Dan Lips and Matthew Ladner
This report from the Goldwater Institute examines the 10-year (1998-2008) impact of various "incentive-and instruction-based" reforms implemented in Florida under former Governor Jeb Bush. It catalogs and reviews existing research on the Sunshine State's reforms, including its A+ Accountability Plan (which grades schools A to F based on student performance), policies to end social promotion, alternative certification pathways, school choice and voucher programs, and universal pre-K program, to name a few. Associated with and perhaps caused by these reforms, argue the authors, was "remarkable improvement" in Florida's NAEP scores. They note that the pre-Jeb era found nearly half of Florida's 4th graders scoring below basic in reading on the national test; today 70 percent are at or above basic. Florida's 4th grade Hispanic students, on average, are posting enviable reading gains, too, beating the overall average score of all 4th grade students in 15 states. We agree that there's lot to love about Florida and its school reforms, but not all is yet sunny. The state's academic standards (currently under revision) need more specificity and its funding system could be better tied to students, not programs. Still, states would be wise to take a page (or chapter) from the Florida K-12 playbook. You can start by reading the Goldwater study here.