2011 NAEP Guide Where to Avoid Being Reincarnated as a Student with a Disability

November 2, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’m back from SLC, where I had the honor of serving as the opening act to Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. Getting back to the mad science of exploring the 2011 NAEP, and keeping with a sudden OCD fear that I have developed over the possibility of being reincarnated, I present to you the states you want to avoid and those you want to pray to be born into in the next go-around if you happen to be born as a child with a learning disability, and you would like to learn how to read by the 4th grade.

So, whatever you do, try to load the dice to stay out of Washington DC, Hawaii, South Carolina, Alaska and Arizona if you think you might be coming back as a child with a disability.

Conversely, you’ve hit the relative jackpot if you land in Maryland, Massachusetts, Kentucky,New Jersey or Florida.

Seriously DC? 153?!? A mere 60+ point difference between next door neighbor Maryland?

My Cosmic Awareness/Spidey Sense just told me that you were just thinking “yeah, but hey no fair, because Maryland is far wealthier than DC.”

Except, well, it doesn’t really matter so much in terms of the gap. Below you will see a chart for Free and Reduced Lunch Eligible students with disabilities. The top 5 get shuffled a bit, but there is still an appalling gap between DC and the top performing states.

So as you make your reincarnation plans, just remember to stay away from DC, whereas if you have the misfortune of being born with a disability the chances of being academically warehoused seem to approach a near certainty.

Sadly, DC has plenty of company at the bottom.

Make Sure Not to Be Born in Michigan when Poor and Black

November 1, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

If you want to learn how to read anyway, you need to stay away from Michigan, that is to say Detroit, if you are concerned about being born a poor Black child in the next life. The 2011 NAEP says to stay away from Iowa, Maine and DC for good measure.

On the other end of the scale: MA, NJ, DE, MD and FL are looking relatively good. Low-income Black children in Massachusetts reads a mere 2.5 grade levels ahead of their peers in Michigan on a 4th grade test.

Must run to the airport now. More later…

The 2011 NAEP Guide Where Not to be Reincarnated as a Poor Child

November 1, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The chart on the right presents scores for Free and Reduced Lunch Eligible students on the 2011 NAEP 4th grade reading test. Memo to self: remember not to come back as a poor kid in Alaska or DC in the next life. Ten points roughly equals a grade level worth of progress. Low-income kids in Alaska and DC are reading almost as poorly as 1st graders in Massachusetts, which is to say, not much all.

Florida hit a wall in terms of improvement (more on that later), DC saw nice math gains but not much progress in reading, Arizona finally started to move the needle a bit, and it is not entirely isolated to Hispanic children.

The 2009-2011 scores are pretty “meh” so far, and this biggest story I am finding is something big and positive going on with Maryland’s reading scores: 8 point gain for FRL kids between 2009 and 2011, and a nothing to sneeze at five point gain among middle and high income students.

More to come…

In Defense of “Achievement Gap Mania”

October 19, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So the early appearance of the 2011 NAEP has given me reason to update a project, leaving me with some interesting charts to burn off. The above chart measures the national White-Black achievement gap for all four of the main NAEP exams for the 2003-2009 period. Mind you, that on these exams, 10 points is approximately equal to a year worth of average academic progress. These are White scores minus Black scores, with the 2003 gaps in Blue and the 2009 gaps in Red.

In Jay’s post below, you can watch a Fordham discussion that includes debate over whether we have fallen into the grip of “achievement gap mania.” If so, we have precious little to show for it. We did have some narrowing of the achievement gap between 2003 and 2009, but at two and a half plus grade level gaps in all four subjects. Start your low-calorie, carrot juice diet and mark your calendar for 2075 or so, assuming that we can maintain today’s glacial pace of closing.

