A Society that Puts Freedom before Equality will get a high degree of both

April 20, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Want proof- here is how “9/33” charter sectors did on the 2015 NAEP 8th grade math test. First let’s look at middle and high income kids in Arizona and Colorado charters compared to the statewide averages for middle and high income kids:

Whew- would you look at that? I wonder if those AZ and CO charter school kids are getting half the funding per pupil of Massachusetts or not. Yes, right, so back on track here, those above kids are all middle and high-income, so how did low-income students far in these awful, horrible, no-good Wild West anarchist charter schools perform? I’m glad you asked:

 


Remarks to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce: More Than This

June 20, 2016

Friedman award

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry held an awards breakfast last Friday, where they recognized a number of worthy recipients including friends serving in the legislature like Senator Debbie Lesko and Senator Steve Pierce and Representative Paul Boyer.  They also however chose to recognize a rather dubious character with whom you will be all too familiar by bestowing upon him the Milton Friedman Award, Obviously I was deeply touched to receive an award named after one of my heroes.

At the request of the Chamber, I prepared the following remarks:

I am deeply touched to receive this honor, but I must say that I feel a bit like Jack Ryan. You may recall the scene in the Hunt for Red October when Ryan exclaims “Me?!? I’m just an analyst!”

Arizona is sailing into history!

While I am deeply appreciative of the award, it is I should honor you. The groundwork for what I am about to describe was already in place when I arrived in Arizona in 2003. You as long-time business and civic leaders in Arizona should take great pride in what I will relate.

It was recently reported that Arizona ranks number two in job growth. I am happy to relate to you that Arizona ranks number one in K-12 academic gains.  The National Assessment of Educational Progress gives academic exams to 4th and 8th graders in all 50 states every two years. When you follow the academic progress of 4th graders in 2011 to when they became 8th graders in 2015, you find that Arizona students made more progress than any other state. Given everything this state endured during the Great Recession, this is a remarkable tribute to the resiliency of our students, educators and policymakers.

NAEP Math cohort gains with AZ charters

This progress is across the board and includes both district and charter schools. In addition our charter school students did something truly extraordinary. On the same 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Arizona’s charter school students scored comparably to the highest performing states like Massachusetts and New Hampshire. This is all the more impressive when you consider that Arizona charter schools are funded far more modestly, and have student bodies far more diverse, than the schools in New England.

These results are remarkable. How did this happen? What is the secret sauce? There is no single explanation and there are many ingredients in the Arizona K-12 reform gumbo. You made the mistake however of giving me an award named after the great Milton Friedman and then the even larger mistake of giving me the microphone, so I am going to talk about parental choice. It seems clear to me that parental choice has been a major contributor to Arizona’s improvement.

Parental choice is controversial. Some people believe that parental choice is about some schools being “good” while others are “bad.” Those who believe this however are mistaken. Parental choice is about the fact that every single child deserves to have access to a school that is a good fit for them. Good fits between students and schools are very powerful, and we cannot replace it with any other source of improvement.  Without giving parents the ability to match the needs and interests of their child with the particular strengths of a school, the public education system will never reach full potential.

During the campaign, Governor Ducey quite rightly placed an emphasis on Arizona students sitting on wait lists at our high demand district and charter schools of choice. These students only have one shot at their K-12 education, but they find themselves stranded by the inadequacies of our policies, waiting for the opportunity to attend their good fit school. Meanwhile the sand continues to run through their hourglass. 

Our challenge includes this, but it is also more than this.

Tens of thousands of Arizona students sit on wait lists, but hundreds of thousands of Arizona parents never even considered some of our highest performing district and/or private schools. These schools may have been great fits for the needs of their children, but they didn’t even cross the radar screens of these parents for consideration. Why not? Because they have effectively been priced out of consideration. Parents either cannot afford the high price of real estate for the district schools, or else cannot afford to pay tuition in addition to their taxes. Many sadly see these schools as being for someone else, but not for them. It doesn’t however have to remain this way. We have it in our power to make our educational opportunities more inclusive. The blessings of liberty should not remain the privilege of the few, but rather the birthright of all.

