System of education pegged as 31st
Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Florida was 31st out of the 50 states in a ranking of how well they are preparing young people to achieve success in their academics and careers, according to an assessment released Wednesday by Education Week magazine.
The "Chance-for-Success Index," new this year, is part of an effort to begin expanding the magazine's annual report card for the nation's schools beyond its usual kindergarten-through-high school focus.
Florida's public schools also ranked 31st in elementary and secondary student achievement, but they were near the top in the other two categories on the report card: 11th in aligning education policy from preschool to adult and fourth in standards, assessments and accountability.
The report's findings included a high percentage of Florida children from low-income families and with parents not fluent in English. Those factors depressed the state's ranking, Education Week spokeswoman Dawn Deeks said in a statement.
Florida Education Commissioner John Winn noted only four other states have a higher percentage of non-English speaking families.
"That presents a greater challenge, and the progress we're making with regard to education achievement is even more significant when it is looked at within that environment," Winn said.
He also was pleased with Florida's student achievement ranking that was based on current test scores and improvement made over past years. He pointed out only three states had improved more than Florida.
"It validates the fact that Florida is improving rapidly," Winn said.
Gov. Charlie Crist said the goal is to be first and "as long as we're well motivated, as long as we pay our teachers more — which we will — and continue to work hard every day, that's exactly where we'll be."
The 2007 Quality Counts report, subtitled "From Cradle to Career: Connecting American Education from Birth Through Adulthood," was compiled by the magazine's parent, Bethesda, Md.-based Editorial Projects in Education, with support from the Pew Center on the States, a research organization in Washington, D.C.
Winn said he applauded the effort to take a broader approach by adding the Chance-for-Success Index, but he cautioned that it is based on some arbitrary assumptions and does not mean a particular child born in Florida has a better or worse chance of success.
"Florida leads in areas of accountability but still needs lots of work in raising student achievement," Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow said in a statement on behalf of the teachers union.
Pudlow noted the report does not address public education financing.
"Here, Florida lags severely behind the rest of the nation, with spending for public schools among the lowest in the nation," he said. "This is one of the ways the state shows its commitment to the success in meeting the challenges of its high standards and accountability, and it is here that Florida has failed to make the grade."
This year's report card no longer includes assessments of school finances, climate and teacher improvement efforts. It also substitutes national rankings for letter grades.
Last year, Florida received grades of B for equitable distribution of financial resources, C for school climate, C for teacher improvement and A for standards and accountability. The state received an overall grade of B-minus.
The Chance-for-Success Index is based on 13 indicators taken mainly from U.S. Department of Education and Census Bureau statistics.
Florida scored above average for percentages of adults with full-time, year-round jobs, children who have at least one parent with a post-secondary degree and children with at least one parent working a full-time, year-round job.
The state also ranked above average in percentages of 3 and 4 year olds enrolled in preschool and eligible children enrolled in kindergarten.
Florida equaled the national average in fourth-grade reading proficiency but was below it in the seven remaining categories.
The categories are children whose parents are fluent in English; children from families with incomes at least 200 percent of poverty level; eighth-grade math achievement; high school graduation rate; young adults enrolled in post-secondary education or with a degree; adults with post-secondary degrees and adults with incomes at or above the national median.
The elementary and secondary performance comparison was based on achievement levels and gains on the federal government's National Assessment of Educational Progress and high school graduation statistics.
Florida's 57.5 percent graduation rate in 2003 was a whopping 12 percentage points below the national average, but that was balanced out by an above-average improvement of 7.5 percentage points since 2000.
State education officials have claimed a higher graduation rate — 71 percent in 2005-06 — by counting special and General Education Development diplomas not included in various national comparisons and by tracking individual students rather than relying on estimates. Florida also gained achievement points for an above-average number of high school students scoring high on advanced placement tests and gains made on those exams from 2000 to 2005.
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