Failure Is No Longer an Option

Florida’s Decade of Education Improvement Proves Reform Works

By Patrick R. Gibbons, Matthew Ladner
  • Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Executive Summary

In 1998 Jeb Bush campaigned to become governor of Florida on a platform of K-12 education reform. Once elected, he set clear goals for both top-down and bottom-up education reform.

Starting in 1999, Florida lawmakers passed a series of reforms - including real standards and accountability for public schools, parental choice options for students in failing schools, tuition scholarship programs, the termination of "social promotion," the institution of instructional reforms and the addition of merit pay to reward quality teachers.

The results over the last decade have been dramatic. In 1998, nearly half of Florida's fourth graders were scoring "below basic" on the NAEP reading test. By 2007, the state had dramatically increased reading  performance, and 70 percent of students scored basic or better on the reading test.

In less than a decade Florida's fourth-grade reading proficiency went from near the bottom of the 50 states to well above the national average. The gains in reading proficiency have been most beneficial for Florida's Hispanic and African-American low-income students. So dramatic have the results been that Florida's Hispanic student population outscores student averages for not only Nevada, but also Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. If the trend continues, Florida's African-American student population will outscore the average of all Nevada's students by 2011.

Florida's educational improvement has been remarkable. This study examines the meaning of Florida's successes for Nevada's K-12 students and their needs.

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