Analysts were waiting for Florida's improving public school system to plateau, especially seen as it seemed to be sustaining itself without additional reforms. Well, 2011 seems to be the year that this "Age of Public School Improvement" hit the wall according to the NAEP, writes Jay P. Greene at his blog.
Governor Bush's dual strategy of transparency from the top down and parental choice from the bottom up drove improvement in the public schools for a number of years but the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicates that this is over.
But in 2006, the Florida Supreme Court rendered what Greene calls a "logic-free ruling" abolishing Opportunity Scholarships for private schools, and it ruled against a state authorizer for charter schools. Meanwhile tax-credits, McKay and digital learning continued to advance, but not at a particularly exciting rate.
Florida's policymakers raised standards four times, and last year put in an automatic trigger to raise standards by a preset amount. In addition, a fresh set of reforms passed the Florida legislature in 2011, revamping teaching and increasing charter school and digital learning options.
Greene notes that it's impossible to exactly pinpoint how much of what caused the gains of the last few years, but it is equally impossible to say exactly what made them stall. Needless to say, plenty of external things have been going on- including the collapse of a housing bubble, cutbacks in public school funding (including of some of the incentive funding programs) and a variety of other very bad things.
Greene's advice to Florida policymakers is:
"Roll up your sleeves and get back at it. Despite the enormous amount of progress seen on NAEP too great of a gulf lies between a state system awarding ten times as many top grades as low grades but still large minorities of students scoring below basic on the NAEP exams."
The 2011 pause in progress demonstrates that Governor Bush called it correctly when he said that success is never final, and reform is never finished.
Moving the needle on student learning on a meaningful scale and at a sustained basis represents one of the greatest public policy challenges of our times, writes Greene.
He believes that this new generation of Florida reformers have to take the torch passed to them by Governor Bush and find new ways, and fine-tune the old ways, to push academic progress forward.