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!


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.


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.

Set Your Proton Packs to Ridicule: The First Four Years of Jayblog

April 9, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I remember a few years ago Dan Lips asked me if I would ever consider blogging. My reaction was something along the lines of “Naaaah, why would I want to do that?”

Four years in now, it is hard to imagine doing policy work without blogging. Blogging is a great way to test-drive ideas, get feedback, and have fun doing it. Nothing else moves with the speed of the modern conversation.

The story of this blog can be told using images as guideposts. Some images are associated not with a single post but rather a series of posts, starting with this one:

Blogs of course are the media equivalent of a pea-shooter, but with a careful aim you can put out an eye here and there.

The finest hour of the JPGB, in my opinion, came when Senator Durbin accepted marching orders from the NEA and attempted to pillow smother the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The strategy was to not reauthorize the law, and not to allow new students to enter the program, killing it by attrition. Similar to the British strategy to give arms to bloodthirsty loyalist hillbillies in the American South during the Revolutionary War, this strategy seemed shrewd at the time but backfired badly.

Once the dirty work was (temporarily) done, the Department of Education made a clumsy attempt to deep six the Congressionally mandated program evaluation by releasing it on a Friday with a spin doctored press release. That probably seemed like a great idea at the time as well.

One problem- the study itself was written in English and available online, and Jay reads English and blogs. Jay read the study and leapt into the fray, dubbing the incident “the Friday Night Massacre.” The Wall Street Journal and the Denver Post made inquiries regarding the handling of the study and let’s just say that the administration’s reaction subtracted from their already waning credibility on the matter.

From there, things just kind of got better and better. The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal editorial pages administered regular beat-downs from both the left and the right. NRO’s Jim Geraghty summed up the Obama’s new position on D.C. vouchers:

We know our stance is indefensible; please make this issue go away.”

Eventually President Obama made the issue go away by reauthorizing the program in a budget deal, the best strategic course after bumbling into a sideshow that is costing more than it was worth. Many people deserve credit for saving the program, and Jay is one of them.

In the end, the underdogs won the debate in resounding fashion, kind of like this:

The next image is this one:

Greg’s bet with Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews proved to be great fun. Mathews wrote a piece opining that private choice was simply too politically difficult so he was sticking to charter schools.

Greg bet Mathews dinner that ten legislative chambers would pass either expansions or new choice programs in 2011.

Being a good sport, Greg raised the bar for himself to 7 enactments rather than legislative chambers when he blasted past 10 chambers in 3.6 seconds or so.

Greg ran up the score like John Heisman in 2011. I’m not sure whether he tripled up on Mathews in the end or not. He probably narrowly missed doing so, but the momentum carried over to 2012. So far we have a new tax credit program in Virginia, a tax-credit expansion in Arizona, a tax-credit expansion in Florida, and a major new voucher program in Louisiana. Greg’s original 2011 bet has already been exceeded in 2012, and even his higher bar bet of 7 enactments isn’t inconceivable this year. I now think of Greg’s original bet as the over/under for a good/bad year for the parental choice movement.

No word yet on where Mathews took Greg for dinner nor how much effort it took not to gloat.

Big Think Pieces

I like Greg’s listing of favorite Big-Think pieces, and there are some common threads between them. Greg for instance did an outstanding job laying out why most education reform efforts tend to go nowhere under the current system.

My favorite Jay Big Thinker came when Goldstein-Gone-Wild asked Jay what he would do if he ran the Gates Foundation in the comments section. Jay replied: build new, don’t reform old. If someone appointed me King, I’d make that post required reading for philanthropists as my first official act.

My second official act would probably involve a redirected asteroid and College Station Texas. If they promised to stop the belly aching about the Longhorn Network, I could be persuaded to allow an evacuation.

The Big Thinkers I had the most fun writing both came early in the blog: The Way of the Future in American Schooling and Indiana Jones and the Teacher Quality Crusade. Reasoning by pop-culture analogy got to be a fun habit, which leads us to…


A friend of mine once asked me if I had ever noticed that people tend to think of people just to the left of them as communists, and people just to the right of them as fascists. Only the self stands in exactly the correct spot of thoughtful perfection.

I’ve always kept this jest in mind as a pretty powerful argument in favor of being broad-minded and open to the possibility of needing to perform an occassional mental update.

Nevertheless, the opportunity to unleash a good parody now and then certainly can liven up an otherwise dry discussion.

For instance, the desirable degree of state oversight of a private school choice program is an important topic, but usually a bit on the dry side. Okay, more than a bit.

Despite the fact that I have more than a little sympathy for the point of view parodied, I never laughed so hard at a blog post as I did with with Greg’s AWWWW FREAKOUT!!!  post regarding attacks from the Cato Institute on the new Indiana voucher program.

No, I take it back-Greg’s post on the UFT Card Check, while not a parody itself (more like the documentary of the UFT performing an unintentional self-parody) was the inspiration of so many lampoons that it has to stand as the funniest post of the first four years. Jay’s Fordham Drinking is up there as well.

Of the lampoons I have written, Little Ramona’s Gone Hillbilly Nuts, AFT suggests LBO for Public Schools and JK Rowling: The Jeb Bush of NEPC’s Florida Fantasy were the most fun to write.

What’s Next?

Facing a cannon barrage from a gigantic Turkish army, Baron Munchausen declared to his bedraggled henchmen “They are inviting us to defeat them! We must oblige them!”

No one knows what will happen around the next bend, but my advice is to grab your pea-shooter and take aim. It’s been a blast for us so far, and it isn’t like the bad guys show any sign of slowing the rate of demonstrably false claims.

Transition to the Foundation for Excellence in Education

March 4, 2011

 (Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I will be making a transition from full-time staff to a Senior Fellow with the Goldwater Institute after today, and joining the staff of the Foundation for Excellence in Education on Monday.  I am thrilled about joining Team Jeb, and plan to help GI find a great replacement to carry on our vital work. I will continue to be based in Arizona.

I am especially proud of the work that we did with our allies to improve the transparency in Arizona schools.  A large bipartisan majority of the Arizona legislature took action to replace an obviously inflated version of a national norm referenced exam.  Two years later, a large majority decided to replace fuzzy labels for public school achievement like “performing plus” and “excelling” with letter grades A-F based on the Florida formula.

Much work remains to be done, but I honestly think that we are on the right track for some significant improvement in Arizona public schools.

Arizona’s parental choice coalition has been busy as well. In the past few years, our coalition has taken action to improve the transparency, financial accountability and size of the scholarship tax credit program.  We lost our special needs voucher program in the Arizona Supreme Court, but have worked this session to replace the program with what we hope will be the nation’s first system of public contributions to Education Savings Accounts.

Since 1994, school choice programs in Arizona have mostly taken the edge off of an enormous amount of public school enrollment growth. The enrollment growth has stopped, and may prove absent for some time. Interesting and challenging days lie ahead for parental choice in Arizona.

Major elements of the Florida model are advancing this year. Here in my neighborhood out west, lawmakers have introduced reforms based upon the Florida experience in Arizona, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The PISA exam reveals just how vast our K-12 problems have become but progress is not only necessary but possible.

I want to thank Darcy, the Goldwater Institute board of directors, staff, donors and allies for what has been one hellacious run. The best is yet to come for GI.  While it is sad for me to leave today, it is very exciting for me to join Team Jeb.


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