Jessica Jimenez Ramos
University of Central Florida
Beginning in 1999, two years before the passage of the No Child Left behind Act (NCLB), Florida began a comprehensive overhaul of its education system an aggressive reform that included strong standards, true accountability and transparency. Florida’s reform model includes school choice options providing families in Florida access to public-school choice, private-school choice, charter schools and online learning. Public school choice initiated 1999, a component of Florida’s education reform model allowed students in schools that had received an “F” for two of the previous four years to receive a voucher to attend a higher-performing school. Since 2000, families in Florida with special-needs children have had access to the McKay Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers to attend a private school of choice. In addition to public and private school options Florida’s reform introduced Charter schools, public schools that are free from much of the regulation that binds traditional public schools offer families another choice. Florida is also a leader in online learning Florida Virtual School is one of the largest virtual schools in the country, enrolled more than 71,000 students during the 2008–2009 school years (The Center for Education Reform, 2010).
In 2002, Florida began offering alternative routes to teacher certification nearly half of all teachers come to the profession through an alternative certification program. Every school district in Florida now offers an alternative teacher certification through on-the-job training. Florida also offers other alternative paths to teacher certification, such as the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) and offers reciprocity with teaching certificates from other states in addition to allowing college education minors to enter the teaching profession. While alternative teacher certification attracts high, quality teachers to the Florida the performance pay keep them in the classroom. Florida’s pay system rewards those teachers who achieve significant student gains in subject areas assessed on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). Teachers can receive up to 10 percent of their base salary in performance pay. In addition, Florida has implemented a school recognition program, which provides bonuses of $75 per student for improving a letter grade on the state’s report card system or for maintaining an “A.” The bonuses go directly to principals and teachers, bypassing collective bargaining (The Center for Education Reform, 2010).
Another aspect of Florida’s performance pay plan includes rewarding teachers with bonuses for increasing the number of students who pass Advanced Placement (AP) courses. AP teachers receive $50 for every AP class that a child successfully passes, with total bonuses capped at $2,000 per school year. Schools, not school districts, also receive bonuses of $700 for each student who passes an AP exam. Finally, schools that received a “D” or “F” are eligible to receive an additional $500 for each student who passes an AP exam (The Center for Education Reform, 2010).
There is evidence that Florida’s emphasis on Advanced Placement coursework is paying off. Since beginning performance rewards for successful AP completion, Florida has made significant progress in increasing the number of students who take and pass AP exams. In 2009, 40.2 percent of Florida’s public school graduates took an AP exam, compared to just 26.5 percent nationally. In 2009, 21.3 percent of those test-takers in Florida earned at least a grade “3” (the grade normally required to receive college credit) on an AP exam during their high school careers, compared to 15.9 percent of test-takers nationally. The College Board notes that Florida, which has the fourth-highest number of students taking AP exams in the nation,