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Rick Scott heard nothing on his education listening tour

By Jac Wilder VerSteeg, The Palm Beach Post

Somebody check to see if Gov. Scott has wax in his ears. After conducting a “listening tour” of schools,


the governor has decreed that reducing overregulation is the way to improve education in Florida.

Maybe this is more a vision problem. The governor sees everything in terms of “treating government like a business.” And he has only two solutions: Cut taxes; cut regulations.
Cutting taxes is a non-starter. The governor cut education spending $1.3 billion his first year, restored in the neighborhood of $1 billion his second year, and has sort-of pledged to hold education spending steady in the next legislative session. You even can argue that Gov. Scott raised taxes on teachers when he supported and signed legislation requiring them to contribute 3 percent of pay into a retirement system that since 1974 had been non-contributory.
That leaves Gov. Scott with the sole solution of “cutting regulations.” But Gov. Scott already increased education red tape. He advocated and signed legislation that greatly expands the number of high-stakes tests and subjects teachers to a never-ending series of evaluations that will generate thousands of forms filled out for no valid purpose.
Because of the so-called “Student Success Act,” the state Department of Education and local school districts are forced to pretend that they know how to evaluate teachers taking into account intangibles such as learning readiness, parental involvement and student stress at home. English not the student’s first language? That will be factored in. Somehow. Child have a disability? Well, that’s worth X. Or is it X plus or minus Y?
To develop a meaningful teacher evaluation, the Legislature could have piggybacked on a Hillsborough County School District project, in conjunction with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But legislators and Gov. Scott were determined to increase regulations quickly, even if they didn’t know what to do.
They still don’t know. In announcing his regulation-cutting strategy this week, Gov. Scott did not even provide specifics. Instead, he appointed a panel of seven school superintendents to identify unnecessary red tape. No knock on superintendents, but most of them are years removed from direct teaching experience. They also, out of necessity, tend to be bureaucratic creatures. Why not appoint a panel of teachers?
They could explain how they spend hours putting together “portfolios” to prove that students they know deserve promotion should go on to the next grade level despite having trouble with the FCAT. Or they could reiterate comments by the teacher who told The Post soon after school started: “You would not believe how much testing dominates the school system. So far: Scholastic Reading Inventory, PB Writes, diagnostic English, Math, and Science, daily interruption to pull kids out of class who have missed any one of them.”
Schools can just cut regulations until — as with the religion-oriented voucher schools former Gov. Bush loved so much and that the Legislature and Gov. Scott keep expanding — there is no way to know if the teachers are qualified or the students are learning. The goal should not necessarily be less regulation or more regulation. It should be meaningful regulation. Of course, the state also should have meaningful testing, meaningful levels of support and meaningful teacher evaluations.
A meaningful listening tour would have helped.

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