Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Nuance is absent in ranking of Florida's school

I am totally on board with the state's idea of a public ranking of Florida's school districts. It has the whiff of transparency. The appearance of accountability.

It has a user-friendly format that takes a complex issue and reduces it to the mathematical equivalent of a sound bite.

I mean, what's not to like?

Sure, if you want to get picky, you could say the rankings are based on a tiny snapshot of a district's actual performance. And you might point out that Florida's Department of Education provided very little context when offering these county-by-county grades.

And it's true the rankings do seem to suggest a district's performance might have a greater correlation with economic realities than with actual educational abilities.

Otherwise, it's a jolly idea.

No nuance. No backdrop. No explanation. Just a single ranking system that allows a few well-to-do counties to feel good about themselves, and everyone else to feel like slackers.

Or, as Gov. Rick Scott put it:

"Ranking school districts by performance allows taxpayers to see their investment in education at work."

I liked that idea so much, I thought we could take this same concept of accountability-via-rankings and apply it everywhere in the state for the taxpayers to see.

For instance:

Did you know Florida ranks 38th in the U.S. in median income, according to CQ Press' State Fact Finder Series for 2011? All these beaches, all these major media markets, all this sunshine, and we can't even beat out Minnesota?

This puts the typical Floridian at a little less than 10 percent below the national average for income. In real money, it means you're making roughly $5,000 a year less than a cousin in Wyoming or an in-law in Wisconsin.

Now a governor might point out that Florida is a tourist-driven state that has a lot of service industry jobs that typically don't pay as well as other professions, but that sounds like the same kind of lame excuse a school superintendent in a rural county might offer for low FCAT scores. In other words, pffftt.

And while we're back on the topic of educators, did you know public school teachers in Florida make less money than in 45 other states? That's right, Florida Department of Education. You can look down your nose at Utah, Missouri and the Dakotas.

Otherwise, you seem to be lagging in your ability to attract, compensate and retain teachers. Perhaps there's some correlation there to Florida students scoring 48th in the nation in average ACT scores in 2010? Or is that trying to add too much context?

Now if you really want to see taxpayers' dollars at work, you might look at our state crime rates. Because, if nothing else, Florida keeps law enforcement hard at work.

According to CQ's per capita numbers for 2009, Florida had the third-highest crime rate in the nation behind South Carolina and Texas.

The good news is our criminals are not as bloodthirsty as others. Florida falls all the way down to eighth in the U.S. when it comes to violent crime rate. On the other hand, Florida was first in the nation in identity theft.

A sociologist might make some assumptions about the high crime rate having something to do with low income and education numbers, but we go by raw numbers here in Florida.

Now, if you like, I could continue with Florida's rankings in bankruptcies, foreclosures and unemployment, but I think that might just contribute to St. Petersburg repeating as the country's saddest city according to a Men's Health ranking.

The upshot of all of this is that lawmakers in Tallahassee have serious work ahead of them because Florida would appear to be derelict in providing even an average lifestyle.

Now were all of these numbers fair?

Probably not.

There are historical impediments, extenuating circumstances and a boatload of nuance and context that was left by the curb.

But apparently, raw rankings are the way to go in Florida.

John Romano can be reached at [email protected]

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