Florida: The Wild West of the Privatization and Testing Industries

This spring, the Florida legislature passed and this summer Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 7069, a school reform promoted by organizations linked to the Koch Brothers and Betsy DeVos. Florida has been a poster child for conservative ideological education reform for some time. Going beyond even the federal No Child Left Behind – or as the critics call it, No Child Left Un-tested — reform of the elder Bush era, it became one of the most frequent testers of students in the nation. Basically, from February to May, students in Florida prepare for and take an endless array of tests. Florida instituted evaluation of teachers tied to student test scores years ago, motivating teachers to spend the whole year teaching to the test. On top of this testing regime, Florida has enacted many right-wing reforms: eliminating K-12 teacher tenure; grading schools A to F; and changing curricula to emphasize only what is tested, for example, eliminating recess.

Well, after a decade of this, parents began to revolt. Last year, a statewide survey highlighted two priorities for needed school reform: stop all this testing or at least cut way back – and restore recess for our children. PTAs mobilized behind these changes. The Florida State legislature began to respond by formulating the “Recess Bill” – intended to cut testing and restore recess. However, the ending point of this effort was very different than the starting point. Basically, the Recess Bill was hijacked by business – two businesses in particular – the testing industry and the charter school promotors. Testing in Florida is a half billion dollar a year business, and Pearson and other testing companies lobbied hard against cutting testing. Moreover, the budget for public education is $14bn a year, and charter advocates saw the bill as a way to capture a lot more of that money.

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