Why is Florida the only state that’s not in compliance with federal education standards?

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act student obligates states to ensure that students such as these in Miami-Dade County public schools have every opportunity to succeed.
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act student obligates states to ensure that students such as these in Miami-Dade County public schools have every opportunity to succeed.

At the same time that children have headed back to school, candidates for elected office are declaring their plans to improve Floridians’ quality of life. From an educator’s point of view, that’s a happy coincidence since voters will have schools in mind as they evaluate candidates’ positions.

Parents send their children to school and taxpayers pay for them to ensure that youngsters will be prepared to contribute to civic life. Today, a high school diploma is the minimum credential needed for students to become self-sustaining adults.

However, Florida’s plan to comply with the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a barrier to achieving these goals that candidates have not addressed -- neither have our state elected officials.

The ESSA is the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Congress passed this law at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Over the years, the central focus on student achievement and historically underserved children has remained the same.

State departments of education develop the ESSA plans, which governors review. The U.S. Department of Education examines the plans for compliance with the law and notifies states whether or not their plans are approved.

Florida is the only state in the country without an approved ESSA plan.

The current version of the state’s ESSA plan excludes critical protections for English learners, students with disabilities, students of color, and low-income students. The plan still does not respond to clearly stated ESSA requirements to include measures of progress in achieving English-language proficiency and performance of individual subgroups in calculations in a single statewide accountability system. The revised plan still does not demonstrate that every effort has been made to provide native language assessment for English learners. These concerns are consistent with those stated in federal feedback on Florida’s ESSA plan and with those raised by state and national civil-rights organizations and associations of experts in teaching languages and in education reform.

These flaws in the Florida plan matter to children and families. Despite the schools’ amazing progress in raising achievement levels for many of our students, not all have benefited from the improved quality of elementary and secondary education. Florida’s results from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reveal the extent to which achievement gaps persist. Further, by the state’s own reckoning, one out of every four schools rated “A”,” B,” or “C” includes one or more struggling student subgroups. The state’s current ESSA plan thwarts the will of Congress to focus attention on their needs and therefore increases the likelihood they will fail to be on track for high school graduation.

North Miami, South Miami, Pembroke Pines, Miami Gardens, Miami Springs and Miami city commissions and the Miami-Dade County Commission adopted resolutions requesting that the state plan be revised to comply with ESSA requirements to better serve vulnerable students. Each commission sent its request to state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, Gov. Rick Scott, and to leaders in the Florida House and Senate.

Floridians should follow suit. Pick up the phone, call the commissioner’s Office, call the governor’s office and ask them to revise the state ESSA plan. Ask candidates for the Legislature and current state lawmakers to align state accountability laws with the federal law and to require revision of the state ESSA plan.

Rosa Castro Feinberg served on the Miami-Dade School Board from 1986 to 1996. She is co-chair of LULAC Florida’s Government and Media Relations Committee.