(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
The Western Free Press unearthed an Arizona Horizon video from 2010. I was at the Goldwater Institute at the time, and we had Governor Jeb Bush and Foundation for Excellence in Education President Patricia Levesque out to the cactus patch to discuss Florida reforms in Arizona. The Arizona legislature went on to enact two of the key Florida measures-school grading and literacy based promotion, during that legislative session. The video makes for a great time vault to explore predictions at the time. Notice that the discussion in the video between myself and John Wright, the then-President of the Arizona Education Association, mirrors the later orbit of Mercury discussion– I predicted that we could make academic progress despite our economic difficulties, Wright predicted failure and doom without more money.
Here is a key prediction from Patricia:
If Arizona does some of the policies that are floating through the legislative process right now, you won’t see immediate results. I will take time, it takes determination, it takes a comprehensive set of policies that makes sure that the focus is on student learning, but Arizona could be where Florida is in a decade.
So let’s check the tape, or rather, check the NAEP. Mind you, there are many ingredients in the complex Arizona K-12 gumbo, so I would not wish to claim a simple causal relationship between these policies and outcomes. Nevertheless the general drift of Arizona policy has been towards greater levels of parental choice and improved academic transparency, which are things our tribe supports. This recording was made in 2010, which means the reference point at the time would have been the 2009 NAEP. Has Arizona made progress towards getting to where Florida was in 2009? It’s six years later, so Arizona has some sand left in the hour-glass, but have we made progress?
Answer- yes Arizona in fact is ahead of schedule overall.
On all four NAEP exams, Arizona has either substantially closed the gap on where Florida stood in 2009 or else (in the case of 8th grade math) already exceeded where Florida stood at the time. The largest gap remains in 4th grade reading. In 2009 a sixteen point gap yawned between Florida and Arizona. In 2015 Arizona’s scores were 11 points behind where Florida’s stood in 2009. The gaps on the other three exams however have been substantially narrowed. On the 8th grade side, Arizona basically entirely closed the gap with their 2015 scores and where Florida stood in 2009.
Here’s another prediction, made by yours-truly when asked about increasing spending.
Right now we face a gigantic structural budget deficit and I think that whether the sales tax proposal passes or not the truth is that there is not going to be any money for any increases in public school spending any time soon. In fact there is likely to be cuts. Having said that, I think that it is absolutely still possible for us to make progress, to get better bang for the buck the way Florida has whether that new money materializes or not.
John meanwhile generally expressed skepticism regarding the Florida reforms, and described funding cuts as “pulling the rug out from under” teachers. So how does this look, six years on?
The video was from 2010, and little could we have known that Arizona students were poised to lead the nation in 4th to 8th grade NAEP gains between the 2011 4th grade NAEP and the 2015 8th grade NAEP. The predicted funding cuts did in fact come to pass, which was very unpleasant for those running our schools, but meanwhile our students showed the rest of the country how it is done on gains. Time to CeleNAEP!