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New education study says it’s the reforms, stupid

By   /   June 14, 2013  /   News  /   2 Comments

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EDUCATION REFORM: Florida’s reform model has lead to huge gains in student achievement, says a new Mackinac Center study.

By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

TALLAHASSEE — When it comes to public education, Floridians have a lot to be proud of.

At least, that’s what one policy analyst from Michigan’s Mackinac Center is saying.

A new study by the state-based think tank compares Michigan’s student achievement and education policies with the Sunshine State’s. The conclusion: Michigan would be a top performer if it had enacted similar education reforms during the past 15 years.

The study shows that reforms expanding school choice options, teacher accountability standards and online learning programs,to name a few, have helped students tremendously.

Despite once outranking Florida, Michigan — and  many others — now finds itself well behind the southeastern mega-state on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “the nation’s report card.”

Since Florida’s education shift began, fourth-grade reading levels have increased 9.1 percent, while Michigan’s grew only 1.3 percent. The national average during the same period was 3.4 percent.

Similarly, fourth-grade math scores are up 11.2 percent, while Michigan registered a 4.5 percent increase, and the nation 8.1 percent.

Other important student-performance measures reflect a similar pattern.

The Mackinac report points to policy changes, not an increase in spending levels, to explain why Florida earned the second highest standardized test score gains in the country.

In fact, a recent U.S. Census report ranked Florida 42 out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in per-pupil spending for elementary and secondary education.

Education Week, a well-respected national research nonprofit, reports Florida consistently ranks near the top in education quality despite giving it an “F” for spending on its 2013 Quality Counts list.

Students from low-income families often are blamed for depressing standardized test scores. But as evidenced through a wide variety of sources, the reverse is true under Florida’s reform model.

“Florida’s students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, have been making substantial and unmistakable learning gains for more than a decade,” Education Policy Director Michael Van Beek said in a statement. “Michigan policymakers should take notice. There’s a lot to learn from this other peninsular state.”

The study outlines six key recommendations ranging from an “A-F” school grading system, to tuition tax credits, to limiting the “social promotion” of third graders who struggle with reading.

“There’s no ‘silver bullet’ here, but Florida’s example should be considered when setting the agenda to improve Michigan’s public education system in the years to come,” Van Beek said.

Contact William Patrick at [email protected]


William Patrick is Watchdog.org’s Florida reporter. His work has been featured by Fox News, the Drudge Report, and Townhall.com, as well as other national news and opinion websites. He’s also been cited and reposted by numerous state news organizations, including Florida Trend, Sunshine State News and the Miami Herald, and is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Florida Press Association. William’s work has impacted discussions on education, privacy, criminal justice reform, and government and corporate accountability. Prior to joining Watchdog, William worked for the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. There, he launched a legislative news website covering state economic issues. After leaving New York City in 2010, William worked for the Florida Attorney General’s Office where he assisted state attorneys general in prosecuting Medicaid Fraud. William graduated magna cum laude from Hunter College, City University of New York. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife and three young children.

  • Ohio Mama

    Hi William,

    While I agree with you that Florida’s educators have made some gains, I have a hard time cheerleading the entire package.

    Florida has taken some knocks for lowering standards on their standardized assessments so that more children ‘achieve’ a higher grade. The most infamous incident was in 2012 when 3/4 of Florida’s 4th, 8th and 10th grade students failed a writing exam. The State Board of Ed responded to the public alarm by lowering the passing grade…and, viola! 80%+ of the students were suddenly passing.

    Florida has also invested a lot of money in charter education with very low results. The Orlando Sentinel reports that 43% of Florida charters aren’t even graded, and 1/4 of the ones that are assessed are failing. There are a number of charters that have opened and closed at a high cost to Florida tax payers (see link to list below), and a number that continue to operate unsuccessfully…and without much oversight. Michigan may have its issues, but it doesn’t have scandals like the $519,000 payout that the failing Florida NorthStar Charter School gave to a departing principal.

    The Mackinac Center promotes ‘school choice’, so they have an understandable bias for wanting to report just the positive stuff. I get that, but as a fiscal conservative and a parent, I think that we need to be very, very cautious about buying into a big, shiny packages.

    Closed Florida charter schools: http://www.floridaschoolchoice.org/Information/Charter_Schools/files/closed_charter_schools.pdf

  • Nicholai Bush

    I do not see how tuition-based or other charter schools fall under the public education system. Doesn’t the very term “privitization” exclude “public.”