NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Competition and Testing Improve Florida Schools

August 21, 2003

Florida's A+ Program may be the most controversial education reform program in the country, because it combines two extremely contentious education reforms: vouchers and high-stakes testing, say authors Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters (both of the Manhattan Institute).

The theory behind the A+ Program is that chronically failing public schools will have an incentive to improve if they must compete with other schools for students and the funding they generate.

According to the authors:

  • Florida's low-performing schools are improving in direct proportion to the competition they face from voucher schools; these improvements are not the result of test gaming, demographic shifts, or the statistical phenomenon of "regression to the mean."
  • Schools with voucher competition showed the greatest improvements of all five categories of low-performing schools, with test scores rising 9.3 scale score points for math, 10.1 points in reading, and 5.1 percentile points on the Stanford-9 math -- relative to Florida public schools that were not in any low-performing category.
  • Schools threatened with the prospect of vouchers unless they improved showed the second greatest gains -- 6.7 scale points on the math test, 8.2 points on the reading test, and 3.0 percentile points on the Stanford-9 math test.

Some researchers theorize that failing schools improve because of the stigma of a failing grade rather than the threat of voucher competition. The results of this study contradict this thesis. Schools that received one F in 1998-99 but none since are no longer exposed to the potential of voucher competition. These schools actually lost ground relative to non-low-performing Florida public schools, supporting the conclusion that once the threat of vouchers goes away, so does the incentive for failing schools to improve, explain the authors.

Source: Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, "When Schools Compete:

The Effects of Vouchers on Florida Public School Achievement," Manhattan Institute, August 20, 2003.

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