Virginia’s Gerard Robinson Chosen as Florida’s Schools Chief

By Sean Cavanagh — June 21, 2011 2 min read
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Virginia Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson, who has held that post for a year and a half, was selected as Florida’s new commissioner of education on Tuesday.

Robinson was chosen by Florida’s state board of education, which considered five finalists for the post. Assuming he takes the job, he will replace commissioner Eric J. Smith, who announced in March that he would resign, a decision that came a few months after Florida Gov. Rick Scott took office.

In Robinson, Florida is choosing an advocate for charter schools and school choice. Florida has long been a laboratory for voucher programs, as well as for extensive testing and school grading policies, most of which were put into place under former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Robinson, in fact, has some ties to Bush. He was one of the original five state schools chiefs who agreed to take part in Chiefs for Change, an effort to promote school choice and performance-based evaluations of teachers and principals. Bush, who runs a pair of education foundations, is providing financial and staffing support for that effort. (Smith, whose resignation was effective June 10, was also one of the original five participants in Chiefs for Change.)

Prior to working as Virginia’s education secretary, Robinson was the president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a nonprofit, organization in Washington devoted to supporting parental choice and boosting the quality of education for African-American children.

He will go to work in a state where Republicans control the governor’s mansion and have strong majorities in the state’s legislature. (In Virginia, Robinson worked with Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, and a split legislature.) This year, Scott and Florida lawmakers approved signficant cuts in K-12 funding, over the strong objections of teachers and local school officials, as well as a sweeping, controversial law that will phase out tenure and implement merit pay for teachers and administrators, policies that Robinson will undoubtedly be asked to take a major role in implementing.

Florida is also attempting to administer school-improvement policies through the federal Race to the Top competition, which provided Florida with a $700 million award.

“Gerard brings to Florida a long and remarkable set of accomplishments,” Scott said in a statement. “His leadership as an experienced education reformer and advocate for school choice and closing the achievement gap is exactly what Florida needs to reach the next level of education reforms that will benefit both our students and the businesses of our state.”

As I reported yesterday, this has been an unusually busy year in terms of turnover of state education chiefs. Going into this week, 18 states had seen new leaders enter top state education posts so far in 2011, and six others were conducting searches to fill those positions.

Photo: Virginia Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson (Steve Helber/AP).

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.