Improving under pressure

Faced with competition, Florida schools improved, concludes a Manhattan Institute study published in Education Next.

Florida grades schools based on their performance on the state’s high-stakes test, the FCAT. If a school receives two failing grades in a four-year period, its students are offered vouchers with which they can switch to private schools or other public schools. The study compared the gains in academic performance of public schools facing different amounts of competition from the voucher program. The analyses show that public schools in Florida made larger improvements when they were more exposed to voucher competition.

Public schools with at least two failing grades in four years gained 5.9 percentile points; schools with one F in three years gained 3.5 points. Similarly low-performing public schools that didn’t face a voucher threat made no gains or lost slightly compared to other public schools.

Overall, F schools improved more than D schools and D schools improved more than C schools, concludes another study by Rajashri Chakrabarti, also summarized in Ed Next.

Could these improvements simply reflect the stigma of being identified publicly as a low-performing school? Tellingly, I did not observe similar improvements among low-performing schools under the stateís old accountability system, which rated schools based on their performance but did not impose the threat of vouchers. Beginning in 1997, Florida schools were assigned a rating of 1 to 4 on the basis of their performance. Schools placed in group 1 (the lowest-performing set) did not improve relative to schools in group 2 or group 3. In short, there is strong evidence that F schools in Florida responded to the threat of vouchers.

The F schools didn’t catch up. They narrowed the gap.

Update: Number 2 Pencil has an extravaganza of FCAT links. Kimberly is back and blogging.

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  1. Being from Florida with kids now in school I have heard teachers complain they are teaching to the test, rather than a more rounded education outside the FCAT criteria. Seems my kids are doing fine.

    Some kids fail the FCAT, but may have done well the entire school year. Cases of people who don’t do well on tests or under stress aren’t that unusual.

    Some people from down this way seem to think this might have been a weapon aimed at the school system for daring to broach the subject of teacher benifits, or cost of living increases. But I doubt anyone in government would ever stoop that low.

    While others think this was a round about way of subsidizing some private schools that weren’t doing well. Again I doubt our local or state government really would stoop as low to subsidize failing schools by offering voucher programs.

  2. The same thing is happening in Florida as is in Texas. Since the only criteria used to measure school’s is a one day high stakes test, kids are learning how to take a test.

  3. Tim from Texas says:

    So many people complain about high-stakes testing. I don’t understand it. Now, at least, evaluation of students,teachers,schools, and school districts has been put into motion. Before, education was in a helter-skelter mode of operation. Does anyone want to go back to that?

    Moreover, if some schools are just teaching to the test, these schools are not doing their job.
    They are running scared and don’t know how to put a good curriculum into place or just don’t want to. These schools, as time goes by, will stand out and will be forced to change their ways. Without high-stakes testing, bad schools can’t be identified.

  4. Walter Wallis says:

    Teaching to the test. How mind numbing. Almost like – gasp! – working to the paycheck!

  5. I believe teachers deserve better pay. Well, teachers that PROVE they’re good at their jobs! Same thing with schools; school vouchers give citizens freedom of choice concerning what is good for their child. The crappy schools go under, the good schools get more enrollment and funding. What is so controversial about this? I’m already planning to send my kids to private school, because I want them educated and thinking, not brainwashed. I’d love to see worthy teachers making big money; their job is important. However, saying that ALL teachers deserve better pay is bull; we should do the sensible American thing and demand they do a better job of teaching our kids before they get that fat cash. School vouchers simply make to much sense for some people.

  6. Over 75% of all drivers consider themselves ‘above average’. Obviously, that’s not possible statistically, so at least some are kidding themselves, or incapable of realizing that they’re poor drivers.

    The numbers vary, but I’ve seen reports that put the number of teachers who consider themselves as above average teachers at anywhere from 60 to 90%. Obviously, the study of statistics is not most teachers’ strong suite, either. (To hear the unions tell it, the number is 100%, but that’s another story.)

