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February 19, 2015

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(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So we’ve had a little drama out here in the cactus patch.

Arizona has a State Board of Education appointed by the Governor and a Superintendent of Public Instruction elected by the voters. Per the Arizona Constitution, the Superintendent is a member of the Board. The previous Governor appointed all of the current members of the board. The board has a small staff, and we are five or so weeks into the terms of the new Governor (Ducey) and Superintendent (Douglas).  Some of the current members of the Board participated in the decision for Arizona to join Common Core. Governor Ducey campaigned on replacing Common Core while keeping high standards. Opposition to the Common Core served as the animating issue of the Douglas campaign.

A few days ago one of Douglas’ subordinates appeared before the two top staffers of the State Board of Education, announced that they were fired, and had an officer escort them out of the Department of Education building (the Arizona Board’s meeting room and staff inhabits the Department of Education building). The Board chair immediately stated that the Superintendent lacked the legal authority to take this action.

Governor Ducey’s team studied the matter over night and in the morning sided with the Board. As it happens, there is a directly on point advisory opinion from the Arizona Attorney General on the subject from 1985. The underlying statutes are clearly murky. Officials routinely follow Attorney General opinions in preference to having office holders sue each other- a sort of intergovernmental arbitration but formally lacking the force of law or a court decision. It would likely take an incredibly erroneous advisory opinion to have a court reach a different conclusion quite frankly because courts are busy with real cases and aren’t likely to want to jump into the quagmire of endless minor disputes. Advisory opinions are the fast solution to this with strong incentives for officeholders to abide by them.

This AG opinion examined the relevant statutes and clearly sides with the Board on the question of who has the authority to hire and fire board staff.

So why are you reading this tedious story? For the fun part, the epic press release from the Superintendent. Her reading of the relevant statutes is very different than the advisory opinion. The press release accuses Governor Ducey of seeking to short change schools “to give his corporate cronies tax cuts.” This is a reference to an ongoing lawsuit by public schools against the state, but that lawsuit is currently in settlement talks, the state is broke, and only modest tax changes have been placed on the agenda this year.

A little further down she states that “Clearly he has established a shadow faction of charter school operators and former state Superintendents who support Common Core and moving funds from traditional public schools to charter schools.” This is an overt reference to my Ducey transition K-12 co-chairs (one works for a prominent charter school outfit and the other is a former Superintendent of Public Instruction who supports Commn Core) and well, anyone who wants to know what any of us think about K-12 policy can either ask us, or gather intelligence through “google.” I mean I guess there is some way to be more transparent on the subject than writing columns, studies, blog posts, books and giving public talks, but I just don’t know what it is yet.

No, no, NO! #shadowFACTION! Not you!

Common Core as a plot to drive more students to charter schools is an innovative theory, but one that fails to withstand a moment of scrutiny. Charter schools are subject to exactly the same testing requirements as district schools. Unless the charter school folks have somehow stolen the answer key this seems fanciful. Did I mention that Governor Ducey does not support Common Core? Yes, that again.

Anyhoo, later down the press release makes a rather strident complaint about the need for lay-persons and African Americans on the board. This is odd in that Governor Ducey has yet to make any appointments to the Board and has been in office for all of five weeks and has pressing matters like a very large budget deficit and other issues with which to contend.

Just to be clear I personally am comfortable with the position Governor Ducey articulated in the campaign on state standards-high but not common.  Arizona has had them in the past but lacked the fortitude to keep them. The state will have academic standards for district and charter schools for the foreseeable future, and Arizona’s old system jumped the shark many years ago. Having said that, the state is scheduled to give a test in a little over two months and has yet to do little things like set the cut scores, a task for (you guessed it) the Board, who could use, well, a staff.

