Lieutenant Governor Frank Brogan
State of Florida
Before the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families
Hearing on "Academic Achievement"
2175 Rayburn House Office Building
June 9, 1999
Thank you Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee for the opportunity to speak to you today about the exciting reforms that are taking place in Florida.
In Florida, under the leadership of Governor Jeb Bush and strong legislative leadership, we just passed the Bush/Brogan A+ Plan for Education, which we believe to be the most comprehensive state accountability package to date. Based on the conviction that all children can learn, the A+ plan starts with high expectations for all and is focused on increasing student achievement. We will also assure that no child will be left behind or abandoned to a substandard education in Florida.
It's important to note that we began laying the foundation for this plan with three major initiatives in 1995. First we adopted challenging academic standards backed by the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) to measure student achievement. This was a two-year process that included parents, teachers, business leaders and others. As a result of this process our Sunshine State Standards had broad local support and buy-in. Because we were significantly raising the bar of expectations for Floridašs children, this was critical as evidenced with the announcement of the first round of scores on the FCAT. More than 70% of Floridašs tenth graders scored below the basic level in reading in the initial administration of the FCAT, yet public support for demanding academic standards remains high. These sobering results tell us how far we have to go, and our standards provide a road map for getting there.
Secondly, we provided choices to parents, teachers and communities by allowing the creation of public charter schools. Charter schools are free from the burdens of unnecessary rules and regulations and are strictly accountable for the academic performance of their students. Our purpose here was to drive student achievement by providing increased accountability for schools along with quality choices for students. Charter schools have thrived in Florida. We now have 73 charter schools serving nearly 11,000 children. Charter schools are serving a diverse group of students, and in fact serve a significant number of students traditionally considered to be low achieving or otherwise "at risk". One third are serving Exceptional Student Education (ESE), alternative education and disadvantaged children. Thirty-five percent of charter school students in Florida are African American.
Finally, we initiated a program to remediate "critically low performing" schools. Elementary schools were identified as "critically low performing" if two-thirds of their students scored below the proficient level on standardized tests of reading, writing and math for two consecutive years. This was not a very demanding standard, but we had to have a starting point. I canšt say we were surprised, but we were still very troubled to find that 158 schools could not reach even this minimal standard.
We put those schools and the local school districts on notice that this kind of performance would not be accepted. Children deserve better. The Department of Education and State Board of Education were empowered to assist schools in instituting approved improvement plans and demand changes in curriculum and staff if schools did not improve.
Three years later, not one of those original 158 schools remained on the "critically low performing" list. Though based on a low standard initially, this effort demonstrates that if states set serious expectations for students and schools, provide some direct assistance where necessary, and refuse to accept continued failure; schools can perform. We also showed that identifying low performing schools is the beginning of the solution, not an end.
The A+ Plan is a comprehensive accountability system, built on this foundation that significantly raises the achievement bar. Beginning this year, Florida schools will receive report cards and be graded on a scale of A F based principally on how students perform on the FCAT. Importantly, schools will also be measured according to how well their lowest performing students learn, and will not receive high marks if these students are left behind. These grades are not simply window dressing. Our accountability package contains significant incentives and rewards for success as well as serious remediation and consequences for failure.
Schools that receive an A or improve by one grade level, on the A to F scale, receive a bonus of up to $100 per student. Fifteen million dollars has been appropriated for this purpose for the 1999- 2000 school year. As an additional incentive, the highest performing schools will be deregulated and rewarded with the freedom to manage their own budgets and innovate with curriculum and other strategies. Importantly, we are providing incentives and rewards for success while also providing the support and flexibility necessary to replicate and expand strategies that work.
For schools that donšt measure up, there is additional assistance available for remediation as well as consequences for continued failure. If a school receives an F for two years in any four year period, students become eligible for Opportunity Scholarships which would allow them to attend the public (traditional or charter) or qualifying private school of their choice. State money allocated for the education of that child would follow. The people of Florida have determined that we canšt continue to wait for schools to improve while the children they are supposed to serve are left further and further behind.
The A+ package calls for increased accountability for results at the state level, while pushing more power and control to the local district, school and parent level. We strongly believe that those closest to the child being served should have ultimate authority over that childšs education. Key elements of the plan include: rigorous and measurable expectations for student performance, understandable information to parents about school performance, deregulation of budgets and curriculum at the school level, remediation and unprecedented assistance to low performing schoolsincluding $527 million in flexible funds that can be used for after school and Saturday programs, one on one tutoring, reduced class size and other efforts to help students succeedand choices for those stuck in schools that do not improve.
Florida is not alone in injecting freedom, flexibility and true accountability into state education policy. In addition to speaking to you today as Floridašs Lieutenant Governor, I am representing my colleagues in the Education Leaders Council (ELC), a national organization of state education chiefs and other state officials from Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
ELC member states are pursuing policies that put the needs of children and parents over systems, that focus on increasing student achievement rather than a fixation on process and procedure and those that empower the creativity, unbounded energy and the unique abilities of communities, enterprising school leaders and teachers. Through innovations like charter schools, preoccupation with academic achievement, and renewed emphasis on performance and teacher quality, we are giving schools true autonomy with respect to budgeting, curriculum and personnel and meaningful choices to parents in exchange for accountability for results. Federal education policy should change to complement and support this new reality.
Current federal education policy focuses strictly on compliance with regulations and categorical programs with no regard for specific state and local needs or for whether prescribed programs are producing academic results. This handcuffs us at the state and local level by severely limiting our ability to abandon failing programs and put more resources and energy into efforts that are producing results and serving children effectively.
Though the federal contribution to education is small, about 7 percent of total spending, it has a dramatic effect on state and local policy. For example, in Florida, like most other states, it takes more than 40 percent of the statešs education staff to oversee and administer federal dollars. In fact, in Florida, six times as many people are required to administer a federal education dollar as are required by a state dollar.
