REPORT: Florida’s Open Classroom Policy Increased Hispanic Reading Scores

California & New York's Scores Fell Drastically
Photo by Kenny Eliason, Unsplash
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Reading scores among Hispanic students fell drastically over the lockdown period in blue states, like California and New York, which kept students out of classrooms closer to two years (in districts with larger Hispanic populations). Comparatively, reading performance among Hispanic students in states like Florida, which re-opened classrooms much sooner (most after only two weeks) saw marginal gains.

The 2022 NAEP scores indicate that Floridian Hispanic students in fourth-grade rank first in reading nationwide when compared to their peers. New York ranked 46th, while California ranked 32nd.

Fourth-grade reading scores are seen as the primary indicator of reading performance (and instructional quality) for both two core reasons. Research suggests that students unable to read by the end of third grade are more likely to be at a severe long-term academic disadvantage (increasing the likelihood that a student will dropout in high school, for example).

Second, child development research has shown neuroplasticity is greatest before age 10 (with another sharp drop-off at 16, and then at 25).

In 2019, California’s average fourth-grade Hispanic reading score was 207, and Florida’s was 221.

In 2022, California’s average Hispanic reading score had fallen to 202, while Florida’s rose to 222. Over this period, New York fell from 209 to 206.

Teachers, parents, and education reform advocates place the blame of learning loss in reading across all demographics to COVID-19 lockdowns and other restrictions during the 2020-22 academic years.

While Governor DeSantis of Florida kept students in classrooms after a two-week temporary shutdown in early 2020, Governor Newsom of California maintained that California’s schools be closed until at least August of 2021. This policy resulted in sharp enrollment declines in California’s public schools, resulting in protests from local parents in cities like Oakland.

Florida’s public-school enrollment grew by 4% since 2019, gaining a little over 110,000 students. California lost 270,761 public school students. New York’s public-school enrollment fell by 212,489 students.

DeSantis received sharp criticism for opening schools in the fall semester of 2020, and a lawsuit from the Florida Education Association (a branch of the larger National Education Association). Florida’s education commissioner, Richard Corcoran maintained that Florida had a responsibility to “provide all students, especially at-risk students, with a world-class education,” and dismissed the lawsuit as frivolous and a disregarding of children’s health and welfare.

The criticisms of Florida’s open-schools policies have largely ceased in the last year. The Florida Education Association has declined to provide comment to Chalkboard Review on their criticisms, warnings, and lawsuit.

Governor DeSantis’s office provided this statement to Chalkboard Review:

We insisted on keeping schools open and guaranteed in-person learning in 2020 because we knew there would be widespread harm to our students if students were locked out. Today’s results once again prove that we made the right decision,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “We also knew that younger and at-risk students would be the most impacted if schools were closed, and the results speak for themselves. In Florida our 4thgrade students rank #3 in Reading and #4 in Math, achieving top 4 in both English and Math for the first time in state history, while lockdown California and New York aren’t even in the top 30.

Office of Governor DeSantis of Florida, October 24, 2022

Support for Republicans among Hispanic voters in Florida has risen since 2019 as well. While various polls suggest slightly different percentages, it appears that Hispanic Floridians have shifted support towards the GOP by as much as 8-15% in just two years.

Tony Kinnett
Tony Kinnett is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Chalkboard Review. He is an award-winning science teacher, and the former science coordinator and head instructional coach for Indianapolis Public Schools, until he was fired for whistleblowing information concerning the school system's use of racist material. In February, he was appointed the director of the education nonprofit Choice Media, now Chalkboard Media.

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