This Just In: Money is Still Not the Answer…

February 7, 2014

NAEP 4r dot chart

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Which is a relief since we are running out of money in any case. I took a stab at updating my favorite state NAEP chart ever for the 2013 NAEP.  My favorite chart ever of course is:

Hanuskek 4

I decided that it would be a bit easier to digest to do the chart by individual subjects and use points rather than percentages of a standard deviation and combined tests as an axis. Also revenue per pupil was easier to find than expenditures.  So what you see up there is a first crack at 4th grade reading between 1998 and 2013.  No shock- money is still not the answer (yes I am looking right at you New York and Wyoming).

8th Grade Reading Chart looks pretty similar:

NAEP 8r dot chart

Wyoming at least scores meh improvement this time for their gigantic increase in spending, New York- fuggedabouit.  Florida just blew you a kiss from the top left quadrant and said that you should come up and see her sometime.

In any case, these are prototype charts that have as yet been double checked by no one other than our family cat Charlie. Treat them accordingly for now, just putting them up for fun and feedback.


November 19, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Last week the Arizona Board of Regents released a report detailing the catastrophic failure of Arizona high-schools in preparing students for higher education.  Specifically the report traced the high school class of 2006, finding that half of the high-schools had five percent or less of students finishing higher education degrees or certificates within six years.  A mere 40 of the almost 460 schools produced 61% of Bachelor degrees in the AZ Class of 2006.

So, the news could have been much better. Here is the next shoe to drop- things are going to be getting increasingly more difficult in the years ahead.

The United States Census has produced population projections by state. Let’s see what the future has in store for Arizona. First a little context. Arizona’s current population is was about 6.5 million in 2012.

First challenge- a very large increase in the youth population.

Arizona Under 18

The Census Bureau projects a large year by year increase in young people.  The Census has projections for the 18 and under population, and also for the 5-17 population.  The 0-3 population is generally outside of the pre-school and K-12 system, meaning that the 18 and under population overstates the impact that the increase in the youth population will have on the state budget in 2030.  The 5-17 year old figure understates the situation due to 4 and 18-year-old students who will receive either preschool or K-12 assistance.

The next chart uses the Census Bureau’s projection for the increase in the 5-17 year old Arizona population, and puts it into context by comparing it to the size of the charter school and private choice populations of Arizona.  Arizona’s charter school law passed in 1994, and the scholarship tax credit program passed in 1997. The time between then and now is roughly comparable with the time span between now and 2030.

Arizona 5-17

Arizona school district enrollment is set to expand regardless of what we do on the parental choice front, just as it has for the last two decades. In the last two decades, the charter school law has produced a large number of those 40 schools that produced 61% of the BA degrees. In combination with the scholarship tax credit programs and the still nascent ESA program, they have taken the edge off of district enrollment growth in the aggregate.

Arizona does have high-quality charter operators who will continue to slowly but sure increase the islands of quality.  If the ESA program survives court challenge it may allow for a quicker pace of private choice expansion than the tax credit program. Creative destruction of the sort that might actually close dysfunctional schools, other than charters that fail to launch, is simply not in the cards.  The districts full of those 5% and under high schools will be going into the debt markets to build more dropout factories.

Or perhaps they will be running double shifts at the current dropout factories, as it will become increasingly difficult to finance new construction.

At precisely the same time Arizona will be dealing with a surge in the youth population, an even larger problem looms the growth in the elderly population. Again from the Census projections:

Arizona Elderly

For those of you squinting to read the numbers, that is an increase from 922,000 65+ year olds in 2010 to almost 2.4 million in 2030.

So let’s sum up the story so far- Arizona’s K-12 system currently does a very poor job in educating anything more than a thin slice of students.  Arizona has a vast increase in students on the way to coincide with an even larger increase in the elderly population.  Still with me? Okay, let’s keep going.

