By all accounts, Gerard Robinson is a decent man and I take him at his word that family concerns motivated him to give a 30-day notice to Governor Rick Scott.
And everybody is saying all the right things – although revealing particular details of Robinson’s family dynamics are a bit peculiar. These were things that people aren’t entitled to know and Robinson didn’t need to divulge then either. As all media reports are giving the details, somone provided them as background.
Having said this, the timing couldn’t be any better for those attempting to rescue Florida’s test-based accountability system. Robinson was the face of the collapse although hardly the person to blame. The reform measures which started going south were already underway when Robinson arrived last year. Jeb Bush pushed Florida’s FCAT-based school grade formula. The new teacher evaluation bill, SB 736 was signed by Scott two months before Robinson got here. Federal intrusions NCLB and RttT were around long before Robinson’s rise in the education reform movement even began. The new head coach inherited the same players and the same owner. Now the head coach is gone, a convenient scapegoat for players who failed to perform and owner’s promised would be successful.
Although a true believer, Robinson wasn’t the policy guy, nor was he the driving force of policy. In Florida, those designations belong to Jeb Bush and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Few Floridians understand the role the Chamber plays in the state’s education policy. It served as a co-conspirator to Bush’s agenda. Consider this snide remark from Chamber hack Ryan West a meeting last fall over a disagreement he had with superintendents over FCAT cut scores:
”I don’t know why superintendents would be surprised that the business community would oppose a de facto reduction in reading scores [standards]. I don’t know who’s surprised by that.”
The Chamber has been providing muscle all along to Bush’s reforms.
Robinson was gaffe prone. His ill-advised speech to the FSBA in which he essentially informed them that they are to do as they are told was a disaster and provided fuel to school boards across the state to pass resolutions on high-stakes testing. The incident tipped the hand of the Bush-led reform movement as it showed them to be thumbing their nose at local control of schools. The tours he made around the state to defend the state system were filled with weak talking points that left Floridians unimpressed. At some point, even Robinson must have begun realizing his own hand was a poor one.
The past two weeks have been bad for Robinson as the grade change fiasco brought another embarrassment to the DOE he ran. He became wrapped up in a dispute late last week with Polk county over its desire to open its own charters. A PolitiFact report this morning found a June quote to be false.
It’s fair to speculate that Robinson didn’t realize how many people would be pulling strings when he took the job last year. His insight wasn’t desired on policy either as someone else does that. Perhaps he realized he, too, was expected to do as he was told.
So Robinson will be gone by the end of the month and the burden of a collapse not of his doing has been removed from his yoke. A convenient void suddenly exists as a face for the Florida debacle no longer exists. No more listening or apology tours. No one to quote for the next disaster that comes. How convenient indeed.
UPDATE: Cara Fitzpatrick and Jeff Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times has more .
UPDATE: The Washington Post’s Valarie Strauss is skeptical of the reasons behind Robinson’s departure.