Education Reform Efforts Move Forward

With all the committee meetings taking place during this year’s legislative session, it might have been easy for people to miss out on two important non-legislative meetings that took place recently.

On March 24th, Florida’s Race to the Top Student Growth Implementation Committee (SGIC) met for the first time to kick start the state’s efforts in designing a student growth model that would be used in the state’s new teacher and principal evaluation systems. Consisting of teachers, principals, parents, business leaders and other education stakeholders, the SGIC represents a variety of viewpoints that are essential in our efforts to design a student growth model that is fair, accurate and unique to Florida. This committee will be working directly with the vendor who is building the model, American Institutes for Research (AIR), to provide input and feedback on the variables the model should and should not include. It will be the work of this group that will truly allow us to call this Florida’s student growth model, and I’m looking forward to reviewing their recommendations.

Also meeting for the first time was Florida’s Race to the Top Teacher and Leader Preparation Implementation Committee (TLPIC), who got together on Tuesday to begin the discussion about the programs that are training our future educators. Similar to the SGIC, the membership of this group is varied to ensure a wide variety of viewpoints, including those of the postsecondary representatives who are in charge of these programs. It will be the charge of this group to recommend how the new student growth model is used in the evaluation of teacher and principal preparation programs, as well as establishing performance measures that will be linked to a program’s ongoing approval.

The work of each of these committees is vital as we move forward with the groundbreaking education reform efforts that are a part of our Race to the Top grant and the recently-signed Student Success Act. With their feedback in hand we will be able to ensure that the new evaluation systems are being built on a foundation of collaboration and stakeholder input – two very necessary things for our school improvement efforts to ultimately prove successful.

To learn more about these two committees visit our Race to the Top implementation committee page at http://www.fldoe.org/committees/rttt-committees.asp. I highly encourage you to listen in and pay attention to their future meetings so that you can stay informed about this important process each step of the way.

Sunshine Week

This week honored Sunshine Week, a time when we as public servants are reminded that government in our state is open and transparent to all who seek information and services. This week is special because it helps to serve as a reminder that each and every citizen has the right to access government, whether that is through public meetings, data gathering or simply trying to get a question answered.

We pride ourselves here at the Department for being as open as possible and for always finding ways to respond quickly and accurately to our stakeholders no matter what else may be going on. Being responsive to the public is important, especially in such a critical area as education.

Without access to the information we provide accountability would be meaningless and the overall progress of our children and our education system would suffer. Imagine if state assessment results or graduation rates were confidential, or if Florida College enrollment was off limits to the public. Such a sheltered system would breed failure as our citizens and stakeholders remained in the dark on key issues.

That is why I am so pleased that we live in a state that mirrors its open records laws on its own abundant sunshine. I know for a fact that our unique transparency has only helped to contribute to the incredible progress of our students as stakeholders and citizens alike look for new ways to help us improve.

Acronyms in Education

As educators, we often joke about our wide use of acronyms in our daily speak. So ingrained is their usage in education that conversations consisting solely of acronyms are entirely possible.

“NCLB has AYP which is based on FCAT.

“FCAT 2.0 is based on the NGSSS, which helps in AP, IB and CTE preparedness.”

“The FCS has launched PERT, which replaces the CPT.”

But as confusing as this type of talk might be, these acronyms have great purpose and meaning behind them, helping to define our core mission as educators. An example of this is clearly represented in a very critical acronym that has huge implications on our nation’s standing and the ability of our children to compete with their global peers. Known as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), this grouping of subject fields represents the pinnacle of opportunity in today’s world.

At this very moment, the success of our economy remains dependent on our ability to produce a workforce skilled in these subject areas. Consequences for failure are simple – lost prosperity, lost world standing and lost opportunity for future generations of Americans. The good news is that we are uniquely aware of this need and our state and our country are taking steps meet it. Just a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to recognize outstanding high school juniors in our state who are focusing their efforts on these critical fields of study, and I am hopeful that our efforts to recruit them to a Florida postsecondary institution will create untold personal success for them and a lasting benefit to our own state’s economy.

Additionally, our new mathematics Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT 2.0) and the new Algebra 1 End of Course (EOC) exam will go a long way in ensuring our students leave school prepared for the competitive world they face. These new assessments are based on a whole new set of next generation curriculum standards that avoid the “mile-wide, inch deep” standards of yesteryear. These improvements will span to other STEM fields in the coming years as science FCAT 2.0 is introduced and more EOCs are developed for other core subjects.

And in April, middle school students will have another opportunity to hear directly from professionals across the nation who work in these STEM fields during our Second Annual STEM Virtual Career Fair. What better way to learn than to experience first-hand from experts who have gone through the educational process and are now living and breathing their school experiences in their everyday jobs?

So the next time you hear an educational acronym tossed your way feel free to scratch your head and chuckle a little bit, as long as you take the effort to ask what it means. After all, it might just be one of the most important things going on in education today.

Read and Donate Books

Sometimes a good book may be hard to find, but ANY book can help promote reading and literacy. This month, the Department of Education has teamed up with MetaMetrics and Simon Malls to encourage you to read and donate a book to a local school. Several Simon Mall locations in Florida will host Kidgits Club’s “Book Blast” events where you can visit, learn and donate. Your participation will help a local school obtain much-needed books to fill their media centers and libraries, and you will get a great opportunity to learn about a tool called “Find a Book, Florida!”

This online resource enables students to search for books and build custom reading lists based on their interests and reading level. By going to http://florida.lexile.com or the Department’s home page, you can use the tool to find the most appropriate books for your student. We all know that reading is important in school, but these are just a few of the many opportunities you have to infuse reading and literacy in your everyday lives.