Standards and Accountability: Florida is one of 12 states that earned A’s in this category this year. That’s because the state has many of the elements critical to a strong accountability system. Clear and specific standards exist in three out of four core subjects (English, mathematics, and science) in all grade spans. Social studies/history standards, though, are clear and specific at the elementary and high school levels only.
The state has tests aligned with its content standards in elementary, middle, and high school in English, math, and science. And the tests themselves rely on a variety of questions, including multiple-choice, short-answer, and extended-response items.
Florida puts its test data to good use. It publishes achievement data on school report cards, assigns ratings to schools based on their performance, identifies failing or low-performing schools, administers sanctions and assistance to those schools, and rewards improving or high-performing schools.
Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Florida falls in the middle of the pack for its efforts to improve teacher quality. Florida requires prospective teachers to complete at least 10 weeks of student teaching, but does not require them to spend a minimum amount of time on other kinds of clinical experiences. Prospective high school teachers seeking temporary certificates have the option of passing subject-matter tests or coursework in the content areas they plan to teach. Prospective high school teachers seeking the professional certificate must pass the content tests in the subjects they plan to teach.
The state’s grade dips because Florida does not evaluate its teachers through performance assessments to determine if they should receive advanced licenses. But Florida is one of only a handful of states to base teacher evaluations in part on student performance, as measured by test scores.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires all states to notify the parents of students in schools receiving Title I money if their children are taught by an uncertified or unqualified teacher. Florida is one of only three states that require all schools to notify parents when their children are taught by an uncertified teacher or a teacher who is licensed for a grade or subject other than the one he or she is teaching.
The state also holds teacher-preparation programs accountable for the performance of their graduates on state certification exams, the diversity of their student enrollments, and school districts’ satisfaction with those programs’ graduates, among other factors. But the state does not ensure support for all new teachers by requiring and paying for a mentoring program, and it does not publish on its school report cards most of the teacher-qualification data tracked by Education Week—both of which contribute to its average grade.
School Climate: Florida scored near the bottom of the list on school climate. That’s in part because 8th graders in Florida are more likely than their peers in other states to attend schools where student absenteeism, classroom misbehavior, and physical conflicts are a problem, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress background survey.
Among the data Education Week collects from other sources, Florida stands out for having one of the largest average elementary-class sizes in the nation, at 23.1 students, according to the federal 2000 Schools and Staffing Survey. (The national average is 21.2 pupils.) Furthermore, Florida has the lowest percentage of students attending small elementary, middle, and high schools of any state.
Florida gains some points for having a limited open-enrollment program and a charter school law rated moderately strong by the Center for Education Reform. Florida also has a system for tracking the condition of all school facilities.
Equity: Based on state and local spending, Florida’s school finance system has moderate inequalities related to property wealth. The state ranks 40th on the wealth-neutrality score, which measures the relationship between state and local funding and the property wealth of districts. Despite such inequities, Florida ranks second on the coefficient of variation, indicating narrower revenue disparities across districts than in other states. Florida also does well on the McLoone Index, which compares the total amount spent on students in districts below the median with what would be needed to ensure all districts spent at least the median, ranking seventh.
Spending: Florida has one of the lowest per-pupil expenditures of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, ranking 47th; average spending is $6,492 per pupil for the 2001-02 school year. It ranks 46th on the spending index, which measures how many pupils in the state have funding at or above the national average and how far the rest are below the average. Florida ranks 43rd on the percent of total taxable resources spent on education.