Teachers unions conflicted about Florida's academic progress
To help make the case that Florida doesn't need to go hog wild on radical changes to the teacher profession, the Florida Education Association and local teachers unions have (at least lately) been touting Florida's progress on a credible indicator, Education Week's Quality Counts report. On the FEA web site, there's a nifty graphic showing Florida's march from No. 31 to No. 5 in the annual rankings, followed by this statement: "Teachers AND education staff professionals have helped improve our schools dramatically."
Apparently, the National Education Association hasn't gotten the word.
In the latest NEA Today, the national teachers union referred to the "The Florida Myth," citing a recent missive from a researcher at Teachers College at Columbia University. (The Gradebook noted that piece last fall.) The blurb says the researcher "counters the myth that high-stakes testing and other school reform strategies in Florida have done great things in the Sunshine State" and continues: "Earlier reports of gains looked at very small segments of the population and didn’t take into account that the voter-approved class-size amendment might actually be behind any improvements."
As we've written before, it is tough trying to figure out which of Florida's big policy changes over the past decade - and even before - have led to improved test scores and grad rates. (Researchers got into a back-and-forth over that here.) But the NEA blurb doesn't stop there: "Plus," it continues, "those gains could barely be called “mixed,” if they’re viewed honestly across the grades and subject areas."
So which is it: Have Florida schools improved dramatically? Or have the gains been "mixed" at best? And politically, is it better for Florida teachers to hype the state's academic progress or downplay it?
For what it's worth, Ed Week's calculations say between 2003 and 2009, Florida ranked No. 9 among 50 states in improvements on the NAEP 4th grade math; No. 9 in improvements on NAEP 8th grade math; No. 3 in improvements on NAEP 4th grade reading; No. 1 in improvements on 8th grade reading; and between No. 2 and No. 8 in improving the poverty gap in those four areas. It ranked No. 2 in improvements in grad rates between 2000 and 2007 (though the rate is still pathetic). It also ranked high in the rate of high school students passing AP exams (No. 4), and the rate of growth in students passing AP exams (No. 3.)
Is that "mixed" at best?
(Image from www.greenwichroundup.blogspot.com)