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Fact check: Florida schools are rising to the top

• Mike Thomas

There has been some “fact checking’’ going on with the Learn More. Go Further. initiative sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

So I decided to do some of my own.

The advertisement in question features four teachers talking about the advances in Florida public education over the past 15 years.

It states that Florida’s graduation rate improved 25 percent over 10 years when the number actually is 27.7 percent. We regret the error.

Florida’s graduation rate of 75.6 percent is low compared to most other states. And we could increase that significantly overnight by simply waiving exit exams required for graduation.

The question then becomes: Do you dumb down standards and increase your numbers, producing graduates who can’t even read at a 10th grade level? Florida has found it can raise standards and increase graduation rates at the same time. This is a journey worth taking.

The ad states that Florida has had a 300 percent increase in students taking and passing AP exams. Here is where the number comes from. In 1999, there were 34,607 students, in grades 9-12, taking AP exams in Florida. Why do we use 1999? The next year, the state began a concentrated effort to improve AP participation through strategies that included a partnership with the College Board, incentives for teachers and inclusion of AP participation in school grades.

In 2012, there were 170,000 students, in grades 9-12, participating in AP courses, which actually is a gain of more than 300 percent. And for two years in a row, Florida has ranked among the top five states for the percent of graduates passing an AP exam.

In a 2011 report, Pro-Publica singled out Florida as the leading state making AP courses available to low-income students.

To quote from the story: “While measuring outcomes in education is notoriously difficult, data shows that the numbers of high-school seniors from poor families who pass at least one AP exam have surged. In 2006, students from low-income families made up 10 percent of all seniors who passed an exam. By 2010, that percentage had doubled.’’

Lastly, the ad claims “Florida is a top ten state.’’

There are so many metrics in measuring education, where do you begin? I’d start with Education Week, which earlier this year ranked Florida seventh in K-12 achievement.

Education Week factors in 18 different indicators of academic success including NAEP results, graduation rates, AP participation and academic gains. No state finishing in the top 10 had as large a minority or low-income student population. Almost 60 percent of Florida’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Education Week noted that Florida was only one of five states to significantly narrow the poverty achievement gap. In most states, the gap widened.

I could go on and on with other results. But the controversy surrounding Florida is not about results. It’s about how the results were achieved – measuring progress and holding adults in public education accountable for educating children.

So is Florida a Top 10 state? Absolutely. In the immortal words of Bill Murray: That’s the fact, Jack!

About the author

Mike Thomas @MikeThomasTweet

Mike Thomas serves in the communications department, writing editorials and speeches. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mike worked for more than 30 years as a journalist with Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel. He has written investigative projects, magazine feature stories, humor pieces, editorials and local columns. He won several state and national awards, and was named a finalist in the American Society of New Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary/Column Writing in 2010. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, he wrote extensively about education reform, becoming one of its chief advocates in the Florida media. Mike graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in political science and journalism. His wife is a teacher and he has two children in public schools. Contact Mike at