The news is approximately as dismal on the White-Hispanic front:

While I do sympathize with the argument that we need to get everyone to understand their stake in education reform, I must say that there is a reason why people are passionate about achievement gaps. The term “disgraceful” does not begin to describe the catastrophic failure represented in the charts above. Black and Hispanic children score little better than what the average 1st to 2nd grade Anglo student would score on a 4th grade reading test. It’s only the developmentally critical literacy acquisition window after all.

The focus on the achievement gap is important because it cuts to the heart of American ideals. We believe in equality of opportunity. We believe in meritocracy. We believe in class mobility and self-determination. Call it the triumph of hope over experience if you wish, but we believe that public education can help achieve all of this and we refuse to give up on the notion.

The terrible truth of course is that our public education system is pervasively classist to an extent that goes far deeper than the naive equity funding attorneys ever seemed to grasp. If we auctioned the limited supply of high quality public school seats on Ebay rather than covertly through mortgages, perhaps all of this would more transparent. If we could tag our highly effective instructors, we could watch a time-lapse film of them fleeing dysfunctional school systems for the leafy suburbs and/or leaving the profession entirely. Increased resources could in theory ameliorate these problems, but strangely enough they didn’t.

Why? Paul Hill said it best:

Money is used so loosely in public education—in ways that few understand and that lack plausible connections to student learning—that no one can
say how much money, if used optimally, would be enough. Accounting systems make it impossible to track how much is spent on a particular
child or school, and hide the costs of programs and teacher contracts.  Districts can’t choose the most cost-effective programs because they
lack evidence on costs and results. 

The sad thing is, some are so desperate to maintain the above paragraph that they are willing to ignore the consequences, including the two charts above. They comfort themselves with excuses. Blah blah poverty yadda yadda video games. Whatever. I’m not saying that achievement gaps are the sole responsibility of schools, or that we will live to see them completely closed. I agree with Rick Hess that there are serious shortcomings to a reform strategy solely based on gaps.

We can however do a hell of alot better than this. We focus on achievement gaps not because it is expedient, but because it is necessary.

Reporting on the Global Report Card

October 3, 2011

Coverage of the new Global Report Card (GRC) that Josh McGee and I developed is gaining steam.  The GRC allows users to compare student achievement in virtually every one of the nearly 14,000 school districts in the United States against the achievement in a set of 25 developed countries.

There are an endless number of interesting stories that could be told with this information, but the one that really stood out to us is that achievement in many of our affluent suburban public school districts barely keeps pace with that of the average student in a developed country.  People who flee from urban education ills thinking that their children will get a top world-class education in the suburbs may be disappointed.  The suburban education is usually better than in the city, but it would may not be preparing students to compete for top paying jobs in an a globalized jobs market.

Here is a current list of coverage:

Global Report Card Results and Article

Education Next

Global Report Card Web Site

Methodological Appendix


Sacramento Bee

Hartford Courant

The Oklahoman

Austin American Statesman

Atlanta Journal Constitution


Wall Street Journal (video)

Education Next (video)

Education Next (podcast)

Dallas Morning News (Q&A)

Choice Media.TV (video)


Dallas Morning News (subscription required, although a version can be read here)

Arkansas Democrat Gazette (subscription required)

Roll Call (article by Morton Kondracke)

Education Week

Yahoo News

Atlanta Journal Constitution

Time Magazine


Richmond Times-Dispatch

United Press International

East Valley Tribune (Arizona)

TC Palm

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

St. Pete Times

Maryland Gazette

Hawaii Reporter

Delaware News-Journal

Kansas Reporter

School Library Journal

My Fox DFW

Dallas Observer

Market Watch


Education Next


Joanne Jacobs

Mackinac Center

Illinois Rising

Ed is Watching 

Gotham Schools

Fordham’s Education Gadfly


Bacon’s Rebellion

The Locker Room

The Western Wrangler

Choice Remarks

TPE Post

Missouri Education Watchdog

Whiteboard Advisors

Jorge Werthein

The Caisson

School House Wonk

School Finance 101


The last blog post contained some criticisms about whether the assumptions for the analysis were reasonable.  Josh McGee replied in the comment section of that post.  And NCES Commissioner, Jack Buckley, told Education Week that “The methodology in this report is highly questionable.”  This assessment is a little strange because what we did was similar to what the U.S. Department of Education has done in several past reports linking international test results to state NAEP results.  (See for example this.)  We just bring the results down to the district level.  If ours is highly questionable, then the U.S. Department of Education’s own efforts must also be questionable.

