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Julian Vasquez Heilig, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at California State University in Sacramento,about the so-called “Florida Miracle.” This “miracle,” like the purported “Texas Miracle” that propelled George W. Bush into the White House, is the foundation of Jeb Bush’s claim to being the real deal as an education reformer.
Do we want more Bush-style reform? George W. Bush brought No Child Left Behind to the nation; Jeb Bush imposed an even tougher accountability and choice program in Florida. Schools receive an A-F letter grade. Teachers’ evaluation, compensation, and tenure are tied to their students’ test scores. There are more than 600 charters, including a thriving for-profit charter industry. Jeb pushed for vouchers, but only vouchers for special education students survived court scrutiny; Florida courts declared Jeb’s voucher proposal for low-income students violated the state constitution. In 2012, Jeb and his allies got a proposition on the ballot to change the state constitution to permit vouchers, but voters rejected it by 58%-42%. Jeb is a true believer in choice and accountability.
But how about that “Florida Miracle”?
Heilig shows with data from 2000-2009 that Florida students made impressive gains on the fourth grade NAEP reading test. He notes that critics wondered whether the gains were elevated by the policy of holding back third-grade students with low reading scores; those low-scoring students were about 10% of third graders.
But moving right along, the scores in 8th grade are good but not all that impressive. In reading, Florida ranked 30th in the nation, and in math, it ranked 34th. Some small gains, but nothing that looks like a miracle.
What about graduation rates? Florida made the smallest gains of any of the most populous states and was 44th in the nation in the proportion of students who graduated from high school in four years.
What about ACT scores? Heilig writes: Does the news get better on the ACT? Um. No. Florida’s overall composite ACT scores decreased between 2000 and 2010. They were the lowest of the most populous states. They were ranked 49th in the nation.
And SAT scores?
Florida’s overall composite scores SAT scores also decreased. They outperform Texas and New York, but lagged behind California. Florida ranked 41st in the nation in composite SAT scores. (I know someone lurking out there is thinking that the SAT and ACT scores are dependent on composition of the sample, of course it does. But the data is the data)
In sum, NAEP scores seemed positive (with caveats). However, do NAEP scores determine the future of Florida’s students? When we consider the measures that actually matter for many kids’ lives: Graduation rates, ACT and SAT… It is only a peek— but you be the judge of the Florida miracle.