DAVIS' EDUCATION PLAN REFORMS FCAT by Roxanne Escobales

09/28/06

Almost 60 percent of voters oppose Governor Jeb Bush’s educational legacy -- the FCAT. That’s from a poll by the Sun-Sentinel and Times Union newspapers, which found that education ranks high on the list of election issues. Yesterday Democrat gubernatorial candidate Congressman Jim Davis unveiled his education policies, called Achieve Florida. In it he says he’ll change the way the FCAT is used. WMNF’s Roxanne Escobales reports.

For a long time now Jim Davis has said he doesn’t want to do away with the FCAT. He just wants to change the way it’s used.

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Right now under the education program implemented by Governor Jeb Bush, called the A-plus plan, results from the standardized FCAT determine if schools receive extra state funding and if teachers receive any bonuses. Bush says his plan has improved Florida’s education system by leaps and bounds.

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Davis’s opponent Charlie Crist says he’ll continue with Bush’s A-plus plan, making small adjustments. Yet the Sun-Sentinel/Times-Union poll found that 44 percent of voters say they haven’t seen an improvement in schools’ performance in the past four years when the FCAT was modified to show more detailed assessment of a school’s progress.

Throughout his campaign, Jim Davis has said he will reform the state’s education system. His education policy paper released yesterday, called Achieve Florida, outlines ambitious plans. In regards to the FCAT, Davis would allow parents access to their children’s test questions and answers.

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Other provisions include using a variety of indicators to measure a school’s performance instead of just the FCAT. Other reforms include forming accountability task forces that help low performing schools improve, taking school vouchers off the agenda completely and instituting a principal mentoring program.

But Davis’s Achieve Florida is not without it’s critics. Harvard professor of government Dr Paul Peterson has studied Jeb Bush’s A-plus program in depth. The New York Times today ran an article that featured Peterson saying that the Governor’s education system is better than that of his president brother, the No Child Left Behind Act. Peterson says Florida’s A-plus plan is one of the best in the country and the FCAT is a large part of it.

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Peterson also said that using multiple indicators as Davis plans would, quote, “muddy the waters� and be too complicated. Yet Davis maintains that the FCAT on its own is too narrow a measure.

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The state’s largest teachers union, Florida Education Association, endorses Davis for governor – and his Achieve Florida Plan. FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow says that teachers themselves helped develop the FCAT in the 1990s but that it has been misused under Bush’s A-plus program.

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FCAT opponents laud Davis’s attempts to overhaul the standardized test. Gloria Pipkin is the president of the Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform. She says that the test is subject to political manipulation.

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When asked if it would be difficult to push his education plan through a largely Republican legislature, Davis said he’s received bi-partisan support.

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And so if the 60 percent of voters from the Sun-Sentinel/Times –Union are truly opposed to the FCAT, they may find Davis’s education policy refreshing. But Davis will first have to convince them that his reform will not cost more tax dollars, which may be a concern as the class size amendment comes into force.

Calls to Charlie Crist were not returned.

For WMNF News, I’m Roxanne Escobales.

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