No more excuses for state of our schools

by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.
Goldwater Institute
This summer, Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow Dan Lips and I published an article in the journal Education Next explaining why a student’s race, ethnicity or family income are not accurate predictors of their future academic success. We were very pleased when the Chancellor of New York City Schools, Joel Klein wrote a letter in response to the article.
Here is an excerpt from Klein’s letter:

In “Demography as Destiny?” (features, Summer 2009), Matthew Ladner and Dan Lips argue that Florida’s reforms–school accountability, literacy enhancement, student accountability, teacher quality, and school choice–have helped students there achieve record academic success. Florida’s results support school-focused reform strategies, such as those we’ve implemented in New York City. New York City’s progress in narrowing the achievement gap confirms that policymakers and advocates can no longer use demographic factors like race, ethnicity, income, or zip code to excuse differences in educational achievement between high- and low-needs students…We still have a long way to go, but it’s clear that even the most disadvantaged students can achieve at high levels when provided with a strong education.

It’s time for leaders across America to stop making excuses for low student performance. As Florida and New York City demonstrate, we can offer all students, regardless of their backgrounds, the educational opportunity they need and deserve.

Joel I. Klein
New York City Schools Chancellor

Klein led the Clinton administration’s anti-trust action against Microsoft and currently heads the nation’s largest school district. Teacher’s unions and other anti-reform groups face a growing and philosophically diverse array of critics who will not accept the sorry state of American schools. Liberals, conservatives and libertarians can all agree: Getting better results for the amount of money this country spends on education is critical for America’s future. Increasing parental choice is a key ingredient to an overall K-12 improvement strategy, and has growing support among the entire political spectrum.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.


  1. That’s some encouraging news, indeed.
    One of the worst elements, if not the worst, of the American Progressive Education world view has been to use demographics and “development” to make excuses for failures, shifting blame for poor performance onto the students, away from the teacher/curriculum combination. An example of this is “Whole Language” a radical hypothesis that reading aquisition is the same as language aquisition. It’s an expensive program that helps balloon any school’s budget, of “integrated” learning where classrooms are filled with posters, displays, coordinating art projects, and elaborately-illlustrated books, much picture and few words, a repetitive drill that requires students to memorize each word, leading them through an illusion of reading with guided guessing.
    It’s not an accident that many children apparently read very well in 1st, 2nd, 3rd grades, then crash and burn in 4th and 5th.
    Controlled-environment memorization didn’t teach them how to decipher the diverse volcabulary of science, history, geography, mathematics.
    But the curriculum or the facilitated supervision which has replaced teaching is never questioned, the children have “developmental” issues or their make up of “talents” or “strengths” doesn’t include “reading.” And since the concept of “developmental” permeates the current education establishment thinking, Ritalin then becomes the professionally-approved answer for non-performing, unhappy and fidgety children.
    This travesty of American Public Education has hit the lower income classes the worst, the people who depend on education for upward mobility. Those with any extra disposable income whatsoever has already shifted their children into private schools to escape this.
    Traditional American education, indeed all successful education systems, are SKILL-driven, based on the two pillars, language and math: reading, writing, mathematics, an orderly transfer of knowledge by adults to the next generation, not handicapped by “demographics” or “development” of any particualr student body.

  2. There’s a great way to address this in Arizona. Prop13Arizona dot com.

    It will end the continuing pleas for more money.
    It will force school funding to be market based based on prevailing economic conditions.
    It will force a new school funding formula which must include vouchers, universal tuition tax credits and charter schools.

    Quit talking about it. DO IT. Prop13Arizon dot com.

  3. Could you point out where klien talks about parental choice as a key ingredient? He has 6 other things in there as well. It looks like a small part to me… You take the excerpt from the letter and then threw in your own agenda in the end. Where is the discussion of the other key issues…

  4. Can’t we just euthanize John Dewey????!!!

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