When the going gets tough, the definition of success gets changed.
At least that’s the way it sometimes works in Florida.
There are two recent examples of this sort of magical thinking, one in education standards and the other in trash recycling.
Tuesday, the State Board of Education adopted a rule that will keep the letter grades that the state’s public schools receive in standardized testing from falling more than one letter from the previous year.
It’s an extension of a provision that was adopted last year to prop up the grades at schools that haven’t been measuring up to the high-stakes testing standards.
Before Tuesday’s vote, Florida Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett wrote a letter to state board members asking for the artificial inflation of grades, which he called a “transition safety net” as the state prepares to subject its students to the tougher Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
“To be clear, my recommendations, outlined below, are made not to soften the blow of higher standards or to reduce the number of failing schools, but rather to advance the best policy for Florida’s students and position our state for a successful transition to full implementation of the CCSS in the 2014-15 school year and beyond,” he wrote.
This is what happens when you define success on a yearly tests, and then fall short of measuring up on those tests. You change the rules.
The same thing happened with recycling.
Twenty-five years ago, Florida announced a goal of recycling 30 percent of the state’s trash. Without ever reaching that goal, the state Legislature enacted the Energy, Climate Change and Economic Security Act of 2008, which established a new goal of 75 percent recycling by the year 2020.
You might think it’s crazy to announce a 75 percent recycling goal when you’ve been failing for two decades to reach the previous 30 percent goal.
But not if you had the power to change the definition of “recycling,” which is what the Legislature did three years ago.
“In order to promote the production of renewable energy from solid waste, each megawatt hour produced by a renewable energy facility using solid waste as a fuel shall count as one ton of recycled materials and shall be applied toward meeting the recycling goals …” the law said.
In other words, burning trash in a waste-to-energy plant will be redefined as recycling, and measured by the amount of electricity created by the burning trash. Megawatts of electricity get magically converted to tons of recycled trash.
This creative solution has bolstered the state’s recycling numbers to record highs. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently reported that the state’s recycling rate jumped to 48 percent last year.
Great news through new math. Although those pesky environmentalists at the Sierra Club disagree.
“It’s the opposite of recycling,” said Drew Martin of Lake Worth, the conservation chairman of the Sierra Club’s Loxahatchee Group. “It creates an incentive to burn things that could have been recycled. And it puts chemicals in the air.
“It’s not a good environmental solution,” he said.
But it’s a good number solution.
Recycling rates are booming. Fewer schools will be marked by failing grades.
We’re on the right track, and we always will be, just as long as we get to change the way we keep score.