TN should follow FL’s lead on education reform

Feature, Policy — By on February 9, 2011 at 12:16 pm

NASHVILLE, TN – Tennessee K-12 education has experienced a “lost decade”, while by comparison, a decade of revolutionary reforms has led to extraordinary K-12 achievement gains in Florida, according to a new study released today by the Indianapolis-based Foundation for Educational Choice and the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. “Lessons for Tennessee from Florida’s Education Revolution” is a primer for state leaders who want to improve education results, better serve families, and close the academic achievement gap.

The study compares critical fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It found that Florida’s students, who ranked behind Tennessee in 1998, gained 20 points – the equivalent of two grade levels – to best Tennessee’s scores by nine points. Key among the study’s findings is that Florida’s Hispanic students on average are outperforming the statewide average of all Tennessee students on that test.

“Through its revolutionary, yet common-sense reforms, Florida has created a path to improvement that can work in Tennessee,” said Dr. Matthew Ladner, the study’s author, who noted that fourth-grade reading results are a reliable, commonly accepted predictor of students’ future academic trajectory. “Florida established high standards, implemented innovative testing, ended social promotion of illiterate students, rewarded effective teachers, and increased parental choice in schooling. Tennessee has done none of these, a fact that is sadly reflected in the state’s academic performance.”

In his research, Dr. Ladner found that Florida’s Hispanic students outperform or tie the statewide average of all students in 30 states, including Tennessee.

“This study and the state of Florida prove that it’s time to enact the reforms necessary to equip our children to succeed,” said Justin Owen, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a free market think tank in Nashville. “Florida’s example shows that remarkable gains across demographic and economic lines are possible when policies are in place that empower parents and teachers and hold schools accountable.”

In addition to gains by the state’s Hispanic students, the academic growth of Florida’s African American students is equally impressive. Over the past decade, African American students in Florida, on average, realized a 25-point gain in reading achievement, whereas African American students in Tennessee progressed by only four points. Moreover, Florida’s low-income students gained an astounding 27 points (equivalent to nearly three grade levels) to tie with the statewide average of all Tennessee students.

“This study is more proof of what we’re seeing across the nation,” Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Foundation for Educational Choice, said. “When true reform occurs and parents are given the freedom to choose the education that’s best for their children, students are able to break through every barrier and truly excel. The real question is whether the adults making the decisions impacting Tennessee schools have the courage to do what’s right for the kids trapped in stagnant schools.”

About the Foundation for Educational Choice

The Foundation for Educational Choice is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, solely dedicated to advancing Milton and Rose Friedman’s vision of school choice for all children. First established as the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation in 1996, the foundation continues to promote school choice as the most effective and equitable way to improve the quality of K-12 education in America. The foundation is dedicated to research, education, and outreach on the vital issues and implications related to choice and competition in K-12 education.

About the Tennessee Center for Policy Research

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research is an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan research organization that provides solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee. The Center is committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee by advancing the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government.

About Dr. Matthew Ladner

Dr. Ladner is a Senior Fellow with The Foundation for Educational Choice. He is Vice President of Research for the Goldwater Institute and coauthor of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress, and Reform.

Visit www.EdChoice.org/TNvsFL to read the full study.

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