(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Public school officials have come to resemble the kids at college football games holding up the sign “Hi Mom! Send More Money!” Public school officials constantly call for additional resources, a call that lawmakers have answered. Nationally, inflation adjusted spending per pupil nearly quadrupled between 1959 and 2004. Unfortunately, there was very little evidence of increased student learning during that period- NAEP scores have been largely flat since the late 1960s despite the increase in funding.
One state, however, has figured out how to utilize the insatiable appetite of schools for additional funding as a carrot to improving student performance.
Florida education reforms not only have improved early childhood literacy, but have also prepared a higher percentage of minority children for college work. Governor Jeb Bush pushed a One Florida Initiative, which sought to replace race based affirmative action with more effective instruction: better preparation rather than lower standards. The results have been impressive.
Working in partnership with the College Board beginning in the year 2000, the One Florida plan sought to increase the academic achievement of Florida’s students, particularly underrepresented in universities. The comprehensive plan included professional development for teachers and counselors and free PSAT exams for students. Florida officials created AP Potential – a web-based tool to identify promising students for AP coursework.
The program relied heavily on incentives, creating an AP Teacher Bonus – $50 for every passing score, up to $2,000. The program also created an incentive for the school, paying the school an additional bonus of $650 per student passing an Advanced Placement exam. Florida officials carefully wrote this bonus into the funding formula so that it went to the school, not to the school district.
The reformers didn’t stop there, however. Florida’s A-Plus reform plan assigns letter grades to schools based upon student performance. The One Florida plan provided an additional school bonus of $500 per student passing an AP exam for schools rated “D” or “F.” The idea was to set high expectations and to reward success.
The National Math and Science Initiative recently collected data on the number of students passing AP exams, broken down by ethnicity. Figure 1 presents the number of Hispanic students having passed an AP exam per 1,000 junior and senior Hispanic students. Florida not only leads the nation in Hispanics passing AP exams, they do so at a rate nearly 8 times greater than that of my home state of Arizona.
Do schools respond to incentives? Judge for yourself: between 1999 and 2007, the number of Florida students passing AP tests increased by 154%. Figure 3 below shows that the number of Florida Hispanic and African American students passing an AP exam more than tripled between 1999 and 2007.
Florida’s education reformers achieved these results for what ultimately amounts to a tiny portion of the Florida K-12 budget. Floridians should not be satisfied with these results, but should be proud of this level of progress- and work to extend it.
The next time the public school establishment calls for additional resources in your state, the question should not only be whether they should get them or not. The question should also be “in return for what?” Pay for performance is an excellent idea for education funding.
In Florida, high-schools get more money the old fashioned way- they earn it.