This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend an education forum with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He discussed Florida public education reforms.
One of the great things about our 50-state system is that it allows states to learn from one another, develop best practices and implement those successful programs.
In 1999, Florida embarked on a series of reforms geared toward improving student performance and, subsequently, its scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress report card, better known as the Nation's Report Card.
Floridians recognized their public schools had been in a period of decline and made some significant changes. The results have been impressive and are worth taking note.
In comparing the rates of Utah and Florida fourth-graders reading at grade level in 1992, we find that 67 percent of Utah fourth-graders were reading at grade level as compared with 53 percent of Florida fourth-graders. By 2009, Utah's rate had remained unchanged while Florida's had improved to 73 percent reading at grade level.
Reading is a critical skill and must be mastered early or academic progress in other areas will be slowed. This is why particular emphasis is placed on reading in grades K-3. In grades K-3, a student should be learning to read. After third grade a student should be reading to learn.
Florida adopted an accountability system with rewards and consequences, including bonuses for improved schools and greater academic rigor. Among the notable changes:
• Florida curtailed social promotion out of the third grade if a child cannot read, the default becomes that he or she will repeat the grade until he or she demonstrates basic skills, which can result in a mid-year promotion.
• Florida lawmakers created a program for school and teacher bonuses for higher student pass rates on Advanced Placement exams.
• Florida grades all district and charter schools based upon overall academic performance and student learning gains. Schools earn letter grades of A through F, which parents easily can interpret.
• Florida created multiple alternative teacher certification paths in which adult professionals can demonstrate content knowledge in order to obtain a teaching license. Half of Florida's new teachers now come through alternative routes.
• Florida has the largest virtual-school program in the nation, with more than 80,000 students taking one or more courses online.
The list of reforms goes on and on and the results are impressive. Now 73 percent of Florida fourth-graders are reading at grade level; the number of high school students taking AP exams increased 291 percent from 1999 to 2009; and graduation rates have risen from 62 percent to 79 percent.
Even more interesting is that Florida managed these results without an infusion of new cash into the public school system. Instead, existing budgets were realigned to follow the goals of the reform effort.
This fact alone makes Florida's efforts worth emulating. With our large families and extensive federal lands, Utah will never be able to match the spending of other states on public education.
With results like these, Utah would do well to put in place some of these proven and effective public education reforms so our students leave school ready to compete and succeed against not just Floridians, but against the rest of the world.
Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, is the speaker of the Utah House of Representatives.