The Pacific Research Institute (PRI), a free-market think tank based in California, today released a report showing that a disadvantaged socio-economic background does not necessarily consign students to poor academic performance. According to Demography Is Not Destiny: Reform Lessons from Florida on Overcoming Achievement Gaps, low-income students in Florida consistently outperformed the average for all students in California in large part due to Florida’s school choice programs. California currently ranks 48th in basic math and reading skills in the nation.
Vicki E. Murray, Ph.D., senior fellow in education studies at PRI, and Matthew Ladner, Ph.D. vice president of the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, compare Florida and California where low-income and Hispanic students comprise nearly half of all K-12 schools. The results show that Florida’s inner-city, low-income, and minority fourth-graders outperformed average California fourth-graders, even though California public schools receive $2,300 more in state funding per-pupil. California’s median household income is nearly $12,000 higher than Florida, and more of the adult population has a bachelor’s or advanced degree.
Florida has pursued a comprehensive set of education reforms, including parental choice, instructional reform, standards and accountability, curtailing of social promotion and alternative teacher certification.
“In Florida’s case, improved performance among minority students, the ones largely served by parental choice programs, appears to be propelling the rise in overall Florida student achievement. Florida Hispanic student scores have soared in recent years. In fact, Hispanic fourth-graders now have the second-highest NAEP reading scores among all Hispanic students in the nation. This is a stunning achievement considering that Florida minority student performance used to be among the worst in the nation,” said Dr. Murray.
“To achieve true reform and increase student achievement, the Golden State should emulate the Sunshine State by enforcing academic standards and increasing parental choice, rather than increasing spending or regulations,” said Dr. Ladner. California has already adopted state testing accountability, but not parental choice.