Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education published a call to action today. She asks people to contact Pam Stewart, Florida’s Commissioner of Education, and let her know that Floridian’s want high standards. Of course they do.
The issue at stake is what does proficiency mean?
If standards are set at NAEP levels, proficiency would represent the academic achievement of our best students. Levesque cites the difference between Florida’s FCAT proficiency for 8th grade reading 56% and Florida’s NAEP proficiency at 33%. Are Florida’s students reasonably good or pretty poor?
The new FSA measures more advanced critical thinking and problem solving skills rather than fact based memory skills. Our students will look bad now and improve in time on the FSA. New York and other states have already taken their hits on low scores. We can do as Ms. Levesque suggests i.e. set high proficiency levels and face the challenge ahead. The question that remains is how the scores will be used. Will they label most public schools as failures? Will teachers be penalized because the tests are now different? Will most students need remediation?
Ms. Levesque argues that the legislature has to provide the assistance to help schools improve. You can’t really disagree. We live, however, in the real world of Florida politics. For years Florida has been near the bottom in funding for public schools. Much of the legislature advocates for private and charter schools because as Senator Gaetz commented recently, it’s all about the money. School choice was sold as a way to save money. Will high standards and low proficiency levels change our taxing and spending policies? Will more money be provided to help students improve in public schools? Not likely.
Understanding the school choice mission of the Foundation gives perspective on Levesque’s strategy. This is a group that supports privatization of schools. Is it in their interest to make public schools look as if they are not up to the job of educating our children? The tax credit scholarships they support go to private schools that do not take the FSA. They push for online learning and charter schools. A Washington Post article summarizes the strategies used.
Florida is in the throes of a conundrum. School reform advocates have talked about the Florida miracle of increasing achievement. Now, the politicians will have to explain that achievement increases are one of those smoke and mirror things. In Florida, we get what we pay for, and we do not pay much. Until the State shifts the focus to less testing and more instruction, little will change regardless of where proficiency levels are set.