Giving the Most to Students with the Least: Florida’s K-12 Lessons for Wisconsin

Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.

August 2010


Florida lawmakers began a comprehensive education reform effort in 1999, combining accountability, transparency, and parental choice with other far-reaching changes. In March of 2009, the MacIver Institute released Florida’s Education Reform Lessons for Wisconsin and the Nation. This report demonstrated that Florida made far larger gains in academic achievement from the late 1990s until 2007.

In March 2010, the National Assessment of Educational Progresa (NAEP) released new results for 2009. These results show the scale of Florida’s stunning success, and reinforce the case for Wisconsin policymakers to make influential changes.
This study documents how the 2009 NAEP results further strengthen the case for Florida-style reforms in Wisconsin. These scores showcase the divergent paths of recent educational trends in each state. Where Wisconsin once led handily, the state’s entire population is now trails Florida’s Hispanic students in fourth grade reading scores. This group of students, which was once saddled with lagging test scores, currently outscores Wisconsin’s entire class of fourth graders when it comes to literacy.

Building upon the previous study, this report explains in some detail why Florida’s reforms, while benefiting all students, have been especially beneficial to disadvantaged students. For example, Florida’s method for grading schools looks not only at students’ overall performance and overall gains, but also considers gains among the 25 percent of students with the lowest scores. Importantly, those bottom 25 percent of students count in all three categories: against the overall scores, the overall gains, and their own gains. This method provides a very strong incentive for schools to help their lowest-performing students make academic progress.

This paper details the key components of Florida’s K-12 education reform strategy and explains why the adoption of the Florida reforms in Wisconsin would aid all children, especially disadvantaged students.

Click here to access the full Report.