Look, I’m not saying the federal education law doesn’t matter. It does. It’s a check on the states to make sure students don’t get ignored, but Florida has been on a pretty good track.

Students in the Sunshine State showed progress in math and reading last year while no other state did. A separate report ranked Florida 4th in the nation for student achievement — up from 11th place last year. In 2015 Florida boasted the highest-performing low-income fourth graders in the country, and in 2013, ours was the only state to reduce the gap between white and black students in reading and math for both fourth and eighth graders.

But academic progress in our public schools isn’t enough to satisfy federal law. We had the spirit, but we struggled with the letter.

Let me explain.

Back when 2015’s was about to be laid to rest, Congress agreed on the details of a national education law. They named it the Every Student Succeeds Act.

It gave states more flexibility in setting goals for schools and in deciding what the consequences would be if schools fell short. Not just consequences in a punishment sense though, but how the state would support schools that were having trouble getting kids on track. The law demanded that states put it all into one big plan for holding schools accountable.

That plan was due in September… of 2017!

Florida submitted its first draft by then, but the U.S. Department of Education sent it back. Five drafts and one year later, the plan was finally approved this week. We were the last state to get approved.

The reasons for the rejections are pretty weedy, but essentially, it boiled down to a number of technicalities. For example, the law said schools had to report the progress of specific groups of students — groups that typically fall behind everyone else. But Florida’s plan already tracked any student that found themselves in the bottom 25 percent, regardless of race or English-learning status.

Ultimately, Florida decided to keep its system for grading schools the same and report separately the progress of the required groups: Low-income students, English-language learners, racial and ethnic minorities, and students with disabilities.  

The law also said each state had to make it clear how they’d decide which schools needed help. They also had to define what those school needing support would have to do to get off the “support” lists. Somehow that was one of the last things Florida education leaders figured out before getting the plan approved.

Hoop, consider yourself jumped.

Now our leaders can focus all of their attention back on executing the plan. DeVos summed up my feelings nicely in her press release yesterday:

“…We don’t evaluate football teams solely on who has the better game plan on paper,” Secretary DeVos continues. “We evaluate them by what happens on the field.”

If Florida keeps playing the way it has been, I expect we’ll see some pretty exciting numbers on the scoreboard very soon.

LLW Masthead 1000 x 100