John Legg, fresh (and remarkably energized, considering) from his debut in the Legislature's upper chamber, has returned to his two-county district feeling — there is no other word for it — triumphant.
And why not? Following the hurly-burly that saw lawmakers at loggerheads over assorted high-profile issues (Medicaid expansion and pension reform, to name two), the Sunshine State News still was able to name six who emerged winners.
Half are from suddenly pivotal Pasco, and Legg (R-Trinity), just 38 and possibly the senator least likely, is among them. In a session so tilted toward public school initiatives the Tallahassee Democrat headlined it the “Education 'renaissance'” the News identified Legg as the Legislature's go-to guy.
“(T)his session showed Legg can be a player in the Senate. As chairman of the Education Committee, he scored some solid victories on charter schools, teacher assessment, and Career and Professional Education (CAPE) academies.… If conservatives want to push education reform in Tallahassee, Legg looks like the man to turn to in the Senate — as his record in the 2013 session showed.”
“I won't lie,” Legg says. “That made me feel good.”
While Legg dutifully nods to having executed the priorities of Senate President Don Gaetz, particularly in the area of boosting employment-ready graduates (the essence of CAPE), the great bulk of Florida's education reformation — CAPE included — bears the stamp of our local wonk…and, truth be told, that of a former governor and presumed presidential candidate.
As it happens, Legg says, “We're spending a couple of weeks this summer in Maine. But we don't have any plans to drop by the Bush compound” in Kennebunkport. Now, raising an eyebrow over a grin, “Considering we passed every one of Jeb's initiatives, you'd think someone would put in a good word for me.”
Maybe someone will. But it won't come from the polar-opposite camps kinetically repelled by the reforms touted by Legg and Bush. Because, while Tallahassee's push for teacher raises hogged the spotlight, the heart of Florida's public school evolution stalked the penumbra, dragging with it Legg's devotion to President Obama's controversial (but I repeat myself) common core curriculum and assessments.
At the heart of the heart of this season's reform, the electric twitch that makes the whole thing throb is the state's dedication to common-core compliant Next Generation Sunshine State Standards even as it postpones implementation of online assessments until all K-12 schools acquire the required technological infrastructure.
The provision could delay assessments interminably. No district is ready, but some districts are less ready than others. Pasco is about halfway there, Legg says, and with emphasis could arrive in a couple of years, “But I'm not going to advise (Superintendent) Kurt (Browning) about how he runs his district. I think he has other things on his plate.”
Failure to assess — to evaluate, FCAT-style, with standardized tests — tosses little water on the smoldering opposition: teachers unions, because they resist all performance evaluations linked to standardized exams; and libertarian-leaning conservatives, who argue compellingly that Washington's intrusion is a usurpation of local authority guaranteed by the Constitution.
“I'm hearing from the 9/12 groups,” Legg says. “They let me know they're not happy.”
Legg argues, not unpersuasively, common core targets subjects offering scant wiggle room for political mischief: math, science, reading skills. “Two and two will always be four,” he says. “What goes up comes down. And in reading, we've gone too long asking students to write their opinion about what they just read. Instead, they need to be able to regurgitate it. Tell us what it said.”
Well. It's hard to tamp down suspicions when we have beheld politicized balance sheets where little adds up; science racing to contort entire economies over humankind's suspect role in climate change; and school-approved reading passages they wouldn't want their kids regurgitating on a dare.
Enjoy that victory lap, Senator. The skeptics will be here when you get back.