Time Vault Tuesday- Six-year checkups on 2010 Predictions

May 31, 2016

(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?

NAEP Math Cohort gain 2015

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!


School Choice Equals Higher Accountability

October 1, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Patricia Levesque, veteran of the school reform wars in Florida, cautions edu-reactionaries in Louisiana against making the same mistakes that their compatriots in Florida made (and continue to make) in the Shreveport Times.

Florida lawmakers instituted K-12 reform in 1999, and efforts were rewarded with strident opposition from a vocal minority. Die-hard skeptics grew increasingly isolated, however, as Florida’s childhood illiteracy rate plunged, high-school graduation rates improved and the number of black and Hispanic students passing advanced placement exams tripled. There is still much more to do in Florida, but the progress is undeniable.

Louisiana reform skeptics should take care not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Rather than resisting reform, Louisianans of all backgrounds should be working together to maximize opportunities and achievement for students. Louisiana’s public school system will enjoy much brighter days once parents routinely match the needs of their child with the strengths of their schools.

As the debate over reform continues in Louisiana, remember that a century from now the vast majority of Louisiana students will still be attending public schools. Nothing has been done that will change that basic fact. Students can and should attend their public school by choice rather than simply by zip code.


Education Savings Accounts Duel in Florida

January 20, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Look for the Goldwater Institute study on using Education Savings Accounts as a vehicle for school choice next week. Meanwhile, they are already dueling over the concept in Florida. In this corner, Patricia Levesque from the Foundation for Excellence in Education represents the good guys with Let the Parents Choose.

In the opposing corner, representing the good but misguided faction, Betty Castor with Don’t Endanger Our Schools.

Notice the difference in emphasis regarding students vs. schools.

Those of us who support a fundamental overhaul of our system of schooling have a great deal of work to do to get people to understand that the methods of public schooling are fundamentally at odds with the ideals of public schooling. If you had to start from scratch, who in their right mind would order up the system we have today? Castor is right that Florida public schools have made a great deal of progress, and no one enjoys celebrating it more than me. It bears mentioning however that many of the people working Florida’s public school system fought the changes that produced those gains tooth and nail.

They were **ahem** completely wrong last time, but never mind that, this idea is dangerous so everyone run to your corners and Let’s Do the (2002) Timewarp Again!!!!

A decade ago, Florida’s public school establishment and their many willing accomplices in more than a few Florida newspapers were busily throwing up a firestorm over Governor Jeb Bush’s reforms. We all know how that ended: with Florida’s low-income, Hispanic and Black students outscoring statewide averages on NAEP.  Before we give any credence to the Little-Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf crowd, note that Florida has been offering children with disabilities all of their state money in the form of a voucher since 1999. Last year, 5% of children with disabilities utilized the program. That’s right- only 5% after a decade.

What do we know about the program? Participating parents love it and scores for children with disabilities are way up in Florida in part because of competition from the program. Oh, and it helps curb mislabelling of children into special education.

Ummmm…..where is the apocalypse? The mad rush for the exits? The terrible harm to schools and students?

The magic of the McKay program, and choice more generally, is that you don’t actually have to use it to benefit from it. Parents of children with disabilities now have the ability to walk with their feet if they think their school has served their child poorly, or that another school would do a better. The fact that only 5% of parents have actually pulled the trigger doesn’t matter much because all parents have the potential ability to pull the trigger. There are constraints, of course, most notably the availability of private options, but you get the point.

Nationwide, 2% of children with disabilities attend private schools at school district expense. Generally speaking, they were the kids with parents who had the ability to hire fancy attorneys who specialize in federal disability law. Sometimes these kids have successfully sued the district to get to a private school, sometimes a consensual agreement is reached for a private placement. Sometimes it is consensual, and other times it is “consensual” in the sense that districts are pretty good at figuring out when they would lose a lawsuit and cut their losses.

In any case, McKay gives parents who don’t have fancy lawyers power- the power to leave. McKay children stopped being a largely captive audience and became more like a client- a client you can lose if you fail to satisfy them.

This is what the education savings account concept is about: power for parents. The customer is King, and I want to give parents as close to full sovereignty over the education of their child as possible, down to the penny. This goes well beyond whether I should have choice over whether I send my child to a charter or a district school, or a private or district school. The idea is to allow every parent to customize an education for their child based upon their unique needs and interests from as wide an array of education service providers as possible: whether from public schools, private schools, virtual schools, private tutors, trade schools or colleges and university courses. Parents should be able to judge opportunity costs and cost-effectiveness, and save money over time for university expenses.

Would this spell the end of public schools? Hardly- did McKay end public schooling for children with disabilities? Yes but if McKay gave options beyond private schools, maybe 10% of students may have left instead of 5%!


Would it change education savings accounts change the way schools operate? Yes- for the better.

What about equity concerns? Give disadvantaged children greater funding weights than the current public school funding system.  Can anyone seriously justify $1,500 from the feds as making a serious dent in the role poverty plays in education, especially when often only half of it reaches the classroom? Who wants to stand up to defend a system of school funding which covertly gives far more to the children with the most, cleverly disguised in district averages? Can we really go on ignoring the abject failure of state funding equity lawsuits without seriously revamping the broken power structures of urban districts which often absorbed massive amounts of additional funds without producing significant improvement?

We can do much better than this- and putting parents in charge is the right way to do it.

We’ll have what Florida is Having

April 29, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Today is the final day of session in Arizona, and I am thrilled to say that it looks like major pieces of the Florida reform cocktail will be passing. These include grading schools A-F based on student test scores and growth, alternative teacher certification, 3rd grade social promotion curtailment, expanding sources for charter school authorization, and increasing the size, transparency and accountability for our scholarship tax credit program. Arizona lawmakers also passed a provision specifying that school districts cannot use length of service as the sole criteria when laying off teachers during a reduction in force.

Governor Bush and Patricia Levesque spent their valuable time here in Arizona last October in a series of events, and Patricia came back a few months ago to do followup meetings with key players. Key philanthropic leaders stepped up to the plate with both their money and their personal time. Governor Brewer and her staff prioritized Florida reforms in her State of the State address, and the Chairmen of the Senate and House Education committees, Senator John Huppenthal and Rep. Rich Crandall, personally introduced the centerpiece bills. Many of the bills gathered strong bipartisan support.

We have many miles to go in Arizona. Our NAEP scores have been below the national average 36 out of the last 36 exams. We aim to change that, and we know it isn’t going to happen overnight, and that much hard work lies ahead. We’ve taken the first steps to turning our illiteracy crisis around, and I am enormously grateful to all of the many people who helped make this happen!