40% of Arizona 4th graders can’t read and less than 19% of the graduating AZ public school Class of 2006 received a BA degree in six years. Listen closely and you just might hear the soft melodies of a violin rising above the crackle of the flames. I’ll be over here in the corner drinking coffee if anyone feels like moving on to a serious conversation on AZ K-12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


New Report-Turn and Face the Strain

February 4, 2015

Turn and Face the Strain

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Excel in Ed and the Friedman Foundation have co-released a study on state age demographics authored by yours truly.  The title reflects a couple of different things. First, I dig me some Bowie. Second, people are generally aware of the looming crisis in age demography we face, but they primarily have it framed as a federal issue. With 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age every day between now and 2030 (when they all reach retirement age) this certainly does represent a federal issue- trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities in Social Security and Medicare, etc. The federal issue is not the only issue…

State policymakers must turn and face the strain that changing age demography will have on state government in the form of Medicaid, public pensions, a drag on economic growth and in many states an increasing K-12 population. Spoiler alert but all states have it bad with some states having it far worse than others.

The Baby Boom generation has already started retiring, and will be sending their grandchildren off to school. The United States Census Bureau projects the percentage of working age people to shrink in every state, meaning fewer people in the prime earning (and thus taxpaying) years to support a growing number of seniors and youth.  All states will be getting older, with only a handful of states projected to have a smaller elderly population than 2010 Florida by 2030. Many states also face large projected youth population increases.  With Medicaid currently constituting 23 percent of the average state budget and education approximately half, a fierce battle between the need for health and education spending looms with fewer working age people to foot the bill.

A great many of the working age population of 2030 btw sit in American classrooms right now. According to NAEP around a third of them can read proficiently. While a broad and difficult rethinking of the provision of vital public services will prove necessary including especially subjects such as health, pensions, immigration-the most urgent need is to improve both the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the K-12 system.

Most of the K-12 debate ultimately boils down to whether or not to change the status-quo. The status quo however is going to change us whether we like it or not.

More over on the EdFly blog, let me know what you think.


Report Card on American Education Released Today

October 29, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The 19th Edition of ALEC’s Report Card on American Education: Ranking State Performance, Progress and Reform coauthored by yours truly and Dave Myslinski hit the presses today. Lots of good stuff in this year’s model, including an update of state rankings, a review of the first decade of universal NAEP participation, and a chapter focused on comparing the results of large urban districts.

So going up to the 30,000 level and back down, international results show that the United States is world-class in spending per pupil, not so much in learning per pupil, and that our results for Black and Hispanic students are closer to those of Mexico than of South Korea, despite the fact that Mexico has a far larger poverty problem and spends a small fraction of American spending.

The United States is making progress, but only an average amount of progress so we aren’t going to be catching up  much at the current pace. When you break down American results by state, you find that some states are pushing the national average cart, while others are riding in the cart. Which ones? Glad you asked:

4 NAEP exams

 

So the states in blue have made statistically significant gains in all four regular NAEP tests (4th and 8th grade reading and math) between 2003 and 2013.  Of the 21 states pulling that feat off, 14 are located in either the West or the South. The Midwest excepting MN, Great Plains, Mid-Atlantic, New York and Texas didn’t carry their weight on improvement (to varying degrees in general math gains were easier to come by than reading, 4th grade improvement easier than 8th grade) during this period. Michigan was the only state to make no significant progress on any of the four regular NAEP exams, a trend I hope they will reverse soon. All other states made progress on one or more of the exams. Note also that this map only shows improvement, few if any of the darkened states have internationally competitive scores, and the few that do tend to hold the good end of the stick on various achievement gaps.

So on the one hand, American education outcomes have never been higher than the 2013 NAEP.  On the other hand, no one yet has any cause for celebration. When we have any states that approach a Asian/European level of bang for the buck in learning outcomes, we’ll let you know about it, but thus far, not so much.

