FL Hispanic Students Attending Charters Do Math like Connecticut, AZ Hispanic Charter Students like Delaware

November 23, 2015


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Hispanic students attending charter schools in Florida and Arizona both scored about a grade level ahead of Hispanic students attending district schools. Figure 1 shows where this lands them in terms of statewide averages for all students. Notice that Hispanic students attending charter schools in Florida are almost a grade level ahead of the statewide average for all students in Florida.

Nationwide all students in public schools scored 281 on 8th grade math in 2015. This means that AZ and FL Hispanic students ended in a statistical dead head with the average.  Hispanic students in charter schools have gained 20 points in Arizona and 19 points in Florida over the 2005 averages. This reflects several things- including a lot of hard work by the students and teachers- but also perhaps maturing charter sectors with startups full of kids just transferring into the startup school impacting scores less than in the past.

Slice and Dice the Data but Arizona Charters Continue to CeleNAEP Good Times

November 16, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I’ve still been digging into the AZ NAEP data. When something seems too good to be true, it is best to assume it isn’t true. I decided to investigate the possibility that something goofy was going on with the free and reduced lunch variable. Not all  Arizona charters choose not to participate in the program, and the eligibility criteria for the program has changed over time.

Parental education may be a good stand-in for what may be a suspect income variable. At the 8th grade level, the NAEP data slicer has an a variable for parental education. The below figure presents the 8th grade math scores for students with college graduate parents. In order to account for possible differences in special program participation, the figure is only for general education students with college graduate parents (the ranking results don’t change much if you look at all students). I will again stress that these comparisons do not substitute for a proper random assignment study-only that they tell us more than an examination of aggregate scores for all students.

NAEP AZ charter 8m parent educ

Watch out New England…Arizona charter schools are coming to get you!

For you incurable skeptics, the below figure presents the same comparison using 8th grade reading, and bear in mind that each NAEP test involves a different sample of students.

NAEP AZ charter 8r parent educ

We can also look at these numbers by race/ethnicity. NAEP provides subset numbers for Anglos and Hispanics attending charter schools in Arizona. Here is the NAEP 8th grade reading test for Hispanic students:

AZ Charter 8r Hispanic

And here it is for Anglo students:

AZ Charter 2015 NAEP 8r Anglo

Okay but what if those Arizona charter schools are chock full of Anglo kids whose parents graduated college? Now the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools reports that Arizona charter schools have a majority-minority student body, so this is not the case- but what if a large portion of the Anglo kids attending charter schools have parents with college degrees? Ok, well, let’s compare Anglo kids whose parents graduated from college:

AZ Charter 2015 NAEP 8r Anglo college

Did I mention the part where Arizona charter schools did this with $8,041 per kid in public funding? Better results at a lower cost is what America is going to need very soon- and well here it is. Massachusetts NAEP scores taste like chicken btw, only gamier, could use a little salt.


The Wild West is Best put your NAEP scores to the Test

November 6, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’m going to use my Professor X powers to read your mind…you are thinking “Alright Ladner enough with the Arizona NAEP scores- won’t you give it a rest?”

No I will not. There’s a party going on right here-it’s a celeNAEPtion and it lasts throughout the year.

I’ve anticipated some of the possible objections to celebrating Arizona NAEP scores. Maybe those dastardly charter schools may have been circumventing their random assignment admission lottery legal requirements to load up on rich white kids! Maybe they don’t have many English Language Learners, special education students, Hispanic students, etc. District schools have to take everyone who can afford to buy a home in their attendance zone so comparisons aren’t fair…

Well some find this a very useful story, but we can actually examine it in the data. Let me note from the outset that variations in student demographics and special program status do exist between schools and school systems, achievement gaps between such student groups are a well-established phenomenon and that some accounting for such differences should be (carefully) made if our goal is to judge the effectiveness of a system. The best way to test this sort of thing is with a well done random-assignment study, but sadly we don’t have one.