I fell in love with Arizona because of our innovative spirit and I believe that we have been richly rewarded for it. If Dr. Friedman were still with us, I believe he would be proud of what we have done, and would encourage us to do more. Arizona is a state with big horizons, where the sky is the limit. May we always remain so.

I genuinely am deeply appreciative of both the award, and the opportunity to work with great people on these issues in Arizona.

 


AZ Charters and the NAEP

January 8, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

My friends at the Arizona Charter School Association put together this rocking graphic on Cactus Patch charter students RAWKING the 2015 NAEP. Make sure to check out the two mini-graphs at the bottom showing just how much more diverse AZ charters are than the states in their neighborhood of scores and how how the per pupil funding stacks up. Stare at them long and hard, and think about the times you’ve heard people say things like the following. Maybe you said them yourself:

Oh but it’s the Wild West out here. Oh they really should not have let so many charter schools open, they should be more cautious about authorizing like right thinking people back East. Tut-tut, KIPP won’t open a school there at that funding level.

Line forms to the left to either update your flawed thinking and/or offer your heartfelt apology. There’s still room on the bandwagon for those who follow the evidence where it leads.

 


Arizona Gains and the Orbit of Mercury-Wrecking Balls for Flawed Paradigms

December 21, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Recently I made an off-hand comment about Arizona NAEP gains being like the problem with the orbit of Mercury. I decided that it would profit from some further explanation. Newtonian mechanics seemed to have everything figured out, with that nagging problem of the orbit of Mercury doing something it shouldn’t. The “problem” with the orbit of Mercury of course wasn’t really a problem at all. It turned out to be a problem with our incomplete understanding of how the universe works- as illustrated in the above video.

Arizona 8m NAEP

So just how do Arizona NAEP scores resemble the orbit of Mercury? The 2015 NAEP shows that Arizona charter school students scoring in the range of New England states. Arizona charter schools serve a majority minority student population and spend only $8,041 per student- about a thousand less per student than Arizona districts and far less than the average spending in New England states.

AZ charter vs. district

Arizona’s AZ Merit exam demonstrated even larger gaps between charter and district scores than the NAEP, providing external validation for the NAEP scores.

Moreover Arizona charters, like districts, have been operating in a very tough environment. Back in my Goldwater Institute days, I would go to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee website as a rich source of for refuting complaints about public school spending. As it happened, the districts were getting more students, and the spending per pupil was climbing. Cry me a river. The Great Recession however clobbered the housing dependent Arizona economy and the same document now shows that the Great Recession shot Arizona school funding in the arm, punched the gunshot wound, and then threw us out through the front windshield.

Look at those guys! Their NAEP scores are going to collapse!

A little before the release of the 2015 NAEP, Mike Petrilli offered a friendly bet of a beer to me and Lisa Graham Keegan that Arizona’s NAEP scores would go down between 2013 and 2015 based on economic difficulties. We both instinctively thought they would go up, and they did. We are thirsty Mike! Taking a longer term view of the entire Great Recession period however proves more revealing.

AZ Mercury 1

Arizona scores have improved at six times the national rate on 4th grade math, 7 times the national rate on 8th grade math, five times the rate on 4th grade reading and 2.67 times the rate on 8th grade reading. How did a state that saw a decline in inflation adjusted spending per pupil drop from $9,438 in 2007 to $7,828 in 2014 (see JLBC doc link above) manage to outpace the nation in progress by such a wide margin? District interests here have a non-stop mantra about Arizona’s relevantly low ranking in per pupils funding but, er, why are we outpacing the nation by such a wide margin even as our funding declines?

Whoa- that’s unpossible!

Something is wrong here- but it is not Arizona’s positive score trends. What is wrong is some very common assumptions about K-12. I’ll get to that below.

