Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jeb Bush urges Minnesota to emulate Florida's educational mediocrity!

Jeb Bush visited the State of Minnesota and everyone was fawning all over him to tell us how to run a public school system.  Not to be sarcastic, but really, is that what were supposed to do.  Implement reforms so that we we can get to where Florida is!   For some reason, conservatives have a love affair with leaders of failed Southern state school systems.   Its incomprehensible.  We're supposed to copy the States at the bottom of the educational heap.  Just about as incomprehensible, really, as fawning all over Arnie Duncan, former Chicago superintendent, who came to Minnesota and lectured us on how to close the achievement gap.

So what are we being offered if we model ourselves after Florida?  Florida's NAEP average Mathematics scores for 8th grade are not all that bad:  279.  Just a few points under the national average.  Minnesota's average mathematics scores for 8th greaders are 294, putting Minnesota right near the top of the nation.  African American 8th graders in Minnesota average 264, substantially behind white students, and we need to work on that, but that's exactly the same average score for African Americans in Florida, 264.

In reading, Minnesota 8th graders average 270, which is right around the national average.  Florida does pretty good, just about 6 points behind the national average, at  264.  Minnesota's white students do better than Florida's, while Minnesota's African Americans are behind.  

What about Florida's Graduation Rate?  By one measure, Florida's graduation rate in 2006-2007 was  about 72.4%, one of the lowest in the nation, spawning a "worst to first campaign" in that state, a laudable goal.   Graduation rates are controversial, because there are so many  ways to report them. Minnesota reports its own high school graduation rate at 91% using No Child Left Behind standards.  The US Department of Education reports our graduation rate at 86%.   So the best way to compare states is to use an independent source that uses the same method for both states. 

 Alliance for Excellence in Education says that Florida's graduation rate is much lower than Florida admits, at 60 percent. That's right, folks, 40 percent of the students in the system that  conservatives want us to emulate fail to graduate.  That same source reports Minnesota's graduation rate, using identical calculation methods at 78 percent.  About 100,000 students drop out of high school in Florida every year. If Florida could get to the Minnesota graduation rate, why 50,000 more students would graduate in Florida each year.  Keep in mind that when students drop out of school, their testing results don't show up in comparisons for 12th grade results, so that high drop out rate makes Florida's average test scores look way better than they would look if more students stayed in school.

What is the real reform of significance that took place during Jeb Bush's tenure?  Conservatives don't want to talk about this, but the key reform in Florida public education during the Jeb Bush term is not the tiny little changes that he hypes. In 2002, over Bush's objection, Florida voters passed a groundbreaking Constitutional amendment that caps class size for K-12 education.   

Now, the folks in St. Paul who are hyping the Bush reforms don't want to mention this, but the Florida Legislature appropriated more than $16 billion toward operational expenses and $2.5 billion in facilities funding to implement the Class Size Amendment. Below are the funding amounts for each category since the amendment was put into law.
Year Operating Funds Facilities Funds Total Funds
2003-04 $    468,198,634 $   600,000,000 $ 1,068,198,634
2004-05 $    972,191,216 $   100,000,000 $ 1,072,191,216
2005-06 $ 1,507,199,696 $     83,400,000 $ 1,590,599,696
2006-07 $ 2,108,529,344 $1,100,000,000 $ 3,208,529,344
2007-08 $ 2,640,719,730 $   650,000,000 $ 3,290,719,730
2008-09 $ 2,729,491,033 $                     0 $ 2,729,491,033
2009-10 $ 2,845,578,849 $                     0 $ 2,845,578,849
2010-11 $ 2,927,921,474 $                     0 $ 2,927,921,474
Total to Date $16,199,829,976 $2,533,400,000 $18,733,229,976
Could it be that the gains in Florida come from these funds, and the class size limitations, and not from Bush's school rating system?

Florida has made some gains in public education, but the idea that Florida is a model for Minnesota could be advanced only by people who get their information about Education from partisan television.

An editorial in the Palm Beach Post comments on Bush's legacy in Florida as follows:

Although fourth-grade results are much better than they were 10 years ago, the improvements are not sustained through high school.  For example, Florida high school seniors scored below the national average on the NAEP ......Florida high schoolers also scored below the national average on the SAT. Even judged by Gov. Bush’s beloved FCAT, high schoolers aren’t doing well. Ten years ago, 37 percent of 10th-graders were reading at or above grade level. After a decade, that improved by just 2 percentage points. So 61 percent of 10th-graders still read below grade average. Just 14 percent of Florida schools met federal standards under the No Child Left Behind law. That’s due, in large part, to continued lagging scores among minority students.
We have some major issues in Minnesota.  Our African American Graduation rate is appallingly low.  But bringing it up to where Florida's graduation rate is, 48%, hardly seems like a success strategy.    Everyone's looking for a magic bullet, a simplistic strategy, and when a guy with the name of Bush comes to town selling something, I'd say its time to run for cover.   If we really want to close the achievement gap, there are some folks right here in Minnesota who have set their sights on something more ambitious than modeling our school systems after Florida (Jeb Bush), Chicago (Arnie Duncan) or Texas (Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings).


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