Mark Wilson’s Testimony to State Board of Education

Education and Economic Development Go Hand in Hand

Yesterday, Mark Wilson was in Orlando to champion the Florida Chamber’s longstanding education position of keeping A-F school grades as well as urging the Florida Board of Education to align our student’s standards with the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as NAEP.

Florida is improving in many areas but the truth is, America has fallen out of the top 20 internationally in reading and math. As you can imagine, the teachers union as well as the school superintendents spoke against accountability and against coordinating Florida test scores with NAEP scores.


State Board of Education Testimony

October 28, 2015: Mark Wilson

“Good afternoon Commissioner Stewart, and members of the State Board of Education. Thank you for the opportunity to stand before you today and share the voice of Florida’s business community. And, more importantly, thank you for your leadership and the work you are doing to equip Florida students with knowledge and skills to continue creating prosperity for millions of Floridians.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce is Florida’s largest federation of employers, local chambers and trade associations, and we are focused on securing Florida’s future. That means making choices for Florida that will ensure Florida’s students are the best prepared students in America.

The Florida Chamber Foundation’s researchers estimate that by 2030, Florida will add six million more residents and we will need to create two million more jobs.

Education is the key to EVERY SINGLE one of those jobs. Education and economic development go hand in hand.

We predict that by December, we will be congratulating Governor Scott on the creation of one million jobs since he took office. I am often asked why the Florida Chamber cares so much about education, and why we’ve been involved in every major education reform for the last 20 years. Some groups tell me the Florida Chamber should stick to the world of economic development.

So, let me be clear – education is economic development. We can argue for all the incentive dollars in the world, but nothing matters more to Florida businesses than talent. Our economy rises and falls on the quality and scalability of our talent.

We need to ensure every single child in the talent pipeline is prepared for the workforce needs of tomorrow.

As I wrote in my comments submitted to the Department of Education on September 25, every year, one of the top issues identified by Florida Chamber members and our Community Development Partners is to continually close the gap between our educational outcomes and the needs of Florida’s employers. In fact, our Business Alliance for Early Learning believes that all students should be reading on grade level by grade three. Whether it’s a nurse, a systems analyst, a welder, a driver, a teacher, an engineer or any of the thousands of prospective job titles in Florida, talent is quickly replacing tax incentives as Florida’s most important economic strategy.

In 1994, the Florida Chamber issued a landmark report titled No More Excuses: What Business Must Do to Help Improve Florida Schools. In it, we laid out a course of bold action, and together with educators, state leaders and school administrators, we moved  from 48th in the country in 1994 to 7th in educational attainment today. Over time, we have had to make tough choices and adapt to different tests and grading systems, but we have always done it with an eye on making our system better, not on “lowering our expectations.”

We must ask, “Whose best interest do those objecting to higher standards really have at heart?”

Candidly, I have personally participated in more than 20 education reforms in 20 years. And, I cannot recall a single time that the unions or superintendents supported stronger school grades – not then, and not now. Each year, for the last 16 years, Florida has provided a school grade – a snapshot of how schools are doing in preparing students in English, math and science. It’s a tool to help empower parents to continue to choose the best education path for their children. Every time Florida has raised the bar, our schools, teachers and students have risen to the higher expectations. It may not happen in the first year, but it does happen. It’s the slow and steady progress that moved Florida from being near the bottom in the country to the top 10 on many indicators. Not only does the law require it…it’s the right thing to do.

With that in mind, the Florida Chamber urges you to stay the course, and move forward by continuing to issue school grades. Commissioner Stewart, nobody knows more than you the value of school grades as evidenced by your work in turning around your school when you were a principal. In addition to continuing to grade schools, we must be honest with parents and provide truth in advertising on proficiency – that’s why cut scores matter. As a parent, I know that the workforce that your kids and mine will enter will be very different than the workforce we entered.

