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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Florida outgains students in other large states, but why?

Let’s string some statements from an article about the improvement in the Tampa Times, together with my observations about them.

First, when talking about Florida’s improvement over the last decade, including a 16 point improvement for 4th graders, Jack Buckley commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics said, I am fairly confident in saying there is something real going on there.

He later added, he was "skeptical" of anyone who ventured to link these scores to policy decisions. Not that hasn't stopped Florida's policymakers from doing so.

Then in response to the improvement Tony Bennett, Florida’s education commissioner pointed to the state's third-grade reading retention policies and A-F school grades as two causes of the growth.

"While there may not be a strict causal relationship between these actions and Florida's steady improvement, we cannot ignore that prospect" Let’s look at the inverse of that statement which would be, but if the causal reasons are something else we can ignore them. Which is interesting because Mr. Bennett left something out, they same thing Jeb Bush, Gary Chartrand and every other corporate education reformer does and that’s the class size amendment.

The final statement is, critics of Florida's education reforms have typically credited smaller class sizes for performance increases.

Perhaps the critics are a little hasty too. I think the A-F grading system has been a disaster but I also think that there is something to be said for holding kids back that haven’t mastered the material. I would say the improvement definitely has to do with Florida’s third grade retention policy. I don’t think retaining kids is a bad thing because I think education should be a journey to prepare kids, not a race to do it in 12 years. I however personally feel an extended school year for some is the way we should go.

But at the end of the day what do we really have here? There has been improvement and we can’t just ignore it, now we have to have an honest data driven conversation as to why things have improved. Unfortunately to paraphrase Bennett he and his ilk aren’t interested in causal data, they are interested only in sound bites and anything that can potentially back up their corporate reform minded policies. Getting it right isn’t their objective, seeming to get it right so they can continue to privatize public education is.

The thing is, shouldn’t we make sure we are getting it right? Isn’t that what should be important?

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