February 13, 2016

Kansas could learn from Florida, education researcher says

Danedri Thompson

Matthew Ladner had some good news and bad news about Kansas’ educational system last week.

The good news: Kansas ranks 7th in a nationwide survey of state education performance.

“Kansas is a high performing state in a low performing nation,” Ladner, Vice President for Research at the Goldwater Institute, told a crowd of approximately 50 Kansas metro-area education professionals, parents and politicians Jan. 26.

When it comes to education in the U.S., Ladner will have what Florida’s having.

Florida ranks first nationally in the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ (NAEP) national report card. Lander said the Sunshine State skyrocketed after dismal scores in 1998.

That year, 47 percent of Florida fourth graders scored at less than proficient – or functionally illiterate. After dramatic Florida education reforms that number dropped significantly. By 2009, less than 30 percent of Florida’s fourth graders were functionally illiterate.

By comparison, only 30 percent of Kansas fourth graders scored less than proficient in 1998. By 2009, Florida and Kansas fourth graders were in a statistical dead heat, according to the national report card. Seventeen percent of Florida fourth graders and 18 percent of Kansas fourth graders scored at the lowest level.

One major difference between Kansas and Florida students, Ladner explained, is the racial diversity in their schools. Statistically, African American and Hispanic students score near the bottom on the NAEP tests.

Kansas has a small minority population, while in Florida minorities make up the majority of public school students.

“They made extraordinary progress,” he said. “But there is no magic bullet.”

Florida’s dramatic test score improvements are the result of a number of changes in the state’s public education system, he said.

“(Florida) did a whole bunch of things at the same time – what I call the Florida cocktail,” Ladner said. “I can’t tell you which reform did how much. But they did these things all in concert and you saw all of these positive (results).”

First, the state created a lettered grading system that gave all schools scores from ‘A’ to ‘F’. The scores were based upon student achievement scores and learning gains.

Before 1999, he said, Florida suffered from what Ladner termed, “fuzzy labeling,” that parents and lay people couldn’t understand.

The labels didn’t come with a scale.

“But when a school gets, God forbid, an ‘F,’ – they know what that means,” he said.

People said low-scoring schools would damage communities.

“Did it ruin schools?” he asked. “No. People rallied to their schools. This is what happens when they treated parents like adults with some truth in advertising. Public schools did not wither up and die.”

As they began giving the schools annual grades, Florida officials also provided alternative teaching certification.

“Bill Gates would be allowed to teach computer science in Florida,” Ladner said. “But not in Kansas. You have to have a teaching degree.”

Florida’s system allows those with degrees in other subjects to take a test showing they know the content they desire to teach.

“After that, it’s up to the district,” he said.

The schools also instituted social promotion bans. Beginning in 2003, students who didn’t learn basic literacy schools by the end of third grade could not be advanced to fourth grade.

This served two purposes, Ladner explained. It has lowered the number of students who eventually drop out of school. Often, those are students who are advanced without basic reading abilities fall further and further behind their classmates and eventually drop out. Additionally, the added consequence of not learning reading inspired more parental involvement in education.

The Florida education reforms included incentives for teachers. If a school scores an ‘A’ or if a school moves up a letter grade, the district receives an extra $100 per student. The school itself gets to determine how the extra funds are used.

“The district doesn’t touch it,” Ladner said. “Typically, it goes to teachers in the form of bonuses.”

Teachers also earn bonuses for every student that passes an Advanced Placement course.

“We know that teachers are not interchangeable widgets,” he said. “Good teachers are underappreciated and ineffective teachers need to be doing something else in their professional careers.”

Ladner said he’s optimistic about the future of American education.

“The realm for possible improvement is large – very large.”


  1. Are we as good as we used to be??????


    This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

    8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, KS – 1895

    Grammar (Time, one hour)
    1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
    2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
    3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph
    4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of ‘lie,”play,’ and ‘run.’
    5. Define case; illustrate each case.
    6 What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
    7 – 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

    Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)
    1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
    2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
    3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. For tare?
    4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000.. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
    5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
    6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
    7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft.. Long at $20 per metre?
    8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
    9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
    10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt

    U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
    1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
    2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus
    3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
    4. Show the territorial growth of the United States
    5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas
    6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
    7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton , Bell , Lincoln , Penn, and Howe?
    8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

    Orthography (Time, one hour)
    1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication
    2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
    3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals
    4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u.’ (HUH?)
    5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e.’ Name two exceptions under each rule.
    6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
    7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis-mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
    8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
    9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane , vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
    10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks
    and by syllabication.

    Geography (Time, one hour)
    1 What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
    2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?
    3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
    4. Describe the mountains of North America
    5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia , Odessa , Denver , Manitoba , Hecla , Yukon , St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco
    6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each..
    8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
    9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
    10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

    Notice that the exam took FIVE HOURS to complete.

  2. Jerry L Kellogg Sr says:

    Just looking at this 1895 test (and realizing most of us today probably would fail it) does not necessarily indicate to me that students of yesteryear were better educated. Probably any test looks difficult to a person not recently steeped in the material the test covers. Without again reviewing the material beforehand, could you today pass the final exams you may have breezed through 10, 30, 50 years ago? Probably not, because you have not retained much of the information for which you currently have no use, no matter how thoroughly it was drilled into your brain through rote memory years earlier.

