Political Positioning from Florida's Schools Chancellor
Thank you for taking the time to visit the Department of Educationís K-12 web pages. As Chancellor for K-12 Public Schools, I assure you that our team is dedicated to ensuring a high-quality educational experience for all students. Our motto is, "No Excuses". We believe that every child can learn and that we can teach all children. We are working to help provide Florida's teachers and principals the training and tools they need to ensure the success of all students.
One can assume this is why Florida third graders who don't score well on tests must repeat the grade twice. No excuses.
As a high school teacher, I always taught one important lesson: Follow your heart. Choose your life's work for love of the work because that is the only sure path to quality. If you do quality work, whether it's cabinetry or calculus, opportunities will come.
This past year, my path brought me to Tallahassee and the opportunity to serve as chancellor of Florida's K-12 public schools. Education is my passion and Tallahassee is where the policies that shape our state's public schools are made.
I'm deeply grateful to have a seat at this table because everything I am, or hope to be, was made possible by public school teachers. In my case they didn't just change my life; they probably saved it. I believe in public schools. I also believe in the potential of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation to finally deliver on the great civil rights promise of Brown v. Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in our schools 50 years ago.
This lofty goal was achieved by public school teachers and administrators. No other institution in our society could have delivered on Martin Luther King's dream. As a result of this struggle, minorities and women have more access to educational opportunities than ever before.
But, as we have learned, access is only one step on the path to true racial equality. We must now take the next. The simple truth is that even after our schools were desegregated they remained largely separate and unequal. It worked like this: If your parents lived in the right neighborhoods, paid enough taxes or, most importantly, knew how to advocate within the system, you could access a high-quality education.
However, if your parents were poor, lived in the wrong neighborhoods or were not prepared to get involved, you often found yourself in a "lower-performing" school filled with the least effective teachers, administrators and struggling students. The state didn't grade schools then, but every real estate agent in town could easily tell you which schools were which.
Gov. Jeb Bush's A+ Plan changed all that. Florida led the nation by developing a school accountability system that revealed for the first time the dramatic racial and economic achievement gap in our schools, creating a moral imperative impossible for us to ignore.
Once again, Florida's teachers and principals rose to the challenge, resulting in Florida fourth-graders leading the nation in reading gains and our state's poor and minority students improving at four times the national average.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) complements Florida's A+ Plan. They are two components of a single accountability system that recognizes reading as the new civil right and ensures all students achieve not only access but also success. A+ allows us to gauge the overall quality of a school's effort in improving student achievement, while NCLB points out specific subgroups that need improvement and sharpens the focus on students who need the most help.
Certainly, neither approach is perfect. Both are still evolving. But Florida's new School Report Card combines NCLB and A+ to provide parents more information and more choices. Given that Florida already provides the widest array of public school choice options in the nation, Florida will also lead the way in fulfilling the NCLB requirement to provide all parents meaningful choice.
As a parent, I'm thankful my path led my family to Leon County schools. As former Marion County superintendent, I knew about their rich tradition. I've now learned that this district is filled with dedicated teachers and bright-eyed students, where academic excellence is the norm and many students are enrolled in arts and music classes, International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement courses, and other specialized programs.
One of the first calls I made in planning Florida's NCLB implementation was to Leon County Superintendent Bill Montford. Leon County just completed its fifth year of providing public school choice to more than 4,000 students attending schools outside their home school zone. An additional 27,000 others chose to stay in their zoned school.
Clearly, Leon County is ahead of the curve in meeting the needs of its students and families and will serve well as a model for our state. Critics crying that NCLB choice requirements are unworkable and will cause chaos should take note of Leon County, where school choice is already working and achievement has soared. As a young man, I marched for civil rights. Forty years later, that same path led me to Tallahassee, A+ and No Child Left Behind.
Jim Warford, Chancellor of Florida\'s K-12 schools
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