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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Researchers spar over the worth of Florida's education accountability measures



Two national education researchers are staking opposing claims over the value of Florida's education accountability model as former governor Jeb Bush continues to tour the country promoting the system for other states.


Matt Di Carlo, a sociologist specializing in education policy for the union-sponsored Shanker Institute, kicked off the debate with a blog post asserting that the "Florida formula" offers no miracles and no real proof that the composite pieces, such as third-grade retention and school grades, are the reason for Florida's academic successes. He writes:

"Regardless of one’s opinion on whether the “Florida formula” is a success and/or should be exported to other states, the assertion that the reforms are responsible for the state’s increases in NAEP scores and FCAT proficiency rates during the late 1990s and 2000s not only violates basic principles of policy analysis, but it is also, at best, implausible. The reforms’ estimated effects, if any, tend to be quite small, and most of them are, by design, targeted at subgroups (e.g., the “lowest-performing” students and schools). Thus, even large impacts are no guarantee to show up at the aggregate statewide level."

His nuanced look at the reports and data available leads Di Carlo to the conclusion that the policies might work, but maybe not. It has bugged Matthew Ladner, who now works for Bush's education foundation but has long lauded the Florida initiatives, to pen a lengthy rebuttal for Jay Greene's blog.

Ladner writes that while the data might not prove that the reforms led to Florida's gains, they certainly don't prove the reforms had no effect, either. He therefore finds it better to look at the effort in the aggregate, and finds that as a group, the initiatives made a clear positive difference in the academic results of Florida's schools and students.

"The problem for Florida reform skeptics, in short, is that there simply isn’t any other plausible explanation for Florida’s gains outside of the reforms. They flailed around with an unsophisticated story about 3rd grade retention and NAEP, unable and unwilling to attempt to explain the 3rd grade improvement shown above among other problems. One of NEPC’s crew once theorized that Harry Potter books may have caused Florida’s academic gains at a public forum. DiCarlo has moved on to trying to split hairs with a literature review.

"With large aggregate gains and plenty of positive research, the reasonable course is not to avoid doing any of the Florida reforms, but rather to do all of them. In the immortal words of Freud, sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar."

The discussion is detailed and provides a fascinating point-counterpoint that essentially captures the national argument on what matters in education. Check out both posts, and look forward to more in this ongoing policy conversation.

[Last modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 2:36pm]


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