In Chapter 4 of the Report Card we take a close look at the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) NAEP and apply the same “general education low-income” student comparison that we use in the states to improve comparability. Low-income general ed kids were seven times more likely to reach the Proficient level of 4th grade reading in Miami (the top performing district) as in Detroit (the lowest performing). Mind you have only a little better shot at 1 in 3 of scoring Proficient in Miami, so there are many miles to go. Looking at both 4th and 8th grade reading, Miami, New York City, Hillsborough County FL (Tampa) and Boston cluster near the top of the ratings. The District of Columbia does not (yet) rate near the top of the ratings, but their progress over time on NAEP is nothing short of remarkable since the mid 1990s. A large percentage of District students attend charter schools these days, and those charter schools show not only higher scores but also faster improvement than district schools, which are themselves improving.

In any case, slide on down to the following link if you want to see how your state is doing.

Indiana State page

 

 

 

 


Hot Off the Press — New Report on ESAs

September 27, 2012

Our very own Matt Ladner has a new report out with the Friedman Foundation on Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).  Here’s the summary:

Education savings accounts are the way of the future. Under such accounts—managed by parents with state supervision to ensure accountability—parents can use their children’s education funding to choose among public and private schools, online education programs, certified private tutors, community colleges, and even universities. Education savings accounts bring Milton Friedman’s original school voucher idea into the 21st century.

Arizona lawmakers were the first to create such a program, called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). Through that program, the state of Arizona deposits 90 percent of the funds for a participating child into an account, which can cover multiple educational services through use-restricted debit cards. Parents can choose to use all of their funds on a single method—like private school tuition—or they can employ a customized strategy using multiple methods (e.g., online programs and community college classes). Critically, parents can save some of the money for future higher education expenses through a 529 college savings program. That feature creates an incentive for parents to judge all K-12 service providers not only on quality but also on cost.

A fully realized system of ESAs would create powerful incentives for innovation in schooling practices seeking better outcomes for lower costs. Also, the broader use of funds may help to immunize choice programs against court challenges in some states. Policymakers must fashion their system of accounts to provide reasonable state oversight, fraud prevention, academic transparency, and equity.

If Milton Friedman were alive today, he likely would agree that education savings accounts represent a critical refinement of his school voucher concept. Existing voucher programs create healthy competition between public and private schools, but ESAs can create a much deeper level of systemic improvement. ESAs would allow parents to build a customized education to match the individual needs of every child, thus transforming education for the better.


The One You Want to Attend

June 6, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

A former Al award nominee once sagely informed us:

So here it is-the After Party. I have continued to receive congratulations from JPGB readers all week on my humbling (Get a Life)time Achievement Award from the NEPC. Reactions include:

This is just awesome!! I’m so impressed!!!

Congratulations Matt!

Such an honor!

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I couldn’t be more proud to know you!

I am so damn jealous – apparently we’ve all got to up our game to keep up with you!

The awards video is creepy. what a weird thing for them to do. congrats!

I have not been this vicariously proud since…..

Matt can die happy, knowing that he can never top this!!!

Our boy’s all growns up.

WELL DONE!

I think you are far from being able to ‘die happy’ as you said on Jay Greene’s blog as there are other awards to be earned. I’ve heard that you are in the running to be named in the Journal of Medicine as the leading cause of high blood pressure among NEA officials. Keep at it my friend…I know you can win this one.

Grand Prize Winner:

This is the equivalent of receiving the Bradley prize..just without the money.

Now this is a very perceptive comment indeed. The NEPC (Get a Life)time Achievement Award is in fact so profoundly opposite from the Bradley Prize in every way, so much so that they become strangely similar.

It goes without saying that we in the reformer tribe hold a deeply skeptical view of the policy preferences of teacher union leaders, but now comes word that their credibility has waned even among public school teachers and of course actions speak louder than words. This party just keeps getting better-when does Snoop Dog go on?


