Foundation for Excellence in Education executive director Patricia Levesque took exception to a letter to the editor that appeared in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Here is her response.
In the Feb. 14 Reader’s View, “Truth about FCAT legislation,” Ali Bustamante spread false information about the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Contrary to what he wrote, the foundation’s focus is student achievement.
Mr. Bustamante cites leaps of logic and falsehoods recently made by others regarding an email exchange with Florida leaders discussing the turnaround of failing schools. In an effort to streamline the process of introducing additional, high-quality education options to Florida families, we recommended expediting the approval of charter school operators with a successful track record.
Rather than advocating for a specific charter company, the focus of our recommendation was on outcomes, suggesting that only operators with proven results be eligible to apply when turning around failing schools.
Mr. Bustamante also demonstrated a lack of knowledge of Florida’s grading system. In 2009, the state expanded the high school grading formula by including metrics such as graduation rates and college readiness. We participated in discussions to determine what percent of the grade should be based on FCAT results – 50 percent or less than 60 percent. The school grading formula has absolutely nothing to do with standardized test grading companies, and the same number of assessments would be given regardless of what formula was used. Our only concern is that Florida’s students and teachers receive the maximum benefit from these assessments.
It is no secret that we’re committed to expanding student learning and work tirelessly with leaders to equip all students with a quality education.
Patricia Levesque, Foundation for Excellence in Education, Tallahassee
Earlier last week In the Public Interest, a D.C.-based organization that provides information on privatization and responsible contracting, published emails showing that the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) played a pivotal role in the writing of legislation associated with the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) and with charter schools regulations. FEE, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded and currently chaired by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is yet another example of a corporate lobbying group under the guise of a nonprofit bypassing Florida voters in order to achieve favorable legislation.
Emails exchanged between FEE executive director Patricia Levesque and Florida Commissioner Gerard Robinson, in 2011 and 2012, show that Levesque negotiated changes to FCAT legislation with state legislators — including State Sen. Don Gaetz — in order to “allow the FCAT to be ‘at least’ 50 percent of a high school’s grade.” These changes make student FCAT scores the main measure of school and teacher performance and overemphasize high-stakes testing. This directly benefits Pearson, the company that currently holds the $250 million FCAT contract in Florida and one of FEE’s largest donor sponsors.
Emails also show that Levesque sought to amend draft legislation to give Robinson the power to set a state-approved list of charter operators or private providers. Such an amendment would limit competition for charter school contracts and allow Robinson to give preferred treatment to specific charter school corporations.
The truth is that much controversy surrounds the issues of standardized testing, like the FCAT, and charter schools that require an honest and open discussion. However, it is equally true that lobby groups like FEE have too much access and influence with state legislators that allow them to pursue their financial interests, like ensuring that the FCAT and charter schools continue to be at the center of Florida’s education system.
It’s time that state legislators have more transparent debates over these issues that affect the state’s more than 2 million public school students instead of bypassing public discussions in order to implement the wills of wealthy lobbyists.
Alí R. Bustamante is a visiting instructor and research associate, Florida International University, Center for Labor Research and Studies & Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy, Miami.
Levesque’s didn’t say which parts of Bustamante’s letter were “false information” or “leaps of logic and falsehoods.” Such a clever omission really isn’t so clever. As someone who has read the same emails both Levesque and Bustamonte reference, I find the former’s assertions about the latter to be unsupportable.
Levesque’s claim that the Foundation’s focus is on “student achievement” is laughable when one considers the amount of energy she has put into writing legislation and personally advocating for the for-profit education industry. Her decision to testify Thursday on behalf of Parent Trigger legislation which benefits the for-profit charter school industry is example enough to dismiss Levesque’s protestations.
Once again, Levesque doth protests too much methinks.