Education Week report: Florida graduation rates among fastest rising in nation

Florida public schools got another clear sign of progress today from a highly regarded, independent source.

Between 1999 and 2009, Florida’s graduation rate climbed from 52.5 percent to 70.4 percent, a 17.9 percentage point gain that puts the Sunshine State third among all 50 states in rate of progress, according to the latest “Diplomas Count” report released by Education Week.

Florida ranked No. 37 among states in 2009, up from No. 47 a decade prior.

The report also shows black and Hispanic students in Florida are graduating at higher rates than like students in other states. The rate for Hispanic students in Florida reached 72.6 percent in 2009, 9.6 percentage points higher than the national average. Black students in Florida came in at 62.0 percent, 3.3 percentage points higher than the average.

The latest numbers are more validation for education reformers in Florida, who have pushed the envelope on standards, accountability and expanded school choice since former Gov. Jeb Bush was elected in 1998. For them, the report’s timing couldn’t have been better.

Reformers have been on the defensive since mid-May, when results showed passing scores on the state’s standardized writing test had plunged in the wake of tough, new standards. With even some supporters saying the state went too far too fast, education officials responded by lowering the pass bar for school grading purposes and admitting they should have better communicated new expectations to teachers and schools.

Many critics, though, saw more than a mistake. The writing scores, said Fund Education Now, a powerful Orlando-based parents group, is “proof that Tallahassee’s ‘education reforms’ are an unmitigated disaster.” Group co-founder Kathleen Oropeza later wrote in an op-ed, “Fourteen years of unproven, expensive ‘reforms’ have not produced the rumored ‘Florida Miracle.’ “ The group is a plaintiff in a pending lawsuit that charges the state with not living up to its constitutional duty to provide “high quality” schools.

Only Arizona and New York gained more ground with graduation rates than Florida in the decade analyzed by Education Week. The U.S. average rose during that period from 66.0 percent to 73.4 percent.

Florida Hispanic students ranked No. 2 among Hispanic students in other states, trailing only New Jersey at 74.1 percent. Black students in Florida came in at No. 14 among black students elsewhere. Fifty-seven percent of Florida public school students are minorities.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at


Dear Mr. Matus,
I notice you have not had time to reply to my comments or perhaps overlooked. Parents, community members, and taxpayers read the news in December 2011 that graduation rates had “soared” and then two months later read those rates “plunged”. I provided links to those news articles already in a comment so I will not again. The calculation for the “soar” and the “plunge” are different. The “plunge” is based on new federal requirements for identifying graduation rates, which, as I discovered, was not used in Ed Week’s calculations. I thought you would be interested in that information.

It is no surprise that public confidence with regard to the state’s accountability system continues to decrease. What do parents, community members, and taxpayers know? Less and less.

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