I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Florida Schools Making Great Strides---But Timing Not Right to Talk about It?

Now that our state is officially embroiled in a dramatic financial crisis, apparently timing is not right to talk about Florida’s Educational reforms and their resultant successes over the last ten year period. In the last few months, Florida has received some great recognition nationally for educational achievement, but the media (particularly the media in NW Florida and Pensacola) seems to have been silenced and has not reported on these accolades. It seems that now is the time when everyone wants to demonize the legislature for cutting education funding in the recent special session, beg for more money, and condemn and/or alienate anyone who wants to talk about great achievements in our schools. I’ll be the salmon swimming upstream against the current; Florida public schools may have a long way to go in many areas---but Florida is doing fantastic in many other education categories, even if we don’t spend as much on education as other states.

I know this bothers those who feel that the only way to achieve in public education is to coerce state governments to open the money tap on one end and turn the lights off on reform and accountability on the other. Those of that persuasion and mindset have it badly wrong, in my estimation, and Florida is hammering that point home with statistical facts. Florida has gone the opposite direction of what the pseudo reformers wanted—demanding accountability while at the same time responsibly managing expenditures. The result---Florida’s dramatic achievements compared to their peers have occurred even as our state is constantly excoriated for not spending enough on education—compared to other states. I look at the lower spending as a positive---Florida taxpayers are getting a bigger “bang for the buck” on education dollars expended.

From yesterday’s Washington Times:

“Florida took a different track. Three years before NCLB was enacted, then-Gov. Jeb Bush decided to set clear accountability standards, and to back them up with school choice for students and meaningful rewards for good teachers. The results are remarkable. Mr. Obama and his nominee for education secretary, Arne Duncan, should pay heed. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) is the gold standard of national education achievement tests. It is not a state-designed test. Over the past decade, NAEP reading scores for Florida fourth graders have soared nine percentage points - more than twice the national gain. Florida's eighth-grade reading gains were also almost double the national average. Math scores also registered solid gains, exceeding the national average. Most impressive has been the success of minorities. Scores among Florida's low-income black and Hispanic students have risen much faster than the national average. Hispanic fourth-graders in the Sunshine State now boast reading scores higher than the all-student average in 15 states, including California.”

Full article is here:

The Heritage Foundation just last week dedicated an entire article on how Florida’s aggressive reforms over the last ten years have achieved striking results. From

“Florida vs. Other States. The scope of Florida's progress becomes clear by comparing its students' performance on the NAEP exam with that of children in other states. For example, Chart 4 compares the performance of students in Florida with students in California. As the chart demonstrates, Florida's low-income students now outperform the statewide average of all students in California.” " Teacher quality is a leading factor affecting student performance. Over the past decade, Florida enacted new policies for attracting and rewarding high-quality teachers. First, Florida established policies to allow alternative paths to teacher certification to attract teachers to the classroom who otherwise would not consider teaching as a profession, given the barriers created by teacher-certification requirements. The state opened "Educator Preparation Institutes" to facilitate the transition to teaching. School districts are also allowed to offer their own forms of alternative certification. Today, about half of all new teachers in Florida are coming to the profession through alternative certification programs. Florida also offers performance pay for teachers. In 2007, Florida's performance-pay system offered a total of $147 million in state aid to school districts to pay performance bonuses to teachers. Bonuses can reach up to 10 percent of a teacher's pay.”

Full article here:

Florida also leads the way in distance learning/virtual schools. Of course, this fact never seems to get mentioned as it is apparently much more fun to denounce public education in Florida for being “underfunded”. Here is the fact: Distance learning is the wave of the future and those who are not comfortable with it need to get out of the way, because Florida is in the driver’s seat, ranked number 1, on this issue.

From the Grand Rapids, Michigan, Press:

“Virtual education in Michigan is generating some big bandwidth buzz nationally. The state has the country's second-best online education program, according to the first-ever national survey of online learning policies and practices. That accomplishment is significant in this digital age, when e-learning is rapidly growing and increasing educational choices. Michigan's goal should be to take over the No. 1 spot from Florida, working on the growth of quality virtual learning programs to benefit all students.”

Full article here:

The reality is this—Education in Florida is progressive. The education environment is improving, and students from all backgrounds are benefiting. The recent “Quality Counts 2009” Survey shows that Florida is near the top of the chart compared to all other states when achievement is related to dollars spent per student on education. It shows what I firmly believe—throwing money at problems does not solve them and it’s not how much you spend, but rather how wisely and efficiently you spend the precious taxpayer dollar that counts. With my school board hat on, of course I'd like to see us get out of the current economic crisis. But as a taxpayer, I'm proud of what we are accomplishing with the dallars we are spending.

Florida is spending its taxpayers’ dollars well on education, and it would be nice if those in the media would fully report on this positive side of the story. That’s just my opinion, though, and we all know what they say about opinions.

Luckily, Facts are facts. See Education Week’s Quality Counts 2009 Survey here:

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