  7. Steve LaBonne says:

    If “teaching to the test” sounds just too awful, simply call it- at least as accurately, if the test is properly designed- “following a content-rich curriculum”. There, feel better now? 😉

  8. The whole problem is, the test are not designed to be curriculum specific and don’t really test the skills laid out by the state.

    AND the biggest problem with high stakes testing is, THE WHOLE PROCESS IS DESIGNED BY POLITICIANS WHO KNOW NOTHING ABOUT EDUCATION! The person who has benefited the most from high stakes testing in Texas is Ross Perot. He was behind the push to bring high stakes testing to the state and here’s a shocker; he owns the company’s that print the test as well as many of the company’s that print the study materials.

    You can’t blame teachers for teaching to the test. If you were told your ability to do something, say juggling, was going to be the sole measure of your job performance, you’d spend everyday practicing juggling.

    POLITICIANS SHOULD BE SEEN AND NOT HEARD! Especially when it comes to setting state and national education standards.

  9. Tim from Texas says:

    Texas has specific curriculum guidelines and standards which are the targets of the state’s assessment. They are called TEKS,Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, which were written by professionals in each subject tested. Theses professionals are teachers and professors who have proven themselves in each subject area. The TEKS can be found on the TEA, Texas Education Website. They are curriculum specific. Once one is familiar with the TEKS, one can adjust hiser curriculum to make sure hiser lessons cover the TEKS along the way. Now this will be difficult if hiser subject department or district adopted texts and curriculum that don’t address the TEKS. This has happened in many districts because the teachers and administrators and board did not bother to learn the TEKS, and therefore, were not able to evaluate which texts and related materials should be adopted. These districts and their teachers are just lost, unwilling to make the proper moves and adjustments,so they teach to the test. They dig in their heels and stick their heads in the sand hoping it will all go awaybut it’s not and it won’t.

  10. Tim, I’m in Texas, too, and I’ve been looking at the TEKS website. The ‘content’ is so vague as to be virtually useless.

    Here’s some examples. The description for 2nd grade (which is where my daughter is now) is a MS Word document that is 49 pages long. Here are some exerpts:

    (2.2) Listening/speaking/culture. The student listens and speaks to gain knowledge of his/her own culture, the culture of others, and the common elements of cultures. The student is expected to: (A)choose and adapt spoken language appropriate to the audience, purpose, and occasion, including use of appropriate volume and rate (K-3); (B)use verbal and nonverbal communication in effective ways such as making announcements, giving directions, or making introductions (K-3);(C) ask and answer relevant questions and make contributions in small or
    large group discussions (K-3);(D)present dramatic interpretations of experiences, stories, poems, or plays (K-3); and (E) gain increasing control of grammar when speaking such as using subject-verb agreement, complete sentences, and correct tense (K-3).

    (2.7) Reading/variety of texts. The student reads widely for different purposes in varied sources. The student is expected to: (A)read classic and contemporary works (2-8); (B)read from a variety of genres for pleasure and to acquire information from both print and electronic sources (2-3); and (C)read to accomplish various purposes, both assigned and self-selected (2-3).

    (2.13) Reading/culture. The student reads to increase knowledge of his/her own culture, the culture of others, and the common elements of culture. The student is expected to: (A)connect life experiences with the life experiences, language, customs, and culture of others (K-3); and (B) compare experiences of characters across cultures (K-3).

    For physical education, they list the following ‘skills and knowledge’:
    (2.1) Movement. The student demonstrates competency in fundamental movement patterns and proficiency in a few specialized movement forms.
    The student is expected to:
    (A)travel independently in a large group while safely and quickly changing speed and direction;
    (B)demonstrate skills of chasing, fleeing, and dodging to avoid or catch others;
    (C)combine shapes, levels, and pathways into simple sequences;
    (D)demonstrate mature form in walking, hopping, and skipping;
    (E)demonstrate balance in symmetrical and non-symmetrical shapes from different basis of support;
    (F)demonstrate a variety of relationships in dynamic movement situations such as under, over, behind, next to, through, right, left, up, or down;
    (G)demonstrate simple stunts that exhibit personal agility such as jumping-one and two foot takeoffs and landing with good control;
    (H)demonstrate smooth transition from one body part to the next in rolling activities such as side roll, log roll, balance/curl, and roll/balance in a new position;
    (I)demonstrate control weight transfers such as feet to hands with controlled landing and feet to back;
    (J)demonstrate the ability to mirror a partner;
    (K)walk in time to a 4/4 underlying beat;
    (L)perform rhythmical sequences such as simple folk, creative, and ribbon routines;
    (M)jump a self-turned rope repeatedly; and
    (N)demonstrate on cue key elements of hand dribble, foot dribble, kick and strike such as striking balloon or ball with hand.

