Dear States, Learn From ESSA Plans Already Submitted

Dear States, Learn From ESSA Plans Already Submitted
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With the school year starting up in earnest, educators and education officials are preparing to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bipartisan law passed and signed into law in 2015. As a former Florida Commissioner of Education, I hope that policymakers are hard at work crafting a system of education that works best for all of its students.

States like Florida will soon submit their accountability plans to the U.S. Department of Education for review and approval. The point of these plans—which must be finalized by September 18, 2017—is to identify which schools are doing well and which aren’t, and then craft ways to help improve those schools and districts that need it. Successfully developing and executing upon the state’s vision for school improvement is critically important to Florida’s students and communities.

As the Florida Department of Education develops the Sunshine State’s plan, there are many important factors to keep in mind. One is that state education leaders cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good—ESSA allows states the flexibility to learn from both mistakes and successes. Education policies and systems can, will and must evolve over time. Another is that state leaders must ensure the system focuses on the success of all students and minority populations so that districts and schools can truly meet the needs of individual students.

Fortunately, states like Florida have an advantage. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have already submitted their plans. State education leaders would be wise to consider the strengths and weaknesses of these 17 plans that have already been submitted. Waiting to submit the state’s ESSA plan will likely turn out to be a wise move for Florida, since the state can now make adjustments based on both federal and independent reviews of these plans before submission.

I had the honor of participating in one of these independent reviews. In May, I joined a group of more than 30 education policy experts to carefully review the first 17 plans and compare them to a rubric focused on meaningful accountability. In completing this analysis, we identified a robust set of best practices for states to consult (they can be found at 

For me, this experience validated the notion that strong state educational leadership is paramount to driving quality plan development. As former Governor Jeb Bush used to say, success is never final and reform is never finished. ESSA plans are guardrails and guidelines to help us navigate accountability, and should provide a catalyst to states and communities to have ongoing, rich conversations within their respective state frameworks.

I strongly urge state education officials to look to the best practices identified in existing state plans as they create the Sunshine State’s plan – to make sure that Florida’s system of education benefits all students.

Dr. Tony Bennett, founder of Education Reform Strategies and a former teacher, previously served as Indiana's Superintendent of Public Instruction and Florida’s Commissioner of Education.

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