(UPDATED 12-19-11)

Are Chinese Moms Superior?

January 11, 2011

I have no idea.

But, in a piece in the Wall Street Journal, Yale Law professor and author of a new book on the subject, Amy Chua, extols the virtues of Chinese parenting styles over Western ones.  I thought she was describing Jewish mothers, but apparently the Chinese are Jews… or Jews aren’t Western… or something.

And in the wonderful age of auto-animation, someone has already critiqued Chua’s piece with this video:


And here is the comedian, Louis C.K., making an argument similar to Amy Chua’s about effective parenting.  Wait a minute.  How can he do that?  Doesn’t he know that he isn’t Chinese?

PJM on Racial Excuses

February 1, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Over the weekend, Pajamas Media carried my column on the latest developments in educational racial excusemaking:

The [Berkeley high] school’s governance council thinks that science labs benefit white and Asian students to the detriment of blacks and Hispanics, whom the council apparently views as not capable of learning science…

“When broken down in racial terms,” says the local superintendent, “African American and Latino students are not scoring as well as their peers.” Well, I guess that’s that, then! If some student groups are scoring poorly in science, obviously the only possible way to deal with that problem is to shut down the science labs! Then they won’t score poorly in science anymore!

“The majority of students of color don’t really go” because the labs take place outside normal school hours, says one student by way of defending the decision. Well then, obviously the most equitable and fair solution is to close the labs — then everybody won’t go!…

The best comment comes from Berkeley junior Kacey Holt. He has a message for those students who “are not scoring as well as their peers” in science and “don’t really go” to the science labs: “I think they need to talk with their teachers and get more tutoring, afterschool programs, and basically show up for class,” says Kacey.

Kacey Holt for Berkley Unified superintendent! Campaign slogan: “Basically, Show Up for Class.”

The column puts this in the context of the larger fight over racial excusemaking in education, and also of the behind-the-scenes power struggles that often drive these outwardly ideological battles.

Michael Oher Drafted by the Ravens

April 26, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Michael Lewis is busy typing a new afterword for The Blind Side as we speak, as Michael Oher was selected with the 21st pick in the NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Congrats to Michael and his heroic family.

One of the earliest posts I wrote here on JPGB was about Michael. As we celebrate Oher’s incredible good fortune at overcoming incredible odds to get where he is today, I cannot help but to recall Lewis’ chilling words from the book:

Michael Oher was in possession of what had to be among the more conspicuous athletic gifts…and yet, without outside intervention even his talent would likely have been thrown away…If Michael Oher’s talent could be missed, whose couldn’t? Those poor black kids [in the inner-city] were like left tackles: people whose values were hidden in plain sight…Pity the kid inside Hurt Village [in Memphis] who was born to play the piano, or manage people, or trade bonds.

Think of this quote the next time someone urges you to be “patient” when it comes to education reform.  A mind is indeed a terrible thing to waste, or to never develop.

James Tooley to Unveil Book at Cato

April 8, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Next Wednesday at noon, James Tooley will be at Cato’s DC headquarters to launch his book The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey into how the World’s Poorest People Are Educating Themselves.

I’ve previously written on Tooley and coauthor Pauline Dixon’s amazing research on high-quality and low-cost private schools in the third world. It is really, really an amazing eye opener. Private schooling is pervasive in low-income areas of very poor third world countries, and Tooley and Dixon document that they outscore students at much better funded public schools.

Do yourself a favor and attend if you can.

Simpson’s Paradox — D’oh!

January 12, 2009

When it is pointed out that NAEP scores for 17 year-olds or graduation rates have remained flat for roughly three decades despite a doubling in per pupil spending (adjusted for inflation), I always brace myself for the Simpson’s Paradox response.  I particularly brace for it because its most active (and grating) purveyor is Gerald Bracey — D’oh! 

As Bracey explains it, “Simpson’s Paradox occurs whenever the whole group shows one pattern but subgroups show a different pattern. ”  Test scores may rise over time for every ethnic/racial subgroup but the overall average may still decline or remain flat.  “The explanation lies,” Bracey argues, “in the changing makeup of the test taking groups. At Time 1, only 20% of the test takers were minorities. At Time 2, they make up 40% of the group. Their scores are improving, but they are still lower than whites’ so as they become a larger and larger proportion of the total sample of test takers, their improving-but-lower test scores attenuate the overall average or, in this case, actually cause it to fall.”

On the surface this story sounds very appealing.  Even sensible-sounding people like JPGB commentator, Parry, repeat the argument.  But on closer examination, Simpson’s Paradox does not explain away the frustrating lack of education productivity over the last few decades.

If we want to know whether we are receiving returns on our enormous additional investment in education, we want to see progress in the overall picture.  It would provide us with little comfort to see that our investments benefited some students but did not produce an aggregate gain — unless holding steady was actually a victory in the face of significantly more difficult to educate students.

And that is the unstated argument behind the use of Simpson’s Paradox to explain the lack of educational progress: minority students are more difficult to educate and we have more of them, so holding steady is really a gain.

The problem with this is that it only considers one dimension by which students may be more or less difficult to educate — race.  And it assumes that race has the same educational implications over time.  Unless one believes that minority students are more challenging because they are genetically different, which I do not imagine Bracey or Parry believe, we have to think about race/ethnicity differently over time as the host of social and economic factors that race represents changes.  Being African-American in 1975 is very different from being African-American in 2008.  (Was a black president even imaginable back then?)  So, the challenges associated with educating minority students three decades ago were almost certainly different from the challenges today.

If we want to see whether students are more difficult to educate over time, we’d have to consider more than just how many minority students we have.  We’d have to consider a large set of social and economic variables, many of which are associated with race.  Greg Forster and I did this in a report for the Manhattan Institute in which we tracked changes in 16 variables that are generally held to be related to the challenges that students bring to school.  We found that 10 of those 16 factors have improved, so that we would expect students generally to be less difficult to educate.  For example, we observed that students are significantly more likely to attend pre-school and come to the K-12 system with greater academic preparation.  Expansions in higher educational opportunities have significantly improved the average level of parental education, which should contribute to student readiness for K-12.  Median family incomes (adjusted for inflation) have improved and a smaller percentage of children live in poverty.  Children are more likely to come to school with better health and there are fewer teen moms. 

Yes, some factos have made things more difficult.  There are more students from homes in which English is not the first language and more children in single-parent households.

And yes, there are more minority students, but those minority students have better incomes, better educated parents, more pre-school, and lower rates of crime in their communities.  Unless one wants to make a genetic argument, it is obviously misleading to say that students in general are more difficult to educate because there are more minority students.

But that is exactly what the purveyors of Simpson’s Paradox are doing.  They focus only on race and act as if it were an immutable influence on academic performance.  Many things have changed over the last few decades and most of them tend to make students better prepared for K-12 school.  Even if you are not completely persuaded by the report that Greg and I produced (and we make no claim to having a definitive analysis), it would be very difficult to suggest that students have become twice as difficult to educate to completely off-set the doubling in resources we have devoted to their education.  Any reasonable examination of the evidence suggests that we have suffered from a serious decline in educational productivity, where we buy significantly less achievement for each additional dollar spent.


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