You aren’t going to do anything about poverty until you do something about education

July 30, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The above line (from then NYC Chancellor Joel Klein) in the headline came to mind when I saw these cool charts on the New Orleans Recovery School District from Neerav Kingsland. RSD turns 10 this year and the results thus far look very impressive.

So the percentage of kids eligible for a FRL not only went up, it is sky-high at 92%. Meanwhile test scores climbed. How in the world did New Orleans accomplish these goals without hiring armies of new unionized social workers, dentists and valets are various other things that could be neither afforded nor sustained? Oh that’s right they leveraged (then) empty buildings to attract teams of educators to run charter schools and gave parents a much wider array of choices regarding the sort of school their child would attend.

The Phantom Poverty Menace?

May 27, 2015

This is my apprentice, Darth Baloney…

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I was intrigued by President Obama’s claim that when one includes transfers that the poverty rate has declined substantially from the 1960s. This would seem to represent a considerable problem for those attempting to waive off the poor performance of American public education based upon a poverty mantra. Spending up and poverty down makes for a tough sell.

Well sure enough, the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a handy-dandy blow-by-blow on how the official poverty rate masks progress on poverty. It has charts like:

Hmm, that looks like 11% when it used to be 22.5% or so. An addition illuminating chart:

If you are squinting at that last one, it basically shows that the inflation adjusted (in constant 2011 dollars) income of the poorest fifth of Americans almost doubled between 1964 and 2011 once various transfers (food stamps, EITC etc.) have been taken into account.

Before you ask, childhood poverty is also down (see Figure 5a on page 23). So basically you have a very hard time blaming increasing poverty for this:



2011 NAEP Guide Where to Avoid Being Reincarnated as a Student with a Disability

November 2, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’m back from SLC, where I had the honor of serving as the opening act to Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. Getting back to the mad science of exploring the 2011 NAEP, and keeping with a sudden OCD fear that I have developed over the possibility of being reincarnated, I present to you the states you want to avoid and those you want to pray to be born into in the next go-around if you happen to be born as a child with a learning disability, and you would like to learn how to read by the 4th grade.

So, whatever you do, try to load the dice to stay out of Washington DC, Hawaii, South Carolina, Alaska and Arizona if you think you might be coming back as a child with a disability.

Conversely, you’ve hit the relative jackpot if you land in Maryland, Massachusetts, Kentucky,New Jersey or Florida.

Seriously DC? 153?!? A mere 60+ point difference between next door neighbor Maryland?

My Cosmic Awareness/Spidey Sense just told me that you were just thinking “yeah, but hey no fair, because Maryland is far wealthier than DC.”

Except, well, it doesn’t really matter so much in terms of the gap. Below you will see a chart for Free and Reduced Lunch Eligible students with disabilities. The top 5 get shuffled a bit, but there is still an appalling gap between DC and the top performing states.

So as you make your reincarnation plans, just remember to stay away from DC, whereas if you have the misfortune of being born with a disability the chances of being academically warehoused seem to approach a near certainty.

Sadly, DC has plenty of company at the bottom.

Make Sure Not to Be Born in Michigan when Poor and Black

November 1, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

If you want to learn how to read anyway, you need to stay away from Michigan, that is to say Detroit, if you are concerned about being born a poor Black child in the next life. The 2011 NAEP says to stay away from Iowa, Maine and DC for good measure.

On the other end of the scale: MA, NJ, DE, MD and FL are looking relatively good. Low-income Black children in Massachusetts reads a mere 2.5 grade levels ahead of their peers in Michigan on a 4th grade test.

Must run to the airport now. More later…

The 2011 NAEP Guide Where Not to be Reincarnated as a Poor Child

November 1, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The chart on the right presents scores for Free and Reduced Lunch Eligible students on the 2011 NAEP 4th grade reading test. Memo to self: remember not to come back as a poor kid in Alaska or DC in the next life. Ten points roughly equals a grade level worth of progress. Low-income kids in Alaska and DC are reading almost as poorly as 1st graders in Massachusetts, which is to say, not much all.

Florida hit a wall in terms of improvement (more on that later), DC saw nice math gains but not much progress in reading, Arizona finally started to move the needle a bit, and it is not entirely isolated to Hispanic children.

