Lobbyist: Florida To Overhaul State Education System

Palm Beach County School District lobbyist Vern Pickup-Crawford told the Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board that he’d attended the Governor’s Educational Summit two weeks ago in St. Petersburg, where it was recognized that Florida’s educational system needs a major overhaul.

“There are problems with Florida’s system, not just where the state board the past two years comes in and says, ‘Well the FCATs are giving us a problem and we’re going to have to make some adjustments,’” Pickup-Crawford said. “It was an actual legitimate concern expressed by the governor and legislative leadership, which helps to set the stage for what we are looking for next year.”

He said the No. 1 priority will be how to handle the transition to FCAT 2.0, which uses a computer-based testing model. He said the state board is continuing to deal with it as the legislature begins holding its committee hearings Sept 23.

“This may change a little bit, but there are some basic premises out there — our district listening to people such as yourselves, our parents, our teachers, the business community and other stakeholders — is that you cannot fix it by setting arbitrary mandates, the date which right now is July 21, 2014, and you cannot fix it just by saying we need to make this little adjustment and, bingo, it works perfectly fine,” Pickup-Crawford said.

He said Florida needs to look at the overall system and make changes.

“The curriculum, its instruction, the delivery of this curriculum and instruction, how you go about measuring student progress, as well as holding school districts accountable for those particular results,” Pickup-Crawford said. “The top recommendation that we have at this point is that we need to have a three-year transition from this period forward before you come back and say, ‘By golly, this is it.’”

Three years will give a chance for the state board and the legislature to give input and come up with a workable plan, instead of a piecemeal system.

“It has been piecemeal, especially during the last three years,” Pickup-Crawford said. “There have been some 35 technical changes during the last 18 months, so if you keep tweaking it without looking at the big picture, it’s very difficult to make sure you’ve got all the gears running together. That second year will be the time to really see if the plan is working. Third year is the validation. One of the reasons we had trouble with FCAT 2.0 was that it had not been validated. It was still based on some of the simulation studies.”

He said the school district and others are asking for a three-year time period to work together to come up with a system that is workable and to look at July 2017 to have it in place rather than continuing with the tweaking.

Pickup-Crawford said there is also a lot of discussion occurring concerning the Common Core teaching standards. He said the school district held a workshop Wednesday explaining Common Core that was recorded and is available for viewing on the district web site, which explains where the district is in relation to state standards.

“One of the things that has got somewhat confused in the past year is that it seems that we’re throwing out one set of standards and replacing them with a whole new set of standards, which is not quite the case,” Pickup-Crawford said, explaining that Florida has had standards since 1977 and that Common Core is already 85 percent to 90 percent in place.

“It’s not new,” he said. “What has changed is the implementation. The Common Core or Florida Sunshine Standards is not a curriculum, it is a set of standards, so the issues we’re focusing on here is when we look at accountability. How is it best to implement that and how is it best to do a true, fair, reasonable, reliable, accurate, valid and funded assessment of student progress?”

He explained that a diagnostic is needed so the student, parent and teacher can ascertain how well the student is doing. “That is one of the things we are going to work out and is going to be our top priority, but there will probably be lots of different ideas floating around,” Pickup-Crawford said.

Pickup-Crawford said he was encouraged that Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford recently issued a joint statement that they would like to have the Partnership in the Assessment of Readiness for College Careers (PARCC) reviewed.

“It’s turning out to be not exactly as it was envisioned,” he said. “When that first began, it was supposed to be a comprehensive measurement system from beginning to end. The thing that people are questioning is does an end-of-year exam that runs 10 hours bring better results than what we have in the current Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test? That’s going to be one of the issues we’re looking at.”