Gov. Scott, Commissioner Stewart, Superintendent Carvalho call for Federal Officials to Reverse Course on Denial of Waiver for English Language Learners and Florida Schools

Governor Rick Scott, Commissioner Pam Stewart and Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho today called for federal education officials to reverse course on their decision to deny Florida’s request to exempt English Learners (EL) from new federal accountability regulations. Commissioner Stewart will send U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan a letter giving federal officials 30 days to reverse their decision and end their attempt to micro-manage Florida’s schools. If they refuse, Florida will begin reviewing every legal option available.

Governor Scott said, “This is yet another overreach by federal education officials into the practices of Florida education leaders who best understand the needs of our students. If the federal government was truly interested in accurately measuring the results of Florida students while respecting and celebrating the diversity of their backgrounds, they would withdraw the denial of our exemption and allow Florida to operate consistent with our long-standing policy. Our teachers and students have made incredible gains over the last three years, and we will not allow bureaucrats in Washington to continue tarnishing our schools’ success.”

In developing Florida’s revised accountability system, local education leaders and parents determined it made sense to not count the test scores of English Language Learners for the first two years. This policy was codified into Florida law this year, and now federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan refused to approve this student-centered initiative.

Commissioner Pam Stewart said, “Florida has traditionally allowed two years to measure the success of English Learners and this policy has resulted in dramatic performance improvements by these students. Our English Learners have increased grade level performance by 154 percent from 2001 to 2010. The decision by federal officials fails to acknowledge our success by disallowing local decision-making about what is best for student success.”

Miami-Dade Superintendent of Schools Alberto M. Carvalho said, “As the largest district in Florida, serving the largest group of English Language Learners, we are shocked at the lack of federal flexibility in the renewal of the State’s ESEA waiver. We believe in the inclusion of all students in accountability measures, but an inclusion model that is fair and respectful of the challenges students face when acquiring a second language. Research demonstrates that meaningful language acquisition takes time – time which the federal government seems unwilling to grant. Miami-Dade has a proven record of high student achievement and has been lauded for its ability to close the achievement gap of these very students. I urge the USDOE to consider alternatives that have been proffered by the FDOE rather than simply preempting regionally proven accountability models.”

Florida is a national leader in educating English Learners. With more than 265,000 ELL students, Florida has a remarkable track record. In myriad rankings, Florida has been a leader in closing the achievement gap for English Learners.


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