The state has established new standards that emphasize traditional learning in schools.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s antiwoke education agenda has drawn national attention, but equally important and far less noticed is how Mr. DeSantis advanced new educational standards. A pedagogical revolution is afoot in the Sunshine State, which could serve as a blueprint for states across the country.
Florida’s education reformers understand that antiwoke rhetoric alone is insufficient. A vision for education excellence must displace underperforming K-12 institutions. Florida has passed universal education savings accounts, which give families access to public per pupil funds for tuition to private or classical schools, school supplies and home-schooling aid.
So far, Florida has introduced new standards in English, language arts, math, social studies, civics and health education. The English standards, for instance, are knowledge-based, rather than skills-based. They center on the great books of Western civilization to impart contextual literacy rather than abstract, content-free reading strategies. This change will have positive effects in teacher training: If familiarity with the Western canon becomes a prerequisite for teaching, education schools will have to emphasize traditional learning.
The Florida Education Association, the state’s biggest union, opposes the new standards for not teaching students “uncomfortable truths” about racism. Anticipating the push-back, Mr. DeSantis sought to gain teachers’ confidence in his reforms by distinguishing between them and their union. His administration has fully implemented paycheck protection, requiring written consent from employees before union dues are deducted from their paychecks, and he has granted teachers unprecedented pay increases—salaries statewide now average about $50,000—to win support. Only 22 of the 67 countywide teacher unions won the 60% approval necessary to gain federal certification in 2023. The number of teacher-union members in Florida decreased by at least 4,500 through 2020-21, the fourth-highest loss in the nation.
Florida has used its new standards—and its size—as leverage to get revisions from textbook and curriculum publishers and has negotiated similar changes to College Board tests. Committees in the Florida Department of Education approve only material that aligns with new state standards. Initially, roughly 19% of the social-studies textbooks were approved, but after Florida’s Education Commissioner Manny Díaz Jr. worked with publishers, many edited their texts to meet state standards. Eventually 66 of 101 textbooks were approved. The Department also reviewed math textbooks, rejecting 41% of those used in public schools for noncompliance with Florida’s standards.
Other states should join Florida in reforming their education systems. Arkansas and Georgia have adopted similar standards. A multi-state organization could evaluate textbooks by the same benchmarks. That might yield a coalition of states more committed to learning and patriotism than to woke education that corrupts our children.
Mr. Yenor is director of state coalitions at the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life. Ms. Miller is director of the Center for American Education at Idaho Freedom Foundation. They are authors of a report on Florida’s K-12 system.
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Appeared in the August 17, 2023, print edition as ‘Florida’s Education Triumph’.