Gov. Rick Scott appointed Charlotte County Superintendent Doug Whittaker to serve on a special committee of superintendents from around the state to advise him about educational reform. Whittaker was one of seven members selected out of 67 school districts.
In a press release, Scott said he chose superintendents who he thought would fairly represent both large and small school districts, and offer suggestions on “unnecessary red tape and regulations we can cut at the state level in order to increase classroom time for Florida students.”
The decision comes shortly after Scott returned from a listening tour during which he visited with teachers and administrators in several cities, including Orlando, Fort Myers and Tampa. “Our education initiatives must focus on better preparing students for college and careers, and we want suggestions on how to eliminate anything that is a hurdle to that goal,” Scott stated in the release.
Whittaker said Scott invited him and several other superintendents to Orlando for dinner during his travels.
“I knew he wanted to meet up again to discuss the issues,” said Whittaker. “What surprised me was that it was such a big deal. I just didn’t expect that he would make us a committee. I thought it was something more casual.”
According to Whittaker, the group already has several topics members feel need to be addressed, the most important being performance-based pay for teachers. Whittaker still disagrees with teachers being paid based primarily on test scores and says that implementation could not have come at a worse time.
Currently, the state is going through some major changes when it comes to education. Florida is one of 27 states that will be adopting a standardized core curriculum called Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. From third grade up, teachers are presented with national standards detailing the level of achievement a student should attain by the end of the school year.
“While I would like to see the continued emphasis on accountability and change, that process needs to be slowed down so we can do it well,” said Whittaker. “What teachers are teaching is fundamentally changing, how they are teaching is fundamentally changing and how students are assessed will also be changing.”
The state expects every district to adopt the PARCC system and create new tests to phase out the Florida Comprehensive Test in high schools by the 2014-2015 school year. All of that is coming to fruition as teacher performance pay is scheduled to kick in.
“How in the world are we going to determine who our really good teachers are and give them performance pay the same year they are required to implement a new curriculum, be teaching new strategies, and their students will also be tested with new tests?” Whittaker asked. “Everyone will still be learning the new systems.”
The new committee wants to slow the process and possibly ask the state legislature to issue a moratorium on new education bills for at least two years. Whittaker said a three-year phase-in would be a more likely approach.
“As it is, 2014 is going to be a train wreck,” Whittaker said.
As school budgets have diminished, the panel of superintendents is also raising questions as to where the funding for all of this is going to come from.
Scott has received widespread criticism for cutting nearly $1.3 billion in education funding during his first year in office, which sent districts scrambling to make up for lost revenue. In many cases, they had no choice but to lay off employees. Charlotte County was able to avoid any layoffs by cutting teacher compensation by nearly 4.5 percent. This year, Scott restored $1 billion through state budgets, but the district still had to implement furlough days for over 200 administrative employees and take away teacher planning periods for half of the year.