The Florida School Boards Association has emerged as a serious opponent of state legislators and the test-dominated accountability systems they’ve imposed. Orlando Sentinel editorial writer Darrel. E. Owens had several key questions for the new president of the FSBA:
Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson’s surprising exit came after a year marred by recent controversies over lower-than-expected FCAT writing scores and miscalculated school grades. The departure has some wondering whether changes could be ahead for the state’s controversial school-accountability system. In an interview with Editorial Writer Darryl E. Owens, Orange County School Board member Joie Cadle, now president of the Florida School Boards Association, answered questions about Robinson’s exit, charter schools and the concerns over accountability.
Q: Do you see the sudden resignation of Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson as a setback for Florida’s reform?
A: I am not sure that I would consider it a setback. I do believe that it is time to appoint a commissioner of education who understands accountability and would work with all stakeholders to assure that every child learns and has a positive attitude about learning. Reform for the sake of reform is not healthy. Choice for the sake of choice is not good for students. Accountability should go both ways. It is not fair to our students that the state has one set of rules for charter schools and a different set of rules for traditional public schools.
Q: You’ve said that you support accountability. Do you believe there’s a better way to achieve accountability without the turbulence?
A: Accountability should not create turmoil. The reform movement should be intentional and systematic. The constant changing of the requirements and the moving of the bar so quickly hurts Florida’s public-school children. The FCAT has become punitive for our students and our teachers. We need to remember that testing is not progress — it is a means to measure progress.
Q: Do you anticipate a change in tone and substance will occur with the Scott administration and Republican legislators with a new education commissioner in place?
A: It would be my sincere hope that the state board and commissioner of education would acknowledge the expertise and talent that exist in Florida education leaders and allow a sincere dialogue to learn from the experts’ suggestions for change and reform that will be effective and long-lasting. School boards do not impede student achievement. They are the champions and cheerleaders for student achievement.
Q: Are you concerned that the coming common core standards will make things more difficult and increase testing mandates?
A: I embrace the Common Core standards. At last there will be a way to truly compare student achievement between states. However, the requirements for end-of-course exams may create financial difficulties for all districts. If I were commissioner for a day, I would make sure that textbook companies develop banks of test questions with each textbook to help create the required end-of-course exams. Currently, 67 districts each creating their own set of test questions — with no requirement of test bank questions — is a waste of taxpayer dollars and needless duplication.
Q: Is the Florida School Boards Association considering a unified stand on unfunded mandates from the state’s accountability legislation?
A: Absolutely. Each year our request of the lawmakers is no more unfunded or underfunded mandates. We have not been successful, but we keep asking.
Q: Do you see a need to reform charter-school accountability and restore total oversight to local school boards?
A: Yes. It is very frustrating when school boards deny charters and the appeal process allows the State Board of Education to overturn the local board’s decision. The school boards’ constitutional authority is to operate and supervise all public schools — including charters — within their districts. When it becomes necessary to shut down poor-preforming charter schools, the closure process is difficult and time-consuming. As a result, the students suffer. School districts need a more effective and efficient process to rescue students from poorly performing charter schools.
While I depart from Cadle on common core – its broad, untested and could prove to be nightmare to establish standardized tests from she’s spot on with the rest. The Florida legislature has been intentionally been usurping local control from elected officials like Cadle and giving it to political appointees on the state board. Her insightful “accountability should not create turmoil” is a simple and straightforward characterization of what legislators and the state board have created.
Returning final say on charter schools to the 67 school boards better serves taxpayers. What Florida has now has favors for-profit charter school operators who have been putting gobs of cash into the campaign coffers of legislators. If Florida’s test-dominated accountability systems and charter school scandals hadn’t been sucking up the oxygen over the last year, legislators would be squirming from reporters inquiries about unfunded mandates.
Cadle represents another school board member who is effectively communicating the realities of what’s happening to Florida’s children and their schools. Jeb Bush’s foundation no longer controls the narrative as they’ve lost the argument on testing in the minds of Floridians.