Look, Listen and Learn

Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson

As a newly arrived Virginia transplant, let me first express just how excited I am to be Florida’s Commissioner of Education.

Leading up to my move here to the Sunshine State I wanted to make sure I hit the ground running through a “look, listen and learn” approach, giving me a chance to talk with staff, educators and policy leaders.

Fittingly enough, my first major opportunity to get feedback came from public school teachers and school district superintendents. In the weeks and months ahead I plan to continue these efforts, whether it is through in-person visits or social media opportunities. I will also be posting on this blog regularly about my experiences and opinions as they relate to a variety of different educational issues impacting our state, so make sure you check back in as often as possible. 

Additionally, with the new school year rapidly approaching I plan to be out and about to continue listening and learning. But if you don’t catch me in person, drop a comment or idea on any of our other social media sites or via email at Commissioner@fldoe.org.

Florida is a great place for public education and I am anxious to see what kind of successes we can create for our students in the coming years. I am looking forward to hearing from you!

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23 thoughts on “Look, Listen and Learn

  1. Looking forward to it, Commissioner! What a great idea.

    Megan Allen
    2010 Florida Teacher of the Year

  2. The value-added method of Teacher evaluation is at best statistacally questionable. The range of variability makes it not worthwhile to evaluate Teachers. If the administrators would actually pursue observing Teachers and classrooms instead of one discussion in the “office.” Teachers are NOT the enemy, just like administrators ate NOT the enemy. They both have jobs to do and I question the quality of the bureaucratic job justification that administrators do.

    • Thank you for the feedback. I agree that observation is a key factor in the evaluation process and that’s why I am excited that half of this new system will be based around established and effective observational practices that districts are working on right now. I would also add that these new evaluation systems, including the 50 percent that is based on student learning growth, will continue to be looked at each year to make sure they are providing an accurate and fair assessment of the performance of our teachers.
      With any snapshot of performance (be it test scores or observation), variation exists in the evaluation result. However, one of the benefits of the new evaluation system is it encompasses multiple observations, not simply one trip to the office. Additionally, it includes three year’s worth of student performance data. By including more years of student performance data, a greater degree of statistical certainty is achieved in the value-added results – in comparison to simply looking at just one year of student performance data.

      • Three years at the same school does not control for some important factors that can affect learning. Are students assigned at random to each classroom? Are teachers assigned at random to each school? Suppose you swapped an average teacher given the worst students at an F school in a poor district, where students might get no support at home, with an above average teacher that gets the best students at an A school in a rich district, where students get lots of support at home, especially over the summerr. Would the learning gains be the same as before? Should you know the answer before rewarding one over the other?

      • Thanks for your question. The independent committee that developed the student growth aspect of the new evaluation system actually concentrated on the exact types of things you mention. They wanted this process to be as fair and accurate as possible, and to “level the playing field” by accounting for differences in the performance and characteristics of students assigned to teachers. The model they chose does this through a variety of factors: 1) Low performing students are not compared to high performing students. Instead, the model predicts the expected learning growth of each individual student, and then looks at the end of the year to see if they met that growth, stayed the same or declined in their learning. 2) The model looks at three years of a student’s performance to help mitigate issues that might cause an unusual drop in performance during a single year. 3) In predicting each student’s expected growth, the model considers things like their absentee rate, their ELL and/or ESE status, class size, the amount of times they have changed schools, etc. This type of model is designed to mitigate the influence of differences among students so that teachers and principals are not advantaged or disadvantaged in the process. We also have a whitepaper on this topic that may be useful to you: http://www.fldoe.org/committees/pdf/Value-addedModelWhitePaper.pdf. I hope that clarifies things for you a bit on the new evaluation system.

      • how do teachers be evaluated based on student performance when they can’t control what goes on at home, if the kid is hungry, if the kid is neglected. all that influences test scores. also, most people are not good test takers, what about the english language learners and ESE?

