Florida drops to No. 28 in national ranking of public school systems

With criteria refocused on outcomes, a respected survey puts the state at 28th.
Education chief Pam Stewart made no mention of the overall decline. 
Education chief Pam Stewart made no mention of the overall decline. 
Published January 8 2015
Updated January 9 2015

Florida, often considered a leader in school reform, wasn't ranked among the top 10 in the nation for public education this year.

It wasn't even in the top 20.

The state earned 28th in an overall ranking of states and the District of Columbia published every year by Education Week in its "Quality Counts" report. That's a significant drop from past years when Florida ranked as high as fifth and no lower than 11th. Education Week, a well-regarded publication among school professionals, chose not to give an overall ranking for 2014 as part of an effort to "reassess the education policy landscape." Florida's previous overall placement was sixth in 2013.

The earlier top rankings were due in large part to Florida's high marks for testing and school accountability.

But some of the criteria used previously has been eliminated. This year's formula was changed to focus more on outcomes instead of policy. Florida earned a grade of C, the national average.

In 2014, Quality Counts ranked states in six areas that had to be considered separately. This year, the overall state grades and rankings are based on three broad categories — school finance, K-12 achievement and the "chance for success" index, which considers indicators from early childhood to adulthood.

Because the ranking formula has changed, Education Week cautioned against making direct year-to-year comparisons.

State leaders have touted the rankings in the past, using them as an indicator of Florida's improvement in education. Gov. Rick Scott said last year that the state's ranking as seventh in one category, K-12 achievement, was the result of "great work by our teachers." Florida kept the seventh spot in that category this year, even as it dropped to 28th overall.

In a statement released Thursday, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart made no mention of the overall decline. She praised "hardworking teachers" and said Florida's students were "once again being recognized for their outstanding performance."

Of the three categories used in this year's report, Florida performed best in student achievement. It earned lower rankings for chance for success (34th) and school finance (37th).

Within those categories, Florida ranked well for kindergarten enrollment, improvement in the graduation rate over time and student performance on Advanced Placement exams.

Contact Cara Fitzpatrick at cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com. Follow @Fitz_ly.

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