Schools
6:08 pm
Mon August 26, 2013

Governor's Education Summit Opens In Clearwater

Credit Sarah Gonzalez/ StateImpact Florida

Educators, business leaders and advocates gathered Monday in Clearwater for a three-day education summit called by Gov. Rick Scott --- but the first day in some ways served to highlight differences between those involved in public schools as the system enters a critical period.

In an early example of the disagreements that could affect the meeting, Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association, highlighted teacher concerns with the state's accountability system, now under siege from several sources.

"I've been all over this state as school begins ... and they're frustrated," she said. "They don't feel the system has value, and they don't trust the system."

But Keith Calloway, with the Professional Educators Network of Florida, said teachers were not uniformly opposed to the state's system of assessing teachers.

"There are many of us teachers out there right now that like the evaluations," he said.

The summit comes as Florida faces several ongoing controversies in its accountability system. The State Board of Education recently approved a one-year extension of a policy that prevented each school from dropping more than a letter grade on its state report card after superintendents complained of a likely implosion in scores.

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Despite the move, 107 elementary schools, or slightly more than 4 percent, received "F" grades on the report card. In 2012, 40 schools got F grades, amounting to just more than 1.5 percent.

That marked the highest number of schools to get an F at least since the program started including learning gains as part of the report card in 2002.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders have pushed the Department of Education to abandon its plan to use an exam developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, a consortium aimed at coming up with tests that will measure students' achievements under common core. Common core, in turn, is a set of standards agreed to by the overwhelming majority of states.

And the Florida Education Association has filed a lawsuit against a state law tying teacher pay more closely to student performance, arguing that all teachers were not treated fairly by the law.

Meanwhile, the resignation of former Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, after questions about his involvement in school grading policies in Indiana, left Florida looking for its third new education commissioner since Scott took office.

Even efforts to come up with a set of "guiding principles" for the summit caused waves when one of the principles said PARCC "will require an excessive amount of testing time, will be too expensive, and has been marked by overreaches from the federal government into education policy."

The principle was changed after a lengthy debate when several members objected that it seemed like the decision on the test had already been made.

"I think it's premature on the first afternoon to have a full discussion of PARCC and other things as one of our guiding principles," said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association.

Participants at the summit are set to discuss the state's education standards and tests on Tuesday, followed by conversations about school grades and teacher evaluations on Wednesday.