After One Year at the Helm, Fla. Education Chief Resigns

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson is resigning from the job he’s held for a year, his time marked by glitches in the state’s school grading system and standardized testing program.

Robinson, who came to Florida from Virginia, wrote that he could not overcome living apart from his family in letters of resignation that he submitted Tuesday to Gov. Rick Scott and State Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Shanahan.

The letters included a list of accomplishments, but Robinson wrote only that he was resigning effective Aug. 31, “after much contemplation and discussion” with his family.

The board, not Scott, appoints the commissioner, but the Republican governor gave Robinson his enthusiastic support after pressuring his predecessor, Eric Smith, to resign shortly after Scott took office. The governor does appoint board members but when Robinson was hired most were appointees of former Governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist.

Florida officials courted Robinson who had been Virginia’s education secretary for about a year before he took the Florida post.

“He has been a tireless advocate for creating quality learning opportunities for all of Florida’s students and he will certainly be missed,” Scott said in a statement.

Shanahan similarly praised Robinson for working with the board to raise standards for schools and students and as “a leader who embodies and understands the importance of education reform.”

Robinson, though, has had to defend falling scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and lower school grades on the state’s A-to-F scale as the result of efforts to increase rigor that began before he took the job. In his letter Robinson cited the tougher standards as one of his accomplishments.

The board, though, passed an emergency rule to revise the scoring criteria for the FCAT writing test after preliminary results indicated only about a third of students would pass compared to 80 percent last year. The rule kept the passing percentage about the same as 2011.

The panel also agreed that no school would lose more than one letter grade this year. The grades are based largely on FCAT scores.

Robinson wrote a letter that was distributed to parents telling them they shouldn’t be overly concerned about this year’s FCAT results. He has also defended Florida’s testing requirements against a rising chorus of critics.

They include the Florida School Boards Association, which has called for an independent review of the FCAT’s reliability following its most recent problems.

Robinson disputed the association’s contention the test is too expensive and narrows the curriculum because teachers focus on what’s tested. He said the $59 million that goes to testing is only a half of a percent of overall annual state and local spending on public schools. He cited growing enrollment in such noncore courses as dance, drama and foreign languages.

The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, has been at odds with such programs as high-stakes testing, school vouchers and merit pay that have been pushed mostly by Republican politicians as ways to improve the state’s schools.

Robinson’s departure will give the board and Scott a chance to “reconnect with the parents and educators whose voices have been ignored for too long,” said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow. “The new commissioner needs to have an honest and meaningful dialogue with parents, teachers and administrators to improve our schools.”

Among his accomplishments, Robinson cited recent town halls he’s held in 26 counties, the creation of a Task Force on Inclusion and Accountability, an initiative to get teachers to communicate with each other about closing minority achievement gaps, new competency and skill standards for science and math teacher and higher standards for the state’s pre-kindergarten program.

Robinson was among several new applicants the board considered to replace Smith after reopening its search last year due to dissatisfaction with the initial group.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell appointed Robinson as his education secretary in 2010. Before that, Robinson had been an advocate for such school choice options as charter schools and vouchers that also are priorities for McDonnell and Scott. He served as president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and worked on Virginia’s charter school legislation when he worked as a lawmaker’s staffer.