by David Safier
One of my favorite tasks is debunking the Goldwater Institute's Matthew Ladner as he skews data and reaches unwarranted conclusions. Now that Ladner is becoming something of a national figure, traipsing to other states to share the gospel of the "Florida Education Miracle," others have begun picking up the scent of his propaganda trail.
The latest is Madhabi Chatterji, at the Teachers College, Columbia University. Chatterji takes apart Ladner's latest piece, Closing the Racial Achievement Gap: Learning from Florida’s Reforms, published by the Heritage Foundation, reaching similar conclusions to the ones I have discussed on the blog and going into greater depth than I have in discussing the findings.
The shorter version of the criticism is, you can't compare Florida's fourth grade reading scores on the national NAEP exam with those of other states when Florida holds back its lowest scoring third graders. Those third graders who are held back would bring the curve way down if they were promoted. Instead, they take the test one year later, when they're one year more mature and have had one more year of reading instruction. It's as if they're taking the fourth grade test as fifth graders.
A summary of Chatterji's findings creates a perfect analogy. What if we were comparing the average height of fourth graders across the nation? If Florida held back 20% of its third graders, they would be one year taller when their height was measured in the fourth grade. Voila! Florida has the tallest fourth graders in the country!
Ladner knows all this, of course. He's a smart guy and clearly does a lot of research. But he only acknowledges data and research that back up his predetermined conclusion. That's not scholarship. It's propaganda.