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Florida Education Is Doing Something Very Right

September 14, 2012 - 6:00pm

I recently had the honor of speaking at the Republican National Convention joined by a dedicated teacher and a first-generation college graduate.

Sean Duffy talked about the rewards of educating young minds and Frantz Placide the blessings of receiving that education. This magic plays out in Floridas best classrooms every day. Numerous studies and statistics document the amazing progress of Florida schools and students in the past 12 years. But whats behind those studies is most important -- the flesh-and-blood results in students lives when political leaders make children the priority in our schools and great teachers rise to the challenge.

Florida has gone from a national disgrace in education to a national model for reform.Since the 1990s, our students now rank second nationally in learning gains. By demanding that schools ensure these children can read in the elementary grades, we are seeing them show up years later in high school Advanced Placement courses. Florida now ranks sixth nationally in the percentage of high school students graduating with the successful completion of an AP course. Our graduation rate is rising much faster than the national average despite more rigorous standards.

There are two lessons to be learned from this. What we are doing is working. And we still have a very long way to go. Only one-third of our students who earn a high school diploma are ready for college.

Floridas package of reforms includes school choice, higher standards, accountability, transparency, better trained teachers, digital learning and funding that is targeted at programs that produce results.

What do we still need to do? Give parents more choice. Raise the standards even higher. Give parents whose children are in failing schools a stronger voice in correcting the problem. Expand digital options. Recognize and reward student learning instead of funding schools based on seat-time. Reward the best teachers and weed out more of the ineffective ones.

When we started on this course in 1999, we were considered radical. Now many of these reforms are mainstream and increasingly bipartisan.

Despite this, there will be efforts to roll back some of our most important accomplishments in next years legislative session, not because they arent working for children but because they are creating discomfort for adults. The Florida Education Association once again is arguing that we need to go back in the direction of a failed past -- not surprising in that the teachers unions bitterly fought every successful reform since the movement began. The Florida School Boards Association also hopes to dilute accountability reforms in next years legislative session. If the school boards had done their job by cracking down on failing schools and ensuring all children received an education, then there wouldnt have been a need for the reforms the boards now seek to escape.

The evidence is as clear as it is overwhelming. Education reform is working for all students, especially for those low-income children who had been neglected for decades because the education bureaucracy had the option of ignoring them. Accountability, transparency and competition have proven to be powerful motivators. Monopolies, failure factories and social promotion have proven to be disastrous for entire generations of our most vulnerable kids.

The direction to go is forward, not backward.

Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999-2007 and is the chairman of the Foundation for Floridas Future.

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