Demographers calculate age dependency ratios, and economists have found that they predict rates of economic growth. An age dependency ratio essentially compares the number of young and elderly people in a population to the number of working age residents. The logic behind the notion is that young people require a heavy investment in social services (primarily education) while the old also require a heavy investment (primarily in the form of health care and social insurance retirement benefits).  From the perspective of a state budgeting agency, young people don’t work, don’t pay taxes, and go to school. Older people are out of the prime earning years, often heavily use Medicaid. An age dependency ratio basically tells reveals the number of people in the young/old categories compared the number of people in neither category (i.e. people of typical working age).

The United States Census Bureau calculates an Age Dependency Ratio by adding the number of people aged 18 and under to the number of 65 and older and dividing it by the number of people aged 19 to 64. They then multiply the figure by 100 just to make things tidy. The formula looks like:

Age Dependency Ratio = ((Young + Old)/(Working Age)) * 100

Many people continue to work and pay taxes past the age of 65, making it inappropriate to view them as “dependent.” It is also the case however that many people above the age of 19 are still in school and thus are not yet working and/or paying much in the way of taxes. We all probably know hyper-productive 70 year olds and people in their 20s engaged in a six-year taxpayer subsidized odyssey of self-discovery that will not number “graduation” among an otherwise wonderful set of experiences. During periods of prolonged economic difficulties, moreover, it is obviously the case that lower rates of working age people will in fact be working, and thus making taxes.

Notwithstanding these important caveats, the broad idea behind age dependency ratios is to roughly assess the number of people riding in the cart compared to the number pulling the cart at any given time. People of course both benefit and pay into these programs at different stages of life, but the current ratios serve as a measure of societal strain.  What does the age dependency ratio for Arizona look like?

Arizona Age Dependency Ratio

Note that Arizona’s age dependency ratio in 2010 was already among the highest in the country. A social welfare state with 86 people riding in the cart for every 100 pushing it will not compute. In 2030, the Class of 2006 will be squarely among those expected to push the cart of the Arizona social welfare state.  How alarming and unfortunate then that many of them dropped out of high-school, and many more of them dropped out of college. The most immediate way Arizona can help address the looming crisis of 2030 is to get more students educated now.

I’m not sure how this plays out. I am certain that we have been thinking too small given the size of our challenges.


Heads You Win, Tails You Still Win

March 5, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I had the opportunity to testify to the Senate Education committee in Texas today on the experience with parental choice programs for special needs children. One of the items of discussion was the following chart:

McKay Texas 1This phenomenon is often discussed regarding special education, but seldom quantified. In 2004 however officials from Education Service Center 20 (a regional body roughly covering school districts in the San Antonio area) provided the following chart to quantify the additional cost per special education student in a number of school districts. There were costs above and beyond those covered by state funding, and thus represented in effect a transfer from district general funds into special education funds on a per special education student basis.


Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby also testified to this interim committee in 2004, and she made the point that since school districts have been complaining that states don’t cover the full costs of special education for decades, that they have no cause to complain about students leaving with their (inadequate) funding. Districts can either keep these funds in the general education effort, or spend more on their remaining special education students (approximately 5% of Florida special education students directly utilize McKay but far more benefit from it) but either way they benefit.



The Moynihan Corollary to Baumol’s Cost Disease

December 10, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Over at the Ed Fly Blog I discuss the Moynihan Corollary to Baumol’s Cost Disease, my theory that Moynihan intended to leverage Hillarycare for welfare reform before killing it, and more on the failure of the staffing-bloat-as-ed-improvement strategy.

Baumol by Design

October 25, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Part four of the Baumol Disease series is up over at the EdFly Blog, including spectacular new Baumol charts from the Heritage Foundation and an excerpt from Terry Moe’s book Special Interest regarding the history of the Florida Education Association hijacking the Florida Democratic Party during the 2002 election.

Also be sure to check out the Friedman Foundation’s incredibly cool K-12 Baumol Map by State. How bad is the disease where you live?


The Ultimate Debate!

