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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jeb Bush's overrated education reforms

From the Palm Beach Post Opinion Blog

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, says school reforms begun under former Gov. Jeb Bush and education adviser Patricia Levesque, who also is advising Gov. Scott, have led to major improvements in education in Florida. Those reforms rely heavily on the FCAT, which is used to grade schools, determines whether some students can be promoted and now will be used in decisions about teacher pay and retention.

“The education reforms Jeb Bush championed are working,” Sen. Negron said in a letter, “and a decade of data proves it. Illiteracy among Florida’s third-graders is nearly half what it was in 1999. That same year, nearly half of Florida’s fourth-graders were functionally illiterate, based on the National Assessment for Education Progress. Today, three-quarters are reading above the national average, and minority students are making the greatest gains. In fact, Florida’s Hispanic students read as well as or better than the average student in 31 states and the District of Columbia.”

The Post’s Editorial Board, however, thinks Sen. Negron and others singing Gov. Bush’s praises are wrong. Although fourth-grade results are much better than they were 10 years ago, the improvements are not sustained through high school.

For example, Florida high school seniors scored below the national average on the NAEP Sen. Negron cited to tout fourth-grade results. Florida high schoolers also scored below the national average on the SAT.

Even judged by Gov. Bush’s beloved FCAT, high schoolers aren’t doing well. Ten years ago, 37 percent of 10th-graders were reading at or above grade level. After a decade, that improved by just 2 percentage points. So 61 percent of 10th-graders still read below grade average.

Just 14 percent of Florida schools met federal standards under the No Child Left Behind law. That’s due, in large part, to continued lagging scores among minority students.

We think Gov. Bush’s fixation on the FCAT has been bad for Florida schools, creating a bogus system of assessment that doesn’t provide any valid accountability. Sen. Negron believes Gov. Bush’s reforms have pushed Florida students and teachers to make significant measurable progress. But what do you think? Have Gov. Bush’s reforms improved Florida schools?

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