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Nothing but failure succeeds like success

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© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2000


Who would have predicted this?

Not the governor.

Not the Legislature.

Not the teacher unions.

Not the private schools.

Not one of the actors in this play predicted that, one year after Florida launched a school-voucher program, exactly zero schools in the state would do poorly enough to qualify.

The annual test results were announced Monday. Not a single school in the state scored an "F" on the standardized tests for a second year, which is when vouchers kick in.

Excuse me for using the word "vouchers" when the state prefers the term "opportunity scholarships." Either way, it means, using tax dollars to send kids to private schools. The idea is that when a public school is lousy enough, the kids deserve to go someplace better.

But no school was lousy enough this year. There were 78 schools on the danger list from last year, but every one of them pulled up their performance.

This means only the original 52 kids up in Escambia County from last year continue to be eligible for vouchers, along with certain disabled students.

Instead of swelling into one of the nation's biggest voucher programs, Florida will continue with little more than a pilot project.

This is good, right?

Isn't this a good result, whether you supported or opposed vouchers in the first place?

It means there was not nearly as much failure in the public schools as had been predicted by either side.

The teacher unions and educational bureaucrats had warned that vouchers would destroy the public schools.

Supporters of vouchers expected at least a modest expansion in the second year. After all, everybody knows what a lousy job the public schools do, right?

Instead: Zero!

This is good. Isn't it?

The governor said it was good. More than anyone else, Jeb Bush is responsible for getting vouchers in Florida. It became his top priority during his first session of the Legislature in 1999.

"So, the system works," Bush declared. "The threat of opportunity scholarships, I think, refocused school districts."

Critics might carp that the schools were "refocused" into teaching their kids merely how to take tests. Public schools around the state relentlessly drilled their kids on test taking.

Still, it is entirely possible that while getting drilled for the test, students actually learned something. It is an ill wind that blows no good.

The schools should be proud. The teachers should be happy. The Legislature should be pleased, just as the governor says he is pleased, that the public system responded to the challenge, pulled itself up by its bootstraps.

Everybody should be pleased.

Unless ...

Unless there is somebody out there whose goal was not to improve the public schools, but merely to get tax dollars into the hands of private schools.

If there is anybody like that, then they are secretly disappointed by these test results. Of course, they cannot say so publicly, because that would look like they had wanted public schools to fail.

What, then, should these people do, to get more public tax dollars into the private schools?

They must create more failure.

Even though they had complete control over how high to set the bar, the public schools passed their test. (For a school to avoid an F, a certain percentage of students must score high enough in all three test areas: reading, writing and math.)

So their only recourse now is to argue that they set the bar too low. Watch, now, for a campaign to "ratchet up" the passing grades. If your voucher program is based on the assumed "failure" of the public schools, then you by gum need to make sure enough of them fail.

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