Foundation for Excellence in Education Video

September 15, 2010



Florida on the March!

March 24, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

To go along with Florida’s great news from NAEP, comes this from Florida parental choice champion John Kirtley:

Today 5,500 low income parents and children travelled to the distant Florida capitol of Tallahassee to show their support of parental choice, and their support of our bill to dramatically expand the tax credit scholarship program for low income children.  Some of them took buses all night long to attend our rally, and their numbers set a national record for a parental choice rally. We conducted a headcount as they stepped off ninety eight 55-passenger buses this morning, and the total was 5,115. Another 406 arrived in cars for a grand total of 5,500. 
But the numbers weren’t the only story. The lineup of speakers who endorsed our the bill included the acting president of the national Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Also endorsing the bill was the President of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and a group of South Florida Hispanic public school teachers. This is far from the typical story line for a rally supporting parental choice, and shows that in Florida this learning option for low-income students has achieved critical levels of bipartisan support.

Here is what Rep. James Bush, representing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, told the crowd: 

It is no coincidence that the first African-American to live in the White House is a man with an Ivy League degree, and just last summer President Obama made a powerful point about our history. There’s a reason, our President said, the story of the civil rights movement was written in our schools.  There’s a reason, he said, that Thurgood Marshall took up the cause of Linda Brown.  There’s a reason, he said, why the Little Rock Nine defied a governor and a mob. It’s because, President Obama told us, there is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child’s God-given potential.

I say to you today that the Tax Credit Scholarship program is one of the keys we use to unlock that potential. It is one way we can reach some of those children who go to bed hungry at night. It is one way we show that an empty pocketbook doesn’t have to mean an empty bookshelf – that all our learning tools need to be on the table for all our children.

I am here today as a messenger of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and I am here to proudly proclaim that the organization created by Dr. King believes that a scholarship for low-income children is one way to break the cycle and close the gap. I am here, standing before this inspiring sea of hopeful faces, to announce that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference endorses Tax Credit Scholarships and endorses the bill this year that will expand them. This is our future. God bless you all.

Florida Senate approved a major expansion of the Step Up for Students tax credit by a vote of 27-11. One quarter of the Democrats voted in favor.

Florida Crushes the Ball on 2009 NAEP Reading

March 24, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The NAEP released reading scores for the 2009 Reading exams for both 4th and 8th grade. Florida once again crushed the ball in improving student performance. While the nation’s  4th grade reading scores remained flat, Florida’s scores surged ahead.

In 2007, Florida’s Hispanic students outscored 15 statewide averages for all students on 4th grade reading. Two years later, Florida Hispanics tied or outscored 30 statewide averages. Florida’s Hispanics scored 13 points higher than the statewide average for all students in Arizona in 2009, over a grade level worth of learning (10 points roughly equaling a grade level’s worth of learning).

Arizona had company. Florida’s Hispanic students also outscored or tied the statewide averages for all students in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Florida’s African American students also beat the statewide average for all students in Arizona by a nose. Statistically speaking, this is a tie, but extraordinary nevertheless. In 1998, the average Arizona student scored two grade levels higher than the average Florida African American. Florida’s African American students outscored or tied the statewide scores for eight states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and New Mexico.

Florida’s success in improving academic achievement for disadvantaged students should inspire the rest of the nation to action.  Importantly, Florida’s reading scores also improved markedly for 8th graders, including very large gains among all the disadvantaged student subgroups, including Hispanics, African Americans, students with disabilities and ELL students. More on that later.

Congratulations to Florida students, teachers, school leaders and policymakers. Florida serves as a beacon to the rest of the nation, and should inspire us all to even greater reform efforts. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now. When it comes to education reform…I’LL HAVE WHAT FLORIDA IS HAVING!

UPDATE: I left West Virginia off of the list of states which Florida’s Hispanic students outscore. West Virginia’s score for all students was 215, Florida’s Hispanics scored 223. So, make that 31 states for Florida Hispanic students!

The AEA’s Nose is Growing

February 25, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Last week I had the opportunity to discuss Florida’s education reforms on the Arizona PBS public affairs program Horizon with Arizona Education Association President John Wright. We were discussing Florida’s Nation’s Report Scores and I was surprised to hear John make the following claim:

The steepest increases that Florida saw in both reading and math scores were between 1994 and 2002- before most of these reforms took place.

