January 8, 2023

Billy Townsend: Florida’s education system is vastly underperforming

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Billy Townsend has been trying to get people to understand this for years, and finally, the Tampa Bay Times let him run a guest column to get the point made.

Florida likes to brag about its 4th grade NAEP (the Nation’s Report Card) scores. What they don’t like to talk about is what happens to the scores of those 4th graders as they move up through school.

Florida students learned 12 percent less each year from third to eighth grade than the national average from 2009 to 2018. The next worst state was Alabama, according to The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University. Florida’s political and education leaders completely ignored that finding.

Not that Florida’s leaders are much interested in talking about this. Discussion of Florida NAEP scores has been very selective.

When those results came out last fall, Gov. Ron DeSantis crowed on Twitter that, “We kept schools open in 2020, and today’s NAEP results once again prove that we made the right decision. In Florida, adjusted for demographics, fourth grade students are #1 in both reading and math.”

Tellingly, DeSantis ignored the eighth grade results, which came out far worse than fourth grade — just as they have in every NAEP cycle since 2003.

The “Nation’s Report Card” is a snapshot of group proficiency taken by different cohorts of kids every two years in reading and math in fourth grade and eighth grade. It produces state-by-state results and proficiency rankings. It does not track individual kids year over year. But it does tell you how Florida’s fourth and eighth graders compare with students in other states. I crunched the data, and here’s the bottom line: Florida’s students perform worse as they move up through the grades. There is consistent, massive systemic regression with age. And the gap is widening.

In other words, the Learning Loss because of the pandemic is dwarfed by the learning loss that Florida students experience every year just by moving through Florida’s underfunded and beleaguered public ed system.



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