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Civic Report
February 2001

An Evaluation of the Florida A-Plus Accountability and School Choice Program

A reply to critique of ďAn Evaluation of the Florida A-Plus Accountability and School Choice ProgramĒ
by Richard Rothstein in the New York Times, May 9, 2001

By Jay P. Greene
Senior Fellow, The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research

New York Timesí columnist, Richard Rothstein, wrote a critique of my evaluation of the A-Plus program in Florida.He has two main criticisms.First, he complains that the "report made no mention of having been submitted, before publication, to experts expected to express caution or even doubt about the results. Such review is normal for academic studies where complex statistics or extraordinary claims are involved."As I told Richard Rothstein prior to the publication of his column, the report was reviewed by the three principal investigators, researchers at the Florida Department of Education, and by a number of outside researchers before it was released.That review process took a few months, produced many helpful suggestions and criticisms, and led to significant revisions of the report.The release of state evaluations with this type of review is normal in education policy research, including reports that Rothstein has praised in his column.In addition, the piece has been submitted to a scholarly journal, Education Matters, where it has undergone academic peer review and, I believe, is slated for publication this fall.

Second, Rothstein reports that failing schools in states without the threat of vouchers as a sanction for low performance also made gains.It is certainly possible that other sanctions for failure produce gains in previously failing schools.In North Carolina and Texas, the two other states mentioned by Rothstein, failing schools face the threat of reconstitution if they do not improve.The finding that schools respond constructively to these incentives, whether vouchers or the threat of reconstitution, simply proves my point: providing schools with powerful incentives to improve and not simply continuing to provide additional resources is necessary for significant reform.I have not and do not claim that vouchers are the only sanction that can inspire improvement in failing schools.And finding that other sanctions can be effective does not prove that vouchers are an ineffective incentive, just as finding that one antibiotic fights an infection does not prove that another antibiotic cannot also be effective.

In the end, I believe that Richard Rothstein and I may agree more than he may realize.He and I appear to agree that testing systems, such as the FCAT in Florida, can produce reliable measures of student performance and are not fundamentally undermined by teaching to the test, cheating, or other manipulations.He and I appear to agree that public schools respond constructively to sanctions for failure, whether those sanctions are vouchers, the threat of reconstitution, or simply political embarrassment.In other words, we appear to agree that an accountability and voucher program like A-Plus in Florida can help improve public schools.Now that would make for an interesting Rothstein column in the New York Times.


Center for Civic Innovation.


Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard University




By offering vouchers to students at failing schools, the Florida A-Plus choice and accountability system was intended to motivate those schools to improve their students' academic performance. This report found that students academic test scores improve when public schools are faced with the prospect that their students will receive vouchers.


About the Author

Authorís Acknowledgements

Executive Summary

The Purpose of the Study

A Brief Description of the A-Plus Program

Other Research on Voucher and Accountability Systems

The Design of the Current Study

Data Examined

The Results of Correlating FCAT and Stanford 9 Results

Table 1: Verifying the Validity of the FCAT Results

FCAT Improvements by State-Assigned Grade

Table 2: Comparing Test Score Gains by School Grade

A Hard Test of the Voucher Effect

Table 3: Isolating the Effect of the Prospect of Vouchers


Table 4: Verifying the Validity of the FCAT Results For Each State-Assigned Grade

Table 5: Regression Analyses of the Effect of Prior Scores and Failing Status on  FCAT Score Improvements



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