Scenes from the Great Education Stagnation

October 2, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, here are 3,000 for you. First American manufacturing does more with fewer people (HT: AEI’s Mark J. Perry):

Okay good- ready for the next one? Heritage chart showing that the American education massively increases employment relative to the student count:


But it’s all fine because the kids are learning so much surrounded by so many adults compared to the past right? Er, no:



The Phantom Poverty Menace?

May 27, 2015

This is my apprentice, Darth Baloney…

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I was intrigued by President Obama’s claim that when one includes transfers that the poverty rate has declined substantially from the 1960s. This would seem to represent a considerable problem for those attempting to waive off the poor performance of American public education based upon a poverty mantra. Spending up and poverty down makes for a tough sell.

Well sure enough, the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a handy-dandy blow-by-blow on how the official poverty rate masks progress on poverty. It has charts like:

Hmm, that looks like 11% when it used to be 22.5% or so. An addition illuminating chart:

If you are squinting at that last one, it basically shows that the inflation adjusted (in constant 2011 dollars) income of the poorest fifth of Americans almost doubled between 1964 and 2011 once various transfers (food stamps, EITC etc.) have been taken into account.

Before you ask, childhood poverty is also down (see Figure 5a on page 23). So basically you have a very hard time blaming increasing poverty for this:



DC District Schools are Improving Fast but not Fast Enough to Catch DC Charters

January 23, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

When the National Center for Education Statistics first released the 2013 NAEP data, the website refused to cooperate with requests to give charter/district comparisons for the District of Columbia.  This is of especially strong interest given that 43% of DC public school children attend charter schools.

Well lo and behold the NAEP website decided to start cooperating, and the data tells a pretty amazing story: district schools are improving over time in DC, but charters show even stronger growth.

NAEP takes new random samples of students in each testing year, but judges performance consistently across time. Making comparisons between district and charter students isn’t easy.  The percentages of students in special programs for children with disabilities and English Language Learners can potentially impact average scores. So for instance if DC charter schools have fewer children with disabilities enrolled, or fewer ELL students, or fewer low-income children enrolled, they could appear to be doing a better job educating students when the truth could be quite different.

Fortunately NAEP allows us to take these factors into account.  The charts below show NAEP data that gets as close to an “apples to apples” comparison as possible, comparing only the scores of Free and Reduced lunch eligible students in the general education program. Two other sources of bias that could be expected to work against charter schools involve new schools and newly transferred students. Organizations tend to not be at their best during their “shakedown cruise” and schools are no exception.  Also students tend to take a temporary academic hit as they adjust to a new school after transferring.  Charter schools tend to have lots of new schools full of kids who just transferred in-providing a double whammy when looking at any snapshot of performance.

Unfortunately, NAEP does not contain any tools for taking the age or the school or length of enrollment into account. Thus DC charter schools are fighting at a bit of disadvantage, and a very substantial funding disadvantage, in the below charts.

DC charter 1

DC charters may be fighting with one hand tied behind their back, but it did not stop them from scoring a knockout on NAEP. DC charters widened their advantage in the percentage of children scoring “Basic or Better” from 4 points in 2011 to 9 points in 2013.

DC charter vs district 8r

DC district students saw a large improvement in 8th grade reading between the 2011 and 2013 NAEP, but still found themselves trailing the achievement of DC charter students by 5%. In 4th Grade math, district students scored a very large gain, but charter students achieved an even larger improvement.

DC charter 3

On 8th grade math, district students demonstrated impressive gains, but DC charter students were 19% more likely to score “Basic or Better.”

DC charter 4

Hopefully the race to excellence will continue and even accelerate. Meep! Meep!

I’ll Have What Florida Charter Schools are Having

November 7, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Florida’s charter schools totally crushed the ball on the 2013 NAEP Reading test- an 11 point gain in 4th grade reading and a 5 point gain in 8th grade reading. As the number of charter schools in the state has gone up, the ability of NAEP to reliably sample them has improved.

Getting about as close to an “apples to apples” as you can get in the NAEP data by comparing only low-income general education students still shows huge gains and a big advantage for Florida charters to Florida district schools.

