This study highlights the significant improvements achieved by Florida students on the NAEP exam — the “nation’s report card” — over the course of the last 15 years. In fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading, Florida’s students outgained those in Michigan, and by 2009, had surpassed them. Michigan’s performance over the same period was generally lackluster.

If, however, Michigan’s scores had improved at the same rate as Florida’s, the Great Lakes State would be at or near the top of the national rankings on the NAEP. Specifically, Michigan would have been among the top three states in average reading and math scores for fourth-graders, and it would have been among the top 10 states in average math scores for eighth-graders. Michigan’s lower-income students would have achieved similar results compared to those in other states.[80]

The student achievement gains in Florida on the NAEP are important, and they suggest two points worth considering: First, a combination of reforms may work better than any single approach; second, reforming schools is a marathon, not a sprint. In Florida, it took time for the state’s public school system to demonstrate undeniable success. Policymakers there maintained high standards regardless and even implemented new reforms in the process.

Michigan will not be able to match Florida’s gains in student achievement overnight. The Florida experience, however, provides valuable lessons for how the Great Lakes State can improve its public school system.

[80] Author’s calculations based on “NAEP Data Explorer: Main NDE”, (National Center for Education Statistics; United States Department of Education), (accessed March 21, 2013).