Ladner Celebrates Lifetime Achievement Award!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

May 31, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I feared that my career had peaked upon receiving a Bunkum Award from the NEA’s rent-a-reactionary academic shop, but today I learned that I can now die happy as the first recipient of a Lifetime Bunkum Award. The prestigious award reads as follows:

 NEPC has never bestowed an individual with a Bunkum Award. But we’ve never before had someone campaign for one, and we’ve never before found someone with an individual record of Bunkum-worthy accomplishments that cries out for recognition. This year, however, we are honoring Matthew Ladner, an advisor to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s advocacy organization, the “Foundation for Excellence in Education.”Dr. Ladner’s body of Bunk-work is focused on his shameless hawking of what he and the Governor call the “Florida Formula” for educational success.  As our reviews have explained, they’d be less deceptive if they were selling prime Florida swampland. One cannot, however, deny Dr. Ladner’s salesmanship: gullible lawmakers throughout the nation have been pulling out their wallets and buying into his evidence-less pitch for flunking of low-scoring third graders and other policies likely to harm many more students than they help.  See here and here for more analysis of Dr. Ladner’s body of bunk and its unfortunate reach.Our judges were particularly impressed recently, when Ladner attributed Florida’s “hitting the wall” drop in NAEP scores to a collapse in the housing bubble and other “impossible to say” factors. Bunkums have been awarded for far less impressive an accomplishment than this sort of “heads I win, tails you lose” use of evidence. So Matt Ladner – this Bunkum’s for you.You can watch NEPC’s award ceremony youtube here:

My reaction:

Honestly I can’t take credit for this great honor. It was Governor Bush and his team of fearless reformers who ignored the wailing howls of K-12 reactionaries and forced through a set of reforms that improved Florida education steadily over time. It is they who deserve credit for moving Florida from one of the worst performing states by ignoring the “expertise” of NEPC’s ideological tribe and drove their low-income literacy scores above statewide averages for all students.

My role in all of this has simply been to help document the progress, all of which happened over the howling objections of NEPC’s soul mates. NEPC has mounted a series of feeble attempts to muddy the water. Their first effort completely ignored a peer-reviewed article in the nation’s most influential education policy journal that fell directly on point to concerns raised in the article. Oh and it also contained an appendix that refuted its own central thesis. Undeterred, the next effort a “review” of a Powerpoint presentation that the critic didn’t see. All of this climaxed with sending out one of their scholars to claim that Harry Potter books may have caused the improvement in Florida reading scores. This is, you see, because Harry Potter books are seldom read outside of Florida, and no, I am not making this up. An audience of hundreds witnessed it with their own eyes.

I am thrilled to receive this Lifetime Achievement award. Reformers around the country have begun the process of making K-12 policy based upon things other than the political preferences of the special interests organized around the K-12 status-quo. If this grand undertaking were a play, I would have but a small role in it-this is far, far, far bigger than me and bigger than Florida. Notice for instance that both the Progressive Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress earned NEPC Bunkum Awards this year (congratulations!) which is a probable sign that those groups are doing good work and a certain sign of the political and intellectual isolation of the teacher union left.

I want to thank my family, my teachers and professors, my mentors and all the other people who helped me to win this unique and prestigious award. You know who you are and you hold my deepest appreciation. I want to thank those who fought so hard to produce the gains which NEPC is so desperate to obscure. Most of all I want to thank NEPC for revealing what they fear most, which we can infer from this year’s Bunkum ritual seems to be the success of reformers and their own isolation from their former allies in the morally and intellectually serious left, apparently in that order.

I will now redouble my efforts in the hope of becoming the first winner of a second lifetime Bunkum Award. Otherwise, I will have no worlds yet to conquer.


Guest Post on RedefinED

May 21, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The RedefinED team asked me to write a response to my friends Howard Fuller and Andrew Coulson regarding the means-tested vs. universal choice debate.  Andrew and Howard, for different reasons, support a means-tested approach but I lay out my case as to why I think choice must be universal in scope and how we should approach equity and third-party payer concerns.

The issues raised by Howard and Andrew ultimately beg the question: just where is it that we are going with the parental choice movement? Success in passing some broad programs simply increases the stakes for being thoughtful about the details.

Check it out over at RedefinED.


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