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Emails & Opinions

Rick Outzen: Three strike rule for Florida education commissioner

It’s time we take off the blinders and see that the education emperor, Jeb Bush, is buck-naked. We’ve added more bureaucracy and educators are struggling to teach in an environment where the rules are constantly changing.

 Since Rick Scott was sworn in as governor, Florida has had three education commissioners. Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education have had a say in all three appointments.

 Eric Smith resigned in June 2011. A holdover from Charlie Crist’s tenure as governor, he left so that Scott and Bush could get a commissioner more aligned to the Bush agenda. A year later, Smith was named a Fellow for Education Reform for the George W. Bush Institute.

 His successor was Gerard Robinson, who left Virginia where he was that state’s secretary of education. Robinson was a founding member of Chiefs for Change, an organization of chief state education officers that professes to be committed to putting children first through “visionary education reform.” It is an offshoot of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

 Robinson took the Bush education plan and raised the passing requirements for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), Bush’s other bright idea. The education commissioner lasted barely a year.

 In May 2012, the state Board of Education called an emergency meeting to lower the passing scores on 2012 FCAT writing exams after results tumbled from prior years. There were also problems calculating school grades. By August 2012, Robinson was packing his bag, saying that he missed his family in Virginia.

 Robinson was replaced by Tony Bennett—the educator, not the singer. Bennett, who was also a Chiefs for Change member, appeared to be a safe choice. He was elected Indiana’s State Superintendent in 2008 on a Jeb Bush-style education reform platform. Unfortunately for him and Bush, Indiana voters didn’t buy into those “reforms” and Bennett was upset in his re-election bid last fall. Three months later, he was hired by the Florida Board of Education.

 The FCAT scores and school grades were even worse under Bennett. He resigned on August 1 after allegations surfaced that he was misusing his position to help a private school in Indiana improve its grade. Jeb Bush wrote a glowing viewpoint praising Bennett’s leadership that appeared in the state’s major newspapers.

 Smith, Robinson and Bennett—that’s three strikes for Jeb Bush. It’s time the Florida Board of Education looks elsewhere for the next education commissioner.

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