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Maybe Florida has more smart kids than it used to



Koolaidman It's commonly assumed by parents and teachers that accountability systems like Florida's have resulted in a terrible tradeoff: more attention for struggling students, less attention for high-performing ones. But is that really true?

The Sunday St. Petersburg Times story that briefly explored the issue noted some evidence to the contrary, and included a chart listing NAEP and AP scores for Florida kids. More than ever are passing AP tests. And with the exception of eighth-grade math, more than ever are not only reaching the basic level on NAEP but scoring at the proficient and advanced levels. (For what it's worth, more are also scoring at Levels 4 and 5 on the FCAT.)

So does that suggest we might actually have more bright kids than we used to? And that –- dare we say it -- accountability has somehow helped the brightest, too?

USF professor Sherman Dorn offered his take on yesterday's story. I don't know if his blog headline will grab you as much as it did me -– "Ron Matus drinks the Kool-Aid" –- but Dorn never fails to make good points. Read on for my response.

Aaaiiiieeee! I think Sherman Dorn is drinking Kool-Aid, too. And the flavor is … cherry-pick! (Ba-dump pshhhh!) I certainly deserve to be thrown under somebody's blog bus now and then, but I don't think this is one of those times. For what it's worth:

  • I didn't write the headline (reporters rarely do), and if I had, I would have been as cautious in doing that as I think I was in writing the story. I fear the headline and subheadline may lead people to conclusions that were not in the story. I would have posed the headline as a question, which I think fit the tone of my story: "Are we boring bright students?"
  • I didn't draw any conclusions about whether "bright" kids were being left behind. In fact, I clearly pointed to some evidence (FCAT, NAEP and AP scores) that suggest, in Florida at least, that that's not the case -– that perhaps we have more bright kids than we did just a decade ago.
  • I did look for folks with another take on the issue, and I quoted one: the principal at Thurgood Marshall (who happens to be one of the most thoughtful and well-read-on-education-matters principals I've met). "A couple of things accountability is not doing in Pinellas is narrowing the curriculum and teaching to the middle of the bell-shaped curve," he said. "Intellectually challenged students are not disappearing. They're still growing."
  • I was not writing specifically about so-called gifted students. I mentioned that gifted advocates were especially worried about what they see as a negative tradeoff under accountability, but I did not narrow the scope of my story to those students.
  • My goal for the story was not to say, "This is what's happening in our schools," but to say here's what students, parents and teachers are saying is happening, and here's what some of the evidence shows. I've been on the education beat for nearly five years, and I realize every day how much more I have to learn. But I do think this question of tradeoffs (real or perceived) between struggling and higher-performing students is one that deserves more discussion and newspaper ink.

That being said, Dorn brings a world of knowledge to everything he writes. I'll keep sipping from his Kool-Aid -- once I recover from the bus accident.

Ron Matus, State Education Reporter


[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:12am]


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