Burke and Ladner respond to the Think Tank Review Project

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Lindsey Burke and I respond to a critique of our work by the Think Tank Review project. Perhaps my favorite part is where the reviewer chides us for failing to do a literature review but failed to notice that Dan Lips and I had refuted her main contention over a year ago in Education Next. The main point of the review is an attempt to cry foul over Florida’s 4th Grade NAEP scores due to the 3rd grade retention policy.

I’ve changed my mind, this is my favorite part:

This page comes directly from the review. Notice that by the information gathered by the reviewer herself, the percentage of Florida students scoring FCAT 1 (the lowest possible score and the score making a student eligible for retention) in 3rd grade fell from 27% in 2001-02 to 17% in 2008-09. That’s almost a 38% decline.

Likewise, the percentage of African-American students scoring FCAT 1 fell from 41% to 27%, and the Hispanic rate fell from 35% to 21%. Notice that the African-American rate of scoring FCAT 1 now matches the overall rate in 2001-02 had been.

This is called “radical success.”

Notice also that the number of students actually being retained drops by more than half between the first year of the policy and 2008-09. Despite that fact, Florida’s 4th grade NAEP scores continued to climb. If Florida’s NAEP improvement were driven by retention, scores ought to have peaked early in the decade, and then fallen off. Instead, they continued to rise throughout the decade, even as retention declined.

Oh, and Florida’s reading scores improved by almost a grade level before the retention policy even passed. I could go on, point out the practice of mid-year promotions further weakens the “it was all retentions” theory, and/or blather at some length about the regression discontinuity analysis that Jay performed, which strongly points to something other than aging going on with this policy. Click the link if you want to read about it.

The bottom line: these policies worked. The percentage of Florida students scoring below basic on 4th grade reading dropped from 47% to 27% between 1998 and 2009. No one knows exactly how much of which policy moved the needle, but there is a simple solution to this: do all of the policies at the same time.

If Florida lawmakers had mandated in 1999 that students stood off the side of their desks to do jumping jacks to start each school day, and childhood illiteracy dropped like a rock off a cliff, I would be advocating for other states to do the same. At least until such time that someone established that it didn’t add any value.

In some offline conversations I have had with the Think Tank Review people, they seem to think that other states should be “cautious” until we know exactly how much improvement there has been after hair-splitting, and what causes what.

I disagree. In my view, that’s like getting into an argument about whether to use the sprinkler system, the firehose or the buckets of water when kids are running around with their hair on fire. Florida used all the approaches at once, and got great improvement.

Governor-elect Scott seems to busily readying Florida Reform Version 2.0. Somehow I doubt he will be much persuaded by an attempt to muddy the water on Version 1.0.

All is not lost, however.

I will be adding the above table from their study to my Powerpoint, given how well it makes the case for Florida’s reforms.

3 Responses to Burke and Ladner respond to the Think Tank Review Project

  1. Patrick says:

    I love it when critics end up proving their opposition right…

  2. Florida Speaks says:

    Some see through illusions as they understand both research methodology, flaws, Florida policies, and propoganda. The truth will be revealed. Isn’t Mr. Ladner’s background politics?

  3. MatthewLadner says:

    Actually, no, I’m an Anglican.

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