I reported earlier that Arizona charter schools essentially tied Massachusetts (the highest scoring state) and the private school national average scores on the NAEP 8th grade reading test in 2015. What happens if we only look at the scores of general education students whose family income make them eligible for a free or reduced lunch? If those dastardly charter schools have been carefully avoiding special needs and ELL students it isn’t going to help them with this comparison.

AZ Charter 8m ranking

Let’s just put it on the table that free and reduced lunch eligible is going to translate to a higher proportion of Hispanic students in Arizona charter schools, but that was not a problem hombre. Do you notice anything similar about all those states (slightly) ahead of Arizona charter schools? Let me give you a hint…

Oh and…

Arizona charter schools rocked the 2015 NAEP so hard that…

November 4, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

,,,they scored the same as the nationwide number for private school students on the NAEP 8th grade math test in 2013 and 2011 (no new private school number in 2015). I’m not sure what to say about this other than:

So while they were at it Arizona Charter Students Rocked the NAEP 8th grade math exam too

October 29, 2015


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

AZ Charter 2015 NAEP 8m

So we may be able to rule out the weird sample theory since NAEP has different random student samples for each test. On 8th grade math AZ charter school students scored in a statistical dead heat with Massachusetts. While there certainly is a self-selection factor in terms of parents applying for charter schools, I can tell you that every way I found to break the above numbers down shows a charter school advantage- charters scored better among low-income kids, and among middle/high income kids. They scored higher among Anglo kids and among Hispanic kids. Because charter school students only make up 17% of the student body, the NAEP data can only go so far in slicing and dicing data.

The point isn’t that self-selection had nothing to do with these results-they obviously did although we have a growing mountain of random assignment data from around the country that shows admission lottery winners outperform lottery losers. The most important points- first tens of thousands of Arizona parents sit on the outside looking in at charter school spots. Second- both district and charter results have improved in Arizona through a very difficult period of funding cuts for both sectors.

Congratulations to all of Arizona’s long suffering educators and leaders. We’re not there yet, but we are on our way.


Quinnipiac Poll Finds that Parental Choice is the most popular element of Andrew Cuomo’s K-12 Agenda

September 22, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Very interesting poll results– the unions seem to have convinced New York that Cuomo is wrong on K-12 reform- except on choice. On charters and tax credits New Yorkers seem to be resisting,

The Age of (Relative) Efficiency and/or Austerity: It’s Already Started

September 16, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The early 1980s punk rock band Fear famously destroyed the set of Saturday Night Live (the gif above is from their SNL performance-SNL’s invitation to Fear to perform and bring some fans having been one of the greatest really terrible decisions of all time). In any case, Fear had a song called Let’s Have a War. Like most punk bands of the era Fear was out to frighten the parents of 15 year olds and draw attention to themselves with outrageous antics. The lyrics of Let’s Have a War (not to be confused with another Fear classic Bomb the Russians) as I recall went something along the lines of:

Let’s Have a War!

Jack up the Dow Jones!

Let’s Have a War!

It can start in New Jersey!

Ok Ladner where are you going with this? Right, so a refrain in the song:

It’s Already Started!

So out here in the Arizona cactus patch, the looming age of (relative) financial austerity and efficiency has already started. The people who work in the school system feel very grouchy about it, but where things stand today is much better than the recent past.


So let’s go back to the world of 1992 Arizona (blue columns). Arizona operated as a high-tax state in those days and the school districts were almost the only game in town (Arizona has always had a low rate of private school attendance).  The state had a majority Anglo K-12 population in those days, but unfortunately those Arizona Anglo students weren’t terribly skilled on average at reading English. Now mind you, they had proficiency rates 2.8 times higher than Arizona’s Hispanic student population at the time, but that provides little comfort.

What does this translate to today, in 2015, now that the class of 2000 have aged into the prime working years of their mid 30s? Let’s just say that many firms find it necessary to recruit nationally when searching for job candidates. No one was hoping for an overall reading proficiency rate in the low 20s in 1992, but we got it anyway.

Now let’s look at the 4th grade reading scores for the Class of 2021 (red columns). While these results leave a great deal to be desired, they are profoundly improved over the 1992 4th grade results. Arizona closed the gap for Anglo students with the national average, but failed to do so with Hispanic students.

