Fortune Favors the Bold

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Goldwater Institute released a new study today co-authored by yours truly titled Fortune Favors the Bold: Reforms for Results in K-12 Education.

The study makes the case for robust education reforms rather than incremental tinkering with a fundamentally broken system. Here in Arizona, for example, inflation adjusted spending per capita in the K-12 schools has tripled since 1960, and 44% of our 4th graders in public schools score “below basic” on the NAEP 2007 4th grade reading exam.

The kids are running around with their hair on fire, while we adults wonder whether to use a cup or a bucket of water to put out the flames. It’s time to use the fire hose.

The four reforms proposed:

  • A universal system of choice, either through vouchers or a universal tax credit. Despite having among the nation’s most robust system of private and public school choice, choice programs have simply absorbed about of the third of the increase in the public school population since the charter law passed in 1994. Arizona could enjoy substantial academic and financial benefits from passing a far bolder choice program than anything currently on the books, and we would still be building new public schools.
  • Reforming Public School Governance. Charter schools make up nine out of the top 10 high schools in the greater Phoenix area, and the 10th is a magnet school. Not a single district school cracks the top 10, with charters enormously overrepresented. The lesson is clear: good schools need a district bureaucracy like a fish needs a bicycle. Schools can and should govern themselves, freeing resources for instructional use.
  • Reform of Testing. Standardized testing has jumped the shark in Arizona and elsewhere. We put forward a proposal on how to preserve the transparency and diagnostic value of testing even when states respond to pressure to dummy down their tests.
  • Measure Teacher Effectiveness on a Value Added Basis. William Sanders’ path-breaking work on value added assessment shows that students learn 50% more over a three year period with highly effective teachers compared to those stuck in classes with the bottom 20%. Dr. Sanders finds that variation attributable to teacher performance is 10 to 20 times greater than that associated with class size. Further, high-quality teachers are too rare and clustered in the leafy suburbs. Value-added measurement serves as a pre-requisite for rational and just treatment of teachers as professionals and improving learning for children.
  • Jeb Bush put in what seemed like a radical set of reforms in Florida in 1999, and they have paid huge dividends. The time has come not only for other states to emulate Florida, but to reach further, and do more. Fortune favors the bold and American education reform dithers between being misguided, pointless, and too timid.


3 Responses to Fortune Favors the Bold

  1. […] for Schools.”   Chris Osborne wants to help you track your grades better.   Matt Ladner goes all bigger and bolder, and Advance Illinois needs a director of […]

  2. Missing Info AGAIN? says:

    When wil Mr. Ladner STOP deceieving people about wonderful events which are not wonderful? Our grade 4 is filtered by a mandatory retention policy in grade 3. Thus our grade 4 results would not be typical nor fair to compare with an unfiltered sample. Yet Mr. ladner continues to do so .
    I have also found Mr. Ladner to compare proficiency rates of fourth graders of samples before the third grade retention policy and after but I have not seen him mention that
    there is a difference in the situations. If one group has been filtered of its strugglers and one has not, what is the excitement that the filtered group creates better data?
    I am also awarethat Mr. ladner has been emailed a study showing that our accountability system fails to measure school quality. Florida does not employ value added methodology. Therefore, if Mr. ladner responsibly,as he does above, supports a value added methodology, he would not be peddling Florida.
    Florida scores very poorly on high school measures and has one of the worst graduation staitstics. A large percentage of our college students require remediation.
    If Mr. Ladner wants to puish vouchers, I would like to see what in my opinion would be ethical persuasions and not irresponible presentations.

  3. Randy Cox says:

    I don’t know how contrived methods of judgment are going to give us the data we need to make our schools better. The real test is how we compare with the rest of the developed world in academics and industry.

    As a nation we still spend more than we take in. We don’t understand service on the debt, and we lose jobs to the less developed.

    How about a little personal responsibility? How about we admit that our schools are not teaching well?

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