Recently, Wallethub found my home state Florida to be pretty much middle of the road in their study of the country’s Best and Worst Schools Systems. Not much of a surprise.
There are 3 simple reasons being ranked 21st of 51 states makes sense to me:
1) Florida is a mixed pot.
Florida is a big state with over 50 school districts. Though we boast the 6th and 4th largest school districts in the nation, we also have a bunch of tiny districts. So we range from large urban metropolis to small town in less than a 3-hour car drive. Since about 90% of school funding comes from local and state money, there is a rainbow of levels in per-pupil-funding across the state. Various levels of funding, plus various levels of resources, plus various standards usually equals various outcomes, which averages off somewhere in the middle.
2) The score reflects the experience.
Wallethub found Florida to have the 12th highest score in “safety,” which measured stuff like treats/injury to students, and access to illegal drugs. Awesome! The other area measured was “quality,” looking at things such as test scores, graduation rates and student-teacher ratios. Florida ranked 31st in quality. Not so awesome.
But great safety matched with ho-hum quality is exactly how it feels.
My children feel good going to school, and I feel good sending them. There are lots of safety policies and alerts, and a general sense that my kids are going to physically come back home the way I sent them to school. But the classroom environment is not exactly exciting. Innovation is scattered and localized to the talent at each school, as opposed to system-wide approach.
Which brings us to the last reason our ranking seems logical.
3) Doing well with what we have.
Florida ranked 37th in spending, placing it in the “Low Spending & Strong School System” division along with states such as North Carolina, North Dakota and Utah. Low per-student-spending can affect quality, even though it doesn’t have to. Take North Dakota for example. They are the sixth lowest in spending (in 45th place), but the 20th best school district in the nation. North Dakota ranks 17th in quality!
But Florida is different from North Dakota, demographically and economically. No apples to apples here. Variables such as immigration, cost of living, and attracting and retaining talent have an impact in Florida in ways other states may not experience. With that considered, we are not doing so badly compared to districts with lots more money.
Every Florida parent has to do their homework when selecting schools. That’s the same for most states. There are great schools here, but it’s not a guarantee.