A weekend interview with Mike Grego, special adviser to the Florida education commissioner
Mike Grego only planned to work in Tallahassee as K-12 education chancellor for a few months, helping pave the way for a new commissioner and chancellor to take over. His replacement has started, his new job found. But Grego has one final task to complete before moving on: He's steering the state's request for a No Child Left Behind waiver. Grego, a former Hillsborough assistant superintendent and Osceola superintendent, spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the state's desire to get some flexibility from the federal rules. [Orlando Sentinel photo]
Why did the state decide to pursue the waiver?
The flexibility waiver provides the states an opportunity to ... eliminate the duplication and, many times, the confusion by having these two separate accountability systems. We are proposing to move to a single accountability system until the ESEA is reauthorized. That is without a doubt the best situation. But we're getting to points where we have schools where there is such great discrepancy between the state accountability system and the federal one.
Isn't the federal system one that keeps everyone on their toes, though, by forcing them to look at every single subgroup in a way that the state doesn't?
Right. And you'll see because it's a draft application, part of the requirement for a waiver from the ESEA is to continue to look at the subgroups. So we are looking at ways of implementing those same subgroups. I agree. When you look at all subgroups, you are looking at all students. We are looking at ways of counting all students within our state grading system too. And we are moving toward that. Now, our bottom 25 percent has truly demonstrated that we are closing the achievement gap. We are raising the floor for many students, increasing higher standards. ... We are not really able to abandon those subgroups.
I know there were concerns originally that states all have different sets of standards, and they wanted to have one standard. Would this take us back to a place where a Florida review of a school would be quite different from a Nevada, or another state?
I think the department's challenge is to review the proposals. ... I think their goal is to not back away from accountability or rigorous accountability, but rather demonstrate that state like Florida - and Florida has been a leading state in terms of their accountability system. We've demonstrated over the last 10 years an increase in standards. We're moving toward the common core. We're moving toward the PARCC assessments. We're moving toward more rigorous standards as we speak. We have consistenly through the years increased those standards. Our schools have responded. Our letter grades continue to go up. Our percentage of students at level one and level two continue to decrease.
On the other side of it then, by getting a waiver does the state have to give up too much of its local control? Didn't they make specific demands to get a waiver?
Well, probably just the opposite. What we're looking at is to use our accountability system in its entirety. Also, we're using what they refer to as a recognition system. Florida has a very robust recognition system of schools that are A schools and schools that have improved a letter grade or more. They are also looking for very robust and bold teacher and administrator evaluation systems. Through the Race to the Top proposal, we are certainly demonstrating that. They are looking at states that have very complete assessment systems. Florida ranks in that too. Part of the advantage that Florida has at this point is that we've spent a year in the Race to the Top proposal. The college ready and career ready standards are in there, and they're in the flexibility waiver proposal too. .. Parallels between our current system and what they are requesting in this flexibility proposal are amazingly similar.
How does the FCAT 2.0 and the cut scores and all that tie in?
It's another means of demonstrating that the state of Florida on its own is increasing its standards, incerasing the rigor not only of the assessment but also of the cut scores. ...
What do you think is the key aspect of this waiver aside from eliminating the confusion? Is there something that will really allow the state to do something it hasn't been able to do before?
It will allow some flexibility perhaps if we are approved. ... We will take a look at some of the expenditures of the Title I funds. It will perhaps it will give us the ability to keep it the same, modify it based on our waiver or really ensure that dollars are being spent on students and in schools where they really need it to be.
That means the money might be able to be spent outside of Title I schools as well?
We'll examine that. They are providing that. That is something the state board and the commissioner will take a look at. But first things first. ...
Are there any other hurdles you perceive?
No. The main thing to keep in mind is that this is a stopgap measure ... The real work is in the reauthorization of the ESEA. This provides the federal government some models that states have been using. ... They may glean things from the state of Florida or many of the states are working with. It can help in the process of reauthorization. ... It is truly something we as a state have been struggling with.... This is not in any way a retreat on accountability.