Last week, I had the opportunity to discuss Florida's education reforms on KAET-TV's "Horizon" with Arizona Education Association President John Wright. We were discussing the Nation's Report Card scores for Florida and I was surprised to hear Mr. Wright make the following claim: "The steepest increases that Florida saw in both reading and math scores were between 1994 and 2002--before most of these reforms took place."
There are a few problems with this statement. First, the Florida legislature enacted most of the reforms in 1999, which falls between 1994 and 2002. Second, the Nation's Report Card gives tests for fourth-grade reading and math, and for eighth-grade reading and math. Florida students, however, did not take a Nation's Report Card test in 1994 for fourth-grade math, eighth-grade math or eighth-grade reading.
Florida's fourth graders did take a test in reading in 1994. Between 1994 and 1998, Florida's reading scores increased by two points. After the reforms, Florida's scores increased by 18 points between 1998 and 2007. A 10-point gain equals about a grade level's worth of learning.
Still, while I thought Mr. Wright had his dates mixed up, perhaps there was something to his assertion on trends.
But the truth turns out to be much different. Going back as far as possible into the 1990s for each subject, the average gain in scores before the reforms were adopted equaled four points. Post-reform, the average gain over nine years has been 20 points.
Mr. Wright also claimed that Arizona's K-12 education budget cuts were "pulling the rug from beneath the teacher's feet." The 2008 Superintendent's Financial Report, however, reveals the total revenue per pupil to be $9,707 while the 2009 Superintendent's Financial Report reveals the latest figure at $9,424 per pupil: a whopping decline of $283 per pupil or less than 3 percent.
Someone is indeed trying to pull something--it's the AEA trying to pull the wool over our eyes, not the Arizona legislature.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research for the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: Demography Defeated: Florida's K-12 Reforms and Their Lessons for the Nation
Goldwater Institute: Governor calls for far-reaching school reforms in State of State Address