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The Education Gadfly

The following is a guest post from Patricia Levesque, Executive Director of the Foundation for Florida's Future, on why Florida should be considered the reformiest state at our Ed Reform Idol event next week. Contestants from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin will explain why they should be named the 2011 Ed Reform Idol winner throughout the week.

Don't forget to join us for Ed Reform Idol on August 11 at 8:30AM or watch the webcast live to see which state wins!

This year, Florida launched a new chapter of bold, transformational education reform. As our schools reorganize around the success of every student, the culture of reform in the Sunshine State continues to center on the simple premise that all students can learn. In 2011, Florida challenged the status quo once again and passed landmark teacher-quality legislation, the comprehensive Digital Learning Now Act, and expanded educational choice for families.

Florida's historic teacher-reform bill was our first victory of the year. This legislation recognizes teachers' critical roles in preparing students to excel beyond the classroom and modernizes the teaching profession to reward Florida's outstanding educators. The new bill:

  • Ends tenure for new teachers and eliminates barriers to remove ineffective teachers;
  • Bolsters educators' evaluations by making student learning data 50 percent of the evaluation and creating at least four meaningful levels of performance;
  • Rewards teachers based on student performance through performance pay;
  • Requires higher salaries for effective teachers, teachers of high-demand subjects, and teachers in high-poverty or low-performing schools; and
  • Empowers parents by requiring notification if their child is assigned to a teacher who has been rated ineffective for three consecutive years.

Florida's new comprehensive digital-learning bill (the Digital Learning Now Act) increases students' access to quality, customized learning experience and prepares our state to transform education for the digital age. This new law:

  • Allows full public school choice for online courses, with the money following the student;
  • Eliminates state teacher certification requirements and allows a district alternative certification (?adjunct certification?) for online educators;
  • Allows teachers to teach online across district and school lines;
  • Requires that districts offer at least three full- and part-time virtual options in K-12;
  • Allows charter schools to offer blended learning, a combination of traditional face-to-face and digital instruction;
  • Allows charter schools to offer full-time virtual instruction;
  • Requires high school students to take one digital course to graduate; and
  • Requires state exams to be administered online by 2014-15.

Already a leader in providing educational-choice opportunities, the Sunshine State expanded choice to more families this session.

Florida's charter-school bill recognizes our best charters and removes unnecessary barriers, allowing these top schools to meet the growing demand for quality public educational options. This new law rewards high performing charter schools with the ability to increase enrollment, serve more grades, open more schools, and receive longer charter terms.

Florida also expanded two scholarship programs. By redefining a ?failing school,? legislators expanded Opportunity Scholarships to offer more students trapped in low-performing schools the chance to attend a better performing public school of their choice. The McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities was also expanded to include students with 504 accommodations, thereby empowering more disabled students with the opportunity to select the school equipped to meet their needs.

Florida is an education-reform leader. But we believe success is never final, so reform is never finished. So, this year, Florida leaders took dramatic steps to further improve the quality of public education. Our state challenged conventionalities, advanced bold reforms, and fought to bring our students the learning experience they deserve.

? Patricia Levesque

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