We are but warriors for the working day, but our hearts are in the trim

March 14, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Republic was kind enough to run the below letter to the editor from yours truly this morning in response to this editorial. If you are feeling the least bit skeptical, feel free to look these numbers up for yourself. The Republic’s editorial claims that now is not the time to expand parental choice because district schools are vulnerable. My claim is that Arizona district schools have never performed at a higher level than now and that we should in the immortal words of Darrel K. Royal “dance with the one that brung ya” which is to say stick with the strategies that brought success. Letter follows:

On the most recent Nation’s Report Card, Arizona 8th graders tied the state of Maryland in math, and outscored many states including Rhode Island, Delaware and North Carolina. These states spend far more per pupil than Arizona. None of these states has a majority-minority student population (Arizona does) but fortunately our students didn’t get the memo that they weren’t supposed to win. Instead they have been leading the nation in academic gains.

Arizona’s charter schools get still less money overall but scored higher than the statewide averages of 49 states on the same test. Arizona charter schools educate a majority-minority student population, but scored a single point lower than the highly funded and demographically advantaged Massachusetts-the nation’s long-time state academic champion. Again, the “you are supposed to lose” memo apparently went to Arizona’s spam folder, and our students and educators achieved an unprecedented academic triumph.

Arizona is never going to win a spending contest, but that is not the purpose of our investment. Our goal must be to maximize opportunity, not spending.










Tears for Beers

January 11, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona Republic columnist Bob Robb wrote a piece on Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s recent State of the State address. Money quote:

Ducey wasn’t a party to the deep cuts to K-12 education that were made after the bursting of the housing bubble knocked a big hole in state revenues. In fact, during his governorship, per-pupil spending, adjusted for inflation, has gone up, not down. Try to find an acknowledgement of that in the education funding debate.

In his speech, Ducey pointed out that “Arizona students are improving faster in math and reading than any other kids in the country.” That’s true.

Yet, there is a curious lack of curiosity about this development. In fact, Matt Ladner, a scholar with the Foundation for Excellence in Education, is about the only person in the state documenting it and inquiring about its causes. Everyone else is crying in their beer.

Bob’s kind remarks require two clarifications. First I made a professional transition a couple of months ago. Second, it is only bloody well near everyone else crying in their beer in Arizona, rather than actually everyone else. Crying in your beer is a bad look after all. A select few of us are just way too busy celeNAEPing our progress and trying to figure out ways to get more for it.

Anyone want to bet against Arizona for the 2017 NAEP?

December 13, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So Lisa Graham Keegan and I finally had the opportunity to collect on our bet with Mike Petrilli on the 2015 NAEP.  You may recall that Mike bet us before the release of the 2015 NAEP results for Reading and Math that Arizona’s NAEP scores would decline. Using our spidey-sense, LGK and I bet Mike that they would be going up, not down.  Arizona’s NAEP scores did go up. Mike was a good sport and quite appropriately paid his debt to us in copper cups (one of the state nicknames is the Copper State).

Depending upon how you examine the data Arizona is either near or else is at the actual top on gains. Measured by student cohort over time, Arizona’s 4th grade class of 2009 made more progress on Math and Reading between 4th and 8th grade scores in 2013 than any other state. Arizona’s 4th grade class of 2011 achieved the same pinnacle in their 2015 scores as 8th graders. (NAEP Math and Reading exams are both scaled and timed to allow such comparisons). The gains for Arizona charter school students dwarf those of Arizona as a whole, or any other state.

So anyhoo, the term “Wild West” is being thrown around as if it is a term of derision by some of those uncomfortable with the selection of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Here in the actual Wild West we wear the term with pride. The Arizona charter school sector has a majority minority student population, scored like a New England state on all six NAEP exams, and shows consistent results on the state PARCC exams.

Let me know when your state pulls something like that off, because I will be happy to celeNAEP with you. In the meantime, NAEP will be giving state level exams in Reading, Math and Writing in just a few weeks! Let’s see what happens next…

The Best Pound for Pound Math Education by State in America

August 2, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The deeper you look into the NAEP the better things look for my home state.  Earlier I showed you that Arizona led the nation in overall academic gains in both 2013 and 2015. Today let’s take a close look at math, and student subgroups- both in terms of gains and overall performance.

Starting with Anglo students- how did their gains look in 2015? The chart below subtracts the 2011 NAEP 4th grade math scale points from the same cohort’s 2015 8th grade math scores for Anglos.

Anglo math gains

Ok so they led the nation in gains- but that might not matter because their scores could still be low. Except they aren’t:

Anglo math scores

Arizona is in striking distance of everyone but the absurdly gentrified right side of the tracks sections of DC. So moving on to non-Anglo students, the NAEP can also track Black students- here were gains by state in 2015.

Black math gains

Well would you look at that? Number one again. Hmmm.  Well but it still might not mean much because the overall scores….could..still.be…….low?