The reality of Arizona K-12 improvement is of course complicated and defies any single explanation, with big changes going on at the same time. One factor that obviously contributed and that we can quantify charter schools. The next figure shows the NAEP gains by subject/grade for Arizona students for districts and charters (2015 scores minus 2007 scores).

Arizona Mercury 2

Some may attempt to dismiss the difference between charters and districts as a product of differences in student populations. Only a random assignment study could definitively test this assumption, but a large amount of evidence suggests which way such a (sadly non-existent) study would fall. Arizona charter students rank well when compared to statewide averages when compared to a wide variety of subgroups (general ed, White, Hispanic, etc.) While differences in student populations could explain some of the differences between Arizona charters and Arizona districts, they can’t be put to similar use in explaining why Arizona students outscore similar students in New Hampshire. Arizona law also require random lottery admissions, serve a majority-minority student population and the improvement we see in the district scores does not exactly sit comfortably with a massive brain drain to charters story. If all of Arizona’s brightest students were fleeing to charters, it would put a substantial drag on district scores. Instead we see district scores improving.

Arizona has a higher percentage of students attending charters than any other states, but that still only falls in the teens– 13.9% in 2012-13. Even so these gains are large enough to make a noticeable difference the aggregates:

Arizona Mercury 3

The differences in the above charts only display direct impact of charter school scores the statewide average. We have substantial reason to believe however that the growth of charter schools has indirectly raised Arizona scores as well through competition. In other words, charter schools almost certainly deserve some of the credit for the blue columns in the above chart rather than merely the difference between the red and the blue.

The reason I was willing to take Mike’s friendly bet on 2015 NAEP scores- I believe that by far the greatest opportunity to improve K-12 lies in making more efficient use of existing resources. In the opening pages of his 2004 book Hard America Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation’s Future the astute observer Michael Barone noted the following:

Public schools for example may be the most notable example of a predominantly Soft institution-which helps explain why American children are confined mostly to Soft America. But as we will see, our schools have not always been so Soft; they have contained corners of Hardness, and there are signs they are getting Harder now.

“Coddling” is not a term one would use to describe Arizona public education during the 2007-2015 period. Declining spending forced both district and charter leaders to seek efficiency. The state passed a law forbidding schools from making reduction in force decisions exclusively on length of service- this was very wise. Ineffective/expensive workers should be the first to go in a reduction in force- the alternative being to RIF a much larger number of young employees regardless of their effectiveness. Federal stimulus and a temporary sales tax increase delayed the need for these adjustments-but only temporarily. During this period Arizona lawmakers began grading schools A-F, and the combination of (mostly) recession related slow population growth and expanded competition halted what had been a non-stop process of student population growth for districts. Charters continue to gain market share against districts- and now both a more rigorous state test and NAEP show a substantial academic advantage for charter students.

None of this is easy for district leaders. It’s not exactly the cold howling wind of market competition, but it is a much higher level of competition and transparency than that to which the K-12 folks feel accustomed. Their world has become less stable and more competitive-Harder to use Barone’s phrase. To their credit, many district leaders have embraced the challenge.

It’s very difficult. It’s also very good for children. 

 


FL Hispanic Students Attending Charters Do Math like Connecticut, AZ Hispanic Charter Students like Delaware

November 23, 2015

FLAZ 8m

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Hispanic students attending charter schools in Florida and Arizona both scored about a grade level ahead of Hispanic students attending district schools. Figure 1 shows where this lands them in terms of statewide averages for all students. Notice that Hispanic students attending charter schools in Florida are almost a grade level ahead of the statewide average for all students in Florida.

Nationwide all students in public schools scored 281 on 8th grade math in 2015. This means that AZ and FL Hispanic students ended in a statistical dead head with the average.  Hispanic students in charter schools have gained 20 points in Arizona and 19 points in Florida over the 2005 averages. This reflects several things- including a lot of hard work by the students and teachers- but also perhaps maturing charter sectors with startups full of kids just transferring into the startup school impacting scores less than in the past.


