Pam Stewart will be back at the legislature to deliver Florida’s own set of Common Core Standards, but it’s quite clear that senators on both sides of the aisle are skeptical of her being able to deliver on the entire package. Writes Kathleen McGrory:
TALLAHASSEE — When Pam Stewart became state education commissioner in September, lawmakers said they would give her time to untangle the complicated issues facing the education department.
That unspoken grace period came to an end last week as members of the Senate Education Committee grilled Stewart on the future of Florida’s public schools.
Lawmakers expressed doubt the education department could tweak the new education standards and roll out a new statewide assessment by the 2014-15 school year, as Stewart has promised.
Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Lutz, pointed out companies competing to develop the test might protest the competitive bidding process, delaying an already tight timeline.
“God forbid we do get a protest,” Legg said. “What is the timetable to go through that protest, and could we still get the exam in place (on time)?”
Stewart said the education department had done “everything possible” to avoid a bid protest.
The questions didn’t end there.
The senators quoted in McGrory’s story have been in Tallahassee though four education commissioners and passage of countless accountability measures. But this has been a republican show and democrat senators have been the ones raising concerns. This is still the case.
Echoing concerns from parent groups, state Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, asked why the department had opted against field testing the new assessments in select school districts before deploying them statewide. Trial runs, he said, would have given the education department a chance to work out the kinks.
Stewart said field testing was not necessary.
State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, had separate questions about technology. He feared some school districts would not have the computers and bandwidth required for the tests — and called on education officials to slow down the rollout.
“What exactly is the rush?” he asked.
Replied Stewart: “We know that we have to have an assessment in 2014-15 that is aligned to what students are being taught.”
Emphasis mine. Stewart is obviously desperate to maintain Florida’s testing regime. She probably realizes that if parents and students go without them for a year, they will like it too much and she may not be able to begin them again. Stewart knows that without high-stakes tests, Florida’s accountability regime ends. She knows that problems will arise and she’s willing to come back and be blasted by these same senators when they do.
It’s rich that republicans who rammed all this through are using the FLDOE as a scapegoat. Former state BOE chair Kathleen Shannahan frequently blamed them during her tenure for school grade drama.
After the meeting, Senate President Don Gaetz said he felt the education department was “a little late” in addressing some of its most pressing issues.
“The Department of Education has had a lot of time on these issues…” said Gaetz, a Niceville Republican and former schools superintendent in Okaloosa County. “I think there’s just sort of a natural feeling on the part of parents, teachers and legislators that it’s time to make decisions.”
Gaetz said he hoped Stewart and the state Board of Education would lead the charge, rather than state lawmakers.
“It’s time to give clear direction and have clear policy on everything from school grades to teacher evaluations to assessments to data security, and the state Board of Education has the responsibility to do that,” he said.
Gaetz’ is failing to take responsibility for accountability bills he helped pass and is passing the buck to the beleaguered FLDOE and puts final responsibility on the political appointees of the state BOE. He need to be asked about the quote he said last year when he said there’s danger in “all this imploding.” The only things that are different this year is that Gaetz wants them to add even more stress to the system and that republicans are setting up a new education commissioner to take the blame.