CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia educators are looking to Florida for help on school reform.

Jennifer Smith/MetroNews

Florida educator Mary Laura Bragg spoke at Tuesday’s education summit in Charleston.

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.”

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Comments

  • tim mcclung

    This week in Charleston, WV, at the Education Alliance’s Summit for Education, Jeb Bush's "Foundation for Excellence in Education" (FEE) was the keynote speaker and their education reform initiatives were given top-billing. What were not mentioned were the ties between FEE and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the controversial corporate bill mill working on profitizing public education as reported by the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy. In addition, A nonprofit group, In the Public Interest, released thousands of e-mails that show how FEE is working with public officials in states to write education laws that could benefit some of its corporate funders.

    Questions have also been raised about the success or failure of Jeb Bush's Florida reforms on which FEE makes many of its claims. But none of these questions were brought up at this week’s event. Instead, we heard a lot about FEE’s agenda of school reform, which includes school choice, online education, retention of third-graders who can’t read and school accountability systems based on standardized tests that includes evaluating teachers based on student test scores and grading schools A-F based on test scores.

    Our governor, State Board, the media and other organizations involved in the public education conversation, would be wise to dig much deeper into FEE and the Florida story before heading down this path.

    • Teacher

      In West Virginia all it takes is someone to make clams of success and have a plan for success to sell, and we jump on board. I can't count the times our reading programs have changed in the past 10 years for the next best thing someone has to sell. Most times without giving the previously program a chance to work. Not to mention the money spent for all new text books, reading materials that go with the program, and of course paying the company for training on the new program. Try what educated generations in the past instead of teaching for a high stakes test would be a great start. But who could make money selling that?

  • Retired Teacher

    Another snake-oil salesman comin' through town; the WVDE's politicians couldn't buy enough bottles of her "Educmacation Elixir" I'll wager.

  • Brian

    So Joe, accountibility for all huh?
    How about we fire Dentists who's patients get a cavity (of course; it is the dentist' fault if people don't brush their teeth - right?) Or maybe if a patient dies in the hospital - how about we saction all the doctors and nurses that attended the patient - regardless of how sick they were to begin with; that sounds reasonable, huh?
    Maybe if a house springs a leak and has water damage; we should fine ALL the workers that built or have ever worked on the house in any way and make them all pay for the repairs. That'd be fair, right?

    We live in a state where A LOT of people are socio-economically depressed and/or do not value education. But if a kid misses 47 days of school that is the classroom teacher's fault? If a kid cusses out a teacher and the live-in boyfriend is drunk on the couch and could care less, that is the teacher's fault as well.
    If a kid gets zero attention or support at home because daddy is on 19 pain meds for his "injury" at work 10 years ago - that is the teacher's fault?
    No wonder most of the good teachers LEAVE this state as fast as a plane or car can carry them!!!
    But thank you Joe for perpetuating the negative impressions WV teachers get from every source imagionable!

    • Teacher

      Joe evidently is a state worker that is always upset with teachers because of benefits and summers. I have yet to meet a state worker that dosen't feel under paid and mad about teachers getting summers off to take classes to progress their education, and attend endless conferences on how to incorporate this or that into the classroom, during the summer. Typically because some "snake-oil salesman" has a new vision on how to do the job better. I wish I had the summer off to vacation and relax like most people believe. First I can't afford to vacation because that money goes to pay for summer classes. I had three days off for vacation last year between classes. Every time teachers are mentioned he jumps to voice his opinion on how the system should be run. Get involved in the process Joe and make real change instead of typing on a key board to bash teachers or better yet if you were doing your job you would not have time for teacher bashing.

      • Joe

        Your comments about non-teacher state employees are completely out of line.

        • Teacher

          When any article is posted concerning education you begin bashing teachers. I have read several articles and you are always one of the first to post, and it's always a negative opinion toward teachers, regardless of the content of the article. I must have reached the correct conclusion concerning your reasons for teacher bashing. A non-teacher state employ that dislikes teachers because of previously mentioned reasons. How were my comments out of line, when like you I am voicing my opinion. I didn't mention which state agency I believe you are employed by. If any comments are out of line they are those that teacher bash without walking in the shoes of a teacher. Thank you for verifying my suspicions.

  • Leo

    As I have said before.....until students are held accountable, no scores will change.

    • Joe

      I disagree. The implementation of a formal performance appraisal process which will result in both merit based-pay increases for teachers that perform as well as administrators who will (far more proactive in removing problem students who disrupt teachers from doing their jobs are more likely to result in positive change.

      We have to get beyond this "it's solely the parents fault" mentality. Why don't the top 10 states ranked in education performance use this argument?!

  • Joe

    Transparency and accountability in WV schools?! Hope it happens, but I'm sure the grievances will fly.

    • MoMoney

      The WVEA and the WVAFT will never, ever let that happen in WV.

      • wvu999

        Why should the aft and wvea allow it? All you all do is bash educators and refuse to pay a livable wage.

      • wvu999

        Why should the aft and wvea allow it? All you all do is bash educators and refuse to pay a livable wage.

        I

  • PDF

    I have friends who teach and have children going to school in Florida and they say that all their time is spent preparing their student for the state test leaving no time for anything else
    There are so very successful schools in WV. They need to look at them and see what they are doing right.