March 30, 2010

March 30, 2010 | Commentary on

Hispanic Students Shine in the Sunshine State

In case you missed it during the contentious debate over health care, President Obama has announced plans to deal with another major domestic challenge facing our country: education.

According to the administration's blueprint, President Obama will ask Congress to reauthorize "No Child Left Behind." Although the president would make a few modest edits to increase transparency and accountability, his continued support for the overall piece of legislation is proof that 40 years of failed federal policies have yet to dent the faith of those convinced that the federal government is better suited than parents and local officials to provide a quality education for our children.

To understand why this is so frustrating, look at the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, also known as our "Nation's Report Card." These scores provide a sampling of how well our children are doing in two basic, but critical, subject areas: math and science.

Nationally, the NAEP shows that reading achievement among children enrolled in K-12 has remained flat. Closer to home, the NAEP found that "the average reading score for students in New York in 2009 (224) was not significantly different from their average score in 2007 (224) and was higher than their average score in 1992 (215)."

Nationally for our community, the news isn't much different. Hispanic student test scores remain stagnant, years after No Child Left behind Law was signed into law on a promise to close the achievement gap between white and Hispanic students.

Interestingly, the latest NAEP results provide us with a glimmer of hope that at least one state (also with a high percentage of Hispanic students) is doing a particularly good job educating children. Rather than waiting for the federal government to fix its public school system, Florida has embarked on a bold and courageous program to empower more parents to choose for themselves where to send their children to school. The results show that school choice works.

Florida also has made great strides in implementing a series of tough-love measures, including ending social promotion. For instance, third-graders who fail to pass a statewide comprehension test after multiple tries will not be promoted. Additionally, Florida has sought to cut the regulatory tape, thus making it easier to hire effective teachers by permitting reciprocity of other state teaching certificates.

Most importantly, Florida has been empowering parents with tools and resources to provide their children the best possible education. Florida policymakers have embraced market-friendly policies to inject much-needed innovation and competition into the education system. As the NAEP results suggest, this boldness is paying off handsomely.

As my colleague Lindsey Burke wrote in a recent analysis of the study, "Hispanic students have made the most impressive progress in reading of all subgroups. Hispanic students in Florida now outpace or tie the statewide average of all students in 31 states. (As of 2007 Hispanic students outscored the statewide average of all students in 15 states)."

Florida's success provides our community, and our country, with an effective blueprint for how to truly bridge the educational achievement gap. Rather than continuing down the road of failed education policies, such as looking to the federal government to fix this crisis, we should recognize that bold state legislators and policymakers can have an immediate impact.

Fortunately, more members of our community recognize the need to confront this crisis. We must now seize on this momentum and be open to bold ideas -- even if it means upsetting federal bureaucrats -- to fix our broken educational system.

It's time to learn from states such as Florida that have challenged the conventional thinking. The answers to fixing the education system lie outside Washington, D.C. and the Department of Education.

Israel Ortega  is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation.

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Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry
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First appeared in El Diario de la Prensa