My Word: Education reform requires investing in children

The Orlando Sentinel
January 17, 2012|By Kathleen Oropeza

Education Week just released its 2012 Quality Counts Rankings. Florida earned a C+, dropping the state from 5 to 11 overall — the biggest drop of any state. Last year politicians gushed over Florida’s rank of “fifth in the nation,” forgetting to mention that it was only for data collection, not achievement.

Predictably, the spin started early. Adam Smith at the Tampa Bay Times reported the Florida Chamber of Commerce “ignored the drop and instead hailed Florida’s ascension from 31 four years ago to 11 today.” Chamber Executive Mark Wilson said, “Gov. [Rick] Scott’s focus on education and his commitment for putting a priority on Florida’s most important investment is the right direction.”

Wilson is engaging in some master-level puffery. Florida politicians have cut public-education funding by $4 billion in three years. We have districts considering four-day weeks. Our merit pay bill was a $2 billion unfunded mandate.

Also busy was Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, the source of every unproven, untested, unfunded reform mechanically repeating the same hopeless motto, “Success is never final; reform is never finished.” Patricia Levesque from Bush’s foundation surmised that, “Florida’s work is not done.”

Florida’s children are caught between these radical extremes. They are being hurt. Parents know it, and teachers know it. Look at individual grades Florida earned:

C — chance for success ; C- — achievement; A — assessments; D+ — finance/funding; F — spending; D — college readiness.

While Florida politicians drain billions from public-school funding, they divert hundreds of millions to lower standard “choice” schools. They invest hundreds of millions in high stakes tests and refuse to pay teachers on par with other professions.

These reforms are pushing Florida public education toward the brink of collapse. Shortsighted and profit-driven, the reformers are severely limiting our children’s chances for success. An F in spending and a D in college readiness prove that defunding Florida public education, narrowing the curriculum and obsessive, expensive high-stakes tests are policy failures.

Quality does count. The problem for Florida politicians and reformers is that quality requires investing in the living, breathing children we know and love, not education industry profiteers.

Kathleen Oropeza of Orlando is a founding partner of FundEducationNow.org, a nonpartisan, statewide alliance of citizen advocates