Betsy DeVos says that Florida is a national model.

She loves Florida because she invested millions of dollars imposing vouchers and charters, despite the provision of the State Constitution that requires a uniform system of common schools.

Actually, Florida’s performance on NAEP is mediocre. Its fourth grade scores are swell because low-scoring third-graders are not allowed to enter fourth grade. A really neat trick! Pay attention to eighth grade scores: In eighth grade math, students in Florida are well below the national average. In eighth grade reading, Florida is right at the national average. Nothing impressive about Florida, other than gaming the fourth grade scores by holding back third-graders with low scores. By eighth grade, the game is over, and the results are not impressive.

Thompson says that Oklahoma lawmakers are in love with a libertarian study claiming that spending less produces the best education! Is that why the elites spend $50,000 a year or more on tuition to get lower class sizes and experienced teachers? The only time that money doesn’t matter is if you have a lot of it.

Despite Florida being average on NAEP, Oklahoma legislators hope to be just like Florida!

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher, brings us up to date:

Oklahoma edu-politics remains in the spotlight after the 2018 election and it illustrates plenty of national issues. Despite many electoral gains, educators must worry about the state’s inexperienced governor, Kevin Stitt. It sometimes seems like Jeb Bush’s “astroturf” think tank, ExcelinEd, has found a second home in our State Capitol. Will the governor believe their spin?

Even worse, as reported by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post, Republicans are being pressured by their own party to even “‘abolish public education, which is not a proper role of government, and allow the free market to determine pay and funding, eliminating the annual heartache we experience over this subject.’” The claim is that the state can reduce “‘its dependence on the tax structure by funding it through such means as sponsorships, advertising, endowments, tuition fees, etc.’”

More importantly, the Oklahoman newspaper recently editorialized that our state should learn from the Reason Foundation, and from Florida, which supposedly is “the state achieving the greatest efficacy in education spending.” The editorial mistakenly claimed that the reforms Oklahoma implemented in 2011 and 2012, but that have been watered down in our state, have worked in Florida. The newspaper concludes, “Instead of backing off, Reason’s education rankings indicate Oklahoma lawmakers should double down” on their accountability-driven, choice-driven reforms.

In fact, Florida’s 3rd grade retention policy has not been shown to do more good than harm to students, although “if you hold back low-performing third graders, the fourth grade scores the next year will appear to jump.” Even charter supporters such as those at CREDO acknowledge that Florida’s charters have not increased student outcomes, largely resulting in a decline of student performance. And the state’s online for-profit charters have a three-year attrition rate of 99 percent, and have driven down student performance gains by as much as -.46 std, which is approaching the loss of a year of learning, per year.

Click to access TT_Mathis_BushEd.pdf

Click to access Online%20Charter%20Study%20Final.pdf

Reason’s “Find Everything You Know about State Education Rankings Is Wrong,” by Stan J. Liebowitz and Matthew L. Kelly claims to be the antithesis of “the self-serving interests of education functionaries who only gain from higher spending.” If the tone of the article doesn’t set off alarms, a review of its methodology shows its conclusions were preordained by a journal devoted to “Free Markets.” These sorts of papers serve as props for advancing the claim that money doesn’t matter.

As Rutgers’ Bruce Baker explains, Reason’s authors “confidently assert that the higher performing states are those with a) weaker teachers’ unions and b) more children in charter schools.” However, they overlook a vast body of research to the contrary. They also ignore economic status and weight racial groups as equal factors in a way that is “specious at best,” and produced findings that “would only mislead policymakers.”

Student performance is determined more by the kids’ zip code than by the classroom. So why didn’t Reason and its paper attempt to control for economic disadvantage?

Reason uses race as a substitute for economic advantage and disadvantage in a manner that is not only methodologically indefensible; it is likely a tactic which predetermines the ideology-driven conclusion that Florida and other border states (that oppose unions and support choice) are more efficient. I will just cite Hispanic student data as one example why their analysis is invalid.

The term “Hispanic” includes a wide range of subgroups, longterm citizens who are more likely to be affluent than the recent immigrants to places like Oklahoma City; Cubans who came to Florida a half century ago, as well as new arrivals from Mexico and Central America; and high-performing “bilingual” students as well as more costly to educate English Language Learners.

Before trusting the use of racial categories as a proxy for economic status, We should remember that Hispanics in Florida earn a median income which is $1,200 per person more than their counterparts in Oklahoma. The poverty rate for Oklahoma Hispanics who are17 years and younger is about 20 percent higher than Florida’s. Oklahoma Hispanic families are more likely to lack health insurance, with the big difference being that the majority of foreign-born Oklahoma Hispanics lack coverage.

Similarly, the percentage of black Oklahoma children who live in poor households is about 17 percent higher than black children in Florida. Oklahoma youth also are first in the nation in surviving four Adverse Childhood Experiences, and they are growing up in a state that is near the bottom of most child welfare metrics. In other words, the use of race as a substitute for economic advantage and disadvantage is one example why the Reason methodology gives a misleading picture of what it would cost to educate all children.

I must emphasize – contrary to the Reason ideology – that the additional costs to achieve equity are worth it. Education is so important that advocates, conservative, moderate or liberal, should also invest in research that meets high scholarly standards.

New Oklahoma decision-makers should expect plenty of cheap and easy, evidence-free proposals by noneducators. For instance, the legislative interim session was briefed by the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce’s Oklahoma Achieves. It said that high-challenge schools should learn from systems that have lower per student spending but higher student outcomes. So, the inner city OKCPS schools merely need to emulate the best practices of Deer Creek, Oakdale, and other small, rich, exurban systems!?!?!/vizhome/OklahomaSchoolDistrictSpendingComparedtoStudentOutcomes/SDSpendingComparedtoStudentOutcomes
I would also urge our new legislators and governor to look deeply into the Rutgers Education Law Center’s estimates of what it would take to bring our students to the national average in student performance. Like Florida almost does, Oklahoma spends enough to bring our most affluent quintile of students to the national average, but we would need to invest an additional $6,600 per student to provide equity for our poorest kids. (Florida would only need an additional $4,489 to do so.)

I also hope they will read Bruce Baker’s new book, Educational Inequity and School Finance: Why Money Matters for America’s Students. The renowned scholar, Helen Ladd, writes that Baker “draws on his many years of research to destroy the myth that money in education doesn’t matter, and convincingly argues that equitable and adequate funding are prerequisites for an effective education system.”

The new legislators and governor will face a steep learning curve, and the effort necessary to craft policies based on real science will be intimidating. But as new educators used to be taught, for every complex problem, there is a solution that is quick, simple, and wrong.