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The Evidence on the "Florida Formula" for Education Reform

During the late 1990s and 2000s, the State of Florida enacted a set of education reforms spearheaded by Governor Jeb Bush. These policies, which emphasize test-based accountability, competition, and choice, have since become known as the “Florida Formula for education success,” or, simply, the “Florida Formula.” In recent years, there has been a coordinated, aggressive effort to advocate for its implementation in other states.

The “Formula” is a multifaceted package that might be summarized as a set of concepts or goals, which are manifested in specific policy interventions. A brief summary of these components, along with the primary policies that embody them, is as follows:

  1. Hold schools accountable – “A-F” school grading system, attached to rewards and consequences;
  2. School choice – charter schools and different forms of private school choice programs;
  3. High expectations – retention/remediation of low-scoring third graders, higher graduation standards;
  4. Funding for school and student success – tying funding to performance and more flexibility in how districts can spend money;
  5. Quality educators – alternative teacher certification and new teacher evaluations.

The purpose of this policy brief is to review the high quality evidence on these policies in a manner that is fair and useful to policy makers and the public. The executive summary of the policy brief is pasted below. You can read or download the full document (PDF) below.

Executive Summary

The education reforms implemented in Florida throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, commonly known as the “Florida Formula,” have received a great deal of attention in recent years. The policies included in this package are focused on test-based accountability, competition, and choice. Its supporters often rely on crude, speculative forms of policy evidence, such as aggregate, unadjusted test score changes coinciding with the period of the reforms. In reality, while not all of the policies constituting the “Formula” have been subject to empirical scrutiny, there is a relatively large body of high quality research available on a number of its key elements. Several of these policies have had a positive estimated impact, gauged mostly in terms of testing outcomes, whereas others have not. And there is virtually no evidence of any negative impacts. Overall, however, most of the evidence on the “Florida Formula” is likely still to come, and the research that does exist supports nuanced, cautious policy conclusions.

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