Even before Gov.-elect Rick Scott (R-FL) officially grabs the reins in his troubled state, he is making it abundantly clear that he plans to push for radical changes to the education system. Chief among his plans is a cockamamie scheme to give school vouchers to essentially any student whose parents want one, rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged alike. The idea strikes at the very heart of public education, and as The Answer Sheet’s Valerie Strauss put it, “is more likely to destroy the public school system than accomplish anything else.”
Scott has also suggested undermining the funding mechanism for public schools in his state, which even Republican officials worry “would be devastating” to the education system. In a final blow, Scott’s also hinted that he’ll turn down the $700 million that Florida won in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program.
So is there any bright light when it comes to education reform in Florida? Maybe, as the Florida News Service noted that “a push for struggling schools to lengthen the school day may become part of a larger education reform debate that lawmakers have hinted will be a major part of the spring 2011 legislative agenda”:
Newly elected state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who previously served in the House, has told fellow lawmakers, including Senate Prek-12 Chairman Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, that he intends to file a bill extending the school day, and Wise said he is interested in taking it up in committee.
Expanded learning time, particularly in struggling schools, can be incredibly beneficial for students, and “some schools serving large concentrations of low-income and minority students have dramatically improved student achievement by increasing instructional time.” America’s 180-day school year is based on an agricultural economy that no longer exists. In Finland, Japan, and Korea — three countries that consistently trounce the U.S. on international education assessments — teachers average 197 days of instruction. Expanded the school year not only addresses this disparity, but gives schools more of an opportunity to partner with local organizations and increase parental involvement.
Scott’s game-plan includes making his state’s regressive tax system even worse, while having corporate executives throw him lavish inauguration balls, but it’d be great if he advocated for something that could actually help students in Florida. Expanded learning time is no silver bullet, but it would definitely help far more than Scott’s ideological crusades dressed up as reform.