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Florida taking the next step toward better schools

Over the last several weeks, I have had the pleasure of visiting different areas of the state to gather public input and hear from education stakeholders as part of the state Board of Education's "What's Working in Effective Teaching and Leadership" workshop series. Each workshop covered a different topic, all related to the larger effort to build better-informed teacher and principal evaluation systems that will help to turn around our lowest performing schools and make a successful future possible for every one of our students.

During the workshops, well-regarded experts and education leaders such as George Noell from the Louisiana Department of Education, Andy Ford from the Florida Education Association and Dan Weisberg from the New Teacher Project shared their thoughts on value-added measures, teacher evaluations and supporting effective instruction. Brian Dassler with the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and John Schnur from New Leaders for New Schools also spoke about helping our struggling schools and preparing outstanding school leaders. The conversations their ideas sparked were invaluable, making the workshops that much more productive.

The ultimate purpose of these workshops was twofold: educate teachers, administrators, parents and other stakeholders about this critical reform effort; and collect their feedback on how best to implement it. Attendance at each meeting was very encouraging and I believe our work to provide webcasting and advance collection of questions from nonattendees helped to make this opportunity much more accessible to all those looking to help improve our schools.

Collecting this feedback is absolutely critical, since revamping these evaluation systems is one of the most challenging reform projects we have undertaken to date. At least, that much was made very clear to me in the impassioned comments I heard as educators and parents alike brought up situations and circumstances that we must factor in as we strive to link the growth and decline in the performance of our students to the teachers who educate them.

But as complex a task as this might be, linking student academic growth to the evaluation of our teachers and principals is the essential next step for our education system and the children it serves. Research continues to show us that dedicated, effective teachers have the power to change students' lives for the better, no matter the individual challenges those children may have. Building this new evaluation system will help us put even more of these gifted educators in our classrooms and will mean increased support and professional development for teachers who have the talent and desire but need a little extra help to reach their true potential.

With our recent win in the federal Race to the Top competition, we have the tools and resources to make this new system a reality. But even more uplifting is the fact that in contrast to past federal reform efforts, this one is being driven locally, and public input is going to be vital as the state and its school districts work to create evaluation and compensation systems that fit the needs of each community.

These are exciting times for education in the Sunshine State, and for the millions of children who enter our schools each day with the promise and dream of a prosperous life. Based on the passion and dedication I saw during these workshops, I know we are well poised to deliver on that promise.

Eric J. Smith is Florida's commissioner of education.

Florida taking the next step toward better schools 10/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 6:47pm]
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