Studies Show Reforms Work
July 23, 2003
Critics of Florida's "A-Plus" program and other educational reforms aren't much influenced by facts, but even they will be hard-pressed to ignore the findings of three important studies that show the reforms are working.
All three come from the Manhattan Institute, a respected national policy research organization.
In the first study, researchers found that failing schools that faced the prospect of tuition vouchers allowing their students to attend private or other public schools achieved test score gains more than twice as large as those achieved by other schools. Clearly the potential humiliation of losing students to the voucher program serves as a powerful incentive for schools to improve -- just as Gov. Jeb Bush contended when he established the "A-Plus" program.
The second study found that scores on high-stakes tests such as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test closely track those on low-stakes tests that are not used for accountability purposes, and concluded that high-stakes tests are a reliable measure of school and student performance.
The report particularly noted that Florida, which has the nation's most aggressive high-stakes testing, had the strongest correlation between the results of high- and low-stakes tests. This shows there is no basis for the oft-heard complaint that high-stakes tests force teachers to "teach to the test" and that such methods artificially improve test scores without improving real learning.
The third study, published last week, found that charter schools, another component of school reform in Florida and nationwide, produced slightly higher gains in reading and math compared with regular public schools. This was so despite charter schools' financial shortcomings and greater reliance on non-credentialed teachers.
Although the charter school gains were relatively modest, they at least suggest that such schools do not suffer academically because they employ teachers who have not received the imprimatur of the educational establishment. Researchers theorize that the greater freedom from bureaucratic regulations enjoyed by charter schools may make them better able to meet the academic needs of students.
In any case, the data show that vouchers, high-stakes testing and charter schools are having the intended beneficial effect. The facts are on the side of the reformers. Critics are skating on increasingly thin ice. If they keep it up, they may fall through.