Bush, the Florida BOE, and Leadership Post-Bennett


Today’s Florida Board of Education emergency meeting was suitably somber. While voting unanimously to appoint Pam Stewart as the interim commissioner a solid decision – this takeaway stood out. Consider this from Kathleen McGrory’s post in the Buzz:

During the conference call Friday, board member Kathleen Shanahan called for the creation of a “select committee” of lawmakers, superintendents and other stakeholders to examine Florida’s education accountability system.

“While I think Pam is a great interim option for us, we as state board members are responsible for the execution of the accountability system in the state of Florida and it’s a mess,” Shanahan said. “But a mess provides an opportunity.”

Few are as close and as loyal to former governor Jeb Bush than Shanahan. No person has as much invested in the integrity of Florida’s school grade system than Bush. For Shanahan to doubt it so publicly is astonishing. It’s not the first time she has done so.

It was just two weeks ago that the FLBOE considered then Tony Bennett’s proposal for a one-year safety net for school grades. Shanahan, a former board chair and chief of staff for Bush, was against Bennett’s proposal, but her opposition came with nuance. Here’s this from Jeffrey Solochek and Cara Fitzpatrick’s Tampa Bay Times article:

“We’ve overcomplicated the model,” said veteran board member Kathleen Shanahan, once the chief of staff for former Gov. Jeb Bush, who is widely considered the author of Florida’s school grading system. “I am struggling with the integrity of the accountability system . . . and the reliability of the grades.”

Shanahan essentially took the thoughts she made two weeks ago and expanded them into a proposal to create a “select committee” to examine the system.

How much is Bush on board going forward? During the legislative session in February, Bush made a high-profile visit to the legislature and he met with senate president Don Gaetz.

During Thursday’s meeting, Gaetz told his good friend (Bush) that a flurry of reforms (Common Core national standards, teacher evaluations tied to pay, end-of-course exams for the FCAT) were proving difficult to implement.

“We have a lot of reform that had kind of shot off like rockets,” Gaetz said. “All of that was coming down now from the sky, in the same place at the same time. And I shared with him my concern that the Department of Education had not done a good job in implementing those reforms.”

He said Bush, who helped push for much of that reform, wasn’t having it.

“He said, ‘Well, you need leadership,’” Gaetz said. “He turned and looked at me like, ‘Gaetz, do your job.”

Much has happened since Gaetz’ meeting with Bush.  It was before the emergence of conservative outrage over common core and the data mining that was part of RttT. It was certainly before Bennett’s school grade change scandal. Florida’s school grade formula is  one of Gaetz’ “balls in the air.”

Bennett’s departure from the scene shifts education policy-making power to Gaetz, Sen. John Legg (R-Lutz) and Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee). Stewart is not the ideologue that Bennett is and will work more efficiently with the three senators than Bennett ever would have.

Bennett was far too invested in Common Core and PARCC to be an honest broker. Gaetz – along with house speaker Will Weatherford (R-Chapel Hill) wrote a letter to Bennett last month to recommend Florida drop out of PARCC. Revelations about Bennett’s grade-changing made him untrustworthy on Common Core-PARCC.

Florida is much better off now with this current batch of leaders who are likely to make sober decisions than they would have with the conflicted Bennett on board.

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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