Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Appalachazona?

Hispanic students excelling in other states with similar per-student spending

By Matthew Ladner

Last week I refuted the notion that the rising Hispanic population will doom the Southwest to becoming the Appalachia of the 21st century with data from Florida. I've dug into the numbers further, and they tell an extraordinary story.

Figure 1 presents reading scores from Florida and Arizona for all students. Looking at the data, the obvious question to ask: what happened after 1998? Two words: Jeb Bush.

Jeb Bush was elected Governor of Florida in 1998, and implemented a tough reform program of rigorous academic standards and parental choice. Florida is the only state to do more than Arizona to expand parental choice in education in recent years, and unlike Arizona, its testing program has not been watered down

Figures 2 and 3 present the truly awe-inspiring scale of the radical success of those reforms. Florida's Hispanic students overtook all Arizona students by 2002. This isn't a fluke. Florida's Hispanic students outscore all Arizona students in fourth grade math and eighth grade reading as well. At current rates of improvement, Florida's African American students will tie the Arizona average for all students by next year.

Florida spends about the same amount per pupil as Arizona, has a higher percentage of low-income children, and has a majority-minority K-12 population.

Florida's lawmakers were able to put aside partisan bickering to enact a set of far-reaching education reforms in 1999 based on tough standards and parental choice and the results are clear. It is time for Arizona to follow suit.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute.

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