Black math scores

Hispanic students gains/scores are merely spectacular rather than absolute tip of the spear:

Hispanic math gains

Ah well it gives us worlds yet to conquer, as do the scores:

Hispanic math scores

You don’t have to trust me- look the numbers up for yourself. Ok and then there is this to consider:

Ok so someone try to make a case that a state other than AZ deserves to be considered the pound for pound mathematics champion of the United States. I’ll have my gloves laced up and will be ready to give you a canvass nap in the comments section (unless you have a decent case to make) but I’m declaring Arizona to be the pound for pound state math champion.

P.S. (almost forgot…)


Arizona Leads the Nation in NAEP Gains-Now It is Time to Go from Good to Great

July 14, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

For you incurable skeptics, here are a few charts on Arizona’s glorious six-year (and counting?) reign as the NAEP gain champion, starting with 2009 to 2013:

Math NAEP gains 2009 to 2013

So just to provide some play by play here- Arizona 4th graders were 9 points below the national average on 4th grade math in 2009, but when this cohort reached 8th grade in 2013, they were only 4 points below the national average- within striking distance of the national average.

Here is what happened in the next cohort we can track in NAEP math- 4th graders in 2011 to 8th graders in 2015.

NAEP Math Cohort gain 2015

So in 2011, Arizona 4th graders scored five points below the national average on 4th grade math, still ranked in the bottom 10 of states. In 2015 the same cohort of students scored 2 points above the national average on 8th grade math. This was the first time in the history of the NAEP that Arizona had scored above the national average in any NAEP exam in any subject.

So where does this leave Arizona? Unfinished to be sure, but headed in the right direction. NAEP 8th grade scores are more reflective of the overall quality of a school system than 4th grade scores in my opinion, as you have additional years of schooling. In 2015, Arizona had moved to within the margin of error of the national average on both NAEP math and reading (slightly above in Math, even more slightly below in Reading). Arizona students were below the national average and outside the margin of error on both Math and Reading in 2009.

Of course the national average itself is a milestone but not a resting place- the United States does not rank well against other countries. We need to keep it up. Arizona was never going to become even an average performing state without above average gains, and no other state matches the gains seen by Arizona students over the last six years- so a bit of celebration is in order:

Guess which state had the largest overall NAEP gains in 2013…

July 13, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’ve already been happy to report that measuring NAEP gains between 4th grade scores in 2011 and 8th grade scores in 2015, Arizona banked the largest overall gain in achievement. Just out of curiosity I decided to rank the states during the previous period (2009 to 2013) the same way- 4th grade scores in 2009 compared to 8th grade scores in 2013. I did this separately for Math and Reading.

Any guesses on which state came in first in overall gains? Here is a few clues:

Arizona wins again! First in overall math gains, fifth in overall reading gains, highest overall combined ranking. Feel free to pop out and take notes- we’ve been doing this since (at least) 2009. Yes, feel free to bring your golf clubs.

Oh yes- I almost forgot:

The MacKenzies Weigh in on the 2015 NAEP gain Champion

July 6, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

MM: Hows it goin eh? So I am Matthew MacKenzie, and this is my sister Lisa Graham Mackenzie…put on your touk!

LGM: <putting on hat> COO LOO COO COO COO COO COO COOOOOOOO! Good day!

MM: Good day! Sos our topic today is education…

LGM: Education? Do you need me to teach you how to open a beer again hoser?

MM: No! Ifs I didn’t learn that after the sixth lesson or so, I’da thirsted to death already!

LGM: You….learn? <snorts>

MM: Yeah….okay…..so good day, we are here today to talk about education in the United States.

LGM: They have education in the United States? I thoughts the test scores were even lower down there than yours hose-head?!?

MM: Yeah, well, they are, check out how high Canada is on this ranking eh!

MM: You may have to squint but Canada is near the top! United States, er, well but at least some American states are making progress…like getting a lot better…

LGM: Oh you mean like BEER! Remember when just a small number of breweries made almost all the beer, and it mostly tasted like stagnant pond water?

MM: Yeah- kinda like that! So’s now some states have kinda done the microbrewery thing for schools eh? Sos more people can find a school that they like!

LGM: Beauty! And hosers like you can find a beer you like!

MM: Yeah so the state with the biggest gains did microbrewery education in a big way eh? Ands you can read about in our column in the Arizona Republic!

LGM: What’s the Arizona Republic?

MM: You know, it’s like the Moose Jaw Times Herald, but even better and for Arizona!

LGM: Okay…So if they keep making gains they might be able to do advanced Canadian math problems like this one:

MM: Yeah…that’s what we call “applied math” up here in the Great White North!

LGM: Beauty! So we wrote a column and it ran, like, in the newspaper?!?

MM: Yeah!

LGM: Sos why does this post have a MacKenzie theme eh?

MM: Take off- you’ll have to read the column to find out, eh?

LGM: You take off hose-head!

MM: Okay so that’s our show for today eh…good day!

LGM: Good day!