There are a few problems with this statement. First, the Florida legislature enacted most of the reforms in 1999, which falls between 1994 and 2002. The Nation’s Report Card gives tests both 4th grade reading and math and 8th grade reading and math. Florida students however did not take a Nation’s Report Card tests in 4th Grade Math, 8th Grade Math or 8th Grade Reading in 1994.

Florida’s 4th graders did take a test in reading in 1994. Between 1994 and 1998 (the last test given before the reforms) Florida’s reading scores increased by 2 points. After the reforms, Florida’s scores increased by 18 points. A ten-point gain approximately equals a grade level’s worth of learning.

I thought perhaps John had his dates mixed up, but there was something to his assertion on trends, but not so much. Going back as far as possible into the 1990s for each subject, the average gain during the pre-reform 1990s equaled 4 points. Post-reform, the average gain has been 20 points. I you calculate per year gains, the post reform period does almost three times better than the pre-reform years.

John also claimed that Arizona’s K-12 budget cuts were “pulling the rug from beneath the teacher’s feet.” The 2008 Superintendent’s Financial Report however reveals the total revenue per pupil to be $9707 per pupil while the 2009 Superintendent’s Financial Report reveals the latest figure at $9,424 per pupil: a whopping $283 per pupil decline.

The AEA has a budget several times larger than the GI, so it ought to be able to avoid outsourcing his research function to golf hecklers who don’t have their facts straight.

Golf Hecklers of the Arizona Left

February 16, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

JPGB readers will of course remember the great American film Happy Gilmore in which Adam Sandler plays a hockey player who joins the pro golf tour in order to save his Grandma’s house. Happy’s nemesis, Shooter McGavin, employs a heckler to get under Happy’s dome while golfing.

Happy, easily frustrated, loses his cool and gets beat up by Bob Barker.

So taking a page from the Shooter McGavin playbook, the left has given me a stalker of my own. David Safier, a retired teacher and blogger, has taken to spending his time playing the role of “Jeering Fan” to my Happy Gilmore. Safier blogs at Blog for Arizona, a multi-author blog of the Tucson left.

Some time ago, Safier claimed that I had simply manufactured a $9,700 per student revenue figure for the Arizona public school system. Making the assumption that Safier was open to evidence, I produced links to the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Financial Report and the Arizona’s legislature’s research arm documenting the figure.

Chuck Essigs of the Arizona School Business Officials, not someone inclined to often agree with me on education policy, nevertheless had the intellectual honesty to admit that the full spending per pupil figure is around $9,500.  Sadly, the response from Safier essentially amounted to putting his hands over his ears and muttering talking points from his teacher union pals. Something about lunch money for Twinkies getting into the revenue report. No word yet on how this nefarious twinkie money made it into the expenditure report.

The Tasty Magic * of the Arizona Left- We spend $6,000 per pupil-Nothing to see here-Move along

Slowly but surely BfA references morphed from “friend of the blog” to “right wing propagandist” and such. Ah well, no good deed goes unpunished.  A little tour of the Arizona left wing echo chamber proved educational if not satisfying.

Safier has now blogged up a series about Florida, but can’t get even the most basic facts straight.  For instance, Safier tries to claim that the improvement in Florida’s 4th grade reading scores began in 1994, before the reforms. If one visits the NAEP website, however, one learns that Florida’s reading scores were 208, 205 and 207 in 1992, 1994 and 1998.  On a 500 scale point test, the technical term for that is “as flat as the highway between Dallas and Fort Worth.” Mere bouncing around with very low scores.

After 1998, however, scores increase to 214 in 2002, 218 in 2003, 219 in 2005 and 224 in 2007.  A rough rule of thumb is that 10 points approximately equals a grade level worth of learning on NAEP exams. So during the 1992-98 period, scores dropped by a point.  Between 1998 and 2007, they increased by 18 points.

So, the average Florida 4th grader is merely reading at a level almost two grade levels higher than Florida 4th graders were in 1998. Also, Florida’s minority students began outscoring multiple statewide averages back in the early aughts. Nothing to see here! Move along!

In the imaginarium of Safier, the Florida reforms are advancing at the behest of a vast right wing conspiracy foisted upon an unsuspecting Arizona at the behest of the evil Dr. Ladner.

