Jeb Kicks Off the New Year Right

Jeb Bush has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that gets the new year off to the right start.  Here’s a taste:

For the last decade, Florida has graded schools on a scale of A to F, based solely on standardized test scores. When we started, many complained that “labeling” a school with an F would demoralize students and do more harm than good. Instead, it energized parents and the community to demand change from the adults running the system. School leadership responded with innovation and a sense of urgency. The number of F schools has since plummeted while the number of A and B schools has quadrupled.

Another reform: Florida ended automatic, “social” promotion for third-grade students who couldn’t read. Again, the opposition to this hard-edged policy was fierce. Holding back illiterate students seemed to generate a far greater outcry than did the disturbing reality that more than 25% of students couldn’t read by the time they entered fourth grade. But today? According to Florida state reading tests, illiteracy in the third grade is down to 16%.

Rewards and consequences work. Florida schools that earn an A or improve by a letter grade are rewarded with cash—up to $100 per pupil annually. If a public school doesn’t measure up, families have an unprecedented array of other options: public school choice, charter schools, vouchers for pre-K students, virtual schools, tax-credit scholarships, and vouchers for students with disabilities.

Choice is the catalytic converter here, accelerating the benefits of other education reforms. Almost 300,000 students opt for one of these alternatives, and research from the Manhattan Institute, Cornell and Harvard shows that Florida’s public schools have improved in the face of competition provided by the many school-choice programs.

Florida’s experience busts the myth that poverty, language barriers, absent parents and broken homes explain failure in school. It is simply not true. Our experience also proves that leadership, courage and an unwavering commitment to reform—not demographics or demagoguery—will determine our destiny as a nation.

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6 Responses to Jeb Kicks Off the New Year Right

  1. matthewladner says:

    BOOOOOOOOOOM!

  2. Charles Morris says:

    I just found a -0.779 correlation between District FCAT scores and the percentage of kids eligible for free- or reduced-priced lunches. That poverty contributes substantially to FCAT scores is not a myth.

  3. matthewladner says:

    Florida’s frl kids have made a great deal of academic progress, but there still is a gap between frl and non-frl students. I would venture to guess that there always will be one, and that there will therefore always be a negative correlation between low-income status and scores.

    There are many on the left and right, however, that either do not believe that academic progress for low income children is possible, or else is only possible in the context of some pie-in-the-sky expansion of the social welfare state that our already near bankrupt government cannot afford. Florida’s progress is very difficult for such fatalists to explain.

    • Charles Morris says:

      I’ll leave the politics to others. All I know is that my research and that of others shows that the strongest predictor of FCAT scores (by far) is the percentage of kids eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches, not anything to do with what is going on in the school. Thus teachers in the wealthiest districts are almost guaranteed an annual bonus and those in the poorest districts are not, along with being criticized and sanctioned. Plus the teachers in my district have used our high FCAT scores to boost salaries to the point that educational programs are being cut in order to meet personal costs. Can poorer districts do better? Sure. Now let’s talk about how to get there. My objection is against the use of the FCAT to judge teachers and schools, which is not supported by the data.

      Charles Morris

  4. I agree with you, Charles, that the level of student performance on standardized tests should not have a large influence over the evaluation teachers or schools. The gains in scores on those tests, like FCAT, is going to give us more information about the quality of teachers and schools and be less dependent on non-school factors, like poverty. All accountability systems are shifting to a greater emphasis on gains, including Florida’s, so this is no longer a major area of policy debate.

    That being said, I also think there are real limitations even to using gain-scores for accountability purposes, which is why I think we ultimately have to rely on competition and choice among education providers to spur progress.

    • Charles Morris says:

      One additional piece of information: My most recent regression analysis of District FCAT points revealed that 97% of the variance in total points earned was accounted for by points earned on the R, M, S, and W subtests. Gain scores contribute precious little to the differences we see among the districts. This is probably why the correlation with poverty is so high in Florida. I, too, favor more emphasis on “value-added” measures. Careful analysis reveals that our gain measures aren’t doing the job they are intended to so. I think I know why but that requires more than a short comment.

      Charles Morris

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