Jeb Bush campaigned for governor on a clear and bracing set of education reforms in 1998. Having won office, he immediately pursued a dual-track strategy of education reform: standards and accountability for public schools, and choice options for dissatisfied parents. Florida lawmakers followed these reforms with additional measures, including instruction-based reforms; the curtailing of social promotion, which advances students to higher grades regardless of academic achievement; merit pay for teachers; and additional choice measures.
This study examines the 10-year impact of these reforms and finds remarkable improvement in Florida's test scores. Between 1992 and 1998, Florida's already-low fourth-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores were declining. In 1999, when these reforms were enacted, nearly half of Florida fourth-graders scored below basic on the NAEP reading test, meaning that they could not read at a basic level. But by 2007, less than a decade after the education reforms took effect, 70 percent of Florida's fourth-graders scored basic or above. Florida's Hispanic students now have the second-highest statewide reading scores in the nation, and African-Americans score fourth-highest when compared with their peers.
In fact, the average Florida Hispanic students score is higher than the overall average score for all students in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Florida Hispanic students eligible for a free or reduced- price lunch under federal poverty guidelines also outscore the statewide averages of some of these states, including Arizona. Florida's African-American students outscored two statewide averages for all students in 2007 and were within striking distance of several more. Florida's success proves that demography is not destiny in K-12 education, with the right set of reforms.
In the pages that follow, we examine Florida's reforms and suggest ways to emulate and improve upon them in other states.
Click here to read Demography Defeated: Florida's K-12 Reforms and their Lessons for the Nation.