I used to get mad at my school (No, I can’t complain)
The teachers who taught me weren’t cool (No, I can’t complain)
You’re holding me down
Turning me round
Filling me up with your rules

I’ve got to admit it’s getting better (Better)
A little better all the time (It can’t get no worse)
I have to admit it’s getting better (Better)
It’s getting better
Since you’ve been mine

Getting so much better all the time!

— John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Editor’s note: redefinED concludes its commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the K-12 reforms launched by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, collectively known as the A+ accountability plan, with Part 1 of a two-part post from executive editor Matt Ladner.

Given that Florida’s A+ Plan had reached the grand old age of 20, we started this series in March, looking back with a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band theme. For those tuning in late you can catch up here.

I’m sorely tempted to reprise gobs of evidence showing that Florida K-12 has in fact been getting better all the time over the last 20 years with a certain Liverpool lads’ song jingling around in your head. To that end, the states with statewide averages for all students equal to or lower than Florida’s statewide average for Hispanic students on the 2017 NAEP fourth-grade reading exam (in English mind you) are presented below in red:

It would be jolly good fun to trot out a half-dozen graphics like this one, but let’s just pretend we already did that. See what I did there? With that little Jedi mind trick, an entire post just flashed through your mind’s eye with a Beatles mental soundtrack. Hopefully you enjoyed that, because now we’re going to look ahead to the future rather than back on the past.

What will be necessary to continue Florida’s K-12 progress that began during the A+ era?

Gov. Bush’s A+ Plan included a complex mixture of K-12 improvement strategies. The state graded schools according to a mixture of proficiency and growth. The state put in sanctions for prolonged failure, and incentives for improvement and performance.

Additionally, the state provided financial rewards for students earning high-demand professional certifications and college credit by exam, and created expanded options for families in the form of charter schools, private choice programs and digital courses. Florida lawmakers threw the kitchen sink at improving early literacy in particular.

As can be seen from the map, results have improved, and Florida lawmakers have made moves to build upon several of these policies.

The A+ Plan simultaneously became more prescriptive to schools while granting more freedom to families. In 1998, 69 percent of Florida’s black fourth-graders scored “Below Basic” in reading. It wasn’t just time to do something, it was time to do everything.

In 2017, Florida’s black fourth-graders displayed about two-and-a-half grade levels of average academic progress and better reading ability than their peers from 1998. Yet despite this progress, 43 percent of black students scored Below Basic in reading in the most recent NAEP. The work, in other words, is far from finished. More on that tomorrow.

Check back Wednesday for Part 2 of this two-part post.

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