By pushing education chief out, Scott sets Florida up to fail


Gov. Rick Scott wants to drug-test state employees.

After watching him nudge Education Commissioner Eric Smith out the door, I think we should start with the governor.

Yo, Rick, what you been smoking?

Smith is on your side. He will make you look good.

For crying out loud, he made Charlie Crist look good.

Smith has been pushing the same education reforms you claim to support since you were changing bedpans at Hooterville General. The teachers unions hate him more than you. OK, maybe that's an exaggeration.

But there's a reason why Jeb Bush personally wrote his obit on Wednesday's Opinion & Commentary page, as opposed to your terse good-bye and thanks statement.

Records do not lie.

Smith became superintendent of schools in Newport News, Va., in 1992. Here is how the local newspaper described the job he did.

"Under Smith's leadership, more kids learned to read, more minority students studied math and science, more high-schoolers enrolled in Advanced Placement classes, test scores went up, magnet programs were started, and the community got involved in education in more substantive ways.''

Officials in Charlotte, N.C., wooed him away in 1996.

There were 22 failing schools when he arrived, none when he left. Reading and math scores went up, particularly for minority kids. In 1992, there were 77 black students in AP and International Baccalaureate courses. By 2000, there were 1,000.

Smith was named the nation's top urban educator by the Council of the Great City Schools.

And he did all this while dealing with the legal and political chaos of ending a race-based school-busing plan.

Smith went to the Anne Arundel school district in Maryland in 2002. He changed curriculum, focused on low-income schools, brought prestigious IB programs into two high schools, made everybody work twice as hard, battled the teachers union and turned the district around.

Florida hired Smith in 2007.

He implemented higher academic standards. He brought evolution into science classrooms, which led to an embarrassing political circus as some legislators refused to acknowledge their tailbones.

Smith was behind the drive for merit pay last year but had his legs cut out from under him by Charlie Crist, who supported the bill and then vetoed it for political reasons. This year Scott will sign the bill.

Smith crafted the successful application that brought in $700 million from the federal Race to the Top program.

He has dealt with the upheaval caused by the budget crisis, the class-size amendment and challenges to FCAT scores.

With all this going on, Smith became a national leader in bringing states together to agree on rigorous new academic standards. Thanks to Smith, we are ahead of the game in adopting them.

Florida students, meanwhile, produced their best results ever on the 2009 federal reading and math assessments, particularly minorities. This coincides with Florida becoming a national leader in closing the achievement gap and placing more black and Hispanic kids into rigorous Advanced Placement courses. Minority students are leading the upsurge in Florida's graduation rate.

This is what Smith is all about.

"Simply put," he said back in 2005, "as lower-performing students are challenged with the same expectations as higher-performing students, shifts in achievement are continuously elevated."

Given the upheaval in the past few years, his achievements are beyond remarkable.

Implementing the merit-pay bill will be a lot harder than passing it. Schools face hundreds of millions in budget cuts as they must deal with more rigorous standards, more tests, harder tests and tougher graduation standards.

Our schools are going to start looking like those Japanese nuclear reactors.

And our governor is letting the one guy who knows how they work get away.

Nobody can figure this one out, which may be because Scott doesn't seem to consult with anybody.

Smith is being his usual classy self, not talking to the media, simply saying he wants to get out of the way so that Scott can pick his own commissioner.

Smith is staying until June to finish the school year. Then, as in the other places he worked, he will be leaving behind kids who are smarter for his having been there.

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