      • Thanks for your question. The independent committee that developed the student growth aspect of the new evaluation system actually concentrated on the exact types of things you mention. They wanted this process to be as fair and accurate as possible, and to “level the playing field” by accounting for differences in the performance and characteristics of students assigned to teachers. The model they chose does this through a variety of factors: 1) Low performing students are not compared to high performing students. Instead, the model predicts the expected learning growth of each individual student, and then looks at the end of the year to see if they met that growth, stayed the same or declined in their learning. 2) The model looks at three years of a student’s performance to help mitigate issues that might cause an unusual drop in performance during a single year. 3) In predicting each student’s expected learning growth, the model accounts for things like their absentee rate, if they are English Language Learners or have a disability, class size, the amount of times they have changed schools, etc. This type of model is designed to account for the influence of differences among students so that teachers and principals are not advantaged or disadvantaged in the process. I hope that clarifies things for you a bit on the new evaluation system.

  3. Dear Commissioner,
    I am writing to express my concern about the high school graduation requirement of a virtual school course. The guidance counselors have stated that the course must be online, not a course with some face-to-face teaching and some online work. My child is a struggling reader who needs support from a teacher! It also looks like the law is written to drive students to FLVS. My niece had a terrible experience with them. What can you do to help my child have more choices for taking online courses? Can you help make it possible for parents and students to pick the type of online course? Will there be choices within the local schools?

    Sincerely,
    A Concerned Parent of a 9th Grade Student

    • Thanks for the question. There are actually three virtual options for your child. Students may take the required online high school course from Florida Virtual School, a district high school or middle school, or through dual enrollment. You can check out our Florida Virtual Public Education Options chart for a quick overview of what program would be best for your child: http://www.fldoe.org/schools/virtual-schools/pdf/veof.pdf. Some of the classes enable the students to take the courses on computers in brick-and-mortar schools, so that may be an option your child could participate in. In addition, teachers of online courses can have live lessons in order to respond to students’ questions as the class is going on.

  4. Dear Comissioner,
    On behalf of the Council for Educational Change, we welcome you to Florida. We look forward to your leadership, and to continuing our successful public/private partnership with the FLDOE.

    Sincerely,
    Elaine Liftin, Ed.D
    President and Executive Director

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  6. Dear Mr. Commisioner,
    To fully understand the challenges we are facing in Florida, please visit as many public schools as possible and talk to the teachers and administrators working so diligently there. Please derive your policies from first hand knowledge, not from what companies with a vested interest in profiting off of our children tell you we need to do. I worked for a private tutoring company that provided SES services through NCLB and saw first had how they are interested in making money, not in doing what is right for students. Please take time to understand how most charter schools do not perform better than public schools and read the stories of failed charter schools that wasted the chance for their students to earn an education. The students of our state can not afford to have for profit companies cutting corners to make money instead of doing what is right for students.
    Thank you for seeking input and for working to increase funding for public schools.

    • Thanks for your comments. I think visiting schools within our public school system is very important and I plan to visit as many as I can during my tenure as Commissioner so I can learn about the successes taking place and hear directly from students, teachers and school leaders. It is vital that all students be provided with opportunities to help them succeed in life – and I look forward to working with our stakeholders to make that happen.

  7. Welcome to Florida, Comissioner Robinson!
    I am glad that you are interested in hearing from the people of Florida, there will be plenty to hear! As we face many challenging changes, I hope that you will carefully guard the interests of the children in our state, and work to build an environment that will allow teachers to be respected as professionals. I love the fact that you are working to create dialogue as your starting point. Keep it up!

  8. Thank you for choosing to take the “look, listen, and learn” approach. As a Florida educator, and president of Florida ASCD, I value a leader who pays attention to what’s happening in our schools and how our teachers, students, and administrators feel. Welcome to our sunshine state.

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  10. Welcome to Florida! I am looking forward to some new ideas for our education system. Currently I have issues with respect to our school and district (Brevard) on how it handles students who participate in FLVS or Dual Enrollment. I will address the FLVS issue now and save the Dual Enrollment issue for later.