June 27, 2012

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Old and Tired: Star Wars versus Star Trek – which is better?

New and Fascinating: Greg Forster versus Rich Vedder – whose evisceration of the student aid regime is more devastating?

I vote for Rich. The constraints of the WSJ debate required me to address a more narrow set of questions. Rich has marshalled a more comprehensive takedown in the new Imprimis. It’s your one stop shop for everything that’s dysfunctional and destructive about the student aid regime.

HT Basic Instructions, my favorite webcomic – see more legible versions of these comics here and here!

Professor Dorn Dodges the Point

March 14, 2012

"Forest?" We trees haven't seen one of those...

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Sherman Dorn takes issue with Andrew Coulson’s spending/NAEP chart and my use of it. Just a reminder, here it is again:

Professor Dorn infers that Andrew took a present inflation adjusted spending per pupil figure and multiplied it by 13 to arrive the inflation adjusted cost per pupil instead of adding 13 seperate spending per figure numbers.

Because we spent less in the past than we do in the present, such a proceedure would be more appropriate for a projection of the future (with an inflator) rather than a documentation of the past. Dorn correctly notes that the per pupil numbers double rather than triple as implied by the chart pointing to the NCES source data. Unless Andrew is calculating some sort of net present value type of cost, Dorn seems to be on solid ground so far.

After that, Dorn’s post gets silly by taking the log function of spending data, etc. in a successful attempt to create a far more troublesome chart based on the same data.  Dorn however is missing the forest for the trees, even if he is right.

First note the absurdity of the phrase “only doubles” in practical terms. Let it breathe a bit, twirl it around in your glass, sample the aroma of it. When you partake of it, let it set in your palate for a bit before moving on.

What does a doubling of effort look like? Well, fortunately, all the charts in the post that Dorn ignored answer that question. Here they are again:

 Yep, that looks closer to a doubling than a tripling all right, unless of course the real total cost of the average teacher has gone up rather than down over the decades. Teachers of course are a small issue compared to this:

Oh, but not to worry- all these extra employees per student have vastly improved the quality of learning for our students. Err, except…

Hey no fair! The reading scores for 17 year olds may have only gone up one point despite a doubling of spending, but the math score gains have been better!

Umm…like a two point instead of a one point gain!

Bottom line: we’ve bombed our students with extra school employees and have very little to show for it in terms of academic outputs.

Now you won’t be getting any “fake but accurate” arguments from me. Unless I get a solid explanation from Andrew, which I still might, I won’t make any further use of the chart. These other charts make the point just fine.

The Desperate Need for Market Forces in Education

February 15, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Mark J. Perry provides a fantastic illustration of the tremendous power of market forces to improve the human condition. If a picture is worth a thousand words, here is three thousand for you:

So adjusted for inflation, a now obsolete piece of furniture television set that could bring in all of 12 channels and had no remote control and a terrible picture quality was going to set you back more than $5,000. What could you buy for the same amount of money today in constant dollars? Perry is glad you asked. Try this:
















Now, as a good skeptic, you quickly recovered from your shock and asked yourself if this was a phenomenon restricted to electronics. Perry, as it turns out, has anticipated your question:

We live, in short, in an age wonders, except of course for areas of the economy heavily managed and financed by the government. In those areas, instead of radically improving products provided at continually lower costs, we tend to see expanded costs for no, little or ambiguous improvements. Take for instance, American K-12 education in the era of unionized workforces (HT Andrew Coulson):

We need to be far more thoughtful about incentives in the K-12 system if we want to serve the best interests of children and taxpayers.

Abraham Who?

