Florida’s low-income students fare quite well against their peers

Florida’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results in reading and math place the Sunshine State squarely in the middle of the pack (except in 4th grade reading where Florida ranks in the top 10). But comparing states without controlling for demographic differences isn’t entirely fair.

Since every state has differences in student demographics, the most accurate way to compare states is to compare similar subgroups. And one of the best ways to judge the efficacy of a state’s education system is to see how it performs for the students in most need of help.

We looked at the results for low-income students by race in Florida and compared the results with their peers in other states. The table below provides both a raw score comparison with the national average and Florida’s rank for each subgroup. As you can see, Florida performs quite well.





UPDATE: Two points of praise for Florida on the NAEP 4th grade reading exam: Florida’s low-income Hispanic students beat the average (of all students regardless of race or income) in 18 states and D.C. Florida’s low-income black students best the average (of all students) in New Mexico and D.C.

Note: the reason there are not 51 places in the ranking is because not every state has a large enough sample size of the racial demographic group to compare with other states.


Florida students again showing progress on “nation’s report card”

After a brief stall, Florida students and teachers are again making nationally notable gains on a closely watched test.

Released Thursday, the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, better known as “the nation’s report card,” show Florida students making solid growth between 2011 and 2013 on three of four tests that are used to compare achievement from state to state.

The NAEP reading and math tests are given every other year to representative samples of fourth- and eighth-graders in all 50 states.

Fueled by the performance of low-income and minority students, Florida was one of only four states that made statistically significant score gains on both the eighth-grade reading and eighth-grade math tests. It was also one of only seven states that showed a statistically significant increase in the percentage of students scoring at or above the basic level on fourth-grade reading, with a jump from 71 to 75 percent. (See charts below for the Florida and U.S. trend lines.)

The improved scores are “an example of what can be accomplished when we focus on what is important,” Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said in a written statement.

The latest results will have academic repercussions in the Sunshine State, a national leader in ed reform for more than a decade, and, maybe, political and legal ones. For embattled ed reformers, they bring a sigh of relief. For critics, they bring more evidence, despite oft-repeated arguments, that Florida public schools continue to improve faster than schools just about anywhere.



Here’s the context:

Between the late 1990s and 2009, Florida was arguably the national pacesetter on NAEP progress, moving from the bottom tier of states on all four core tests to the middle tier or better on three of them. It is impossible to sort out which factors led to rising trend lines, but Florida’s escape from the national cellar coincided with the sweeping policy changes ushered in by former Gov. Jeb Bush. Generally, the changes stressed higher standards, expanded school choice and top-down regulatory accountability. More specifically, they included school grades, private school vouchers, third-grade retention and an intense focus on literacy in early grades. Over the second half of that span, Florida also modestly shrunk class sizes and rolled out a popular, voluntary pre-kindergarten program, both prompted by voter-approved amendments to the state constitution.

Then came 2011. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Magnet schools, charters, Common Core & more

Magnet schools: The Palm Beach County School Board wants to open an arts magnet at the middle and high school level. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: Health officials confirm that an illness affecting students at a Palm Beach County charter school was Norovirus. Palm Beach Post.

Common Core: The debate over the Common Core academic standards is shifting from Da Vinci Code fiction to facts, writes Beth Kassab of the Orlando Sentinel. In addition to pressing lawmakers to stick with Common Core, Pasco district officials recommend creating a transitional accountability plan as the state moves from one set of standards and tests to another. Tampa Bay Times.

StudentsFirst: The education reform group expands into Florida with a new state press secretary – Lane Wright, Gov. Rick Scott’s former spokesperson. The Buzz.

Teacher pay: The Palm Beach County School District and the local teachers union remain far apart on just how much more money the district should spend on teacher raises. Palm Beach Post. The Miami-Dade School Board approves a one-year deal with the United Teachers of Dade to provide raises of at least $1,300 for most the district’s 21,000-plus teachers. Miami Herald.

