Demography Is Not Destiny

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Pacific Research Institute has put out a new study co-authored by PRI Senior Fellow Vicki Murray and some guy from Arizona comparing trends in academic achievement in California to those in Florida. Among the findings: Florida’s Hispanic students outscore the statewide average for all students in California on NAEP’s 4th Grade Reading Exam. Also, Florida’s Free and Reduced lunch eligible Hispanics outscore the statewide average for all students in California. After a decade of strong improvement in Florida, Florida’s African-American students are within striking distance of the statewide average for all students in California, and have already exceeded the statewide averages for all students in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Oh, and Florida’s free or reduced lunch eligible students attending inner city schools outscore the statewide average for all California students.

The point of all of this is not to bash California public schools, but instead to show just how much entirely plausible room for improvement exists. The question isn’t whether disadvantaged kids can learn. Yes they can! The question is whether we adults can get our acts together for the kids.

17 Responses to Demography Is Not Destiny

  1. Ryan says:

    The link to the report doesn’t seem to work.

  2. I think I fixed the link.

  3. tfteacher says:

    In Florida’s case, improved performance among minority students, the ones largely served by parental choice programs, appears to be propelling the rise in overall Florida student achievement.

    Could parental choice have anything to do with your results? I think it is rather well established that extrapolating like you’ve done here, comparing students with parents who were very active in the education of their child, and those students with less active parents. Seems you must first control that variable before you make any conclusions.

    But you are the ones with PhD’s

  4. matthewladner says:


    So is it your theory that the parents of Florida suddenly became more involved completely coincidental to the set of reforms simultaneously introduced, and that this great awakening explains the improvement rather than the reforms?

  5. Greg Forster says:

    You know, there are plenty of ways to measure parental involvement in their kids’ schools. And Florida collects tons of data on what’s going on in its schools and makes them widely available to researchers. So if there were a huge surge in parental involvement in Florida, I think we’d have seen some evidence confirming that.

    And even if there were, it would then appear that voucher and testing reforms are closely associated with dramatic increases in parental involvement!

  6. Diane Hanfmann says:

    WHY is it not mentioned that third grade students are retained in Florida based on test scores? Does that purify the fourth grade sample? Was any thought given to the likelihood that students having trouble in grade three are not found in the grade 4 sample? Isn’t it the responsibility of the researcher to disclose such information?
    Perhaps other states would fare better if their fourth grade was purged of those experiencing difficulty. Truth is often a good thing, imho. Why overlook this aspect???

  7. Diane Hanfmann says:

    I just saw Jeb Bush is associated with the foreword. Did he forget the third grade mandatory retention criteria he put in place??? YIKES!

  8. Diane Hanfmann says:

    IMHO, I would be surprised if Governor Bush believes demography is not destiny.
    The A+ plan in Florida has been studied and showed skewing by socioeconomic status.
    Is he unaware of these studies by professors over the years and even one school district? Is he unaware of the correlation between achievement and socioeconomic
    status? Is he unaware of the effects of poverty on children before they even enter school? Does he have any concern that the A+ plan masks poor growth in schools with high rates of proficiency? Why would that be agreeable to him? I hope he addresses these points in his foreword.

  9. matthewladner says:


    The number of children being held back is actually modest, so few of them are likely to have reached the NAEP sample. Those students ultimately do reach the 4th grade, and lo and behold, they’ve learned how to read, which was the point of the reform in the first place.

    Governor Bush, like me, seems to have been much more concerned about the fact that 47% of Florida 4th graders were illiterate in 1998 rather than whether those responsible for that record would think his reforms were perfectly fair to them. I have agreed with you elsewhere on the blog that Florida’s system can and should be done on a value added basis, but come on, cry me a river.

