Transformation: What South Carolina Can Learn From Florida’s K-12 Reforms

February 26, 2013

Oran P. Smith, Ph.D

Senior Fellow

Matthew Ladner

Executive Summary

Since the arrival of Steve Spurrier in Columbia, “Florida usually beats Carolina” has eventually become “the Gamecocks usually beat the Gators.” The reverse is true in K-12 education.

In 1999, South Carolina students led Florida students in performance on a number of national educational tests, including NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

But for 2003-2011, in combined Math and Reading NAEP scores, Florida was first with a 54 point improvement and South Carolina was last with a 44 point decline (page 7).

Question: How did Florida leapfrog South Carolina in such a short period of time?

Answer: transformation through comprehensive reform.

Here are Florida’s transformational reforms under former Governor Jeb Bush:

• Curtailing social promotion (p. 6). Florida students were promoted to the next grade when they were ready, not when they had completed 180 days of seat time.

• Providing school choice (p.7). Florida parents were given the opportunity to select the school that fit their child best and the dollars followed the child so that public schools were not harmed.

• Grading schools, focusing on the lowest 25% (p.9-11). Florida schools were graded on how well they performed with their most challenged students. Grading increased focus and focus increased performance.

• Leading the nation in technology (p.5). Florida bridged the digital divide with aggressive development of online programs.

• Concentrating on reading (pp.1-4). Florida embraced the importance of reading to all academic success and eliminated barriers to progress, even for the disadvantaged.

• Eliminating barriers to great teaching (p.6). Florida achieved greater access to the abilities of its citizens who had the ability and life experience to make great teachers but were unwilling to follow complicated and redundant certification processes.

Forum Bottom Line: South Carolina students can regain their pre-1999 lead over Florida if South Carolina leaders have the will to enact similar reforms.

Read the full report below, but also be sure to check out our 2014 Special Needs Update.

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