Education in Florida dramatically improving… but few know it

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In 1998, my own graduation from high school was still fresh on my mind. The good memories, the fresh start to life. But for many of my peers at the time, high school graduation had not happened. A startlingly high percentage of my freshman class never walked across the stage. This was true for high school students across Florida — and their younger cohorts were heading down the same disappointing path. In 1998, nearly half of Florida 4th graders were functionally illiterate. 

But things have changed. And are changing still. 

Over the past 15 years — beginning with the launching of Gov. Jeb Bush’s A+ Plan — Florida has reversed decades of decline in public education. Not just in some hypothetical ways, but in terms of measurable, comparable numbers. 

The formula we set for greater accountability, higher standards, rewarding effective teachers, and giving parents more choices, has led to steady improvements in academic performance. 

But oddly, very few people know it. 

According to a recent survey, only eight percent of Florida parents and four percent of Tampa Bay parents accurately report that Florida schools are above average compared to other states. That’s almost forgivable — because who really follows what is going on in other states? 

But here is the part that gets me: more than one-third of Florida parents think that our state’s education system has gotten worse. 

Quantifiably, this is far from true. 

In fact, on every metric available, Florida’s performance has improved relative to where we started — and also relative to other states. 

The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) is setting out to change public misperceptions with the launch of the “Learn More, Go Further” campaign. 

Here are some of the stats they will be airing in a multimedia campaign focused first in the Tampa Bay area: 

  • According to the Nation’s Report Card, released by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the academic improvement of Florida students in 8th grade math is three times higher than students nationwide.  
  • In 4th grade math and reading and 8th grade reading, Florida students’ academic improvement is twice as high as students nationwide. 
  • Florida placed 5th for the percentage of 2013 graduates who succeeded on AP exams; and the percentage of low-income graduates who earned a score of 3 or higher on a AP exam has increased 810 percent since 2003. 
  • Florida’s graduation rate has improved more than 20 percent since education reforms were implemented more than decade ago. 
  • In 4th grade math, Hispanic students’ average score was among the highest in the nation. 
  • Florida’s low-income 4th grade readers ranked first in the nation; 4th grade students with disabilities scored second in the nation among their peers in reading, and 8th grade readers with disabilities scored fifth in the nation; and African American 8th grade readers ranked 10th in the nation. 

After 15 years of improvements that have led to these dramatic gains, Floridians deserve to know how far our state has come in expecting and getting more for our students. I’m encouraged to think that by the time my own daughter is walking across that stage with a diploma, her degree will mean even more than mine did. Because it will have come from a system that sets standards high, measures, and cares enough to take some heat for doing so.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.