In the coming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), there is a tremendous opportunity to transform the current dead weight of endless regulations and categorical programs into leverage for positive change. Unfortunately, the White House ESEA proposal simply reinforces the top down compliance model that has failed us over the last thirty plus years.
While the White House plan identifies a number of worthy objectives, it continues to tie our hands with inflexible programs and procedures that may or may not address statesš unique problems and needs. Rather than increased student achievement, success under this proposal is measured by compliance with increasing process, procedures and paperwork.
We urge Congress to choose another course. We ask that you liberate statesat least the ones that want to be liberatedto try different approaches and follow paths that they see producing results in their states.
We believe the widely discussed "Straight Ašs" concept would be a very effective vehicle for freeing states, that have demonstrated a commitment to accountability, to innovate and replicate their success. Under such a scenario, states that participate in "Straight Ašs" would then have the flexibility necessary to transform the often counter-productive state and federal relationship in the delivery of education into a productive partnership on behalf of children.
We donšt ask for increased flexibility as a blank check. We who are serious about driving student achievement in our states are willing to trade true accountability for student performancefor all childrenfor the opportunity to innovate with our federal dollars and pursue policies that are producing results for kids in our states.
For more detail on what such a plan might look like, I have attached ELCšs Resolution on the Reauthorization of ESEA to my testimony for review. I appreciate the opportunity to share my views and look forward to further discussion if you have questions.
ELC RESOLUTION ON ESEA REAUTHORIZATION
BEYOND ED-FLEX: The Proper Federal/State Relationship
In The Delivery Of K-12 Education
The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) should be a time of bold innovation in American education. The federal role in K-12 education needs a fundamental overhaul, not incremental amending. The reform energies that abound in schools across America should be freed from federal red tape. The primacy of states in the provision of education must be recognized. Parents should be empowered. Local control should be respected. The dead hand of the federal bureaucracy and micro-management by thousands of pages of regulations attached to hundreds of separate programs should be ended. Three decades of ineffectual programs, wasting money, failing to accomplish their goals, and shackling innovation-minded local and state education leaders.all this needs to change. Itšs time for reform in Washington thatšs as fundamental and bold as the reforms now underway across America.
The members of the Education Leaders Council (ELC), who include the state education chiefs of Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia, understand that education initiatives, policies and practices are most effective when generated closest to the children they aim to serve. Education policies fail when imposed upon communities by federal mandates and regulations. Congress can have a lasting impact in the delivery of education, by building on this principle in the reauthorization of ESEA.
All to often, federal, state and local education officials as well as many national education organizations focus on compliance with regulations rather than providing services that help children. Entrenched interest groups and bureaucratic fiefdoms, with their predilection for the status quo, have been hesitant about and even hostile to needed education reforms. Freedom to make decisions locally in exchange for accountability for results should guide federal education policy. What is needed today is a commitment to trust local educators, yet verify the accomplishment of children.
Pursuant to the "trust but verify" principle, ELC has called for unprecedented freedom for state innovation in exchange for the strong accountability measures which ESEA has always lacked. These are reflected in the following priorities:
Flexibility for states in determining how federal dollars are spent and what they are spent on
Accountability for results rather than simple compliance with spending categories, procedural controls and other regulations of input and process
High goals and expectations for all students regardless of origin, income or location
Empowering parents, not bureaucracies, by assuring that federal education dollars follow students to schools and programs of choice
The highly successful charter school movement sweeping through the states is a suitable model for a more productive partnership between the federal government and the states. Simply put, states should receive wide-ranging freedom in the use of their federal dollars in exchange for significantly greater accountability for results.
As in a charter school agreement, a participating state (or large school district) would enter into a five year contract with the Secretary of Education in which it offers to produce specified academic improvements (and indicates how these will be measured). In exchange, participating states would gain broad flexibility in deciding how their federal education dollars are spent to achieve the agreed upon academic results. Sometimes termed "Super Ed-Flex", this strategy includes the following essential elements:
A participating state enters into a five year contract with the Secretary of Education in which it agrees to produce specified academic gains and states precisely how these gains be measured
States specify how federal dollars will be spent to attain agreed upon academic results
Participating states choose which federal programs they want to include in "Super" Ed-Flex. Eligible programs include all formula-based K-12 programs, except IDEA
Funding levels would be based on existing formulas. Monies from these programs may be commingled and spent as the state sees fit. All categorical program regulations are waived for participating states
Accountability: contracts must include clear performance objectives and timetables for achieving academic improvement. Achievement must be disaggregated by student categories. If Title I is included in Super Ed Flex, achievement gains must be shown for disadvantaged children. If Bilingual Education funding is included, gains must be shown for LEP youngsters. As indicators, states may use State-level NAEP, a commercial test, state standards-based assessments or another mutually acceptable test of academic achievement
Renewal: states that produce the specified results get their contracts renewed. States that fail to produce agreed upon results, revert to categorical/regulatory approach
Participation: no state is required to participate and all have the option of continuing with categorical programs which remain on the books
Evaluation: GAO evaluation is required prior to next ESEA reauthorization cycle
ELC members are confident that this approach will deepen and sustain the tide of freedom, innovation and accountability currently sweeping the landscape in the states. It goes far beyond the stale "block grant" debates of earlier years by linking greater freedom with improved results. We at the state and local level are focusing on standards with rigorous assessments, enterprise and accountability while pushing authority and control of curriculum and budgets to individual schools. Through innovations like charter schools, preoccupation with academic achievement, and renewed emphasis on performance, we are giving schools true autonomy with respect to budgeting, curriculum and personnel and meaningful choices to parents in exchange for accountability for results. We urge the Congress to do the same.