned at the vitriol he was receiving from Democratic constituents who weren’t buying what he was selling. I was stunned at the garbage coming out of his mouth and it was in that moment I knew Obama sold public education out. What was surprising at the time was that there were not only teachers there, but at least 200 senior voters who were calling him out for his part in supporting Duncan’s policies. I was able to speak that night and wrote his office the next day but never received a response. I have noticed republicans are willing to give up core principles as long as they fit their public school destruction agenda.

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