Phoenix--Ten years ago, Florida Governor Jeb Bush and lawmakers decided to do something about declining test scores in the Sunshine State. Through a strategy of accountability for public schools and options for dissatisfied parents, they set out to reform the state's education system. The results are eye-opening.
"A revolution is defined as a large change occurring in a relatively short period of time. The progress in Florida's public schools certainly qualifies," said Dr. Matthew Ladner, Vice President of Research at the Goldwater Institute. Ladner, along with Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow, Dan Lips, authored "Demography Defeated: Florida's K-12 Reforms and Their Lessons for the Nation."
From 1998 to 2007, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores rose dramatically for all Florida fourth-graders. The news was also good for Florida's minority students. During the same period, average NAEP reading scores for Florida's Hispanic fourth-graders were higher than the reading scores for all students in 15 states, including Arizona. Florida's African-American fourth-graders outscored reading averages for all students in two states. And Florida's low-income minority students achieved similar results.
How did they do it? By focusing on several main themes:
- Testing and Accountability-Florida students are tested annually in reading and math to track progress. Students must meet academic standards or they are held back; this change effectively ended "social promotion." Report cards rank public schools, and those performing well get funding bonuses while those performing poorly face state sanctions.
- Curriculum and Academic Standards-Florida focused on improving reading skills by providing remedial instruction to students who need more help, and training teachers in reading instruction.
- Improving Teacher Quality-Florida continually finds new ways of attracting and rewarding great teachers, including allowing for alternative paths to teacher certification, and offering performance bonuses to high-performing teachers.
- Early Education-Pre-K scholarships are offered so four-year-olds can get a jump on their education by attending the for-profit, faith-based, or public pre-K program of their parents' choice.
- School Choice-In the last 10 years, Florida has given parents more choice in where their children go to school than any other state.
Florida's results show that it is possible to improve academic achievement for all students with reforms that engage every person in the education system, from students and parents to teachers and administrators. "Lawmakers should take a serious look at the changes Florida has made and borrow as much of its strategy as they can," said Dr. Ladner.
"Demography Defeated: Florida's K-12 Reforms and Their Lessons for the Nation" is available online, or by calling (602) 462-5000.
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