Despite what Gov. Bush says, education is hurting

The average SAT score achieved by students in Florida is down two points in reading and one point in Math. Florida’s SAT results are among the lowest in the nation, higher only than South Carolina’s and Georgia’s. Florida’s high school students don’t perform well on the ACT, either – they’re tied for 41st place.

Even though public education is the government’s responsibility, lackluster test results are not necessarily a death sentence for government. There are understandable reasons for the change. For instance, 2005 was the first year students taking the SAT had to write something as part of the test. Also, a large increase occurred in the number of students taking the two tests, both of which are used as bases for admission to universities. A record 94,601 high school students in Florida took the SAT. The larger number of participation could mean that students without strong academic performance might be taking the tests and suffering the average.

It would not be an admittance of egregious culpability to merely state these reasons and try to find a way around them, but the government doesn’t do that well. In a response, Gov. Jeb Bush said “Florida’s high school students know that taking rigorous coursework and college entrance exams helps prepare them for the challenges of college and the workforce.”

Everyone loves optimism, but the government of the United States is not in the business of putting happy faces on sad results – they’re in the business of solving problems. It is to deny reality to think that diminished test scores somehow translates to students caring more about school.

In fact, the results imply precisely the opposite. If every state only allowed their best and brightest to take these tests, the results would make students look enthused and motivated. Such results would be a triumph for the public school system as well as any governor in office. But the results would not be representative, since average students would be left out of the data set.

That fantasy is evaporating. More students are taking these tests and the average score is decreasing. It’s a result that’s representative of the poor education most students receive in Florida’s high schools. It shows the school system is deeply flawed.

Bush could have blamed the teacher’s union, which would have been politically unsurprising. He could have blamed the questionable nature of standardized testing, even though that might have caused a little family trouble for him at Christmas.

Anything would have been better than nothing.