School spending: The Palm Beach County School Board reimburses one of its members $13,424.50 in legal fees rung up in defending herself against state ethics complaints last year. Palm Beach Post. More from the Sun Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Next week: A chat about faith-based schools

Peter Hanley (at left) and Robert Aguirre

Peter Hanley (at left) and Robert Aguirre

The U.S. is home to 21,000 faith-based schools. They serve 4.3 million students. They’ve long been an integral part of the American mosaic. Yet today, many of them are under intense financial strain, particularly in urban areas where, for generations, they’ve admirably served low-income students. At a time when American public education could use help from every quarter, the plight of faith-based schools remains sadly overlooked.

To raise awareness and spur action, the American Center for School Choice (which co-hosts this blog) created the national Commission on Faith-based Schools. It’s holding its first school leadership summit Nov. 19. To tell us more about these efforts – and to answer your questions – two center leaders will join us for a chat next week: Peter Hanley, the center’s executive director; and Robert Aguirre, a member of the board of directors and the commission chair.

The chats are live, interactive and in writing. We describe them as a press conference with a typewriter, with the floor open to anyone who wants to ask a question.

To participate, come back to the blog on Tuesday, Nov. 12. We’ll start promptly at 11 a.m., so click in to the live chat program – which you’ll find here on the blog – a few minutes before then. In the meantime, if you have questions for Hanley or Guerra, you can pose them in advance (which, depending on turnout, may make it more likely that they’ll be able to answer it.) You can leave them in the comments section, email them to rmatus@sufs.org, tweet them to @redefinEDonline, and/or post them on our facebook page.


We need more cooperation between school districts and school choice

Southside Fundamental in south St. Pete. Photo by Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times.

A struggle over an empty school building in Milwaukee speaks to the growing conflict between urban districts that are losing enrollment and school choice operators who are eager to take advantage. As a School Board member in St. Petersburg/Pinellas, Florida, I saw the same tensions.

Selling vacant property can generate much-needed capital for school districts and eliminate an unnecessary maintenance expense from the books.  For example, Milwaukee was spending more than $1 million a year trying to maintain the vacant schools. But selling the building to charter entrepreneurs also can mean potentially losing students, and funding, to schools of choice.

St. Marcus Lutheran School, a high-achieving voucher school, and Milwaukee College Prep, a charter school, both sought to purchase the long vacant Malcolm X Academy building. But the Milwaukee Public School district refused the offers, prompting a Wisconsin legal institute to accuse officials of “playing shell games” and “skirting the law.” District officials have kept many buildings off the market claiming they still want to make use of them.

The plan for the Malcolm X property calls for the district to sell the vacant building to a local developer for $2.1 million. The developer will then remodel half the building into a community center and rent the other half back to the Milwaukee Public School District for a fee of $4.2 million. Without question, the proposed deal is controversial.

Milwaukee isn’t the only school district that seems to be using its control of real estate to halt the expansion of school choice. According to a recent Education Next report, blocking access to vacant buildings is a common tactic of urban school districts. It also happened here in my own back yard in the Tampa Bay region. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charter schools, choice, digital learning & more

Charter schools: The Broward County School Board approves 19 new charter schools, including two Hebrew-language schools and a sports-themed academy. Sun Sentinel. An Immokalee charter school faces closure for mismanagement, including uncertified teachers. Naples Daily News. A state lawmaker has filed a bill that would ban charters from dismissing students for failing the FCAT. Tallahassee/Herald. Pepin Academy, a highly regarded charter school for students with special needs, wins initial approval to open in Pasco County. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice: Lee County district officials recommend a plan that would make school choice options easier for parents and principals. Fort Myers News-Press.

Digital learning: Lee County school board members consider a policy that allows students to use their own electronic devices, like e-readers or smart phones, at school. Fort Myers News-Press.

Advanced Placement: Miami-Dade County schools has earned top honors for successfully expanding access to tough, college-level courses while improving passing scores. Miami Herald.

School arrests: The Broward School Board and several law enforcement agencies agree to reduce the number of school arrests for minor offenses. Sun Sentinel. More from the Miami Herald.

