Arizona Charter Students Aren’t Left Handed Either Part Deux

October 18, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So out riding my bike on the canal this morning I had the idea for a new visualization for cohort NAEP gains. Here’s what it looks like:

So a bit of explanation: the shotgun blast at the lower left part of the chart are 4th grade math and reading scores for states in 2013, with Arizona charter school students included. Arizona charter school students didn’t blow anyone away with their math and reading scores as 4th graders in 2013, but this is in the range of what many would expect from a majority minority school system operating with very modest funding.

Fast forward the clock to 2017 and those kids were 8th graders, which are the shot gun blast of dots on the upper right. Lo and behold, that majority minority student population is **ahem** outscoring states that spend more than twice as much per pupil and have the advantaged end of the achievement gap stick. Arizona charter students pulled this off despite spotting such states a head start in the form of higher 4th grade scores.

Wait…I’m picking up a disturbance in the Force. I can feel you thinking “Ok but students come and go from charter schools and this must explain some of those gains.”

Actually kids do come and go from charters, but to the extent this is happening Arizona charters are sending out kids with higher levels of academic achievement and bringing in kids with lower levels of achievement. From the Center for Student Achievement:

So if numeracy and literacy are an important part of what you are looking for in a school for your child, you might want to move to Arizona. Once here you can consider enrolling your child in one of our pluralistic charter school offerings which focus on everything from the arts to equestrianism to the classics. As far as I can tell, it’s the finest system of public education in the country, and it is available to you free of charge delightfully without a crushing level of taxation. Plus…bring your golf clubs:

The Rising Tide in the Desert

February 21, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)


Too much of Arizona’s K-12 debate focuses on inputs, too little on outputs. Some districts have been gaining enrollment, others losing enrollment, but this is an entirely secondary concern when compared to the question of whether an increasing number of Arizona students are acquiring the knowledge, skills and habits for success in life.

The above chart from the Center for Student Achievement shows enrollment trends for districts and charters in a number of Arizona districts. Some districts gained students despite the rise of charters (Chandler, Higley, Queen Creek) while others lost enrollment. All of the above Arizona district/charter combos did well to spectacular in Stanford’s Sean F. Reardon’s measurement of academic growth, with the lone exception of Coolidge Unified.

The Scottsdale district/charter combo came in at the 64th percentile, Tucson at the 67th, Queen Creek at the 68th percentile, Deer Valley at the 83rd, Roosevelt at the 89th. All three of the truly spectacular scores (Higley, Chandler and Phoenix Elementary combos at 95, 95 and 99th percentile respectively) came from situations where both the district and charter sectors grew rapidly. Congratulations to the students and educators of these communities are richly deserved.

The growth party did not stop in 2015.  Here are the ELA proficiency trends in AZMerit for all of these districts:

and here is the same chart for math:

Some of these gains are large (see Queen Creek and Scottsdale) others incremental, but every single one of them is moving in the right direction.

Wait- my telepathic powers are picking something up. You were thinking “Ladner are you really going to celebrate Roosevelt going from 17% proficient to 23%?

I’m glad you asked.

Two things- first the AZMerit academic bar is high, and second most of the rest of the country seems mired in academic stagnation. Of course I’m not satisfied with 23% proficiency (#NoAZwe’vegottoWinMOAAARRR!) but I am indeed happy that both low performing and high performing districts show improvement.

Experience is a harsh mistress, and one of the things she teaches the policy analyst is to never rely solely on state test scores. NAEP will release 2017 scores in a few weeks. Let’s see what happens next. In the meantime, the freedom for families to choose between schools and the opportunity for Arizona educators to create new schools according to their vision of excellence seems to be broadly working.

%d bloggers like this: