Reflections on K-12 Education as Florida’s Legislative Session Begins

Today marks the opening day of Florida’s 60-day legislative session. You can almost feel the education world holding its breath and crossing fingers that any bills that pass (of the many filed) will improve, and not make more difficult, the ability to deliver a great K-12 education to the millions of students we serve in Florida.

Opening Day of session makes me reflect on a number of reasons why we started Impact Florida:

Passing a Bill is Hard…Good Implementation is Harder

Passing a bill that is free of counterproductive amendments and adequately resourced to accomplish the intent is hard. Once the governor has signed, it feels like a mighty accomplishment! I’ve enjoyed that feeling just a few times.  

I’ve realized, however, that it is actually much harder to see the intent of policy and funding changes through to full implementation, after the coveted signature. The list of well-intended but not fully realized (or unrealized altogether) policy changes is long. In education, this feels particularly true, which brings me to my second reflection.

Transition is Constant: We Need Stakeholder Voices

Over the last 20 years, the lasting changes in education were those that state-level leaders fought hard for and stayed on top of after passage. But leaders change; transition is constant. This is why the role of stakeholders is so important.

In many cases, third-party education groups (those neither in state government nor in district systems) are around the longest. Therefore, they are well-positioned to educate lawmakers and inform all leaders, from experience, of the reality that legislative ideas might yield. Stakeholders are also the ones who can stay on top of implementation after passage, working at both the state and district level to ensure that what was intended is accomplished or likewise that unintended consequences can be addressed.

Changes Address Systems, Not People

Through my experience I have come to  realize that policy and budget changes address the behavior of systems, and not necessarily of people. I feel this bears out even when it’s a “carrot” that is offered versus a “stick.” I recognize, and agree, that systems should incentivize the behavior of K-12 educators and education leaders toward the outcomes we collectively seek: high-quality content, high expectations of our students, and students who are ultimately prepared for a life of success in college and the workforce. 

However, systems cannot touch the internal mindset of educators that guide their teaching practices — including the “inputs” that go into their instructional practices, their content and task choices, and the expectations they hold for each student.  

Until we recognize this fact, and go for a “both/and” approach —systems that incentivize the right outcomes, and supports that enable district and school-level leaders to help educators shift to effective (and research-proven) teaching practices — we will constantly be stuck in the category of “great intentions, but not fully realized.” None of us want that to be the perpetual education reality in Florida.

We have made great gains in Florida, and it’s time for the next frontier of supports that will take us beyond the classroom door. These supports can only be delivered through effective professional learning and personalized, specific coaching that capitalizes on the great intent teachers have. These supports will help teachers transform good intentions into excellent, evidence-based practices. It’s not possible for the Florida Legislature to do that on its own.

This legislative session, let’s step up as stakeholders and “lead from our seats,” as Dr. Sonja Santelises charged us to do at Impact Florida’s Bridging the Opportunity Gap Summit Feb. 28 through March 1. I am optimistic about the future and about what power lies in collaboration and support for education leaders.

Let’s do this!

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