Crowding: Orange County school officials may consider a lawsuit to win approval for a new high school to ease crowding. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Why Charlie Crist will continue to back school choice

In his term as governor, Crist not only signed a major expansion of tax credit scholarships in 2010 but was a persistent voice for the students – poor and mostly of color – who take advantage of it. This photo shows him at the bill signing. That's former Democratic state Sen. Al Lawson on the left.

In his term as governor, Crist not only signed a major expansion of tax credit scholarships in 2010 but was a persistent voice for the students – poor and mostly of color – who take advantage of it. This photo shows him at the bill signing. That’s former Democratic state Sen. Al Lawson on the left.

If parental choice is to be an educational litmus test for Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat, then he might surprise the politicos who are tracking the 2014 gubernatorial race. There are legitimate reasons to believe Crist, who formally entered the race on Monday, will support at least some forms of private school choice. The way he has embraced scholarships for low-income students is the best clue.

In his term as governor, Crist not only signed a major expansion of tax credit scholarships in 2010 but was a persistent advocate for the nearly 60,000 students – poor and mostly of color – who now take advantage of it. As such, the public record is replete with enthusiastic endorsements. At the 2010 bill signing ceremony, which included Republican and Democratic legislators, Crist called the scholarship “extraordinary” and said the bill “gives families the power to do the most important thing they do – make sure they find a school that fits their child’s needs.” At a rally in 2008 at Potter’s House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, he said the scholarships “are helping us diversify our education system to achieve greater results and provide our children and future workforce with a world-class education.” At an event in Fort Lauderdale in 2009, he told supporters “I am confident we will continue to provide more educational opportunities and options.”

Perhaps most notable, though, was his speech to more than 5,500 students, families, educators and advocates who rallied March 24, 2010 at the State Capitol in support of tax credit scholarships. As a matter of disclosure, Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, organized that rally. It also produced this three-minute video about the event that provides context. The governor was clearly energized by the crowd, and his full remarks can be viewed in this clip.

“I’m so proud of the progress that we have made in education in Florida,” Crist said for openers, “And it’s all because of you and because of great teachers and great principals and choice. The power of choice in education is unstoppable. God bless you for pushing it.”

He continued. “We must make sure that every student gets an excellent education in the Sunshine State, and that’s exactly what you’re here about,” he said. “It is never a one-size-fits-all approach. Florida’s greatest strength is our great diversity, and every student should have an education that suits you. And your parents should have the power of choice no matter what the economics might be.”

In perhaps his most prescient comment, Crist spoke to bipartisan support: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m so proud to tell you that regardless of party Florida stands for you. There is no partisan politics about kids. It’s all about doing what’s right first and foremost. There it is – school choice is nonpartisan. You’re not kidding. It really is. As long as we put the children first, we cannot get it wrong. We’re going to continue to do that, continue to fight for you to make sure that you have the power of choice.” Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Career ed, early learning, Common Core & more

Magnet schools: A Polk County Recording Arts Academy has students creating music for everything from the homecoming dance to commercials. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoCareer Ed: Wakulla County high school students work toward an automotive service certification in a new career education program. Tallahassee Democrat.

Common Core: Senate President Don Gaetz on the new education standards: “You can’t dip them in milk and hold them over a candle and see the United Nations flag or Barack Obama’s face. They’re not some federal conspiracy.” Tampa Bay Times.

Early learning: A new report finds Florida children are not receiving an early start in developing their learning skills and will have a hard time catching up. Naples Daily News.

School spending: Palm Beach County school district money woes stall renovations at a historic West Palm Beach school building. Palm Beach Post.

School name: The advisory committee chairman of a Duval County high school named for a Confederate soldier doesn’t mind keeping the school’s name the same. Florida Times-Union.

Class size: A move by Brevard County School District officials to intentionally violate Florida’s class-size requirements meets with a mixed bag of contempt and support. Pensacola News-Journal. Continue Reading →