Hispanics now constitute a plurality of Arizona K-12 students. A 17% reading proficiency rate constitutes a looming catastrophe for the Arizona of 2030 and beyond. Thus while we should recognize the fact that Arizona’s academic outcomes have improved greatly, we should also recognize that the state has a desperate need for still greater gains. Note however that all of those nasty policies that Diane Ravitch hates: standardized testing, charter schools, private school choice, etc. all started phasing in around 1994 in Arizona, and that the 2013 NAEP had the highest average scores in state history despite funding cuts and a large transition in student demographics. This does not constitute final glorious victory, but certainly progress.

Arizona is a relatively poor state with an unusually small working age population (lots of old retirees and young kids). Rapidly growing states tend to rank towards the bottom of state rankings of per pupil funding, and will do all the more so if lots of the state has either retired or is still in school. Arizona does have a large number of wealthy retirees, but let’s just say that many of them have other residences in addition to their get out of the cold spot, and this means they have the opportunity to avoid paying Arizona income tax.

The Great Recession was an elbow in the face to Arizona’s housing dependent economy followed by a swift kick to the head. (To you non-Gen X readers this is mosh-pit imagery consistent with the punk rock theme of this blog post). Once the federal stimulus money ran out real declines in per-pupil spending commenced. This document from JLBC shows that the inflation adjusted spending per pupil in the Arizona public school system dropped from $9,438 in 2007 to $7828 in 2014. 

Outrageous! Horrible! Get a rope!

Slow down on the lynch mob. The 2007 number basically represented the height of the property bubble and all of the funny money that it brought flowing into state coffers. Arizona had spent far less than that per pupil in the past, and the height of a bubble does not make for a good mental entitlement point. When the state had money, it increased K-12 spending. There has been joy before, there may be joy again, but the state can’t spend money it doesn’t have.

Of course we could raise taxes. This however is governed by a little thing called democracy. We had a governor’s election in 2014. One candidate promised to balance the state’s spending and revenues without raising taxes. The other claimed that he would not raise taxes but also campaigned on increasing K-12 spending. Arizona elected candidate A (Doug Ducey) by an overwhelming margin. A few years earlier, the school district industrial lobbying complex put a painfully convoluted ballot proposition to increase taxes for education spending on the ballot. The public rejected it by a huge margin. We have regular elections for state legislature. The voters have continued to elect a pretty conservative bunch and well, they had other options available to them.

Arizona voters did endorse a sales tax increase almost a decade and a half ago to increase the state’s base funding amount to inflation. The interpretation of this provision is currently a matter of legal dispute between the legislature and the industrial complex, but the resolution seems unlikely to result in a game changing amount of funding regardless of the outcome. Arizona doesn’t have a game changing amount of money to give to schools within the tax structure that voters have both explicitly and implicitly endorsed.

More importantly, Arizona’s 2013 NAEP scores were not only higher than 1992- they were higher than 2007. Between 2007 and 2013 Arizona NAEP trends: 8 point gain in 4th grade math, four point gain in 8th grade math, three-point gain in 4th grade reading, five point gain in 8th grade reading.  The proper term to describe an increase in outputs with decreased inputs: efficiency gain.

The folks working in the schools feel very grouchy. Unlike the risible bellyaching before the onset of the Great Recession (when spending increased and everyone had enrollment growth) they have a much more serious case to make in the current context. Running a school district in Arizona right about now is not an easy task- your per pupil funding has declined and your student count is more likely than not to be dropping. Tough decisions lie ahead on a worryingly large number of half-empty district facilities. You are having a tough time finding teachers as your Baby Boomers retire.

It’s already started in Arizona. Currently we are in year 5 of what you can either view as an age of austerity, or an era of improving efficiency depending on whether you view matters through a provider or a taxpayer lens. The Census Bureau projects large increases in Arizona’s youth and elderly populations over the next 15 years.

It’s not likely to get any easier. Arizona’s need for more effective and cost effective education delivery will continue to grow over time regardless of how much we choose to lament the need for change.





Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,976 other followers