In the December 2012 open hearing where incoming education Tony Bennett was interviewed, board of education chairman Gary Chartrand began the meeting with “good news” about how well Florida 4th graders stacked up against the rest of the world on NAEP. Former chair Kathleen Shannahan seconded the good news as it should end controversy over high-stakes testing and justify their reforms.
In the meantime, regardless of one’s opinion on whether the “Florida formula” is a success and/or should be exported to other states, the assertion that the reforms are responsible for the state’s increases in NAEP scores and FCAT proficiency rates during the late 1990s and 2000s not only violates basic principles of policy analysis, but it is also, at best, implausible. The reforms’ estimated effects, if any, tend to be quite small, and most of them are, by design, targeted at subgroups (e.g., the “lowest-performing” students and schools). Thus, even large impacts are no guarantee to show up at the aggregate statewide level (see the papers and reviews in the ‘s governor first footnote for more discussion).
In this sense, the first-order problem with the publicity accorded the “Florida formula,” and especially its proliferation to other states, is less about the merits of the policies themselves than the fact that they are being presented as a means to relatively immediate, large improvements in overall performance. Unfortunately, this problem – unrealistic promises based on invalid evidence – is not at all limited to Florida.****
Florida legislators and it’s current governor continue to march forward as if “relatively immediate, large improvements in overall performance” continue to occur. This narrative is largely advanced by Jeb Bush’s foundations and those closely associated with the former governor. Concludes Di Carlo:
We seem to not only expect, but demand instant gratification from interventions that, when they have any track record at all, have never been shown to have anything resembling such an impact. This is often harmful to the policy process. For example, it fosters a disincentive to invest in programs that will not have an immediate effect and, perhaps, an incentive to misuse evidence. Moreover, policies that don’t produce huge results might be shut down even if they’re working; the most effective policies are often those that have a modest, persistent effect that accumulates over time.
Whether we like it or not, real improvements at aggregate levels are almost always slow and incremental. There are no “miracles,” in Florida or anywhere else. The sooner we realize that, and start choosing and judging policies based on attainable expectations that accept the reality of the long haul, the better.
Sounds like a bomb damage assessment of the last ten years’ policy interventions in Florida. Bennett said in a recent interview that Florida hasn’t done too much too fast. He will have his chance to oversee and navigate the state’s past, present and future “reforms.” But these reforms are interrelated and interdependent in such a way that has recently caused multiple collapses which state board members agreed was making them “look bad.” And then a charismatic and persuasive Bennett convinced and reassured them all was well and good and righteous.