The Phoenix Flyer

Have two decades of education reform been a success or a disaster in FL?

By: - June 20, 2019 3:11 pm
picture of kids

Photo by Airman 1st Class Gustavo Castillo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Twenty years ago, then-Gov. Jeb Bush signed a law that launched Florida’s A+ education plan, a reform package that included giving A through F grades to Florida’s public schools.

The nonprofit Foundation for Florida’s Future, founded by Bush, is now celebrating two decades of the reforms, posting accolades in a series of blogs from top Floridians.

“The A+ Plan was controversial back then, but we stuck with it. And it became the foundation on which all the improvements we’ve seen over the last 20 years have been built,” said former House Speaker John Thrasher, who’s currently president of Florida State University.

Former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings said, “Whether Floridians know it or not, the A+ Plan has affected virtually every person’s life in our state.”

Jennings added: “Perhaps the most critical feature of the A+ Plus plan is that it didn’t limit the ways our K-12 schools can evolve and improve. Governor Bush recognized that success is never final and that the A+ Plan was more than a single piece of legislation. It provided a road map for contemporary and future leaders to use as we continue working to keep Florida the greatest state in our nation.”

But not everyone has been a fan of the education overhaul.

Sue Legg, a retired faculty member at the University of Florida, chronicled the history of the A+ reforms, saying the plan has failed Florida’s students. The analysis was published earlier this year and is posted on the website of the New York City-based Network for Public Education Action.

Legg concluded that average student achievement is “no better and no worse than in 2002”; that half of Florida’s graduates don’t read at grade level, and “bonus plans, school grades, and teacher evaluations based on student test scores are so unstable that they are not only ineffective but invalid and harmful. They reward those who are already successful.”

Meanwhile, the state will soon publish A through F grades for public schools for 2019.

Leading up to that release, the Florida Education Association has posted an analysis called “The Reality of School Grades.”

The piece states in part, “This year marks the 21st release of the school grades in Florida, and now more than ever it is clear that rather than being a cause for celebration, these manufactured grades should be a call for a revolution — one that focuses on ensuring all students and educators have the resources necessary for a world-class education regardless of ZIP code or poverty level.”

“The annual tradition of assigning grades to schools has been happening for two decades now, so many Floridians — including teachers, parents, and students — have come to see the Florida Department of Education ranking (and shaming) schools as a normal thing.”

“It’s important to remember just how abnormal this process actually is. Only 15 of the 50 states issue school grades. Those states are primarily in the South and are not known for their high-quality of PreK-12 public education.”

“Part of the reason that 70 percent of states don’t grade schools is because ranking schools on an A-F system has few, if any, tangible benefits for students.”

You can read more about the FEA’s analysis at:

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.