Arizona parents need truth in advertising for schools

by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.
Goldwater Institute

Arizona parents need truth in advertising for schools. Senator John Huppenthal is sponsoring Senate Bill 1286 to label public schools with a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F, based on overall AIMS test scores and gains in student learning. The proposal is based on education reforms put in place in Florida a decade ago. There schools with D and F grades have significantly improved when faced with losing students. Arizona schools would do the same.

Dr. David Garcia of Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute recently analyzed school transfer data, and his results reinforce the need to clarify school performance labels. The following table presents Garcia’s research, which shows the variation in year-to-year re-enrollment rates for Arizona elementary schools that use the current state labels under AZLEARNS:

Re-enrollment in Elementary Schools by AZLEARNS Label, 2009



Highly Performing


Performing Plus














In 2009, 16 percent of students in underperforming schools did not re-enroll in them if they were eligible to do so. Imagine 100 students start kindergarten at a typical elementary school. A year later, only 84 are still in the school in first grade. The next year, losing another 16 percent leaves 70 students in the second grade. By the time that group of kindergarteners reach sixth grade, there are only 41 of them left. This is not a ringing endorsement of the school.

We do not know how many students transfer due to dissatisfaction with their first school. But we can certainly infer the association is greater among low performing schools. Notice the student loss rate is twice as high in the bogusly labeled “performing schools” compared to excelling schools.

One conclusion of Dr. Garcia’s report is not to expect parental choice to improve Arizona public schools, because people are not moving their kids. Except, of course, they are moving their kids. My sons attend a district elementary school in which 27 percent of the students are out-of-boundary transfers. Many charter schools have long waiting lists.

The Morrison Institute’s report, along with the consistent improvement in Florida school performance, make the case for clear labels and more, rather than less, parental choice options.

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


  1. kralmajales says

    so tell me how competition is supposed to work for failing schools to improve or others in the middle to improve when funding has always been low in this state and it has been drastically cut. And I had a fantastic fantastic discussion with a charter school employee the other day.

    So you are diverting money aways from schools to others that have been created by the govt. And those schools require applications so not everyone is going to get an opportunity to be in them…even with the choice.

  2. This would be swell if AIMS was any good.

    MANY parents have logistical constraints that don’t allow them to move their kids out of underperforming schools, unless they relocate – and many can’t now – can’t sell their house, don’t have the money to pack out, move, three months up front rent.

    It’d be more informative to find out how many parents WOULD INSTANTLY move their kids to better schools if they had a means to do so.

    On what basis is the argument that schools and teachers be exempt from competition that everyone else, every other sector, has to deal with? McDonalds would LOVE to be a monopoly, but who would argue to support that nonsense? It’s a proven fact that people perform better, and at higher levels of achievement, productivity and personal satisfaction with healthy competition.

    The education profession has become rigid, insular and low-producing while constantly demanding higher pay for the same old low performance. Ridiculous situation. And unsustainable.

  3. Stephen Kohut says


    If you want to understand free market competition then talk a few classes or start reading Adam Smith’s “The Wealthc of Nations”, Milton Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom”, etc. If they have a good product/service then they prosper and attract students. If they have a bad product/service then students leave and eventually you shut the doors.

    Money is not, repeat not, the issue. That is an AEA chant. If you adjust 1970 spending per child for inflation we would spend $4K/kid today. Last year the state spent $9.4K/kid, 2.5 times the real constant dollar per kid we spent in 1970. Any good businessman could take a meat cleaver to the K-12 budget and turn out a better product for less. Private schoold do ti for $5.5K/kid. Incompetence not money is the issue.

  4. The Morrison study this chart is from clearly states that school ‘choice’ has largely had no affect on reenrollment in poorly performing schools contrary to Ladner’s anecdotal claim. Also, it shows the situation is even worse for charter schools, something Ladner leaves out.

    Stephen Kohut continues to claim that private schools do better with less than public schools. Apparently his unaware that the data shows that private schools overall perform worse than public schools. While there are some excellent private schools, the truth is many of substandard. I am sure we would all like to see children getting the quality schooling one gets at places like Brophy with its $12,000 a year tuition.

  5. “Apparently his unaware that the data shows that private schools overall perform worse than public schools.”

    A little reminder for the willfully forgetful. Arizona public schools suck. Worst use of tons of money, ever… except maybe New Mexico which can’t figure out how to teach with tons of money, either.

    F for FAIL. Year after year after year. GIve MORE money to failure only produces FAILURE.

    CLean house FIRST, then talk money. Throw out all the unperforming teachers, which is a lot.

    But, nooo. Unions are involved. “Clean house” is not part of the equation or there will be hell to pay.

    Nice. More reason to shut the farce down and start over. Don’t EVER say, it’s “because we CARE about the children.”
    It’s about UNION and status quo and monopoly.

  6. Stephen Kohut says


    Produce your reference on private versus public school performance or is it just supposition? I have yet to see a single report on standardized test results for private K-12 schools in AZ. Public or charter, yes. Private, no.

  7. Stephen Kohut,
    You are the one that has a supposition that private schools are superior to public schools – why don’t you back that up with some reference. I find it a little odd you are coming after me, when you are the one who clearly hasn’t even bothered to look at the information available.

    Doubtlessly, parents who are sending their kids to private schools think their kids are getting a superior education to public schools but in many cases are either wrong or using a difference metric in evaluation. How come Huppenthal and the like aren’t pushing for grading of private schools? Could it be that he is more interested in ‘helping our Christian & Catholic Schools?’

    oh, and here are some studies showing either no difference between public and private and in fact a subset of privaet schools, conservative Christian schools, do far worse.

  8. Public School Supporter says

    More money is not the answer to our education problems.

    But, neither is misleading conclusions of superficial data.

    I believe that most underperforming and non-performing schools are in low income areas. In my experience, students in those locations don’t enroll elsewhere because of the quality of the school. They leave because their parents move. Example: one school in a small inner-city district in Phoenix has a nearly 33% turnover rate in its classrooms every year. It has nothing to do with the school’s performance.

    Geography and socio-economic circumstances often lead to research results that can not be transferred from one school to another easily.

    But, some suggestions here are excellent. The A to F grading is a superior idea. Getting rid of poor teachers no matter how long they have been teaching is a superior idea.

    One thing we often forget: public school disticts, charter schools and private schools don’t operate under the same set of rules. If the three groups of schools did, then comparisons would be more fair. But, we have three sets of rules.

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