Eleven years ago, Florida chose sweeping reforms to improve the dire state of education affecting their children. Today, these changes are still paying dividends, and don’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Florida’s graduation rate, once amongst the worst in America, has risen steadily over the past five years, capping off at 79 percent for the 2009-2010 school year. This is over ten percentage points more than in 2005-2006, when the rate held at 68.9, and a 20-point increase from Manhattan Institute estimates of the rate in 2000-2001. Over this span, the state has gone from straggling behind the national average to becoming an above-average performer when it comes to graduating their high school students.
Most encouraging, however, are the state’s results when it comes to the matriculation of minority students. African-American and Hispanic students have made the strongest gains of any group since 2005-2006. These two groups have improved their rates by 13.1 and 13.3 percent, respectively, to become the driving force behind Florida’s overall improvement. Comparatively, white students have only bettered their graduation rate by eight percent over the same time frame. Through the past decade, Florida has proven that the achievement gap can be conquered through dynamic solutions in the classroom.
These continuing returns on the state’s investment in education are likely related to Florida’s commitment to reform in early education. As we’ve covered extensively at the MacIver Institute , the Sunshine State has led the nation in educational improvements thanks to a complete buy-in to major changes. Now, policies that had been aimed at intervening with young struggling students – such as increased emphasis on reading comprehension before third grade, the end of “social promotion” for struggling students, and an expansive school choice program pairing students with the environments that suit the best, are paying off with improving graduation rates.
Over a decade ago, Florida decided that the status quo of a failing educational system was unacceptable. The state made an enormous investment in its children through major reforms on a scale previously unseen in America. Now, 11 years later, these changes are still paying dividends, and changing the ways that we look at education in the United States. The Sunshine State was faced with a growing population of pupils that had traditionally been considered the toughest to educate. However, rather than hold the steady path of mediocrity, legislators took the reigns to provide a dynamic education for a new breed of students.
When Florida kept getting dealt losing hands, they didn’t whine about money, they changed the game. Now their students are thriving. The blueprints for success are there – and as the achievement gap in Wisconsin continues on its disparate ways, it is time to look critically at Florida’s examples.
By Christian D’ Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst