Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Accountability Is Working in Florida's Schools

Jeb Bush with an op ed in the WSJ about the success of Florida's reforms:

Yet failure does not have to be our destiny. Florida's experience in reform during the last decade gives us the road map to avoid this slow-moving economic calamity.

In 1998, nearly half of Florida's fourth-graders were functionally illiterate. Today, 72% of them can read. Florida's Hispanic fourth-graders are reading as well or better than the average student in 31 other states and the District of Columbia. That is what I call a real game-changer.

If Florida can do it, every state can. With 2.7 million students, Florida has the fourth-largest student population in the country. A majority of our public school children are minorities, and about half of the students are eligible for subsidized lunches based on low family income.

Success starts with a bedrock belief that all students can learn. All Sunshine State students are held to the same standards. As we had hoped, more and more are exceeding expectations.

Accountability must have a hard edge, which means that the responsibilities of educators must be clearly defined, easily understood and uniformly enforced. All students matter. No excuses.

Here is an example. For the last decade, Florida has graded schools on a scale of A to F, based solely on standardized test scores. When we started, many complained that "labeling" a school with an F would demoralize students and do more harm than good. Instead, it energized parents and the community to demand change from the adults running the system. School leadership responded with innovation and a sense of urgency. The number of F schools has since plummeted while the number of A and B schools has quadrupled.

Another reform: Florida ended automatic, "social" promotion for third-grade students who couldn't read. Again, the opposition to this hard-edged policy was fierce. Holding back illiterate students seemed to generate a far greater outcry than did the disturbing reality that more than 25% of students couldn't read by the time they entered fourth grade. But today? According to Florida state reading tests, illiteracy in the third grade is down to 16%.


Accountability Is Working in Florida's Schools

In 1998, nearly half of its fourth-graders were functionally illiterate. Today, 72% of them can read.

By Jeb Bush

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