NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Accountability Is Working in Florida's Schools

January 7, 2011

In November, voters in 37 states elected governors, most of whom are new to office.  Job creation and economic growth will likely top the list of challenges these leaders will tackle first, and rightly so.  But let's hope education reform is not far behind, says former Florida governor, Jeb Bush.

While preparing kids for college and careers starts on the first day of kindergarten, the first good indicator of their chances for success may come in fourth grade.  That is when students transition from learning to read to reading to learn.  A Manhattan Institute study found that students who cannot read and yet are promoted fall further behind over time.  Alarmingly, 33 percent of fourth-graders in America are functionally illiterate, according to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress.  Florida's experience in reform during the last decade gives us the road map to avoid this slow-moving economic calamity, says Bush.

  • In 1998, nearly half of Florida's fourth-graders were functionally illiterate.
  • Today, 72 percent of them can read.
  • Florida's Hispanic fourth-graders are reading as well as or better than the average student in 31 other states and the District of Columbia.

Accountability must have a hard edge, which means that the responsibilities of educators must be clearly defined, easily understood and uniformly enforced.

For example:

  • For the last decade, Florida has graded schools on a scale of A to F, based solely on standardized test scores.
  • This energized parents and the community to demand change from the adults running the system.
  • In addition, Florida ended automatic, "social" promotion for third-grade students who could not read.

Source: Jeb Bush, "Accountability Is Working in Florida's Schools," Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2011.

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