St. PETERSBURG, FLA.
ell, that didn’t take long.
It was just a few months ago that Gov. Rick Scott swore he was not waging a war on teachers, and that there would be "no more teaching to the test" in Florida.
And now Scott’s education folks have hired a new commissioner who lost his job in Indiana because of a war with teachers and is fanatical about standardized testing.
It seems the more things change, the more they stay quite lame. This is not a knock on Tony Bennett, the man unanimously hired Wednesday by the Marching Jeb Bush Pep Club, also known as the state Board of Education.
Bennett is an accomplished educator, and he may prove to be more popular with parents and teachers in Florida than he was in Indiana.
The issue here is the adherence to an agenda.
Scott went on a much-publicized tour of the state this summer, sitting with teachers and parents to hear their thoughts and concerns on education issues. He looked sympathetic. He appeared concerned. He acted like a man willing to compromise.
And then he doubled down on the same old policies.
It didn’t matter that teachers say their classrooms are stifled by the all-consuming devotion to standardized tests. It didn’t matter that parents are concerned education funds are being diverted to for-profit companies and costly lobbyists.
This is what Scott wants, and so this is how it is going to be. The rubber stamp hiring of Bennett makes that clear, even if it was the Board of Education pulling the trigger.
Charged with finding the perfect candidate to be in charge of the future of 2 million schoolchildren in Florida, the board devoted four minutes to the decision on Wednesday. The names of the other two finalists were never even mentioned.
"This hiring does not match with what the governor heard from parents and what he was saying this summer," said Colleen Wood, of the education advocacy group 50th No More. "There is a lot of talk about public input in this state, but when it comes time to make the important decisions the stakeholders are never considered if their input doesn’t match the ideology.
"It’s disappointing because our schoolchildren deserve better."
In this case, the ideology is straight out of the Jeb Bush playbook of education reform. And Bennett has been the national poster boy for that brand of policy.
He was so insistent in Indiana pushing vouchers, charters, standardized tests, school grades and diminished teacher qualifications that he was ousted from what is an elected position in that state after just one term.
How unpopular was he?
Bennett lost to a Democrat in a state where Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by 11 points. And Bennett’s campaign outspent his opponent 8-to-1.
"I’m hopeful Mr. Bennett will take the time to sit down and really listen to parents and teachers in this state," said Mindy Gould, of the legislative committee of the Florida PTA. "It’s important that he gets a feel for our needs and not just approach things the same way he might in Indiana."
In the end, this is simply disappointing. Not because Bennett isn’t qualified, but because the governor finally seemed willing to listen to the voices of his constituents. And instead he put his faith in a theory instead of Floridians.
John Romano writes for The Tampa Bay Times.