    With respect to FLVS, our school/district has a rule that a student cannot be more than 50% finished with a FLVS course before the normal school term starts — if they want that FLVS course to be taken in lieu of a class at the school. Moreover, taking a course over the summer will not reduce a student’s course load requirement for the upcoming year (they still have to take 7 classes even if they are now way ahead in credits).

    So, a student who wants to “get ahead” over the summer (using FLVS as an acceleration mechanism, See Section 1007.27(1)F.S.) so that they have more time in the school year for other activities/academics/work/dual enrollment, etc. is not given that option. I would like the option for my child to be able to take 2 classes over the summer, for example, so that she only has to take 5 rather than 7 class periods during the year, leaving her time for other activities/academics/work/dual enrollment. The benefits of virtual classes/FLVS cannot be fully realized without such options. Moreover, requiring students to take 7 classes when they only “need” 5, for example, further exacerbates the class size and overcrowding issues (which FLVS is intended to alleviate, See Section 1003.03(3)(b) F.S.). I would suspect this has to do with the brick-and-mortar school wanting to get all of its funding (FTEs) which requires a “full day” at the physical school. But the needs of our children should come before the funding desires of our schools.

    I hope that the state will address these issues and provide more direction to the school districts on how to better utilize the benefits of FLVS and follow the intent of the legislature on virtual education.

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  12. Dear Commissioner,
    What do you think about he Florida Student Success Act not being funded by the state legislature? Implementing this new law will be a huge financial burden to our already underfunded school districts. I believe that it’s disingenuous for legislative leaders to trumpet a “merit pay law” with NO financial incentive for teachers. The law is full of punitive measures for teachers that will be enforceable, but local districts simply do not have the money to provide financial incentive to their teachers. With all due respect, if you respond that the money will be available in the future, please tell me how the legislature is going to insure this, since we need huge increases in funding to get to the levels we were at 5 years ago.
    I would also be interested to hear your position on teacher tenure. I have mixed feelings on tenure, but I don’t understand why a highly effective teacher would have to give up tenure to receive a raise. Why would a highly effective teacher have to give up due process to receive a raise she obviously deserves?
    Lastly, do you feel raising teacher salaries in Florida is important to recruit and retain the best people in our profession?
    Thank you for your time.

    • Thank you for the comments. Please keep in mind that the new compensation systems required under Senate Bill 736 represent a shift in how salary increases are earned, and are not the same as the bonus programs we’ve seen in the past. Bonus programs are typically layered on top of a regular salary schedule and require special pots of money to fund, because it’s considered money in addition to salary dollars.
      Under the new system, each district will maintain a salary schedule that looks similar to the one it has now (called a “grandfathered” schedule) for veteran teachers and also offer the performance schedule to all new teachers and any veteran teachers that choose to switch. Both will be locally negotiated. The performance schedule will result in locally-determined base salary increases (not bonuses) for teachers who earn summative evaluation ratings of effective or highly effective, with the highly effective increase being the largest one the district will offer. The grandfathered schedule would continue to pay on years of service. We expect there to be some initial costs associated with the transition to the new system, and that is why Florida is fortunate to have Race to the Top funding to help ease the transition. The state will be paying for all districts to receive technical assistance on how new schedules can be created and local budgets can support them. In addition, some school districts are using a small portion of their own Race to the Top funding to bridge potential gaps during the transition period.
      Regarding tenure, Florida has taken the approach to allow personnel with the professional service contract prior to July 1, 2011, to retain it if they continue to demonstrate effective performance through the new evaluation system. This approach supports the focus on student growth and instructional practice. It is also helpful that teachers will have some time using the new evaluation system before they make a choice as to which compensation system they want to choose. Those who are showing success may decide that their district’s performance schedule would be to their advantage – remember, they are all locally negotiated.
      It’s important to all of us, especially to students, that we raise the teaching profession to the esteemed level it deserves. I believe that a professional environment where every teacher gets better every year and local compensation that supports their efforts and results will move us closer to that goal.

  13. Thank you for your very detailed response. Unfortunately, you didn’t address why a teacher has to give up tenure to receive merit pay. Does this make sense to you?

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