Getting students reading well by 3rd-grade is again emerging as a policy priority in many states. WaPo’s Lyndsey Layton took a look at the trend in March and Reading Partners’ Michael Lombardo responded.
What’s interesting is that a focus on early-learning was a key part of Florida’s success over the past decade (along with accountability, choice, and some other elements). Today, Jeb Bush’s advocacy on education is one reason states are adopting these reading policies. But while some states are now simply adopting the hard-edged policies around retention, the former Florida governor makes clear that the policies should be paired with support. I’ve asked experts on reading policy why they think some states are ignoring the support side and while answers vary, “selective listening based on underlying ideology on spending,” as one person put it, is the consensus response.
When I interviewed Bush for TIME late last year, I asked him about what had worked in Florida and why? Here’s what he said about coupling hard-edged policies with supports for students:
There was no single magic bullet. But up until Louisiana and Indiana in the last few years, Florida was far and away the most aggressive and broad-based [state for] reform: Robust accountability, higher standards, tying financial consequences and benefits, carrots and sticks, around accountability so there was a consequences between failure, mediocrity, improvement and excellence. Elimination of social promotion and strategies to deal with the crisis that could have existed if we’d done nothing [else]. Ambitious school choice, not just public but including private school choice. And during my tenure the last element would be expanding higher quality coursework to larger numbers of kids. So it wasn’t just accountability it was a lot of other things including a partnership with the College Board where we had stratospheric increases in the number of kids who took AP courses and passed them. And the early-childhood learning component of what we did will prove to be pretty effective. You put these hard-edged measures, we tried to make them really tough, but we didn’t stop there.
If you go back to the affirmative action debate, we eliminated affirmative action when I was governor, and we have more African-Americans attending college today, why would that be? What’s the difference between Florida and California? The difference is that a hard-edged policy may be a correct one morally in California but it’s the only thing they did. They just eliminated affirmative action. OK, great. Then you had this massive drop-off in access to higher education by Hispanics and African-Americans. We created a strategy that said affirmative action defined as lowering standards for one group at the expense of the other is wrong. But we also said that you need to be race conscious so we created a “talented 20 percent” we created the very ambitious AP program in the urban core high schools that never had AP. We made practice SAT for 10th graders – we funded it. Before that because no one ever cared or even noticed 15 percent D and F schools had practice SAT for 10th graders and 85 percent of A and B schools [did]. That’s what you call the soft bigotry of low-expectations. So we funded all of them.
And my point is that all of this hard-edged accountability forced strong policies to rectify the consequences and the system responded and it responded pretty significantly. So you eliminate social promotion we probably would have had a third of our kids stay back had we done nothing. But we required a different approach, we put reading coaches in every school to teach teachers how to teach reading because our schools of education don’t do that, we launched the universal pre-K efforts, we changed how schools operated and they were compelled to do it.