AEA president has facts wrong about Florida education reforms

by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.
Goldwater Institute
Last week, I had the opportunity to discuss Florida’s education reforms on KAET-TV’s “Horizon” with Arizona Education Association President John Wright. We were discussing the Nation’s Report Card scores for Florida and I was surprised to hear Mr. Wright 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. Second, the Nation’s Report Card gives tests for fourth-grade reading and math, and for eighth-grade reading and math. Florida students, however, did not take a Nation’s Report Card test in 1994 for fourth-grade math, eighth-grade math or eighth-grade reading.
Florida’s fourth graders did take a test in reading in 1994. Between 1994 and 1998, Florida’s reading scores increased by two points. After the reforms, Florida’s scores increased by 18 points between 1998 and 2007. A 10-point gain equals about a grade level’s worth of learning.
Still, while I thought Mr. Wright had his dates mixed up, perhaps there was something to his assertion on trends.
But the truth turns out to be much different. Going back as far as possible into the 1990s for each subject, the average gain in scores before the reforms were adopted equaled four points. Post-reform, the average gain over nine years has been 20 points.
Mr. Wright also claimed that Arizona’s K-12 education 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 $9,707 while the 2009 Superintendent’s Financial Report reveals the latest figure at $9,424 per pupil: a whopping decline of $283 per pupil or less than 3 percent.
Someone is indeed trying to pull something–it’s the AEA trying to pull the wool over our eyes, not the Arizona legislature.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research for the Goldwater Institute.


  1. “First, the Florida legislature enacted most of the reforms in 1999, which falls between 1994 and 2002. ”

    Would Ladner mind backing this up with actual bills because as far as I can tell very little was done by the Florida legislature which actually would have gone into effect before 2002.

    Also, it would be nice if he pointed out where the Superindent’s reports give the figures he cites because they do not appear in the versions linked to.

  2. Is it any surprise that AEA chief John Wright would lie about any study that puts his wrongheaded claims in a bad light? This guy is nothing more than a union hack–no credibility. His constant mantra that ANY cut to public education is devastating and throws our K-12 system back to the stone age is disingenuous at best. He constantly complains about Arizona spending only about $5400 per student per year, ranking it at or near the bottom. The truth is, as noted above by Dr. Ladner, Arizona spends over $9400 per student per year, ranking it about 25th. Wright is wrong for Arizona students and we should just ignore his silly rants.

  3. And our local private school does it for $3,000 per pupil.

    Now, where’s that $9,000 going per pupil? Busses … meals … the public schools have piled on overhead costs that have nothing to do with actual teaching. When they cry for more money, much of THAT goes to … admin, bells and whistles. The classroom is UNCHANGED in quality of ACADEMICS and INSTRUCTION.

    And the curriculum stinks. Absolutely stinks. So, UNCHANGED is not the true situation, it’s still DECLINING.

    If the schools are not performing NOW, then they will not perform with more money. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to prove otherwise and haven’t done so.

  4. wanumba,
    You private school is not educating children on $3,000 per pupil. Where are you getting this nonsense?

  5. Stephen Kohut says

    If you take 1970 spendinf per child in AZ and adjust for infaltion that comes to $4000/child. We’re paying almost 10K for a kid today less educated than the 1970 model!

  6. No busses, no cafeteria meals, stuff like that which adds up on overhead. Bag lunch, parent transport on everything.

    Pretty bare bones. But they can read and write better than their public school counterparts.

    What’s the matter with you? Everytime you hear something that upsets your little box world, you can’t handle it and have to shut it down?

  7. hardly wanumba,
    Post some backing to the claim and I will consider it. Perhaps this is what tuition costs you but that does not mean that is the cost per child, particularly if the private school is being subsidized by a church.

  8. Stephen Kohut says

    Public school in 1970 had sports, arts, band, cafeterias, etc., not bare bones at all. We should be able to do all that for the inflation adjusted amount of $4,000 per child.

  9. Well one should be careful looking at nationwide averages since spending has varied so widely by state. I have found, according to the ALEC report card for 2008, from 1981-82 to 2006-07 Arizona per pupil spending increased 4.91% in real dollars.

  10. Florida faces a lawsuit due to its poor funding levels of education.

  11. Did Mr. Ladner note a retention policy enacted in Florida which would shape the pool of students for NAEP selection? Wouldn’t a sample plucked of poor performers
    produce better results that a sample which has not been plucked of its low scorers? I am a Floridian and I am still waitng for a miracle in Florida.

  12. Quite a fascinating article and supporting comments here. I should point out that other sites have proposed a varying case, particularly in regards to natural health. Have you run across more interesting viewpoints on the Web, and could you let me know where?

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