Slice and Dice the Data but Arizona Charters Continue to CeleNAEP Good Times

November 16, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I’ve still been digging into the AZ NAEP data. When something seems too good to be true, it is best to assume it isn’t true. I decided to investigate the possibility that something goofy was going on with the free and reduced lunch variable. Not all  Arizona charters choose not to participate in the program, and the eligibility criteria for the program has changed over time.

Parental education may be a good stand-in for what may be a suspect income variable. At the 8th grade level, the NAEP data slicer has an a variable for parental education. The below figure presents the 8th grade math scores for students with college graduate parents. In order to account for possible differences in special program participation, the figure is only for general education students with college graduate parents (the ranking results don’t change much if you look at all students). I will again stress that these comparisons do not substitute for a proper random assignment study-only that they tell us more than an examination of aggregate scores for all students.

NAEP AZ charter 8m parent educ

Watch out New England…Arizona charter schools are coming to get you!

For you incurable skeptics, the below figure presents the same comparison using 8th grade reading, and bear in mind that each NAEP test involves a different sample of students.

NAEP AZ charter 8r parent educ

We can also look at these numbers by race/ethnicity. NAEP provides subset numbers for Anglos and Hispanics attending charter schools in Arizona. Here is the NAEP 8th grade reading test for Hispanic students:

AZ Charter 8r Hispanic

And here it is for Anglo students:

AZ Charter 2015 NAEP 8r Anglo

Okay but what if those Arizona charter schools are chock full of Anglo kids whose parents graduated college? Now the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools reports that Arizona charter schools have a majority-minority student body, so this is not the case- but what if a large portion of the Anglo kids attending charter schools have parents with college degrees? Ok, well, let’s compare Anglo kids whose parents graduated from college:

AZ Charter 2015 NAEP 8r Anglo college

Did I mention the part where Arizona charter schools did this with $8,041 per kid in public funding? Better results at a lower cost is what America is going to need very soon- and well here it is. Massachusetts NAEP scores taste like chicken btw, only gamier, could use a little salt.

 


The Wild West is Best put your NAEP scores to the Test

November 6, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’m going to use my Professor X powers to read your mind…you are thinking “Alright Ladner enough with the Arizona NAEP scores- won’t you give it a rest?”

No I will not. There’s a party going on right here-it’s a celeNAEPtion and it lasts throughout the year.

I’ve anticipated some of the possible objections to celebrating Arizona NAEP scores. Maybe those dastardly charter schools may have been circumventing their random assignment admission lottery legal requirements to load up on rich white kids! Maybe they don’t have many English Language Learners, special education students, Hispanic students, etc. District schools have to take everyone who can afford to buy a home in their attendance zone so comparisons aren’t fair…

Well some find this a very useful story, but we can actually examine it in the data. Let me note from the outset that variations in student demographics and special program status do exist between schools and school systems, achievement gaps between such student groups are a well-established phenomenon and that some accounting for such differences should be (carefully) made if our goal is to judge the effectiveness of a system. The best way to test this sort of thing is with a well done random-assignment study, but sadly we don’t have one.

I reported earlier that Arizona charter schools essentially tied Massachusetts (the highest scoring state) and the private school national average scores on the NAEP 8th grade reading test in 2015. What happens if we only look at the scores of general education students whose family income make them eligible for a free or reduced lunch? If those dastardly charter schools have been carefully avoiding special needs and ELL students it isn’t going to help them with this comparison.

AZ Charter 8m ranking

Let’s just put it on the table that free and reduced lunch eligible is going to translate to a higher proportion of Hispanic students in Arizona charter schools, but that was not a problem hombre. Do you notice anything similar about all those states (slightly) ahead of Arizona charter schools? Let me give you a hint…

Oh and…