July 22 2010

Sooner State Needs More of the Sunshine State's Successful Education Reforms

Vicki E. Alger

Oklahoma trails most states in fourth-grade reading scores, but compared to Florida its results look even worse, according to a new study from the Foundation for Educational Choice, the Oklahoma Business & Education Coalition, and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Florida lawmakers began a comprehensive education reform effort in 1999 combining accountability, transparency, and parental choice with other far-reaching changes. The results of real reform-not just more resources-speak for themselves:

•   Florida students went from being more than a grade level behind their Oklahoma peers in 1998 to almost a grade level ahead in 2009.

•   Florida's Hispanic students scored about two grade levels below Oklahoma's average for all students in 1998 but about a half-grade level ahead in 2009.

•   Oklahoma Hispanic students' average score has improved by 3 points since 1998, while Florida's Hispanic students have improved by 25 points-about two-and-a-half grade levels' worth of progress.

•   In 2009, Florida Hispanic students outscored or tied the statewide average for all students in Oklahoma and 30 other states.

•   In 1998, low-income Florida students scored 29 points below the average for all students in Oklahoma. As of 2009, these subgroups are tied.

•   After a decade of strong progress, Florida's children with disabilities now score substantially higher than those in Oklahoma.

•   Florida's schools improved their Florida Department of Education Grade Rankings despite the fact that the state strengthened grading criteria three separate times.

"Contrary to what some might think, Florida's progress is not a product of more money but rather the result of an aggressive series of educational reforms," said Bill Price, chairman of the Oklahoma School Choice Coalition. Oklahoma has adopted some of these reforms. Specifically, in June Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry signed into law a new program authorizing scholarships for students with special-needs to attend the schools of their parents' choice. "[I]f Florida is any indication, it would be wise to expand them," added Price. Are elected officials in Washington, DC, listening?

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