When we were in school, we knew we would grow up to compete against each other. But the truth is that our kids won’t grow up to compete against one another – they’ll compete with kids from around the world. They will compete with kids from China, India, Brazil and other countries. On an international scale, the U.S. has fallen out of the top 20 countries in the world in both literacy and math.

Now that we know that, without a doubt, ‘knowledge’ is the driver of future growth, and the path to personal and community prosperity. Technology and globalization mean that a student must prepare, not just to compete with the kid down the street or even the kid in the next state, but to compete with everyone, anywhere across the globe.

Our children deserve better.

Research from the Florida Chamber Foundation shows that in just five short years, 65 percent of all job openings in the U.S. will require some post-secondary education. Some people say we have an unemployment problem. The truth is, we have a talent gap problem. In fact, right here in Florida today, we have more than 250,000 open jobs. These are businesses that simply can’t find the talent to fill the open jobs they have.

Once again, education is economic development. And that is why cut scores matter. Today’s K-12 students are the workforce of 2030.

So, the question is:  How is our state going to thrive if the future workforce is not reading and doing math proficiently while they’re in school now?

As I shared in my September 25 letter, we need to ensure our students are not only successfully graduating from high school, but they are doing so based upon honest indicators they have actually achieved proficiency in core subjects.

Again, our children deserve better. As board members, you have the awesome responsibility of doing what’s best for our students – even if the adults don’t like it. Raising expectations for our students and being honest with parents are both essential. Simple math tells us that when Florida says 20 percent more of our 8th graders are reading proficiently on our state test than on the national test – which, as we all know more accurately reflects true proficiency – we have a problem. We know that at least 20 other states have acted recently to align their cut scores to those on the national test – the NAEP test.

Friends, if we don’t lean forward, and demand better, our children will be left behind.

NAEP is the only test in which all 50 states participate and, as you know, it is considered the gold standard for measuring student proficiency. However, there is a tougher grading system than NAEP – it’s called the marketplace, where Florida’s children will one day seek a job and earn a living. Last year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released its Leaders & Laggards State-by-State Report Card on K-12 Educational Effectiveness. Overall, Florida received a “C”, primarily on the truth in advertising indicator – which judges the degree to which state level measures of student proficiency align with national expectations of proficiency. In 2011, Florida’s proficiency gaps with NAEP were as high as 40 points. Today, in 2015, we’ve cut that gap in half. Now is the time to finish the job and completely eliminate the proficiency gaps.

In September, I submitted the Florida Chamber’s recommendations during the public comment period of the Board of Education’s cut score review process. At that time, I encouraged you to align Florida’s “cut scores” with proficiency levels on NAEP. This is an easy statement – but I appreciate that it is  not an easy task. I understand that there is tremendous pressure to not raise the bar. After all, it’s easier and less controversial to keep the status quo. Not pressing for the higher standards might make things look good for those married to the way things are. But what will we say to the child who wakes up and is unable to find a job and the Florida companies that cannot find qualified workers.

Until just a few weeks ago, the state of Georgia had a gap of between 45-65 points – the worst in the country. But they’ve raised their cut scores on the new “Georgia Milestones test,” and virtually eliminated their proficiency gap with NAEP.

We cannot afford to let our friends and neighbors to the north pass us by.

If I were on the board today, I wouldn’t leave here without doing everything I could to align to NAEP and position our children for success. You are the only entity that will vote on what we say is “proficient performance” on the state test. You are the only body entrusted to make that important decision. Please don’t settle for “incomplete” and put our students on “pause.” Be truthful to our parents and students. Hold our children to the same expectations as the highest performing states across the country.

In closing, as I indicated in my public comments on this subject, the Florida Chamber urges you to set Florida’s proficiency cut scores on the Florida standards assessment to align with NAEP. Doing what is right and doing what is popular are rarely the same things. Florida wins when we continue to close the talent gap, and give our children the tools they need to compete.

Thank you for the opportunity to stand before you. On behalf of our board of directors and employers throughout Florida, we stand with you as you put the long-term ahead of the short-term.”

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