Report cites ‘setbacks’ for Florida’s education reform efforts

Report cites ‘setbacks’ for Florida’s education reform efforts

The state has gotten behind on contracts for education projects financed by the Race to the Top grant, according to a federal report released Tuesday.

By Laura Isensee

Federal education officials gave Florida a warning Tuesday over delays in the state’s plan for education reform.

The U.S. Department of Education released progress reports for each of the 12 states and District of Columbia that have won federal dollars in the $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition.

Florida won $700 million in the four-year program, which the Obama Administration has launched to promote education reform efforts, such as the controversial merit pay for teachers. The report reviews progress — and challenges — in the first year.

Federal officials also flagged issues in New York and Hawaii.

In Florida’s case, the state faces “serious setbacks.” The concern is over delays in state contracts for various efforts, such as database systems and intervention in low-performing schools. Florida has slated 98 percent of its state-level funds for outside contracts, which would then implement projects. Since the contracts are the delayed, so are many projects. Some have been pushed back six months, a year or even more.

“In year one, Florida made a great deal of progress but also experienced some serious setbacks. As Florida moves further into year two, we will be looking to them to demonstrate unwavering commitment and continued collaboration to ensure that their work gets back on track,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a prepared statement.

Florida’s Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson highlighted some of the state’s accomplishments. Among them: statewide steps to tie student scores to teacher evaluations and improving access to education in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

Regarding Florida’s approach to procure services through contracts, Robinson said Florida’s procurement laws result in the “highest quality vendors.” “While this does take time, the end result is a legal document that binds contractors to deliverables and timelines and provides increased accountability,” he said.

Robinson noted that in the last six months, since the grant’s first year ended, Florida has moved 22 additional projects into execution and awarded multiple contracts and grants. “We are proceeding into Year Two confident and committed to the ideals and principles necessary to make Race to the Top successful,” Robinson said.

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who oversees the nation’s fourth-largest school district, said that delays have had a “minimal” impact, if any.

“We have not seen at the local level any impact with any possible delays,” Carvalho said, noting the issues flagged in Florida deal less with education policy and more with procurement.

Carvalho said some changes are needed on the policy side, too, so that a teacher’s evaluation is connected to his or her subject. Under Florida’s new system, many teachers, such as drama, P.E., physics and chemistry teachers, will see part of their evaluation come from the school’s reading score on the FCAT.

“This has been a bold step that the administration has taken,” Carvalho said of Race to the Top. “It hinges on a number of working parts and the working parts are policy, they’re technical and they involve negotiations, and the bottom line is they ought to be respectful of teachers. We’re seeing a little bit of that rub.”

For more education news, follow @lauraisensee on Twitter.
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  1. Pingback: A Conversation With Arne Duncan « - January 19, 2012

  2. Pingback: Florida Districts Spend Less on High-Poverty Schools « - January 19, 2012

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