Florida charter 2013 NAEP


DC, Tennessee and Indiana Crush the Ball on 2013 NAEP

November 7, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The National Center for Education Statistics released the 2013 NAEP this morning for 4th and 8th grade Reading and Math. I will be crunching the numbers for some time to come, but here is a quick look at the net results by state jurisdiction (combined 2013 scores minus combined 2011 scores).

2013 NAEP Gains

Quick takes: DC and TN crushed the ball with gains four times larger than the national average. These look to be truly historic gains with both DC and TN scoring statistically significantly higher in all four tests.

Indiana scores big with gains almost three times the national average. Florida gets back on track with gains more than twice the national average.

More number crunching to follow but a


for top gainers DC, TN and IN is already in order.

Some States are Serious about K-12 Reform, Others Shirley

June 19, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

John Chubb and Constance Clark have a very interesting new study out from Education Sector called The New State Achievement Gap: How NCLB Waivers Could Make it Worse or Better.

Chubb and Clark examine NAEP data and find that states are diverging into leaders and laggards. In the relative blink of an eye between 2003 and 2011 they found the gap between the performance of students in the best and worst performing states grew to 60 percent of the size of the White-Black achievement gap on the combined NAEP exams (4th/8th reading and math).

Note that part of what has happened here is that the White-Black gap shrank a bit. Note however that it is still sickeningly large-keep in mind that 10 points roughly equates to a grade level worth of average progress on NAEP- so 105 points across four tests is quite disgusting. The state achievement gap meanwhile grew steadily.

Chubb and Clark’s paper would have benefitted from examination of the gory details about how some states are playing fast and loose regarding NAEP inclusion standards for special needs and English language learners- especially in the case of Maryland and Kentucky. These details do not however take away the broad point- some states are improving and some are getting left behind.

The study gets even more interesting as the authors compare the NCLB waivers, accountability systems and standards choices of states with strong and weak NAEP gain performances. Included among these is a comparison between Florida and South Carolina. The referee needs to step in and wrap up Maryland before he pummels West Virginia to death. “Self-reflection” for teacher evaluation Mountaineers? Surely you can’t be serious…

In a not-quite-elliptical fashion, Chubb and Clark note a clustering of states with a recent history of weak NAEP gains with unconvincing NCLB waiver promises and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. I’m shocked…

Chubb and Clark have turned in a very interesting piece- go read it.

Read ‘Em and Weep Edureactionaries

November 14, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

There is a great deal of interesting material in the Hanushek, Peterson and Woessmann study on international/American state academic achievement. Below however is the chart from the Ed Next version that I found most interesting:

Focusing on the 4th Grade Mathematics exam between 1992 and 2009, the authors found that increasing spending does not have a strong relationship with improved student learning. Par for the course.

Take a close look at the top of the chart however in terms of the states making large gains and how much additional revenue per pupil they spent to get them.

The states showing the top gains (in order) are Maryland, Florida, Delaware and Massachusetts. MD, FL and DE essentially tie with MA slightly behind.

Notice however that the inflation adjusted spending per pupil increase in Florida between 1992 and 2009 was $1,000. In Delaware it was $3,000. Maryland looks near the midpoint between $4,000 and $5,000 so lets roughly call it $4,500. Massachusetts looks to be $5,000.

So Florida managed first class gains with a much smaller increase in funding. If I were to go and look up the numbers, we would find that Florida’s smaller increase also came from a smaller base- MD, DE and MA were all likely to have been outspending Florida in 1992 and then really outspending them in 2009.

It is also worth noting that Florida faces considerably greater demographic challenges than MD, DE or MA- far more free and reduced lunch eligible children, more ELL kids, and to the extent you want to factor race/ethnicity into the equation it is a far more diverse state with a majority-minority student population.

So conflict-adverse state policymakers with extra billions of dollars burning a hole in their pocket and very wealthy and pale complected students should study MD, DE and MA for clues on how to improve their student outcomes.

If however you live in a state with average or above student diversity, real budgetary constraints on the amount you can spend on K-12 and strong competing demands for any additional revenue you are likely to scrape up, you should study Florida. In fact you should study Florida regardless unless you lack the guts for a good tussel.

P.S. Notice that NY and WY both had gigantic spending increases (an inflation adjusted $6k per student) only to achieve average and below-average gains respectively. At least WY is just wasting money they are pumping out of the ground. NY seems intent to drive their citizens out of state. Taxpayers and especially students are the losers in both cases.


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