Arizona Charter Schools Score Like a New England State on 2015 NAEP

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Previously I had shown that if you compare general education low-income students, that Arizona charter schools made very large academic gains on the 2015 NAEP. This morning I woke up and thought: what if we compared Arizona charter school students to other statewide averages as a whole? Arizona has the highest percentage of students attending charter schools of any state. There are more students attending Arizona charter schools than Wyoming public schools after all, so why not?

I ran the numbers for 8th grade reading. Here are the results:

AZ Charter Schools 8th grade reading NAEP

Well how about that? Now before you start babbling conspiracy theories about student demographics let me remind you of a few things. First of all, those states up at the top are all very pale complected, host Ivy League universities and have average family incomes in the six figures. Arizona meanwhile is a relatively poor state with a plurality of Hispanic students and a law which requires random assignment lotteries to charter schools. I don’t have statistics for the percentage of Hispanic students in Arizona charter schools but having visited many of them I can assure you that it will beat the living daylights out of the same figure for New Hampshire. In other words if you want to wildly speculate about student demographics you can lick the strings of Angus’ electric guitar while he has it plugged in to his portable nuclear generator necessary to burst your ear drums and make you love it.

Did I forget to mention that Massachusetts probably spends more than twice the amount per pupil when compared to Arizona charter schools? No? Ok well that too.

Well, maybe the 8th grade reading sample just happened to over-sample the highest performing charters in 2015. Could be-so let’s check the 4th grade reading numbers:

2015 4th grade reading NAEP AZ Charters

So it’s not much of a mystery to see why tens of thousands of Arizona parents sit unhappily on charter school waiting lists- the gap in scores between AZ charter schools and the AZ average is considerable. This is not to say that every Arizona charter school is fantastic (they aren’t) or that every AZ district school is low performing (this is not the case). Moreover Arizona district schools have been improving while dealing while a great deal of adversity since 2007 and in the end this is absolutely crucial. Key to that progress however is a growing little New England scoring school system out here in our delightful patch of cactus.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey campaigned on funding the wait list- getting more resources out to district and charter schools with long wait lists to get more of them in the door and off the list. I hope the above charts indicate just what a profoundly wonderful idea that would be, so…

7 Responses to Arizona Charter Schools Score Like a New England State on 2015 NAEP

  1. Liv Finne says:

    Excellent! Thanks.

  2. I have always had a problem with “Arizona meanwhile is a relatively poor state with a plurality of Hispanic students and a law which requires random assignment lotteries to charter schools.”

    Random Assignment Lotteries …. as in the Case of Pacific Collegiate Charter .. its “if you can’t hack it you won’t get credit” reputation skews those who apply.

    So take a look at any Basis Charter in AZ, am I to believe this student body is a random cross-section of AZ students?

    Sorry I am not buying a random assignment lottery produces a random cross-section student body. As it does not.

    Please a picture that reveals what is actually happening would be appreciated. Good things are happening but more specificity please.

  3. matthewladner says:


    Obviously random assignment lotteries produce a random cross section of those who apply, not a random cross section of the state’s student body. It is however an important provision that prevents picking and choosing among applicants.

    MA kids are not however a random cross-section of Americans-they enjoy substantial socio-economic advantages and attend the highest rated state school system in the nation.

    Moreover a great many district schools in Arizona are a far cry from representative of a cross section of the states students due to economic segregation. People will often make the mistake of claiming that public schools take “everyone” when actually they take everyone who can afford to live within their attendance boundary.

  4. David Safier says:

    Matthew, if the results you cite are accurate, Arizona charters did phenomenally well on the NAEP. I looked around the NAEP site and couldn’t find the data you used to get your numbers. I would love to take a look at it. Can you link to the data source?

    In exchange, here’s the data for the ethnic mix in Arizona’s charters, from the National Alliance for Public Charter schools. ( 48.8% White, 35.2% Hispanic. By comparison, the AZ DOE puts the overall ethnic student mix for the state at 40.1% White, 44.4% Hispanic (I’m not sure if that includes charters or just school districts).

  5. matthewladner says:


    This is the NAEP data explorer:

    You can also look at State Profiles here:

    An unknown amount of the difference between AZ charters and AZ district schools will relate to differences in student populations. If however you examine the State Profiles, you’ll see Arizona charter schools have far more minority students enrolled than say, New Hampshire, which lists an enviable level of spending per pupil to boot.

  6. matthewladner says:

    Also thanks for the NAPCS resource- I was unaware of it. So while Hispanic students are a bit under-represented, children eligible for a free or reduced lunch under federal guidelines are over-represented in Arizona charter schools if you compare the NAPCS figures for charter schools (60.2%) to the statewide figure in the NAEP state profile (47.4%)

  7. […] Around the 9:15 mark, Bob Bowdon cites positive NAEP test score data for Arizona charter schools. The citation source is from Matt Ladner and can be found here:… […]

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