The NCLB Era in One Handy Chart

March 21, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Unfortunately a large majority of the nation’s K-12 students are in the tight cluster of meh and sub-meh in the stagnation cluster. Judged by 8th grade math and reading gains 2003 to 2015, Arizona, Hawaii and Tennessee are having the best improvement. New York is still alright if you like saxaphones academic stagnation.

The 2017 NAEP will be released on April 10. Anyone else believe in any of these blue dots enough to dare a prediction?


LGK on Arizona’s “Wild West” Charter Schooling

June 28, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Lisa Graham Keegan takes to the pages of Fordham to talk about lessons learned out here in the Wild West in When Regulating Charter Schools Proceed with Caution. Lisa raises the point that other policies, including A-F school grading, may have contributed to our success. I suspect that she is entirely right about that, but to me this is the money quote:

Moreover, Arizona’s “wild” charter journey led to many low-income, highly performing charter management organizations that can only be found in the Grand Canyon State. Many are community-focused and community-developed, which we all say that we want, but their first priority was on stabilizing the communities they grew from. In other words, they weren’t very good academically to start—but they did transform their neighborhoods, and parents trusted these new schools with their precious children over many other options that went out of business due to lack of enrollment. Years later, many of them, like Academies of Math and Science, Mexicayotl Academy, and Espiritu Schools, are now among the top performing schools in not just the state, but in the country, and were highlighted in last week’s Education Equality Index. The thing is, it took a decade to do that. And we Arizonans let it happen.

Translating this into Ladnerese- if Arizona had five year charters and default closures we might have arbitrarily closed some schools which blossomed into very high performing operations that now do a great job with disadvantaged kids. I use the word might because even if the Arizona Charter School Board had gone hillbilly nuts technocrat (Hey man- hold my beer while I close this school- this gonna be AWESOME!) the schools in question would have got their parents riled up, hired lawyers to engage in delaying actions, etc. I for one am happy that the schools LGK mentions could focus their energies on improving academics rather than fighting a bureaucratic guerrilla war.

Meanwhile these schools faced a much harsher form of accountability- from Arizona parents. Hundreds of Arizona charter schools have closed, and their average length of existence is 4 years, with an average of only 62 students in the final year of operation. If you live to see year 5 as an Arizona charter school, you are probably doing something right because everyone wants your students- your home district, fancy school districts like Scottsdale, Madison and Chandler are playing the open enrollment game, the other charter schools, and the private schools with the assistance of choice programs.

Frontier justice does not allow for parents to appear at a hearing to vent their anger, or for lawyers to file motions, or allies to lobby their political contacts for reprieve. The parents simply never enroll and/or walk away, there are private efforts to explain the reality of the situation to those institutions needing hospice care to wind down, and meh and sub-meh bleeds out on a dusty street full of hot lead. Some of you don’t believe this. Some of you don’t want to believe this. Well…just maybe…

 

 


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…


But that was 30 years ago when they used to have a show

August 11, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Barry Manilow’s classic song Copacabana is a very catchy upbeat tune with a sad underlying story about a person living in the past:

Her name is Lola, she was a showgirl
But that was thirty years ago, when they used to have a show
Now it’s a disco, but not for Lola
Still in dress she used to wear
Faded feathers in her hair
She sits there so refined, and drinks herself half-blind
She lost her youth and she lost her Tony
Now she’s lost her mind

For reasons that may become apparent if you read it, this column responding to one published by myself and Lisa Graham Keegan in the Arizona Republic brought the unfortunate image of Lola to mind. Our opponent’s column is a pretty standard recitation of anti-choice talking points, but there is an underlying sadness to it in my opinion.

Arizona lawmakers passed charter schools in 1994 and the first private choice program in 1997.  So thirty years ago districts were effectively Arizona’s only show. We had parental choice back in those days, but it was the old-fashioned kind. If you could afford to buy a house in Scottsdale etc. or to pay for the tuition at Brophy Prep, you had choice in the lost near monopoly era of Arizona K-12. Otherwise, it was unfortunate to be you.