  10. Diane Hanfmann says:

    Good Afternoon,
    This will probably lead to the same debate we have already had at an earlier time.
    Rather than do that, I suggest one does place in the description the retention policy and numbers as it is a factor. It seems it would be helpful to provide the data for areas
    with which you compare Forida data to other places, wouldn’t it? Why leave this out? Isn’t the sample filtered of poor scorers? Is thattrue in the other comparison groups?
    You already know my points.
    I am quite concerned that people will be misinformed when our system has significant flaws of which you are aware. Rather than push a flawed system, why not scream for some of the traits upon which we agreed? Why should any state wish to replicate a system which masks poor grwoth in schools with high rates of proficiency?
    Isn’t that the perfect environment for hiding a dumbing down? It raises feas in me that closing an achievement gap is so important that development of potential of our best and brightest, or as I understand Derek Neal’s work, an even broader neglect of those who fail to be bubble kids, is acceptable.
    Mr. Bush’s lack of concern with fairness in an accountability system is in disconnect with Linn’s idea that an accountability sytem should be fair. Where is Governor Bush’s educational background that makes his two cents better that Statistician Linn’s?
    Why does Governor Bush believe that children of poverty are left behind in school rather than acknowledge that these children enter school far behind their more advantaged peers? Am I misinterpreting his beliefs? I get my idea from a quote on one of his foundation websites. Our state’s own OPPAGA produced a report on unfairness in pre_K accountability systems due to the same flaw Dr. Morris and I already showed you. Why do the voucher proponents to which I have tried to get an admision of a flaw in the definition of a failing school not choose to define a failing school as one with minimal to no learning gains as opposed to rates of proficiency?
    Rates of proficiency are correlated to SES. Why do you thik schools serving an affluent student body can be called slide and glide schools, creating little growth in their student bodies while enjoying high rates of proficiency and reaping rewards in Florida. The misled public fails to see a need for advocacy as they are awestruck by that deceptively earned A.
    Is it not interesting to you that Florida fares poorly in other areas? As I said, if I was a mediocre ballet dancer when I was 9 but could do nothing with that skill level unless it was maintained through or again evidenced at 17, what is the value? Is Florida doing that? If my mediocre ballet skills were included in a group of others my age with similar or better performance levels due to those with less skill never having made it to 4th grade due to their lack of medicority, isn’t it going to be uncharacteristiclly difficult to find a poor performing ballet dancer? Is it fair to make comparisons beteween my group and groups which were not filtered ? What about the ommission of this descriptio of the population?Florida has a dropout problem which is ranked among the highest of 50 states. Our college entry scores are pathetic and while our FCAT Writing scores are producing high rates of proficiency, that rate is nowhere to be found in our SAT scores, where I believe 44% are proficiennt. Feel free to check me on that as it is from memory.
    All I ask is the endorsement of policies which are fair, accurately measure the intended entity, produce good things for all students, and are without political motive.
    I think it is possible and that which is sought should be the best we can do for our students, regardless of their proficiency status.
    What are your thoughts on Jay Mathews’ ideas in”Forget the achievement gap”. wherer he spoke of the possibility of such a goal involving the powering of the ceiling of achievement, raising of the floor , or a combination of both. Instaed, he wonders if a more noble goal would be the provisio nof the best education possible to each unique learner. I was reminded of A Nation Deceived:How Schools Hold Back America’s Best Students and HIgh Achievers in an Era of NCLB, both available by googling on your computer. I will continue to ethically voice my two cents that ALL students are important and I find Ms. Spelling’s focus on the bottom 25% disrespectful of the remainig 75% who deserve her equal concern. I believe that bubble kids should not be targets of instruction; every child should be a traget for focused instruction. Florida uses cutoff scores and high stakes which create pressures I find unhelpful.
    Did you reply yet to Dr. Morris’s study/paper he ent to you showing failures in the A+ plan? Last I heard, he was still waiting. Youtrturn.

  11. matthewladner says:


    Florida high school graduation rates improved by 12% since 1999.


    The percentage of kids scoring proficient or better increased by more than 50% and Advanced or better by 100%, in addition to the large percentage increase in students scoring basic or better. Color me confused.


    I’ve already conceded that it would be better to use value-added analysis. No need to make the perfect the enemy of the good however, and Bush’s reforms were very good.

  12. Diane Hanfmann says:

    Color me well informed about FCAT scores and a past member of the state’s first Gifted Advisory Committee. Interesting in your portrayal of stats is your clumping of groups 3,4, and 5. There is certainly a need for a VALID accountability sytem
    in Florida. THAT should be your cry UNLESS you are really about pushing vouchers and not truly concerned about education. I understand you have not responded to Dr. Morris’s work. Would I be correct in saying you found it unworthy of a response?
    If you are truly concerned about dumbing down, why would you be puishing a pathetic sytem such as Florida’s which masks poor growth in schools with high rates of proficiency? Is your mission vouchers or school choice at all cost? What is your take on the mountains of research showing a correlation between SES and achievemnet scores? Do you fail to see that a value added system would show dramatically different results than this poor excuse of a system we have in operation here?
    Why are you painting a pretty picture of a state with graduation troubles, poor ACT scores, and poor SAT scores? Tell me about the improving graduation rate since 1999 and I will tell you about the numerous sources which place Florida among the top few in dropout problems. Actually, it was believed that many dropouts were the result of clearing the testing pool of poor scores. Now the state has graduation criteria that is out of reach of some students who struggle to learn. They leave school too often without any vocational certification or any piece of paper to begin them on their adult life. Many Florida graduates who actually attend college need remediation.
    WHY push a lousy set of results? Politics, anyone?
    Please explain the stats you provided as I study and maintain data on Florida’s FCAT scores and my data and your statements conflict. Please cite years, grades, whatever I need to see this myself. I have been following Florida scores since 2003 .
    I do continue to praise Florida for its massive amount of data generated but unfortunately, the public is rarely sufficiently informed to understand the usefulness of it or the lack therreof.
    What are your thoughts on Morris’s work? Derek Neal’s work which could lead one to believe that only specific students become targets for instruction and the results of NCLB related accountability sytems lead to increases at the proficiency cutoffs? Don’t you find every child a target for instruction or do you believe in vouchers and choices made on invalid information?
    Why don’t you scream for a failing school to be defined by change in skill level over time rather than the result of having a large number of students from low SES? This lack of concern about EDUCATIONALLY significant matters seems to differentiate people in this discussion for political reasons from people in the discussion for the betterment of education. I have never found one voucher /school choice proponent
    to take the educationally significant matters as priority over their political agenda.