June 21, 2011

(Guest post by Brian Kisida)

Last week the Feds released the latest NAEP assessment of students’ understanding of U.S. history.  It contained a mostly negative assessment of history knowledge, including some tidbits like only nine percent of fourth-graders could identify a photograph of Abraham Lincoln and give two reasons why he is an important historical figure.  You know the drill: First act shocked that our students did so poorly, wring your hands a bit, blame your favorite thing/organization/political movement for creating this travesty, and then finish by lamenting the eventual end of democracy and civilized society as we know it (and plenty of people will also tell you the end of civilization can be avoided, of course, if we give schools additional resources or adopt national standards).  Everyone’s doing it, from the folks over at Fordham to Diane Ravitch.  Diane says she’s worried because when it comes to our high school seniors, “all of these students will be voters in a year.”  Well, not if 200+ years of voter-turnout data has anything to say about it.

Another annoying thing about all of the hand-wringing coverage generated by these types of reports is the way people discuss NAEP’s outcome measures, such as “Basic,” “Proficient,” or “Advanced” as if they’re entirely objective.  Here’s an excerpt from Ravitch’s statement on the issue:

“It’s worth noting that of the seven school subjects tested by NAEP, history has the smallest proportion of students who score Proficient or above in the most recent results available. Among twelfth graders, for example, only 12 percent reach Proficient in U.S. history, compared to 21 percent in science, 24 percent in both civics and writing, 25 percent in geography, 26 percent in mathematics, and 38 percent in reading.”

Or take, for example, the Boston Globe, which concluded from the same data that:

 “In fact, American kids are weaker in history than in any of the other subjects tested by the NAEP — math, reading, science, writing, civics, geography, and economics.”

It’s as if they think NAEP’s outcome categories were set by the International Committee on Weights and Measures using specific gravity and atomic clocks.  They aren’t.  They are arbitrary categories determined by “experts,” and they certainly aren’t comparable across subjects.  We can’t conclude that students are doing worse in history than they are in math or english simply by looking at proficiency rates.

The results are, however, comparable across time.  When viewed longitudinally, there are a few positives in this latest report.  Scores for eighth-graders were up across the board, and scores for Black and Hispanic eighth-graders were especially positive, significantly narrowing the White-Black test score gap. 

However, like we’ve seen time and time again with NAEP results, twelfth-graders aren’t budging.  And at the end of the day, if twelfth graders are stagnating then gains for eighth-graders are largely irrelevant.

To be honest, I think it’s difficult to guage the state of history education based upon NAEP’s measures, or based upon shoddy attempts by others to interpret them.  I really don’t know, for example, exactly how many fourth graders should be able to tell me the importance of Abraham Lincoln.  What I do know, and what I find disturbing, is that we have continued to allocate more resources for high school history over this same time period that high school scores have remained flat.  As the NAEP report points out, the number of schools offering A.P. U.S. history courses has risen from 51 percent in 1990 to 80 percent in 2009.  And the percentage of students who have taken an A.P. history class has more than doubled since 1990.  You would think that would lead to some observable gains for high-schoolers.

Sell Outs

June 13, 2011

(Guest Post by Brian Kisida)

It’s truly a sad situation when once respectable organizations become so intertwined with the corrupting influence of party politics and the ulterior motives of other interest groups that they abandon their core principles.  Last week Matt referenced the newly invigorated war against charter schools in New York undertaken by the NAACP.  Also last week in Milwaukee the ACLU filed yet another lawsuit against a school choice program.

On the surface, the NAACP’s ongoing opposition to school choice just seems bizarre.  The overwhelming majority of school choice programs in the U.S., whether it be in the form of urban charter schools or means-tested voucher programs like those found in Milwaukee and D.C., serve distinctly minority and disadvantaged populations by design.  If there’s a rational argument out there that can explain why the NAACP, according to its own principles, should stand in opposition to school choice, I haven’t heard it.  And I’ve done plenty of searching.

But the NAACP supported rally that was held down in Harlem last week does provide the necessary connect-able dots to at least consider their motives.  Who was there?  Well, New York City Council member Robert Jackson spoke out against charter schools, and he invoked the long hard plight of the NAACP’s battle against discrimination in the process:

“NAACP has stood for over 100 years to fight discrimination. And we stand united, right here on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard to say we will fight all people, all people, that want to discriminate against us or our children.”

