EDUCATION
08/02/2012 02:54 pm ET

Gerard Robinson, Florida Education Commissioner, Resigns After One Year

Citing family reasons, Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson is resigning from the position he has held for one year, the Miami Herald reports.

On Tuesday, Robinson submitted letters of resignation to Gov. Rick Scott and State Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Shanahan. Robinson gave no reason for his departure, only that he was resigning effective Aug. 31 “after much contemplation and discussion” with his family, according to the Associated Press.

However, the embattled education commissioner told the Orlando Sentinel that when he was hired a year ago, he and his wife -- University of Richmond law professor Kimberly Robinson -- figured she would be able to find a comparable job in Florida and their initial separation “would come to an end shortly.” But Mrs. Robinson was unable to land a suitable position, so she and the couple’s two daughters remained in Virginia. According to Robinson, that separation, combined with his back-and-forth trips, proved too much of a challenge.

Robinson’s tenure as Education Commissioner was marred by controversies over Florida’s test-based school accountability system and failing scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. In May, school officials had to pass an emergency rule to lower the passing score for the state’s writing exam after realizing 73 percent of fourth graders and 67 percent of eighth graders failed this year’s FCAT. Changing the passing grade to a 3.0 from a 4.0 on a scale of six allowed 80 percent of fourth graders to pass -- on par with 2011’s results -- compared with a previous 27 percent.

The Florida Board of Education raised the passing standard for the 2012 FCAT in December -- something Robinson cited as an accomplishment in his letter of resignation. Across the state, 56 percent of third graders passed the rigorous new standardized reading exam with a score of 3 or higher, but the portion of students who could be held back jumped to 18 percent this year as a result of low scores.

The fact that FCAT scores are tied to teacher pay and performance assessments, as well as schools’ A through F letter grades, has been a bone of contention across the state.

In late July, the Florida Department of Education miscalculated grades for hundreds of schools representing 40 of Florida’s 60 school districts. This incident only served to incite further public distrust in the state’s accountability system. School grades, based primarily on FCAT scores, are used annually to determine financial rewards for top performing schools and sanctions for failing ones.

Robinson told the Sentinel these controversies did not influence his decision to resign, and that he has no new job lined up yet, his interim plan being to play with his two youngest daughters.

Florida’s governor is not in charge of directly hiring the state’s education commissioner -- that responsibility lies with the State Board of Education -- but Scott was active in Robinson’s recruitment, and will be involved in selecting his replacement, according to the Sentinel.

The State Board of Education held an emergency conference call meeting Thursday, appointing Florida's current public schools chancellor Pam Stewart as interim commissioner, the Associated Press reports.

CONVERSATIONS