October 17, 2008 | Commentary on Education
For years, education reformers have struggled to find strategies to improve opportunities for disadvantaged children and eliminate the achievement gap between minority students and their peers. On Capitol Hill, decades of new programs and increased government spending on education have failed to achieve significant improvement.
But, there is new reason for hope that serious education reforms can make a lasting difference. After a decade of aggressive statewide reforms, students in Florida have made impressive strides on national exams, which should cause policymakers from around the country to study what's happening in the Sunshine State.
On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Florida
students are outpacing the national average on improvement in
reading and math. Between 1998 and 2007, Florida 4th graders gained
nearly 9 percent on the NAEP reading test compared to 4 percent
improvement across the nation. Florida students are also outpacing
the nation in progress on math exams.
Importantly, the greatest gains have been made by Hispanic and African American students. For example, African American and Hispanic students' 4th grade reading scores have risen by 12 percent and 10 percent respectively since 1998, ahead of their peers across the nation.
Compared to students around the nation, Florida's minority children are making dramatic progress. In fact, Hispanic 4th graders in Florida now have higher reading scores than the statewide average of all students in 15 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
What is responsible for this progress? We tried to answer that question in a new paper for the Goldwater Institute: "Demography Deafeated: Florida's K-12 Reforms and Their Lessons for the Nation."
Thanks largely to the leadership of former Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida implemented sweeping education reforms to set challenging standards, expand school choice options, hold public schools and students accountable for results, and improve teacher quality. Some of Florida's most promising reforms include:
It is impossible to conclude which of these reforms has made the biggest contribution to improving students' academic achievement and reducing the achievement gap. In all likelihood, the combination of these reforms is responsible for the improvement. But we review the existing academic research evidence in our study and find that studies report that reforms like holding schools accountable, ending social promotion, and expanding school choice are contributing to the improvement.
Given the breadth of Florida's reforms and the encouraging test
scores as evidence, we hope that researchers continue to study the
Sunshine State to help policymakers understand just how these
reforms are making a difference. In the meantime, policymakers
across the country would be wise to follow Florida's path in
implementing this broad range of promising education reforms.
Florida is proving that all children can succeed. If states across the nation can follow Florida's lead and replicate this success, millions of children - especially low-income and ethnic minority students - will have hope for a brighter future.
Dr. Matthew Ladner, is Vice President of Research at the Goldwater Institute and Dan Lips, is a Senior Policy Analyst at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared on FoxNews.com