Of course, he failed to mention that before he became a council member in 2001, he was a Director of Field Services for the New York State Public Employees Federation.  And, while it may be unfair for me to insinuate that his close ties to public employee unions motivate his opposition to school choice, it isn’t unfair to say that his claims are fundamentally false.  Charter schools are open to all students, regardless of residential location.  By definition, freely chosen charter schools are less discriminatory than residentially-assigned schools.  Unless, somehow, you think a randomly chosen lottery ball is capable of discriminating.

Also in attendance was United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew.  He also played the equity card:

“The children from the charter school will get the science labs, and not the children from the public school…the children from the charter school will get the playground, and not the children from the public school.”

Of course, charter schools are public schools, and they are open to all students who apply.  Moreover, if Mulgrew really thinks that charter schools are so superior to “public” schools, then wouldn’t the proper thing to do–if one really cared about giving every child the best education possible–be to make every school a charter school?  Then they’d all get the science labs and new playgrounds, right?

I imagine this is how organizations like the NAACP will inevitably die.  They become so resistant to change and so corrupted by bad influences that eventually they become irrelevant.  The NAACP is squandering what little credibility it has left by opposing policies that are near and dear to the hearts of the people who should be their core constituents.  So it goes.

Up in Milwaukee, the ACLU is also doing its best to betray its own principles by fighting the expansion of Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program (MPCP).  Like the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union is no friend of school choice.  Their own director, way back in 1994, agreed that school vouchers, if properly administered, were no more a violation of the First Amendment than were Pell Grants (which means they aren’t a violation at all).  But in the ensuing years, the ACLU has become one of the most vocal opponents of expanding individual liberty through school choice.  And it’s not exactly clear why.  At the very least, it’s worth noting that the word “liberty” doesn’t regularly appear in any of the ACLU’s public statements against school choice.

Last week, the ACLU filed a lawsuit claiming that the MPCP discriminates against children with disabilities and asked the Department of Justice to delay Governor Walker’s planned expansion of the program.  To make their case, they cite flawed statistics generated by the politically minded state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) that claim that nearly 20% of students in Milwaukee’s public schools have a disability, but only 1.6% of the students in the MPCP have the same condition.

Of course, the claim is misguided in multiple ways.  Independent research by Patrick Wolf from the University of Arkansas and John Witte from the University of Wisconsin does confirm an asymmetry with regard to disabled students, but not nearly as high as the one claimed by DPI and the ACLU.  In their analysis, they concluded that:

“Public schools have both strong incentives to classify students as requiring exceptional education, because they receive extra funding to teach such students and well-established protocols for doing so. Private schools have neither. A student with the same educational needs often will be classified as exceptional education in MPS but not so classified in the choice program.”

“Nine percent of choice parents said their child has a learning disability, compared to 18% of the parents of the carefully matched public school students in our sample. The proportion of students with learning disabilities in the choice program is about half that of MPS, but it is certainly not less than 1%, as the state Department of Public Instruction recently reported.”

In addition, the lawsuit brought by the ACLU completely ignores the funding disparity that exists between Milwaukee public schools and the voucher program.  Currently, students in Milwaukee’s public schools receive more than $15,000 in per-pupil funding, while students in the choice program receive $6,442.  If the ACLU were truly concerned about the liberties of disabled students and their families, wouldn’t it make the most sense to argue for an increase in the voucher amount for disabled students?  Wouldn’t that be the most liberty-maximizing course of action?

Like the NAACP, the ACLU has veered far from its own principles as an organization whose stated purpose is to “defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country.”  And, like the NAACP, it’s largely because they’ve sold out.  They’ve gone from being an organization founded on certain principles to being simply another political hack-unit heavily influenced by party politics and the agendas of other interest groups.  Unless they can find a way to change, they’ll continue to slide towards complete and total irrelevance.

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