I’ve written on this blog previously just how awful the results were from this era. The NAEP gave us state level data from 1992 and 1994 before our policymakers began any effort to broaden the ability to exercise choice. Only 28% of Anglo 4th graders read proficiently in, er, English in 1992. Arizona still has a lot of work to do, but at least has been trending in the right direction.

I’m not going to bother to point by point this column, but rather to simply focus on a few faded feathers in its hair. Approximately 3,000 children participate in the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program, and the majority of them are children with disabilities. Arizona has a great many individual high schools with more than 3,000 students, and yet in the fever dreams of opponents these kids should be made into scapegoats for all the problems of public education. It’s sad.

Arizona has been leading the nation in 4th to 8th cohort gains on NAEP, but rather than celebrate this fact and seek more, some would rather wallow in learned helplessness, convinced that they can’t do better unless they receive money that the state does not have. It’s sad.

Part and parcel of this complaint is to claim that districts take “all comers” while charter do not. Arizona charters however must conduct admission lotteries while district open enrollment decisions are left entirely to the schools. Fancy district schools are open to “all comers” if you can afford to purchase housing in their attendance zones, otherwise they all to often resemble Aspen vacations or shiny new German sports sedans- wonderful things if you can afford them. We started the process to democratize the opportunity to choose, but some prefer to keep choice as a privilege for the few rather than the birthright of all. It’s sad.

Charter schools have been in operation in Arizona for over twenty years. Some district educators have taken up the challenge to compete and I admire them for it. Others spend their time complaining about charter schools non-stop.  Charter school students score like a New England state on NAEP with a majority minority student population and show even an even larger advantage in the state exam, but….lawmakers didn’t include them in a seldom-read auditor general report, so ah they must be evil.

Some (not all by a longshot!) spend their efforts yearning for a near monopoly era that is never coming back.  In my youth growing up in the South I can remember a few old people who would babble about the “War of Northern Aggression” and whatnot. It’s a bad look to live in the past. There are real and very deep issues to debate when fashioning choice policy but to engage in them seriously one must broaden beyond stale talking points. Quite frankly Arizona districts deserve better advocacy strategies than complaining about the disco ball while yearning for what was more of a stone than a golden age. This “strategy” is unworthy of the dignity of the great many outstanding educators working very hard in Arizona’s improving district school system.

It’s time to lose the faded feathers.

 

 

 


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!


Stop! Hammer Time!

January 2, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

In the great tradition of Marvel’s No-Prize and our own Al Copeland Humanitarian Award, I am very pleased to have received a 2015 Hammer Award from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce!

Mr. Education: Matt Ladner. Dr. Ladner’s blogs on NAEP scores and the outstanding performance of Arizona’s charter schools, which put us in a statistical dead heat with top-performer Massachusetts, were must-reads for education wonks and those of us tired of reading only the bad news about Arizona’s K-12 system. Dr. Ladner offers readers a welcome and needed national perspective. We are lucky he is based here in Arizona. He’s the Paul Goldschmidt of education policy: he’s a gentleman, generous with his time, and produces the equivalent of quality at bats every game. 

I have not felt so honored since being awarded the first (and as far as I know only!) Lifetime Bunkum from NEPC, and after that Mrs. Ladner had to my post bail and then drive me to the hospital. I mean who could have possibly suspected that Caesar’s Palace suites could catch fire? Jay and Greg tend to point fingers at each other. Or maybe it was Holly Madison and those tigers that are  really to blame. Enlow just had to invite them back to the suite. In the end we all know that all roads of suspicion ultimately lead back to the Barbarian.

In any case it was a heck of a week until that happened.

But I digress…any time someone who could not jump rope to save his life gets compared to the great Paul Goldschmidt it’s time to celebrate, or better yet to CeleNAEP, just a little calmer this time! My sincere thanks to my great partners in reform at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and A for Arizona.


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.