The 2009-2011 scores are pretty “meh” so far, and this biggest story I am finding is something big and positive going on with Maryland’s reading scores: 8 point gain for FRL kids between 2009 and 2011, and a nothing to sneeze at five point gain among middle and high income students.

More to come…

In Defense of “Achievement Gap Mania”

October 19, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So the early appearance of the 2011 NAEP has given me reason to update a project, leaving me with some interesting charts to burn off. The above chart measures the national White-Black achievement gap for all four of the main NAEP exams for the 2003-2009 period. Mind you, that on these exams, 10 points is approximately equal to a year worth of average academic progress. These are White scores minus Black scores, with the 2003 gaps in Blue and the 2009 gaps in Red.

In Jay’s post below, you can watch a Fordham discussion that includes debate over whether we have fallen into the grip of “achievement gap mania.” If so, we have precious little to show for it. We did have some narrowing of the achievement gap between 2003 and 2009, but at two and a half plus grade level gaps in all four subjects. Start your low-calorie, carrot juice diet and mark your calendar for 2075 or so, assuming that we can maintain today’s glacial pace of closing.

The news is approximately as dismal on the White-Hispanic front:

While I do sympathize with the argument that we need to get everyone to understand their stake in education reform, I must say that there is a reason why people are passionate about achievement gaps. The term “disgraceful” does not begin to describe the catastrophic failure represented in the charts above. Black and Hispanic children score little better than what the average 1st to 2nd grade Anglo student would score on a 4th grade reading test. It’s only the developmentally critical literacy acquisition window after all.

The focus on the achievement gap is important because it cuts to the heart of American ideals. We believe in equality of opportunity. We believe in meritocracy. We believe in class mobility and self-determination. Call it the triumph of hope over experience if you wish, but we believe that public education can help achieve all of this and we refuse to give up on the notion.

The terrible truth of course is that our public education system is pervasively classist to an extent that goes far deeper than the naive equity funding attorneys ever seemed to grasp. If we auctioned the limited supply of high quality public school seats on Ebay rather than covertly through mortgages, perhaps all of this would more transparent. If we could tag our highly effective instructors, we could watch a time-lapse film of them fleeing dysfunctional school systems for the leafy suburbs and/or leaving the profession entirely. Increased resources could in theory ameliorate these problems, but strangely enough they didn’t.

Why? Paul Hill said it best:

Money is used so loosely in public education—in ways that few understand and that lack plausible connections to student learning—that no one can
say how much money, if used optimally, would be enough. Accounting systems make it impossible to track how much is spent on a particular
child or school, and hide the costs of programs and teacher contracts.  Districts can’t choose the most cost-effective programs because they
lack evidence on costs and results. 

The sad thing is, some are so desperate to maintain the above paragraph that they are willing to ignore the consequences, including the two charts above. They comfort themselves with excuses. Blah blah poverty yadda yadda video games. Whatever. I’m not saying that achievement gaps are the sole responsibility of schools, or that we will live to see them completely closed. I agree with Rick Hess that there are serious shortcomings to a reform strategy solely based on gaps.

We can however do a hell of alot better than this. We focus on achievement gaps not because it is expedient, but because it is necessary.

Reporting on the Global Report Card

October 3, 2011

Coverage of the new Global Report Card (GRC) that Josh McGee and I developed is gaining steam.  The GRC allows users to compare student achievement in virtually every one of the nearly 14,000 school districts in the United States against the achievement in a set of 25 developed countries.

There are an endless number of interesting stories that could be told with this information, but the one that really stood out to us is that achievement in many of our affluent suburban public school districts barely keeps pace with that of the average student in a developed country.  People who flee from urban education ills thinking that their children will get a top world-class education in the suburbs may be disappointed.  The suburban education is usually better than in the city, but it would may not be preparing students to compete for top paying jobs in an a globalized jobs market.

