Now that we’ve narrowed our candidates for governor down to Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum, we can start digging deeper on what effect each might have on our schools.
First, let’s keep in mind that Florida students are struggling:
- Less than half of 4th graders in Florida can read and write at grade level (41 percent according to the Nation’s Report Card).
- When it comes to black and Hispanic 4th graders it’s only 20 percent and 23 percent respectively.
- In math, only 29 percent of 8th graders are meeting the bar
Despite low performance, Florida’s low-income and minority students are making progress faster than similar students in every other state. This spring, Florida stood out as the only state to see an upward trend while the rest of the nation was flat. Top education officials have conceded that “something very good is happening in Florida.”
A DeSantis Administration
Ron DeSantis thinks the biggest problems facing our education system are the state standards and a lack of civics being taught in our public schools.
He’s promised to “repeal Common Core,” by which he means the Common-Core-based Florida Standards, though it’s unclear how scrapping the standards will improve math and reading scores for kids. Neither Ron Desantis, nor anyone else, has identified specific standards he wants changed, or what he would change them to.
With Desantis as Governor, my guess is nothing changes on that front. There will be a lot of talk about changing the standards, but it won’t take long for people to realize that there’s not much that needs changing. The Florida Department of Education already went through a revisions process and looked for ways to scrub any reference to Common Core and any standard Governor Scott and the Republican-dominant legislature disagreed with. When all was said and done in January, 2014, the changes were relatively minor.
DeSantis has also said high school graduates should be able to pass the same test that immigrants have to pass to become citizens so I would count on him pushing for an end-of-year test for high school juniors or seniors to make sure they understand the basic principles of how our government works and their roles and responsibilities as citizens.
A Gillum Administration
Gillum says he would raise teachers’ starting salaries to $50,000, increase funding for school construction and maintenance, invest in early childhood education, and revive vocational training.
On his website he says he’d pay for this billion dollar plan by legalizing recreational marijuana and taxing it. I guess you could say Gillum’s plan for funding schools with a marijuana tax is literally a pipe dream. But that doesn’t mean it’s out of reach. Popular opinion and precedent in other states could make it a reality in Florida.
With Gillum as governor, expect to see greater spending in schools (marijuana or not), but more money doesn’t necessarily translate into better results for kids. If it did, Washington DC and Alaska would have the best schools in the country.
Gillum also wants to reduce the state’s reliance on standardized tests. That would mean removing already-sparse consequences for low-performing schools. It could also mean diluting the influence of tests on the annual A-F grades schools and districts receive.
But Gillum may be unwittingly conflicted in his goal to back off testing. Tests allow him and the rest of us to see what the challenges are in our schools. For example, he says he wants 100 percent of third graders reading on grade level. That’s measured by a state test. If he pushed hard to reach that goal, it would strengthen the state’s reliance on the test, not weaken it.
Florida also has a free, voluntary pre-k program for all children starting at age four. But Gillum has complained that the cost of early childhood education is too high and that the quality is low. So he would either push for the state-paid VPK program to start earlier for children, perhaps at age three, or he would put greater pressure on the existing VPK programs to make sure they’re reaching a certain level of quality. Again, the most practical way of doing this is through a test.
Bottom line: Both candidates have visions for Florida schools that don’t seem fully baked. Both offer sound bites that play well with the voters they’re trying to reach, but there’s little evidence that the changes they’re proposing would have a significant impact on improving the situation for our kids.