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Mackinac Center for Public Policy: Michigan Should Look to Florida to Improve Public Education

New study contains six specific policy recommendations to increase student performance, parent-driven accountability

June 6, 2013

The remarkable improvements made by Florida students on national exams during the past 15 years coincided with key state policy changes that Michigan should now consider adopting, according to a new Mackinac Center study by Education Policy Director Michael Van Beek.

Citing findings that Florida made the second-highest standardized test score gains in the nation while registering the lowest per-pupil spending increases, Van Beek shows that Florida's average scores, after ranking below Michigan's in the mid-1990s, surpassed them in 2009 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as "the nation's report card."

"Florida's students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, have been making substantial and unmistakable learning gains for more than a decade," Van Beek said. "Michigan policymakers should take notice. There's a lot to learn from this other peninsular state."

The study, "Michigan vs. Florida: Student Achievement, Education Policies and Proposals for Reform," shows that Florida achieved this remarkable success while consistently spending less per pupil than Michigan and having a larger portion of low-income students. If Michigan had improved at a similar rate, it would be one of the top performing states in the country on NAEP exams.

Florida enacted a variety of policies that coincided with this rise in average standardized test scores. These policies are detailed in the study and are the source of recommendations tailored specifically for Michigan. They include expanding parental choice through a tuition tax credit scholarship for private school enrollment; eliminating all geographical limitations to public school choice and online learning opportunities; creating an easy-to-understand A-through-F school accountability system; expanding alternative teacher certification; and limiting social promotion of third-graders who are not proficient in reading.

"Florida's reform model focuses on creating the incentives for public schools to improve, both from the state level and the local level, through parent-driven accountability," Van Beek said. "There's no 'silver bullet' here, but Florida's example should be considered when setting the agenda to improve Michigan's public education system in the years to come."

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. The largest state-based free-market think tank in the country celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

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