Putting Education Reform To The Test

Tony Bennett Q&A With Senate Education Committee


Commissioner Tony Bennett says his two main agenda items are the implementation of Common Core and teacher evaluations.

The Senate Education Committee peppered education commissioner Tony Bennett with questions today.

He was supposed to share the podium with Gov. Rick Scott, but the governor canceled his appearance at the last minute.

So Bennett got more attention than he probably anticipated.

He acknowledged that the only thing he has mastered in his eight days in Tallahassee is the route from his home to the office.

But Bennett stayed put until the committee was done with him. Here is a sampling of the question and answer session, greatly condensed.

Q: From Chairman John Legg, R-Lutz:  Can you maybe just hit on some of your high level agenda points?

A: I can speak from experience that the one thing we have to get right is the implementation of Common Core because it will transform the way our children learn, transform the way teachers teach, transform the way we assess our children and know that they are college and career ready.

Number two is the implementation of (Senate bill) 736 (teacher evaluations).

Does the legislation need to be tweaked? I think everything should be on the table around that discussion, because we don’t want to back away from the concept of accountability because accountability works. But we want to make sure that we provide the flexibility necessary to implement a law with fidelity because the law is really not useful if it’s not well implemented.

Q: From Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami: I know that in Indiana you championed many of the initiatives that we have here in the state of Florida as it pertains to education reform, and I guess if you could just sort of enlighten us as to what your plans are for Florida considering we have many of the programs that you were proposing in Indiana.

A: A: I don’t think there’s any question that over the last twelve to fifteen years, Florida has been in my opinion…the national leader in education reform policy.

There’s very little question, as you mentioned, that what we took was the Florida blueprint and said how do we customize that to Indiana to meet the needs of Indiana children.

Florida in my opinion did this the right way. In Indiana we tried to do the twelve years of Florida work in three years because that was the window of opportunity we had.

One of the things we have to think about here in Florida is how we align all of the long-term efforts.

Q: More from Sen. Bullard: Right now we’re at a point where…the only capital outlay dollars that are made available are going into charter schools. Give us some comments on how we can go about better developing our existing public education infrastructure as opposed to funneling money in one direction.

A: I think all of us today are asking ourselves questions that are going to force us to do something I don’t think we’ve ever done in education…and that is, how do we marry fiscal policy and education policy?

I think if we’re going to maximize dollars to education for the betterment of the performance of our children, we have to have those two discussions together so that we don’t think it’s funneling money out of one and into another. We think about it as the funneling of the common goal of educating all children.

The most important thing I had in my building as a high school principal wasn’t the bricks. It wasn’t the mortar. It was the quality of the educators in that building and what they did to affect the lives of the children in that building.

I think the discussion around us is really focused on…how do we balance the needs for bricks and mortar infrastructure while the very keen vision is on how do we make sure that the academic achievement and career preparation of children is really on target for that 21st century.

Q: From Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray:  I would like to continue this conversation especially when it comes to capital outlays between our public schools – the needs of the capital improvements of public schools – and those of charter schools.  There are many that have schools that are in need of capital improvements.

A: It’s no secret to anyone that I have always been a strong supporter of charter schools and school choice. I would suggest to you, though, that the key is quality.

I am not a proponent that our education system just needs more schools. I think we need more schools that perform better and perform differently. That’s innovation and that’s success.

I think the issue is how do we factor in performance, how do we factor in success into this issue so that as a state we’re funding what works – be it in a traditional public school or in a public charter school.

How do we hit that sweet spot or balance that we’re putting our money in what works for children and innovations that provide us an opportunity to incubate new ways of educating children who may learn differently than ever before?


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