Grade your schools or I'll blast you with my "laser"

The truth is that other states have adopted Florida reforms, still others are considering adopting Florida reforms. The vast majority of people, regardless of ideology, want to see public school improvement.  Sadly, some are so emotionally wedded to the idea that such improvement is only possible if we spend $30,000 a child that they make themselves look silly.  Hopefully this crowd will eventually put on their big boy pants and join the adult conversation.

Until then, I guess they can continue to heckle from their self-imposed exile on the sidelines. In the end, Happy wins the tournament, gets the girl and saves Grandma’s house. The heckler gets stood up by Shooter McGavin at the Red Lobster.

The One Florida Program

October 2, 2008

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Public school officials have come to resemble the kids at college football games holding up the sign “Hi Mom! Send More Money!” Public school officials constantly call for additional resources, a call that lawmakers have answered. Nationally, inflation adjusted spending per pupil nearly quadrupled between 1959 and 2004. Unfortunately, there was very little evidence of increased student learning during that period- NAEP scores have been largely flat since the late 1960s despite the increase in funding.


One state, however, has figured out how to utilize the insatiable appetite of schools for additional funding as a carrot to improving student performance.


Florida education reforms not only have improved early childhood literacy, but have also prepared a higher percentage of minority children for college work. Governor Jeb Bush pushed a One Florida Initiative, which sought to replace race based affirmative action with more effective instruction: better preparation rather than lower standards. The results have been impressive.


Working in partnership with the College Board beginning in the year 2000, the One Florida plan sought to increase the academic achievement of Florida’s students, particularly underrepresented in universities. The comprehensive plan included professional development for teachers and counselors and free PSAT exams for students. Florida officials created AP Potential – a web-based tool to identify promising students for AP coursework.


The program relied heavily on incentives, creating an AP Teacher Bonus – $50 for every passing score, up to $2,000. The program also created an incentive for the school, paying the school an additional bonus of $650 per student passing an Advanced Placement exam. Florida officials carefully wrote this bonus into the funding formula so that it went to the school, not to the school district.


The reformers didn’t stop there, however. Florida’s A-Plus reform plan assigns letter grades to schools based upon student performance. The One Florida plan provided an additional school bonus of $500 per student passing an AP exam for schools rated “D” or “F.” The idea was to set high expectations and to reward success.



The National Math and Science Initiative recently collected data on the number of students passing AP exams, broken down by ethnicity. Figure 1 presents the number of Hispanic students having passed an AP exam per 1,000 junior and senior Hispanic students. Florida not only leads the nation in Hispanics passing AP exams, they do so at a rate nearly 8 times greater than that of my home state of Arizona.


Do schools respond to incentives? Judge for yourself: between 1999 and 2007, the number of Florida students passing AP tests increased by 154%. Figure 3 below shows that the number of Florida Hispanic and African American students passing an AP exam more than tripled between 1999 and 2007.



Florida’s education reformers achieved these results for what ultimately amounts to a tiny portion of the Florida K-12 budget. Floridians should not be satisfied with these results, but should be proud of this level of progress- and work to extend it.


The next time the public school establishment calls for additional resources in your state, the question should not only be whether they should get them or not. The question should also be “in return for what?” Pay for performance is an excellent idea for education funding.


In Florida, high-schools get more money the old fashioned way- they earn it.


What Does Florida Tell Us About Broader/Bolder?

September 4, 2008

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I have several times noted the vast improvement in Florida’s 4th Grade Reading NAEP scores on this blog. Figure 1 below demonstrates just how large that improvement has been between 1998 and 2007. For those who don’t have an excel spreadsheet open, that is  a 32% increase in students scoring Basic or above, a 54% increase in those scoring Proficient or better, and a 100% increase in the percent scoring at the advanced level.

These results make the so-called “Broader and Bolder” approach seem all the more absurd. There hasn’t been any outbreak of “Socialism for the Children” in Republican dominated Florida, but there has been substantial improvement in the percentage of children learning to read.


Lucky thing too, as state budgets are being consumed by out of control Medicaid spending that it taking an increasingly large bite. Society has several other priorities besides K-12 education, such as criminal justice, higher education, transportation and social welfare. Bottom line: there isn’t the money for the Broader and Bolder approach anyway. This is just as well, as the track record on spending increases fueling academic gains stands as a dismal failure.


Given that we can’t spend our way out of our K-12 problems (and it wouldn’t work if we tried) we should instead seek ways to improve the bang we get for our existing bucks. Fortunately, Florida shows that it can be done.