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Did Two Florida Republicans Use the Same Talking Points in Education Policy Op-Eds This Week

Posted on July 13, 2012

By: Bob Sikes –

The well-documented PR campaign to save Florida’s test-based education system continues this week in a way that further discredits the effort. Former House Speaker Dean Cannon (R-Winter Park) and chair of the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Marlene O’Toole (R-Lady Lake) wrote two astonishingly similar pieces which revealed that talking points came from the same source. Lets take a look.

From Cannon’s Orlando Sentinel piece:

The 2012 “Diplomas Count” report compared Florida to the rest of the nation and found that our Hispanic graduates beat the national graduation-rate average by 10 percentage points. African-American students exceed the average by 3.5 points. In fact, Florida places third in the nation for the largest increases in graduation rates of all students over the past 10 years, jumping from 52.5 percent in 1999 to 70.4 percent a decade later, in 2009.

From O’Toole’s Tallahassee Democrat piece:

……increased standards have contributed to some of the most dramatic gains among minority students in the nation. In 1999, Florida’s graduation rate among African-Americans was 48.7 percent. Today, it is 68.4 percent. The graduation rate of Hispanic students was 52.8 percent in 1999, but it has skyrocketed to 77.3 percent today.

Both Cannon and O’Toole highlighted the grad rates of African-American and Hispanic students in their pieces and both used 1999 as the reference point. While the numbers were tweaked, the points of emphasis were the same.

From Cannon:

Before 1998, Florida had no consistent measurement in place to assess students across districts in the areas of reading and math. Gov. Lawton Chiles worked with the Florida Legislature to put in place standards and testing that measured where our students were succeeding, where they were falling behind, and what policy changes and resources were necessary for students to excel.

As a result of this effort, parents have a more transparent system that highlights the progress of their neighborhood schools, and most important, students are learning.

From O’Toole:

This is not the first time we have raised the bar for Florida’s students. A decade ago, Florida’s education system was stuck in the bottom third nationally, but rose to 11th in the country after implementing reforms started under Gov. Lawton Chiles and continued by Gov. Jeb Bush. Over the years, the standards have steadily increased, and Florida’s students have risen to the challenge every single time.

It clear that both intended to put a historical perspective within the piece. But as both gave  Democrat governor, Lawton Chiles, a prominent place in the timeline, its clear that both intended to shadow Jeb Bush’s role.  Cannon, in fact, didn’t even use Bush’s name at all in his piece.

From Cannon:

Since 1999, when Florida first graded schools based on student performance, our A and B schools have grown from 21 percent of all schools to 76 percent last year. Results under a harder test and higher standards were announced Wednesday, and while scores were lower in some cases, students and schools exceeded expectations and showed they are capable of meeting new, more globally competitive standards. Continuing to raise the bar and measure progress will ensure that students keep learning

From O’Toole:

Collectively, Florida’s schools have made tremendous progress on the FCAT since it was implemented in 1999. In the first year, only 515 schools received A or B grades. Last year, that number rose to 2,320 schools — the second-highest number since the test began.

Same starting point. Same emphasis on data with different numerical representations.

It not the first time that Florida education policy makers have been caught using the same talking points. In the desperate hours of the FCAT Writes debacle, Gradebook’s Jeff Solochek, busted two members of the Florida Board of Education for e-mailing the same response. While the utilization of talking points in politics is not unusual, in this case Floridians are entitled to know who sent the talking points along with the request for crafting the opinion piece. Most suspect it is one of Jeb Bush’s foundations.

Two opinion pieces that were clearly solicited and manufactured provide another example of  the fecklessness of support for the state’s rigid test-dominated system.

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