Putting Education Reform To The Test

ALEC Report Card Says Florida Is A Leader In Education Progress And Reforms

James Madison Institute/flickr

Dr. Matt Ladner is the author of ALEC's latest Report Card on American Education. He calls Florida a beacon to the rest of the country.

Florida is the teacher’s pet in the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) latest Report Card on American Education. The report ranks state K-12 performance, progress, and reform.

Florida comes in 12th in the most recent rankings, but it’s one of the leaders in making progress. Florida is also tied for first overall in policy – with four states getting a B+.

“I’m not sure everyone understands here in Florida just how much of a model for the rest of the country you are,” said Dr. Matt Ladner, a policy advisor at the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

“There are states all around the country that are emulating policies that originated here in the state of Florida.”

Ladner wrote the report, and the foundation he works for was founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who serves as Chairman. The report will be released later this week or next and is not yet publicly available, an ALEC spokesman said.

Ladner briefed a small lunch gathering at the James Madison Institute about the report. He said the quality of Florida’s K-12 reforms is reflected in ALEC’s report card.

Researchers wanted an apples-to-apples comparison of how the states are doing. So, they used long-term test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

They compared the scores of general education, low-income students and tracked progress between 2003 and 2011.

Then, they charted states that have been taking NAEP exams since early 1990’s for progress, and looked at how per pupil spending increased between 1992 and 2011.

They found no correlation between higher spending and better outcomes.

“Wyoming had a $6,000 per pupil inflation adjusted increase in per child spending in the public school system and made below average academic gains. That’s what you don’t want to be,” Ladner said.

“In my opinion, there is no question about which state you do want to be on this list,” Ladner said. “It is the state with the lowest increase in per pupil spending. It’s actually less than $1,000 per pupil, adjusted for inflation. (It) also has the second highest academic gains in the country. That is the state of Florida.”

“This is why a lot of these policies that have been pursued here are controversial because the goal of these policies is actually to increase the bang for buck of money in the public education system.”

The report card also addresses racial, economic, and other types of student achievement gaps using long-term NAEP data. Ladner said what they found is “really disturbing.”

“On average in this country – and this has been the case for decades now – African American and Hispanic 12th graders are scoring at a rate comparable to 8th grade Anglo students on the NAEP exam,” Ladner said. “Sadly, these numbers would have been even worse if we were able to take into account dropout rates.”

The report attempts to show the different rates of progress on achievement gaps.

Florida is one of the leaders in closing the black/white achievement gap. Ladner said Florida is doing it “the right way,” since everyone’s scores are going up. “Black scores are going up faster than white scores — the gap is closing. That’s really the only good way to close an achievement gap.”

Researchers also looked at how children with disabilities are progressing.

“We should probably never expect this gap to fully close, but the state of Florida has made remarkable academic improvements for children with disabilities attending public schools,” Ladner said. “Florida is the nation’s leader at closing the gap between children with disabilities and children without disabilities. Again, everyone’s scores are going up – disability scores are going up more.”

(However, the gap between Florida’s graduation rate for students with disabilities and their peers is larger than in other states.)

Ladner said Florida is “a beacon to the rest of the country” in student progress and educational reforms.

“I live in Arizona. For instance, we’ve adopted school grading A to F,” Ladner said. “We are in the process of doing a social promotion policy similar to Florida’s. We’re expanding parental choice. It’s very difficult work, obviously, and there’s a lot of people who don’t want to change anything.”

“Before you guys took the lead, no state had really made a serious deviation in K-12 policy…Basically everyone was following the same model,” Ladner said. “You guys tried something different, something very controversial, obviously, at first. But, someone had to break the mold, and you did it and the results have been quite impressive.”


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