(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
The Arizona House Education committee passed a four-year phase in of universal public school eligibility for the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, and a separate measure aimed at improving the administration of the program. Jonathan Butcher, Jason Bedrick and Sydney Hay all provided insightful testimony, as did a number of current ESA students and parents. One of the supporters of the bill noted in committee testimony last night that each expansion of choice in Arizona has been preceded by dire predictions of doom, but that in fact Arizona public school outcomes have improved rather than worsened. Quite right:
Arizona students have been leading NAEP cohort gains since 2009. The only two obvious things that stand out about Arizona K-12 in my mind have been larger than average budget cuts brought on my the Great Recession and parental choice. Arizona did change over academic standards during this period, but the national analysis of Hanushek and Loveless leads one with the unmistakable conclusion that this change had at most a modest amount to do with the improvement, likely less than that. I haven’t yet heard a plausible link between budget cuts and improving academic outcomes. In my book this leaves choice as, well:
Opponents recited their litany against draining money from the public schools, noted teacher shortages, etc. A “student surplus” however is another way to express a teacher shortage. Arizona school districts simply cannot hire enough teachers to serve their current level of enrollment, and it is worth noting that things would have been far more dire without the advent of choice in 1994. Without out the advent of charter schools in 1994 and private school choice in 1997, it is not clear just how the districts would have managed to cope with an enrollment increase far larger than moving from 737k to 914k between 1994 and 2012 (see figure above).
District supporters don’t like to admit that they need help in coping with enrollment growth- they’ve got it all covered, allegedly. Hmmm…
Arizonans have been rewarded for their embrace of pluralism in education thus far. Let’s see what happens next.
It should be noted that Arizona’s impressive cohort gain produced an 8th grade NAEP math score at the national average in 2015. The AZ 2015 4th grade score is slightly below the national average.
In 2011 AZ 4th graders were 5 points below the national average and 8th graders were 4 points below national average. Both scores were much better in 2015.
I would like to know how low spending really large class size Utah scores so well. In 2015 Utah 4th graders were just above national average and 8th graders were 2 points above national average.
Is it stable families and family values? or perhaps fewer newly arrived immigrants than in AZ?
The cohort gains approach is a pretty decent measure of elementary and middle school quality imo. You can read more about how NAEP is timed and scaled in such a way to permit the calculation of these cohort gains here:
Click to access PICGROWTH2.pdf
In AZ’s case our 4th grade scores are below average, which is what achievement gaps would lead one to expect given the state’s majority minority student population, ELL issues etc. The fact that Arizona pulls to the national average by 8th grade is an accomplishment and the reason why the state gets the biggest overall “value add” for the same cohort of student over time. There are tricky things about this measure (standard error on both sides of the equation for instance).
Obviously no one should be satisfied with average in a country as low performing as the US but at least things have been moving in the right direction faster than any other state.
About Florida… As AZ tops the cohort math 4th to 8th gain chart and FL is next to last, it must be noted that in 2015 math AZ 283 out scored FL 275 in math. In reading the story is somewhat different with both AZ and FL scoring 263 in 8th grade. Yet in 2011 4th graders in AZ 212 scored way less than FL 220.
In 2015 4th grade reading… AZ 215 and FL 227
Does AZ have promotion to grade 4 based on reading competence as FL does?
AZ does have such a policy but it is not enforced with nearly the same vigor. Florida’s low rank in this calculation owes in large part to the 2015 math swoon: