The politicians and policy-makers in Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida cannot resist the annual temptation to mess with education policy. Often, they create a mess. This year looks no different.
The Florida Department of Education came up with a punitive proposal that lacks sound reasoning. The agency aims to eliminate one-sixth of the full-time equivalent funding that districts receive for each student who fails the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam on the first attempt, starting next school year. How does that help anything?
Districts need more funding to boost student achievement, not less. Small wonder the Manatee County school board expressed anger over this absurd idea at this week's regular meeting.
Students must pass that test or a different acceptable exam in order to graduate from high school per state policy. Fifty-three percent of Manatee County students passes the test. So the state would slash funding based on the 47 percent who failed. Those dollars add up quickly.
The agency must be running short of money and came up with this claw-back gimmick to back fill some sort of budget hole, right? That's the only reasoning that makes sense, in a horribly vindictive way.
But the state offers a way out of this penalty, a provision that lacks credibility and knowledge of education. Districts would win back withheld funding if a student fails both the exam and the course, then retakes the class. That simply won't work.
"More than 80 percent are not failing the course, they're simply failing the test," Manatee County schools Superintendent Diana Greene told the board. "We are vehemently against this being ties to an FTE reduction."
This is just one more example of the top-down shaping of public education in the state. The Florida Education Association staged a rally in Tallahassee on Thursday to tell lawmakers "enough is enough." Attended by parents, teachers and community leaders from across Florida, the FEA also called for political leaders to make a significant investment in students.
In remarks before the rally, FEA President Joanne McCall pointed out the troublesome dilemma: "Florida is cheating our children out of their education and robbing them of valuable classroom time because we are obsessed with how well they test rather than how well they learn."
Which takes us back to Greene's comment on passing a class but not a test. Students learn despite onerous testing.
The DOE seems to want to make testing the higher priority, what with this proposal for punitive action for exam failure. This bad policy idea would likely force even more teaching to the test with the threat of a financial penalty looming, It should be spiked quickly.
This gives politicians the opportunity to prevent confounding education policy from gaining traction. We urge Manatee County's legislative delegation to lead the charge against this proposal.
Quote of the week
"There will be no dress rehearsal, there will be no script. Y'know, we just start talking, and we typically, you know, start off insulting each other and it goes downhill from there.
"We sacrifice everything for humor. Truth goes out the window and fiction takes over and we have a whole lot of fun."
-- Superstar author John Grisham, in an interview with the Herald's Marty Clear to preview his on-stage talk with his good friend and also best-selling author Stephen King at State College of Florida in Bradenton on Jan. 19.