Matthew Ladner wins coveted (and first ever) Lifetime Bunkum Award

by David Safier

It fills me with pride to see that a man to whom I devoted so many Fools Gold posts over the years has been acknowledged for his work by the National Education Policy Center. Matthew Ladner has received the Center's first ever “Get a Life(time) Achievement Award” for the quality and quantity of his . . . well, the center refers to it as "Bunkum."

The NEPC gives out yearly Bunkum Awards, and Ladner has received some in the past, but . . .

“We’ve never before found someone with an individual record of Bunkum-worthy accomplishments that just cries out for recognition,” stated Welner. “Dr. Ladner’s body of Bunk-work is focused on his shameless hawking of what he and the Governor call the ‘Florida Formula’ for educational success.”

Specifically, Ladner argues that because Florida’s test scores had increased during a time period when Florida policy included things like school choice and grade retention, these policies must be responsible for the scores. Yet decades of evidence link grade retention practices to increased dropout rates, not to improved achievement.

Moreover, Florida’s recent test score results are notably unimpressive, but Ladner continues to promote his favored policies, blaming the scores on a slide in home prices and other factors he says are “impossible” to determine. Learn more at

Ladner spent years as the education guy at the Goldwater Institute, then moved over to Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education, one of those conservative "education reform groups." Ladner also has close ties with ALEC. He co-writes the group's education yearbook. Years ago he said in a BfA comment (he was a regular and prolific commenter on the blog) he was unhappy with some of ALEC's education statistics, like its per student spending numbers — they happened to be correct, to Ladner's dismay — so he took over the helm. Now the ALEC yearbook has gone from a document with bad conclusions drawn from mainly accurate statistics to worse conclusions drawn from cooked stats.

I'm sure NEPC doesn't know about Ladner's infamous "Bus drivers are bureaucrats" (as are cafeteria workers and maintenance people) assertion or his statement that Arizona's per student spending is in the middle of state spending rather than dead last. But even without that, the Center has ample reason to grant the award to Ladner.

2 responses to “Matthew Ladner wins coveted (and first ever) Lifetime Bunkum Award

  1. Bravo to NEPC for shining a spotlight on Ladner’s body of ‘work’.

    I have been torn about what is more disturbing — Ladner’s psychedelic interpretation of data or his florid writing that always seems to divide ‘reformers’ and ‘educators’ into good vs. evil camps. (His introduction to ALEC’s Report Card on Education this year starts out with sentences like “Germany stood as a colossus with its boot on the throat of Europe.” Eesh.)

    I appreciate that you’ve been drawing our attention to this brand of ‘bunkum’ for years. It isn’t good for thoughtful legislative improvements in education, and it certainly isn’t good for kids. Rock on, David Safier!

  2. This is horrible. Thought you might want to take a look.
    (Reuters) – Louisiana is embarking on the nation’s boldest experiment in privatizing public education, with the state preparing to shift tens of millions in tax dollars out of the public schools to pay private industry, businesses owners and church pastors to educate children.

    How is this even legal?