Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Florida's low-income Hispanic students outscore the average Arizona student.

I'll Have What Florida's Having

By Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.

I've received quite a bit of reader mail from this previous article showing that Florida's Hispanic students outscore Arizona's statewide average on fourth grade reading exams. Some writers wanted to know if this could be attributed to the fact that Florida's Hispanic population is predominantly Cuban. The short answer is no, because the Hispanic population was also predominantly Cuban in the 1990s when scores were much lower.

Other inquiries involved questions about student poverty. Statewide averages for low-income students for Arizona and Florida are broadly similar, but I decided to investigate using the NAEP data. What I found was extraordinary.

Using the data analysis features on the NAEP website, you can get fourth grade reading scores broken down by both race and income. It is not only the case that Florida's Hispanic students outscore the statewide average in Arizona, Florida's low-income Hispanic students outscore the average Arizona student. Florida's low-income African-American students are closing in fast.

Florida's low income hispanics outscore the average Arizona student.

I appeared on a conference panel recently, and a fellow panelist noted the difference between a problem and a condition. A problem, she said, was something you tried to fix. A condition was something you had given up on and just grown to accept.

Low academic achievement in Arizona is a PROBLEM not a condition. Florida's parental choice programs were three times larger than Arizona's in 2006; Florida approved 80 percent more charter schools last year than Arizona; they have avoided dummying down their state accountability test as we have done in Arizona; and they have created sensible alternate paths to teacher certification.

I don't know what else they've been doing but I intend to find out. This is an enormously hopeful finding. To paraphrase that famous line from When Harry Met Sally: I'll have what Florida is having.

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

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