Here is a current list of coverage:

Global Report Card Results and Article

Education Next

Global Report Card Web Site

Methodological Appendix


Sacramento Bee

Hartford Courant

The Oklahoman

Austin American Statesman

Atlanta Journal Constitution


Wall Street Journal (video)

Education Next (video)

Education Next (podcast)

Dallas Morning News (Q&A)

Choice Media.TV (video)


Dallas Morning News (subscription required, although a version can be read here)

Arkansas Democrat Gazette (subscription required)

Roll Call (article by Morton Kondracke)

Education Week

Yahoo News

Atlanta Journal Constitution

Time Magazine


Richmond Times-Dispatch

United Press International

East Valley Tribune (Arizona)

TC Palm

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

St. Pete Times

Maryland Gazette

Hawaii Reporter

Delaware News-Journal

Kansas Reporter

School Library Journal

My Fox DFW

Dallas Observer

Market Watch


Education Next


Joanne Jacobs

Mackinac Center

Illinois Rising

Ed is Watching 

Gotham Schools

Fordham’s Education Gadfly


Bacon’s Rebellion

The Locker Room

The Western Wrangler

Choice Remarks

TPE Post

Missouri Education Watchdog

Whiteboard Advisors

Jorge Werthein

The Caisson

School House Wonk

School Finance 101


The last blog post contained some criticisms about whether the assumptions for the analysis were reasonable.  Josh McGee replied in the comment section of that post.  And NCES Commissioner, Jack Buckley, told Education Week that “The methodology in this report is highly questionable.”  This assessment is a little strange because what we did was similar to what the U.S. Department of Education has done in several past reports linking international test results to state NAEP results.  (See for example this.)  We just bring the results down to the district level.  If ours is highly questionable, then the U.S. Department of Education’s own efforts must also be questionable.

(UPDATED 12-19-11)

Are Chinese Moms Superior?

January 11, 2011

I have no idea.

But, in a piece in the Wall Street Journal, Yale Law professor and author of a new book on the subject, Amy Chua, extols the virtues of Chinese parenting styles over Western ones.  I thought she was describing Jewish mothers, but apparently the Chinese are Jews… or Jews aren’t Western… or something.

And in the wonderful age of auto-animation, someone has already critiqued Chua’s piece with this video:


And here is the comedian, Louis C.K., making an argument similar to Amy Chua’s about effective parenting.  Wait a minute.  How can he do that?  Doesn’t he know that he isn’t Chinese?

PJM on Racial Excuses

February 1, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Over the weekend, Pajamas Media carried my column on the latest developments in educational racial excusemaking:

The [Berkeley high] school’s governance council thinks that science labs benefit white and Asian students to the detriment of blacks and Hispanics, whom the council apparently views as not capable of learning science…

“When broken down in racial terms,” says the local superintendent, “African American and Latino students are not scoring as well as their peers.” Well, I guess that’s that, then! If some student groups are scoring poorly in science, obviously the only possible way to deal with that problem is to shut down the science labs! Then they won’t score poorly in science anymore!

“The majority of students of color don’t really go” because the labs take place outside normal school hours, says one student by way of defending the decision. Well then, obviously the most equitable and fair solution is to close the labs — then everybody won’t go!…

The best comment comes from Berkeley junior Kacey Holt. He has a message for those students who “are not scoring as well as their peers” in science and “don’t really go” to the science labs: “I think they need to talk with their teachers and get more tutoring, afterschool programs, and basically show up for class,” says Kacey.

Kacey Holt for Berkley Unified superintendent! Campaign slogan: “Basically, Show Up for Class.”

The column puts this in the context of the larger fight over racial excusemaking in education, and also of the behind-the-scenes power struggles that often drive these outwardly ideological battles.

Michael Oher Drafted by the Ravens

April 26, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Michael Lewis is busy typing a new afterword for The Blind Side as we speak, as Michael Oher was selected with the 21st pick in the NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Congrats to Michael and his heroic family.

One of the earliest posts I wrote here on JPGB was about Michael. As we celebrate Oher’s incredible good fortune at overcoming incredible odds to get where he is today, I cannot help but to recall Lewis’ chilling words from the book:

Michael Oher was in possession of what had to be among the more conspicuous athletic gifts…and yet, without outside intervention even his talent would likely have been thrown away…If Michael Oher’s talent could be missed, whose couldn’t? Those poor black kids [in the inner-city] were like left tackles: people whose values were hidden in plain sight…Pity the kid inside Hurt Village [in Memphis] who was born to play the piano, or manage people, or trade bonds.

Think of this quote the next time someone urges you to be “patient” when it comes to education reform.  A mind is indeed a terrible thing to waste, or to never develop.

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