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe when I read this. And it’s 49 pages of this stuff.

  11. Tim from Texas says:

    Claire, the TEKS are not virtually useless. They are simple guidelines. Guidelines are exactly what teachers had been requesting. They are not vague. If they were spelled out with every detail,nuance,possible deviation,and/or possible exception noted, enumerated and explained, it would be 146 pages. There is an assumption that 46 pages are not too many for teachers to read. There is also an assumption that making them too detailed would make the teachers feel insulted and that the teachers would believe TEA does not consider teachers astute.

    Of course, the TEKS are not “perfect” and improvement along the way should and will occur.
    In addition, the state, TEA, concerns, and the companies involved know it’s not “perfect”. As a matter of fact, they are constantly looking for help in all aspects to make improvements. Any teacher or anyone who thinks he/she could improve the TEKS, the tests and the questions and problems therein should apply. The pay is good and the majority of work can be accomplished at home.

    Standardized testing and high-stakes testing, and all that goes with it, is not going away. I recommend jumping in and helping,if not by helping directly, then by going with the flow and working positively toward the common goal.

  12. Tim,

    Why should teachers sit back and have this crammed on kids when they know its the wrong thing to do??

  13. Tim from Texas says:


    Teachers don’t have to sit back, and I am not saying they should. As a matter of fact, I’ve always argued teachers should organize into a teachers-only association in order to have a substantial representation in the decision processes. I’ve argued for it here in previous posts and I’ve argued for it since 1974 which was my fourth year in the teaching profession.

    It was obvious to me and others then that drastic changes such as accountability and some sort of standardized-high-stakes testing was inevitable. Most, of the aforementioned others, either gave up by leaving or just silenced themselves, for in those days, when one mentioned such things, one felt as if one had jumped into a lions den with pork chops hanging off himer, the one day, and the next time, one felt like one had entered a room full of cobras, with all the venomous spewing one encountered.

    By no means am I exaggerating here in describing the situation, mood, and atmosphere in those good old days. It continues today, albeit, at a somewhat lessor degree, and now it’s more about high-stakes testing, accountability and all that goes with it.

    Now, to return directly to the subject of a teacher-only assosiation argument, I will give an example of what I contend is wrong thinking on the part of most teachers,especially core subject teachers. It has been an on-going complaint among teachers that coaches and sports have had an all too powerful role in schools and education. Whenever the subject arose, I would simply say that they acquired power because they organized into strong associations. Then most teachers would then say, “Well, we are professionals.” Translation: We are very intelligent professionals, it is beneath us to organize for power, after all, we are not boobs like coaches. Then I would say, ” I suppose then, you would say doctors,lawyers, accountants, etc. are boobs as well.” Then, they would begin spewing out venom of all sorts off the subject or clam up or just walk out.This has been, for the most part, teacher thinking, attitude, and mode of operation through the years, and it has not served teachers well.

    So,I say to those teachers who argue for something different. Organize for power, plan and organize that different something, then bring it to the table.

    Again,I would like to close my post by mentioning here the following. By no means, do I want to be understood or do I want to come across as arrogant or as a hauteur, nor do I think that what I write, by any means, is all encompassing and all inclusive.


  1. Dean's World says:

    Big Shock

    School choice programs are already improving Florida’s public schools, only a short while after implemented. Who’d a thunk it? Give parents the ability to say,…