(Guest post by Matthew Ladner)
Like Greg, I have also been looking at Florida lately. My interest was prompted by Sol Stern’s notion that we ought to give up on school choice and focus on instructional reforms. In City Journal’s debate on Sol’s article, I and others essentially argued that we could walk and chew gum at the same time, pushing both incentive and instruction based reforms. Florida under Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist in fact did this, and the results are breathtaking.
In 1998, the year Bush won election, a stunning 47 percent of Florida fourth-graders scored “below basic” on the NAEP reading test, meaning they couldn’t read at grade level. By 2007, 70 percent of Florida’s fourth graders scored basic or above — a remarkable improvement in less than 10 years.
Best of all, improvements among Hispanic and African-American students helped to drive the overall results. Florida’s Hispanic students now have the second-highest reading scores in the nation; and African-Americans score fourth-highest when compared to their peers. Both groups have a great deal of momentum on their side.
The average Florida Hispanic student score on NAEP 4th grade reading tests (conducted in English mind you) is now higher than the overall average scores of all students in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. Florida’s African Americans outscore the statewide average for Louisiana and Mississippi, and are within striking distance of several of these others.
Free and Reduced lunch eligible Hispanics in fact outscore the average for all students among some of these states, including California.
I can’t tell you precisely how much of these gains can be attributed to testing and other such reforms, and how much to choice and other incentive based reforms. What is very obvious is that some of these gains are the result of choice- that much is clear from Jay’s study, Greg’s new study, and from the Urban Institute study. There are also a number of states that have instituted testing and have flat NAEP scores.
The lesson of this is clear- far from being in competition with each other, tough minded testing and choice reforms are quite complimentary to each other.