2014 was a big year for education in Florida.
Activists in Lee County convinced the school board to ditch state testing — before the board reversed the decision a couple of days later.
Florida schools pushed ahead with new Common Core-based math and language arts standards in every grade, despite rising opposition to Common Core across the country.
And education was a top issue during the governor’s race.
Barry University political scientist Sean Foreman sat down with StateImpact Florida to talk about what we learned in 2014, and what’s next in 2015?
Q: The big story this year was on testing, and we saw some – in at least one county kind of an open revolt against the statewide testing requirements. And we’re starting to hear legislative leaders talk about changing the requirements as well. What do you think is going to happen and what did we learn this year?
A: I think we learned that the testing issue is one that doesn’t break down along party lines like people might expect it to. There are Democrats and Republicans who are upset with Common Core. And there are people on both sides who feel that we are testing our students too much.
So I think there’s a broad understanding amongst teachers, students and administrators that there is too much assessment.
We need assessment, but it needs to be focused in the right ways and the conversation has gotten muddled by the concerns over the Common Core. I don’t think that we’ve seen the end of the controversy over the content in those standards yet.
Q: And it also seems like no matter what the debate is about how much testing is going on, it seems pretty clear that state leaders are resigned to: “We will test students. We will use those test results to determine school grades, to evaluate teachers. To put a number or some kind of value on how well our schools are performing. Do you have the same sense?
A: Yes. Assessment is here to stay. That is a part of the system.
Whatever perspective you come from, whether it’s from the business perspective where they’re used to evaluation of whether programs work or not, what’s the cost benefit analysis?
Or if you come from the education side, where grades used to be the only assessment or the main tool of assessment. But now we’re realizing there’s a lot more packed into a letter grade that you don’t get at unless you break it apart and look at how students are doing on various skills and different components of a subject area.
Q: What do you think the messages from the election are when it comes to education?
A: Education was talked about a lot in the governor’s race, but I think at the end of the day that education wasn’t a deciding factor in the election. It pretty much shook out the way that we thought it was going to and Common Core was not an Achilles’ heel for Governor Scott in ways that some people thought.
And education wasn’t a real momentum-gainer for Charlie Crist in ways that other people thought.
So in a lot of ways we still have the status quo perspective at the end of the election.
Q: During the campaign, Gov. Scott promised record funding, (and) record per-student funding for education this spring. Do you think he’ll be able to deliver on that promise and what else do you expect from the governor in his second term?
A: I think if the budget allows for it we will see that promise fulfilled. Rick Scott doesn’t have to run for reelection again, so he may slide on some of his promises and not be punished in the long-term.
But I do think as a source of pride, and particularly because that was a big issue in the campaign, I think Gov. Scott would like to break the record on both.
Beyond that I think he would want to expand options for businesses to fund educational programs, through vouchers or through other initiatives — public-private partnerships, or helping with the technology that’s going to be needed in the schools and the training to use that technology.
And I think that there’s hope that Gov. Scott and the leaders in the House and Senate will put more money toward early childhood education so that we can get students ready for elementary school, get them ready to read and do math so that they can perform well on the test when they do get into our school system.