Education Week: Florida public schools rank No. 6 in education quality

For the fifth year in a row, Florida’s public school system ranks among the best in the country, according to the latest annual analysis by Education Week.

Released this morning, the highly anticipated “Quality Counts” report puts Florida at No. 6 among states this year, trailing only Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Arkansas. In the previous four years, Florida came in at No. 11, No. 8, No. 5 and No. 11, respectively.

“For Florida to be a global leader in job creation and economic growth, we have to provide our students with a quality education,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a written statement. “Today’s news that Florida has moved into the top ten in the nation for overall quality of education reinforces that we’re taking the steps needed to ensure our students succeed.”

The consistently strong showing is at odds with public perception and with steady criticism from those opposed to a series of far-reaching education changes spurred by former Gov. Jeb Bush. To be sure, it’s tough to determine which factors – including a heady expansion of parental school choice – have had the most impact. But the EdWeek reports are another credible sign that Florida students and teachers are no longer cramping at the back of the pack.

They’re also another sign that nobody should be satisfied. Florida earned a B- overall in the latest report. And in the category that matters the most – student achievement – it managed a C-.

Quality Counts looks at policy and performance in six broad categories with multiple indicators. Each year, the researchers behind the report update three of them. This year, they updated the school finance and “transitions and alignment” categories, and something called the Chance-for-Success Index.

Florida’s rank on the index is unchanged from 2011, coming in at No. 34. On transitions, it climbed from No. 14 to No. 4. On finance, it fell from No. 31 to 39 (and from C- to a D+). The reason for the latter: historic cuts in education spending that had yet to be tempered by 2010, which is the data year EdWeek uses for the new report.

In a conference call with reporters this morning, interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the Quality Counts report could be improved by adding an “efficiency index” that considers both cost and performance. “What matters most is not how much we spend, but how we spend the dollars we allocate,” she said. “High per-pupil expenditures does not automatically produce high-achieving pupils.”

Reporters asked no questions during the call.

The three categories that were not updated: the teaching profession, standards and accountability, and K-12 achievement. Florida ranked No. 4, No. 5 and No. 12, respectively, in those areas last year.

In the achievement realm, Quality Counts considers both performance and progress on several key indicators – NAEP scores, AP results and graduation rates – and whether a state has narrowed achievement gaps. In some areas (AP being a big exception), Florida’s overall performance is still lackluster. For instance, it ranks No. 44 in graduation rates, according to 2008 data the report used. But Florida racks up a lot of points for gains, especially among low-income students. Between 2000 and 2008, Florida was second among states for improvement in grad rates.

More coverage in Florida: Associated Press, Gradebook, Orlando Sentinel, StateImpact Florida, Fort Myers News Press.