CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia educators are looking to Florida for help on school reform.
Mary Laura Bragg, the director of policy for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, was a guest speaker at Tuesday’s Education Alliance Summit in Charleston.
Bragg was a classroom teacher when Florida Gov. Jeb Bush took office in 1999. She said he immediately set out to change Florida’s “bottom feeder” school system into one of the best in the nation.
“The decision was made to do away with the old and to think about education in a totally different way and to base all our education policies on the idea that all children can learn,” Bragg said.
The way Florida improved, she said, was through accountability.
“Every policy was tied to accountability in some way so that students were the focus of all of our reforms,” Bragg said. “Rewarding schools that improve and providing support but sanctions for schools that refused to buy in to the idea that their students can learn.”
Bragg went from the classroom to heading up Gov. Bush’s statewide literacy initiative “Just Read.” She said putting more focus on the students and making sure teachers, principals and school systems were accountable took the state from one of the worst education system in the country to one of the best in less than a decade.
“Results have been pretty astounding! Our students with disabilities lead the nation in gains in reading and math,” according to Bragg. “After eight years of consecutive decline before these reforms, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in kids graduating and we’ve cut our dropout rate in half!”
Along with the accountability, Bragg said they made sure each school and classroom was transparent, putting into place a grading system easy enough for everyone to understand.
“Everybody knows that A and B is good, D and F is bad and C there’s lot of room for improvement.”
Parents now know how the schools their kids attend rate. She said it’s a definite incentive to see positive change.
Bragg stressed West Virginia has taken the first step towards improving its education system by passing legislation this past session to get the ball rolling.
“You can have a policy and the policy on the books and the law and the statute is beautifully written and is exactly what needs to happen,” said Bragg. “But where it’s really made or broken is in the classroom.”
That means more than lip service when it comes to reforms. Bragg said educators must be held accountable, while students and parents in the community must be incentivized toward reachable goals.
“It’s not easy and it’s not fast, but it is critical to the future of West Virginia and Florida and the nation.”