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Richard Innes

March 22, 2024

# Why school choice? Just look at the latest math evidence from education-choice-rich Florida

As I wrote yesterday, the fight over allowing Kentucky’s students to have choices over where they attend school has been loud and aggressive. Opponents of choice have been pulling out all the stops to prevent Bluegrass State students from enjoying the same sorts of school choice options that students across the rest of the nation already enjoy.

Fortunately, others are wiser. With the passage of House Bill 2 last week, the state’s residents now get a chance to decide if the Kentucky Legislature will be allowed to provide the same sorts of education choices that students in the vast majority of other states already enjoy.

Why choice? Well, choice options elsewhere are associated with some really notable improvements in education not only in the non-public schools but even in the traditional public school systems, as well. This is certainly true for the state of Florida, where yesterday’s blog pointed out dramatic improvements in reading performance in the public school system since the introductions of numerous choice options after 1999.

Now, let’s see what happened with the mathematics picture. How does Florida stack up in math against other states in the post-COVID-quarantine era?

This set of tables regarding math performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was generated using the NAEP Data Explorer web tool. The tables are similar to the set for reading we looked at yesterday.

The top tables compare white students’ NAEP Grade 4 Math scores for the states from 1996, the most recent year before Florida’s education reforms began (1999), to the most current, 2022 results.

As we look at the specific data, keep in mind that the NAEP is a sampled assessment and all scores are actually just estimates of true performance and can have plus or minus sampling errors. In consequence, the tables above include information about how many states do statistically significantly better or worse than the state listed in each row. Also, the scores shown are for public school students only.

Now, consider the white public school students’ results from the 1996 NAEP math assessment. Florida’s white students’ Scale Score of 227 falls in order as number 26 among the 43 states that participated and got NAEP results that year (State participation in NAEP didn’t become universal until 2003). In 1996, 19 states performed statistically significantly better while just four states had scores that were statistically significantly worse than Florida’s whites produced.

Now, look at the upper right-hand table where Florida’s relative performance in the 2022 NAEP Grade 4 Math Assessment is noted (All states participated and got white student scores from NAEP in 2022). In 2022 not one state in the nation had public school performance that was statistically significantly higher than what Florida scored for NAEP Grade 4 Math. NOT ONE! In fact, no other state had as high a scale score.

In an even more remarkable turn of events, on the other side of the spectrum, as of 2022 Florida’s white students now statistically significantly outscore whites in 40 other states. That’s __10 times__ the number of states Florida’s white students outscored in 1996!

How did Kentucky’s white public school students fare? They were way down in 40th position in the scoring order in 1996, almost at the bottom. Most recently, Kentucky was in 41st position for NAEP Grade 4 Math in 2022. Kentucky was statistically significantly outscored by 26 states in 1996 and by 32 in 2022. Only one state scored statistically significantly lower than Kentucky did for white students’ NAEP Grade 4 Math in 2022 – just one state.

Now, look at the bottom half of the data display, which covers NAEP Grade 4 Math Scale Scores for Black public school students.

In 1996 Florida’s Black public school students placed almost at the bottom among the 35 states that participated and had enough Black students to support reasonably accurate scoring by NAEP. By 2022 the Sunshine State’s Black public school students also improved dramatically, showing up in second best position in the order of each state’s Black student scores.

In 1996, Black students in 10 other states statistically significantly outscored those in Florida for NAEP Grade 4 Math. By 2022, Blacks in no other state scored statistically significantly higher than Florida’s Black students did.

How did Kentucky’s Black students do? Believe it or not, in 1996 Kentucky was way up in the order in 12th place. Only one other state’s Black students statistically significantly outscored Kentucky’s Black students.

But things changed by 2022. Now Kentucky’s Black students are statistically significantly outscored by racial counterparts in 11 other states and appear way down in 31st place out of 39 states that had Black student scores reported by NAEP in 2022.

So, that is how things have been going in math since Florida started its major expansion of school choice while Kentucky, despite trying all sorts of fad ideas under KERA, has steadfastly ignored what might be the very best way to stimulate the traditional public school system to perform – competition from school choice.

So now, Kentucky voters, it’s up to you. Florida and other states aren’t going to wait for us; they are not going to go backwards, either. School choice is unquestionably associated with remarkable performance improvement in Florida’s public schools, and Kentucky’s students deserve an equal chance to enjoy a better education, too.

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