  13. Diane Hanfmann says:

    I leave this blog tonight making clear that in no way am I saying disadvantaged children cannot learn. I am saying the measurement system , as in the A+ plan,in Florida is flawed and is misleading. Dr. Morris is not the first professor to find the faults of the system, only the most recent person I have found.
    I suppose you learned the voucher amendment was removed from the ballot recently by the state Supreme Court in Florida and elusive wording within the amendment was noted. Trickiness will get one somehwrere sometimes, but not always. You will also
    recall that I may support vouchers if failing schools were defined appropriately. What is wrong with my thought that a failing school should actually be one which is not creating adequate growth in its student body? Think of slide and glide schools. In Florida, these schools can esily get an A.

  14. Missing Info AGAIN? says:

    OK.. here we go. In looking at your, “What does Florida tell us about broader/bolderI”,
    I believe I found the stats you cite. (22-34% and 4-8%) Amazingly, and hopefully wrongly, I found another deceptive presentation. You compare the 1998 NAEP scores of grade 4 students to a much later year. 2007.The question becomes were these years BOTH years in which the retention policy was in effect? I checked on the start date of the retention policy myself rather than leave it to you since you failed to find a filtered sample important to include. I was able to find out via Jay Greene’s and Marcus Winter’s work,”Revisiting Grade Retention: An Evaluation of Florida Test Based Promotion Policy” ABSTRACT’S BEGINNING SENTENCE “iN 2002, fLORIDA ADOPTED A TEST BASED PROMOTION POLICY IN 3RD GRADE IN AN ATTEMPT TO END SOCIAL PROMOTION.” Please point out my error in finding 1998 scores attained before the retention policy was in effect nd thus again making faulty comparisons. May I have a free copy of the book so I can correct any other errors in presentation? I will do so for free! Please educate me as to the research practice that supports the withholding of
    significant information relevant to the populations. Is your background in politics or education????Is your motive political or educational? Did Jeb have an ounce of background in education? All I can find on Ms. Levesque si a background in finance nd business. Is there more that I am missing? She was his Education person. I know nothing about nuclear safety. Shall I present as an applicant in charge of such? Actually, our children’s minds are precious resources and deserve far better than twisted presentations to further political goals. Perhaps 99.99% of the readers are ill informed and swallow your bologna but at least one person will call you to the carpet.
    May I have a free book? I don’t want to pay for propoganda but I sure would like to
    shine a light on it. Is it politics while playing on the ignorance of the public? Where are the ethics in that?

  15. Diane Hanfmann says:

    To update Mr. Ladner’s followers with complete info rather than his cherry picked presentation of data, Please know while our grade 4 NAEP scores of 2007 may have ranked us 18 or 19th in the nation, our grade 8 scores rank us 32 or 35th. Hmmm. These 8th graders have been through the A+ plan and perform far worse than the grade 4 students. Why? Could it be a retention policy in effect keeps poor performers from being part of the grade 4 pool, exactly what Mr. Ladner fails to mention over and over again? Beware of ideologues playing on blind trust to push their political motive.

    • matthewladner says:

      Ms. Hanfmann-

      Followers? I have followers? Can any of you babysit or mow the grass?!?

      I have written about the retention policy at length. In fact the number of students retained since the policy began was never huge and has declined by 40% since the onset. That’s the great thing about teaching kids to read, fewer of them score low enough to be retained.

      By the way, Florida’s 4th grade reading NAEP scores rose between 1998 and 2002 (before the policy) and continued to rise after 2003 despite the fact that fewer and fewer students were retained. If the retention policy played anything close to the role which you imagine, we would expect to have found a huge increase in scores in 2003, followed by declines in 2005 and 2007.

      Btw, there isn’t any point in making up fake handles like the one from September. The software identifies you.

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