American Legislative Exchange Council Study Offers Recipe for Education Reform and Asks Adults to Take the Challenge

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    BY LAURA BROWN –Following decades of ranking near the bottom nationally, Hawaii’s public schools may have something to crow about.

    A new study, The Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress & Reform (16th Edition), by Dr. Matthew Ladner, Andrew T. LeFevre and Dan Lips, published by the American Legislative Exchange Council, gives Hawaii an Education Performance Rank of 15 out of all states and the District of Columbia for low-income 4th and 8th grade students’ improvement in “basic” scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP 2009).


    That means Hawaii’s low-income students’ scores between 2003 to 2009 improved more than low-income students in 31 other states.

    However, that good news may not be reason enough for Hawaii’s educators to celebrate just yet. The report also shows that 75 percent of Hawaii’s low-income students are non-proficient, meaning most students are performing below grade-level.

    And failing students are the reason that Ladner, LeFevre and Lips, are asking all adults to implement education reform policies that will get children up to speed and give them a fighting chance at success.

    Florida’s former governor, Jeb Bush, provides the study’s forward, entitled, “The United States is in an educational arms race,” in which he outlines the global competition in the world today and examines the reforms put in place that allowed Florida to rise from near the bottom to 3rd in the country for improved student scores.

    Bush explains that before reforms were put into place, more than half of Florida’s student’s were performing below grade level. “I have seen first-hand the powerful effects that real education reform can make,” says Bush.

    The Report Card on American Education grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia for student performance as well as education policy.  It reviews state’s academic performance standards, improvement or digression, private school choice programs, charter laws, inter-district enrollment policies, online learning, homeschooling regulations and teacher retention and removal polices.

    Hawaii earned a “C” for Education Reform policies, primarily due to the “B+” ranking of the State’s Academic Standards.

    But the State fell short on school choice, quality of its charter school law, removal of ineffective teachers and retention of effective teachers, ranking only a “D” to “D+” in those areas.

    Ladner, vice-president of research, Goldwater Institute, states that their report offers better insight into education policies that help students and that the NAEP scores do not tell the whole story.

    “NAEP reports statewide averages and scores as below basic, basic, proficient and advanced, where most children aren’t doing well – the grading is on a curve,” he says.

    “While NAEP often shows African-American and Hispanic students as underperforming, ALEC’s study does not control for racial or ethnic differences. “

    The study charts scores of low-income students instead of racial or ethnic groups, dispelling the myth that states with higher numbers of Hispanic and African-American students perform poorly under federal No Child Left Behind requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress.

    For example, Florida’s public school students are about half Hispanic and African-American, but rank 3rd on the list for highest overall gains.  The District of Columbia, perennially at the bottom of national rankings, moved into 26th place in the study.

    States that have the greatest success in achieving student progress have the most innovative reforms, the authors say.  Florida has implemented many vigorous education reforms, as well as Vermont, Massachusetts, Kansas, Texas, Montana and New Jersey – all of which come out at the top of the list.

    The study also found that per pupil spending was not a factor in student achievement. “We came up with an aggregate cost to educate a child from Gr. K-8.  “The District of Columbia spends $114,000 per student in aggregate between Gr. K-8 and is in 26th place and Florida spends $112,000 and ranks 3rd, so we found that spending was not a factor,” says LeFevre.

    Hawaii spends $16,327 per year per student or $146,943 in aggregate from Gr. K-8.

    The education system is still very rigid, the study’s authors say, where parents must enter their children in lotteries in some states just to hope for a chance at a good education.

    The authors provide the study materials and give adults their homework: understand what you can do to make a difference in the lives of our nation’s school children.  They say the change agent is you.

    To view summaries of each state or the entire report, see:

    The American Legislative Exchange Council is the nation’s largest individual membership association of state legislators.