Given the conditions of education in Florida and Michigan, one might reasonably have expected Michigan students to outperform those in Florida. Michigan spent more money per pupil, paid its teachers more on average and had a smaller percentage of lower-income students. Michigan schools could theoretically devote more resources to student learning, attract and retain better instructional personnel, and — all other things being equal — expect better average exam scores.[*]

Yet Florida’s average scores for all fourth- and eighth-grade students improved at a faster rate over the period in both reading and math than they did nationally and in Michigan.[†] This was true for Florida’s lower-income students as well.

Further, evidence suggests that Florida’s growth in average test scores was due to students at all levels improving. In other words, Florida’s improvements cannot be solely explained by increases in test scores among just the lowest-performing students. In all four of the subject tests analyzed above, a larger share of Florida students were deemed “advanced” and “proficient” and a smaller share were “below basic” in 2011 than in 1998 or 1996 (depending on which data were available for each subject test).[10] Florida’s rising tide seems to have lifted all boats.

Additionally, in each of the eight areas reviewed above, Florida trailed Michigan’s average scores more than a decade ago, but surpassed Michigan’s in 2009. Although Florida did not retain that advantage in every category in 2011, Florida still topped Michigan in six of the eight (see Graphic 15).

Graphic 15: Florida vs. Michigan on Fourth- and Eighth-Grade
NAEP Math and Reading Scores, 1996-2011

Subject

Higher Score in Initial Year*

Higher Score in 2011

Above National Average in 2011 for Similar Group

Greater Percentage Increase

Fourth-Grade Reading

Michigan

Florida

Florida

Florida

Fourth-Grade Reading
NSLP-Eligible

Michigan

Florida

Florida

Florida

Eighth-Grade Reading

Michigan

Michigan

Michigan

Florida

Eighth-Grade Reading
NSLP-Eligible

Michigan

Florida

Florida
Michigan

Florida

Fourth-Grade Math

Michigan

Florida

Florida

Fourth-Grade Math
NSLP-Eligible

Michigan

Florida

Florida

Florida

Eighth-Grade Math

Michigan

Michigan

Florida

Eighth-Grade Math
NSLP-Eligible

Michigan

Florida

Florida

Source: Author’s summary of findings in “Student Achievement in Michigan and Florida.”
*The first recent year in which the two states had comparable tests was 1996, 1998 or 2002. Fourth- and eighth-grade math results were comparable in 1996; fourth-grade reading results were comparable in 1998; and eighth-grade reading results were comparable in 2002.

On the whole, Florida’s performance is striking.[‡] If spending and socioeconomic factors cannot explain it, perhaps Florida’s success lies in the way the money was spent. In other words, the difference between the two states may lie in differences between their education policies.


[*] Admittedly, the statistics on total expenditures, spending on teacher compensation and NSLP eligibility represent all grades, K-12, not just the fourth and eighth grades. There is little reason to suspect, however, that the differences observed across the systems between Michigan and Florida wouldn’t exist in roughly equal measure in the fourth- and eighth-grades. In addition, test results in the fourth and eighth grades indicate much more than just the conditions of education that exist in those two grades alone. Eighth-grade test scores, for instance, partly measure the educational system’s performance for the preceding grades, K-7, and they may be affected by the socioeconomic status of students in the later grades. Thus, data on spending and socioeconomic conditions for the K-12 school systems reflect the conditions experienced by the students who took these tests, even if the spending, teacher compensation or socioeconomic status of the test takers at those two grade levels happen to diverge somewhat from the systems as a whole.

[†] The reader may notice that while Michigan’s annual total per-pupil spending was always higher than Florida’s, Florida’s increased more quickly than Michigan’s from about 2003 to 2008, a period in which Florida’s test scores also rose quickly. Is it possible that these spending increases were primarily responsible for Florida’s rising scores?

This seems unlikely. Many of Florida’s scores began to improve before these larger annual spending increases. In addition, Michigan had similar spending increases from 1996 to 2000, but did not see rapid gains in NAEP scores.

There is a considerable research literature investigating a possible relationship between education spending and student achievement. The overwhelming consensus is that there is little, if any, correlation between the two. Eric Hanushek, “Assessing the Effects of School Resources on Student Performance: An Update,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, vol. 19, no. 2 (1997) http://goo.gl/ cuUEL (accessed June 4, 2013). Moreover, an absence of correlation between spending increases and NAEP scores has been demonstrated using data from 41 states for roughly the period studied here. Hanushek, Peterson, and Woessmann, “Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance,” (Program on Education Policy and Governance; Harvard University and Education Next, 2012), 17-18, http://goo.gl/tw5Wy (accessed March 21, 2013).

[‡] Indeed, in terms of NAEP test gains per additional dollar of operational education spending, Florida led every other state by far from 1990 to 2008. Florida’s gains were second only to Maryland, which increased education spending by much more; in fact, Florida’s operational education spending increases over the period were the lowest in the nation. Hanushek, Peterson, and Woessmann, “Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance,” (Program on Education Policy and Governance; Harvard University and Education Next, 2012), 18, Figure 9, http://goo.gl/tw5Wy (accessed March 21, 2013); Eric Hanushek, email correspondence with education policy director Michael Van Beek, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, April 24, 2013.

It should be noted that in this study by Hanushek, Peterson and Woessmann, the authors state, “Michigan, Indiana, Idaho, North Carolina, Colorado, and Florida made the most achievement gains for every incremental dollar spent over the past two decades.” Hanushek, Peterson, and Woessmann, “Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance,” (Program on Education Policy and Governance; Harvard University and Education Next, 2012), 17, http://goo.gl/tw5Wy (accessed March 21, 2013). Their own data do not seem to support this conclusion for Michigan, Indiana and Idaho, however. Rather, the states with the highest NAEP test score gains per additional dollar of operating expenditures were Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, California and Texas. Michigan’s, Indiana’s and Idaho’s gains per additional dollar were only modestly above the median. Author’s calculations based on Hanushek, email correspondence with Michael Van Beek, April 24, 2013.


[10]“The Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2011 State Snapshot Report: Florida, Grade 8, Public Schools,” (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011), http://goo.gl/CZBAM (accessed April 30, 2013); “The Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2011 State Snapshot Report: Florida, Grade 4, Public Schools,” (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011), http://goo.gl/5i8Zy (accessed April 30, 2013); “The Nation’s Report Card: Mathematics 2011 State Snapshot Report: Florida, Grade 8, Public Schools,” (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011), http://goo.gl/tHrCS accessed April 30, 2013); “The Nation’s Report Card: Mathematics 2011 State Snapshot Report: Florida, Grade 4, Public Schools,” (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011), http://goo.gl/Y5kzM (accessed April 30, 2013).