Mark Wilson: Education reform working in Florida

May 10, 2013 

Education reform is working in Florida

Regarding the May 3 Point of View article “No miracles for N.C. schools to copy”:

Florida education has never been better, recently ranking sixth nationally in the prestigious Quality Counts survey. This is because of the “Bold Education Reform’’ experiment that Kathleen Oropeza criticized.

Back in the 1990s, Florida schools were a national embarrassment. The real victims were low-income children who were shuffled through the system, promoted from one grade to the next even if they couldn’t read. They were set up to drop out while all the adults in the system received stellar job reviews.

There was no accountability, no responsibility, no choice and lots of neglect for failure factories in poor neighborhoods. Where was the outrage about brutal experiments then?

We have empowered parents with choice, raised academic standards and applied the free market principles of competition and accountability to education, making schools innovative, responsive and efficient.

In 1998, Florida fourth-graders finished almost last in the nation in national reading assessments. Last year, they finished second in the world and far above the American average on the Progress in International Literacy Study.

More than two-thirds of African-American fourth-graders were functionally illiterate in 1998. Since then they have advanced more than two grade levels in reading.

We are becoming a national leader in the number of high school students taking and passing Advanced Placement courses. That is why our Hispanic students are far in front of their peers nationally on SAT scores.

Rhetoric and conspiracy theories about plots to privatize education make for great drama and sound bites, while a detailed analysis that shows Florida’s remarkable progress does not.

Far from scheming to undermine public schools, we want the best public schools in the nation, but we don’t believe you accomplish that through bureaucratic monopolies that can fail their mission without consequence.

How is it that we live in a world undergoing a digital revolution yet still face obstacles bringing this technology into education because many vested in the traditional public school model fear change?

The A-F grading system has focused unprecedented attention on failing schools, forcing districts to prioritize them, with low-income kids the beneficiaries.

Oropeza wrote: “Grades are based on high-stakes test scores and have little to do with what really goes on in a school.” Really? The number of kids who can read, write coherent sentences and do math has nothing to do with what really goes on in a school?

America has fallen behind in international competitiveness measures and Florida intends to set the national example for putting kids and education outcomes first. We hope leaders in North Carolina will join our efforts to lead America one state at a time.

Mark Wilson

President and CEO, Florida Chamber of Commerce

Tallahassee, Fla.

The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the Point of View.

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