'We Must Trust, but Verify'
Over the past 20 years, Florida's educational system has been challenged by growth in the number and percent of students who are disabled, whose native language is not English, and who are economically disadvantaged. At the same time, our students have become increasingly mobile--within and among Florida school districts, between Florida and other states, and between Florida and other countries.
As educators at all levels try to meet these challenges, we have recognized that the quality of life and the economic success of our citizens now and in the future requires that we accept rapidly advancing technologies, the increased ethnic and social diversity of society, and the growth of a global economy.
As the Commissioner of Education of the fourth-largest state, I am proud to be a part of the community of public and private groups and individuals who are committed to higher levels of student learning throughout Florida.
I view privatization in the context of the need for change that we recognized in Florida and the resulting framework for change established by Blueprint 2000, the Florida legislative guide for school improvement and reform.
We agree with the conclusions from the U.S. Secretary of Labor's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (the scans report) and recognize that:
- The qualities of high performance currently found only in our most competitive companies must become the standard for the vast majority of our companies.
- Schools must be retooled into high-performance organizations, preparing students to be successful adults in a new world.
- Students must develop a new set of competencies and foundation skills to be successful adults in this global economy.
Change is mandatory if our diverse students of today are going to be successful in the economy tomorrow.
While in the Florida legislature, I helped design Blueprint 2000. This legislation is based on the belief that all students can and must be successful learners; that educational accountability is an ongoing process for continuous improvement; that learning outcomes and performance standards must be based on high expectations; and that progressive education reform depends, in part, on resources and flexibility.
The responsibility for progress toward rigorous standards and outcomes lies with the local schools and districts in this decentralized system. Many of Florida's state statutes and rules can be held in abeyance or are eligible for waivers upon request of local school districts. The intent is to encourage local communities to rethink and restructure the entire process of educating their children; to be risk-takers; to focus on student learning; and to create more effective learning environments by including the family, the community, and the business community in education decisions.
Inherent in reaching the goals laid out in Blueprint 2000 is a transition from the old ways to a revised educational system.
Privatization is but one of many creative solutions to reform. There have been private educational endeavors since the beginning of our nation. Now, the private sector can become part of the public solution through public-private partnerships.
Florida is now designing broad curriculum frameworks appropriate for guiding curriculum into the 21st century, and Florida Academies are designing collaborative strategies for integration of academic and vocational education by addressing competencies and skills in real-world settings.
The scope of these changes is vast. We're developing new assessments for monitoring progress, and we're encouraging renovation of schools to incorporate educational technology. We've expanded the relationships between education and health and human services, and we've established a statewide telecommunications network accessible to all of Florida's public educators. Through the Schoolyear 2000 initiative, we're exploring and developing ways of using technology to allow students to use new tools and to become independent learners.
Is there room for privatization in these restructuring efforts? Of course.
Many public-private partnerships already exist in Florida. Partnerships are being created in many shapes and sizes. They range from businesses supporting schools through grants, equipment, or mentoring services to private businesses providing educational services. Those services include curriculum, instruction, management, or support services, including transportation or food services. South Pointe Elementary School in Miami has been a pioneer in this movement.
Through contracting with private businesses for the provision of services normally provided directly by the school board, local educators challenge themselves to rethink the business of education--specifying responsibilities of each party, clearly stating the agreed-upon outcomes, and allowing flexibility while maintaining responsibility for accountability. This process alone leads to systemic change.
As private companies become more active participants in the public solution, educators must insure equal access and opportunities for all students, fair and equitable support, the health and safety of students, and the accountability of the service provider. The private sector can provide alternative programs. The public sector can draw on the expertise of public initiatives and the private sector and still maintain responsibility for the results of educational programs. The investment by private concerns in curriculum, instruction, technology, and staff development can be resources for local reform.
As the nation moves to embrace the initiatives contained in the recently enacted federal Goals 2000 legislation, the role of educational leaders at the state level must be able to encourage local school districts to break old molds that are rapidly becoming barriers to the preparation of students for a world that is linked by technology, composed of diverse cultures, and demanding collaboration in solving new problems.
In bringing about changes in ideas and practices at the local level, the state's role is to assure the equitable distribution of resources, to establish high goals, and to provide training and technical assistance for returning control to the local community.
Privatization of any part of the system is a local decision. In Florida, we have established the flexibility in funding and in state-level requirements to allow school districts to enter into agreements with the private sector, while still maintaining the state's responsibility to meet the educational needs of all Floridians. We must trust, but verify.
Vol. 13, Issue 39, Pages 45-46