Gov. Rick Scott has positioned himself as a public education cheerleader as he prepares to face the voters in November.
After facing criticism for slashing school spending in 2011, Scott later called for education funding increases and teacher raises. Now in his fourth State of the State address on March 4, 2014, he boasted about the national rankings of our high schools.
"Florida high schools are four out of the top 10 in the entire United States," Scott said.
We wanted to determine if Scott was correct about the ranking of our high schools.
Rankings of high schools
Scott’s claim comes from Newsweek’s ranking of "America’s Best High Schools," which looked at public schools and was released in May 2013. Four Florida high schools ranked in the top 10:
• No. 2: International Baccalaureate School at Bartow High, Bartow
• No. 6: School for Advanced Studies, Miami
• No. 9: Suncoast Community High School, Riviera Beach
• No. 10: Stanton College Preparatory School, Jacksonville
Newsweek invited more than 5,000 high schools to participate and about half responded. The rankings are based on graduation and college acceptance rates, and average SAT/ACT scores based on data from 2011-12 school year. Other factors include scores and enrollment in certain classes such as advancement placement and international baccalaureate.
Another often-cited ranking, though, comes from U.S. News and World Report, which uses a different methodology -- and not surprisingly that leads to different results for Florida schools. This ranking, based on data from the 2010-11 school year, shows only one in the top 10 from Florida: Pine View School in Osprey.
U.S. News rankings, done together with the American Institutes for Research, cover more than 21,000 public high schools. This analysis takes into account several factors that relate to how a school’s students perform on reading and math tests, including taking into account economically disadvantaged students and minorities. It also examines Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test data.
Education Week, a respected publication in the education field, gives an average grade to each state as a whole. Education Week gave Florida a "C" for K-12 achievement, ranking the state at seventh in the country.
We sent Scott’s claim to several education experts to ask their opinion on the Newsweek and U.S. News rankings. None of them embraced these rankings, and they offered several criticisms and caveats.
Matthew Di Carlo, an education policy at the Albert Shanker Institute, cautioned that Newsweek’s data from schools is self-reported and only takes into account a small portion of the nation’s high schools. The indicators measured such as graduation and college acceptance rates are predominantly a function of student background.
Jeffrey Henig, a Columbia education professor, said that the Newsweek rankings don’t control for certain factors such as socioeconomic status and whether the schools have competitive entry requirements -- as does the school from Miami on the list.
"All 'best school' lists have flaws and most have serious ones," Henig said. "Ranking systems that look at test scores or graduation rates or similar outcome measures, without considering the characteristics of the student populations they serve, tell us little about whether listed schools are good ones, and tell us absolutely nothing about the quality of the state systems in which they are located."
Scott said that "Florida high schools are four out of the top 10 in the entire United States."
Newsweek’s rankings released in 2013 support Scott's claim. But education experts say there are several caveats about using that ranking, which is based on self-reported data for a fraction of the nation’s schools.
There also are other rankings under which Florida doesn’t fare as well -- for example, the U.S. News rankings include only one Florida school in the top 10, while Education Week gave Florida a "C" for K-12 education statewide.
We rate this claim Half True.