Florida's K-12 public schools are among the best in the nation.
Find that surprising? Well, if so, you might be mired in the misguided way we have been taught to think about education progress, according to Stan Liebowitz, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, and Matthew Kelly, a UT Dallas research fellow.
They have authored a new report analyzing education data, which is featured in the November issue of the libertarian magazine Reason, and their study should cause us to rethink what we think of Florida's schools and education policies.
Liebowitz and Kelly looked at the best-known graders of state education systems and how they have led the public to believe "the highest-quality state educational systems tend to be in big-spending states in the Northeast or Upper Midwest."
The narrative, they write, then becomes: "These places apparently honor and respect teachers, while Southern states inexplicably abhor them. But the cheapskates in cheap states get their just desserts: Sophisticated northern jurisdictions grow ever smarter, while stingy conservative backwaters sink into ever lower depths of ignorance. The solution is obvious: Pay up or your kids will suffer."
Well, to Liebowitz and Kelly, the "obvious" is really not all that obvious.
Children in the low-cost Sun Belt are not suffering academically because of low spending.
Liebowitz and Kelly fault the grading methodology: lumping test scores in with metrics that "distract from true student performance," such as education spending, graduation rates and pre-K enrollment, which have little to do with what actually occurs in the classroom.
So, Liebowitz and Kelly stripped away the clutter and zeroed in on true measures of student progress: results of standardized tests for math, reading and science taken by fourth- and eighth-graders under the National Assessment of Education Progress, commonly known as "The Nation's Report Card."
Furthermore, unlike the graders, they sifted the test data demographically so they could compare, for example, how black students in Florida scored on the NAEP relative to black students in Minnesota. The demographic component is critical because the ranking lobby favors predominantly white states that spend big yet don't face the challenge of educating a large pool of students with varying ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, as found in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California.
Liebowitz and Kelly suggest predominantly white states skew traditional rankings because white students tend to do better on standardized tests. Thus, as they wrote in their actual study, "conventional state rankings" simply become "little more than a proxy for a jurisdiction's demography."
Ultimately, Liebowitz and Kelly compared test results with state education spending, as adjusted for each state's cost of living. Generally, when combining test results, spending and demographics, Sun Belt states routinely outperform their northern counterparts. "They're getting the most bang for their education buck," the researchers note.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD