Rick Outzen: Three strike rule for Florida education commissioner

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It’s time we take off the blinders and see that the education emperor, Jeb Bush, is buck-naked. We’ve added more bureaucracy and educators are struggling to teach in an environment where the rules are constantly changing.

Since Rick Scott was sworn in as governor, Florida has had three education commissioners. Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education have had a say in all three appointments.

Eric Smith resigned in June 2011. A holdover from Charlie Crist’s tenure as governor, he left so that Scott and Bush could get a commissioner more aligned to the Bush agenda. A year later, Smith was named a Fellow for Education Reform for the George W. Bush Institute.

His successor was Gerard Robinson, who left Virginia where he was that state’s secretary of education. Robinson was a founding member of Chiefs for Change, an organization of chief state education officers that professes to be committed to putting children first through “visionary education reform.? It is an offshoot of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Robinson took the Bush education plan and raised the passing requirements for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), Bush’s other bright idea. The education commissioner lasted barely a year.

In May 2012, the state Board of Education called an emergency meeting to lower the passing scores on 2012 FCAT writing exams after results tumbled from prior years. There were also problems calculating school grades. By August 2012, Robinson was packing his bag, saying that he missed his family in Virginia.

Robinson was replaced by Tony Bennett—the educator, not the singer. Bennett, who was also a Chiefs for Change member, appeared to be a safe choice. He was elected Indiana’s State Superintendent in 2008 on a Jeb Bush-style education reform platform. Unfortunately for him and Bush, Indiana voters didn’t buy into those “reforms? and Bennett was upset in his re-election bid last fall. Three months later, he was hired by the Florida Board of Education.

The FCAT scores and school grades were even worse under Bennett. He resigned on August 1 after allegations surfaced that he was misusing his position to help a private school in Indiana improve its grade. Jeb Bush wrote a glowing viewpoint praising Bennett’s leadership that appeared in the state’s major newspapers.

Smith, Robinson and Bennett—that’s three strikes for Jeb Bush. It’s time the Florida Board of Education looks elsewhere for the next education commissioner.

Author: Rick Outzen

Rick Outzen is the publisher, editor and co-owner of the Independent News in Pensacola. He created the alt-weekly newspaper in July 1999 to provide an independent voice on the issues facing Northwest Florida. Battling hurricanes, recessions and angry politicians, the IN has not only survived, but thrived, while helping drag the Florida Panhandle into the 21st century. In 2005, Rick launched his influential political blog, aptly named “Rick’s Blog.? His coverage of the 2009 Billings’ murders landed him a profile in the New York Times and a position as a contributor to The Daily Beast. His relentless reporting on the 2010 BP oil spill won him international recognition for his insights on the environmental disaster. Rick’s background is in accounting; he was once the CFO for a regional oil company. But when he became publisher of IN, he discovered his passion for writing and shining a light. Rick grew up in the Mississippi Delta and transplanted to Florida in 1982. His heroes are Hodding Carter II, publisher/editor of the Delta Democrat Times, Noble Prize-winning author William Faulkner and his father. From Carter, who won a Pulitzer for his editorials, Outzen learned that small newspapers can make a difference and their voice can be heard on a national level. Faulkner believed writers can only learn from their mistakes and should strive to be better than those before them. His father was a master storyteller who taught him how to capture the attention of a reader. “From these men, I learned that words matter,? Rick says. “I strive to make mine count.?