    Granted, many 8th graders today probably couldn’t regurgitate all the same facts as their 1895 counterparts, but I suggest that would be because the types of knowledge we consider important today have changed a great deal over the past 116 years.

    I notice the 1895 test required no display of basic knowledge of the arts (not even a glimmer of familiarity with the greatest works of English literature), basic biology to understand the science of plants and animals, home economics, health and medicine, astronomy, electricity, chemistry, geology, social sciences, physics, mechanics, industry, US Constitution, American government, civil rights, world history, political science. Kids in 1895 had no knowledge of internal combustion engines, automobiles, buses, traffic laws, radio, television, motion pictures, radar, lasers, aspirin, penicillin, organ transplants, airplanes, microwaves, space travel, nuclear energy, computers…about which all today’s 13-year olds are familiar.

    In the primarily agrarian society of 19th-century American, eighth grade was normally the end of a child’s formal education, if they even got that far. Back then, you would have been lucky to be smarter than a fifth grader.

    Twenty-five American states and territories had no compulsory high school attendance laws until after 1890. As late as 1900, less than 7% of our youth had earned a high school diploma. Beginning in 1890, high school enrollment doubled every decade until 1940.

    Would it be fair to say that the average 1895 Salina student was woefully undereducated because he failed to learn many of the things that we consider important today, but were of little importance or even unknown in his world? If not, then why do some people keep asserting that the reverse is true? Was more really expected of students over a century ago? Maybe that is merely a flawed assumption by folks intent upon making a point rather than bothering to consider all the pertinent facts.

  3. And maybe there are those who want to ignore how the U.S. is dropping in world-wide rankings with respect to education. And maybe there are those who think everything is fine and no improvement is needed in our educational process. And maybe everyone is not concerned with not having enough money to meet the costs of education that we are seeing now. Perhaps folks are not intent upon making a point rather than bothering to consider all the pertinent facts as some claim. Lots of maybes and perhaps and each person can come to their own conclusions. I do feel, however, the majority of citizens agree that education is an important issue.

  4. Jerry L Kellogg Sr says:

    According to my web research, after some of the 1895 examination graduation questions were originally published in the Salina Journal in 1996, the test gained national notoriety when it was mentioned by Rush Limbaugh, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, National Public Radio and other media. Most stories and columns centered on the difficulty of the questions such young students were expected to know. Some people were suspicious of the “test,” and suggested that it was probably not a credible representation of eighth grade evaluations of the era.

    A typeset copy of the 1895 “Examination Graduation” was re-discovered almost a century later by a local historian who was working on a book about early school records from Saline County. http://www.salina.com/www/1895test/test_1895.pdf

    Therefore, while there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the exam, there remain questions about for whom it was intended. Rather than being for eighth graders, several aspects of the exam could make one wonder whether it was intended for adults, perhaps newly graduated college student applicants for teaching certificates.

    First, the original exam does not mention the eighth grade.

    Second, the document itself describes the reading portion of the test as being administered orally and that grading of the “Penmanship of Applicants” would be from the manuscripts. It seems odd to me to call an elementary student an “applicant,” but I suppose it is possible that 1895 eighth graders had to apply for their diplomas.

    Third, some of the questions do not seem to be oriented toward students, but rather toward a teacher or a teacher applicant. For example, arithmetic question #4 reads, “District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?” (The printed date of the exam is April 13, 1895, indicating the school year ran from October to April)

    According to a June 1, 2003 follow-up article in the Salina (KS) Journal, “Judy Lilly, Kansas librarian at the Salina Public Library, located county school records filed in the Saline County Register of Deeds Office showing that the year of the difficult test (1895) there were only seven graduates. Yet the year before, and the year after, there were about 28 graduates.”

    I certainly find it interesting how many people in 1895 actually failed that exam.

  5. Jerry L Kellogg Sr says:

    Evidently, not everyone agrees with the findings of Matthew Ladner, the subject of the Gardner News article above. A review authored by Madhabi Chatterji, a professor of educational measurement and evaluation who has conducted considerable research of Florida schools, and published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) in Colorado suggests an “exercise in misused data.”

    Professor Chatterji concludes Matthew Ladner’s “analyses are highly biased and of very limited value. The major elements of Florida’s education reform policies are in need of continuing and more careful examination, individually and collectively, before they can be recommended for wider policy adoption.”

    The following is excerpted from the NEPC review:

    The Heritage report, authored by Matthew Ladner and Lindsey Burke, contends that Florida’s “far-reaching” education policies have caused test scores to increase and the achievement gap to narrow. In particular, the report focuses on fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). These research claims are also made by Dr. Ladner, the Vice President of Research at Arizona’s free-market Goldwater Institute, in a dozen other reports and articles similar to the Heritage report reviewed by professor Chatterji.

    “The claims, however, do not withstand scrutiny. “The report’s key conclusions are unwarranted and insufficiently supported by research,” Chatterji states in her review. Most importantly, she points out the very direct effects of the state’s grade-retention policy, causing the report’s comparisons to be largely meaningless. By analogy, consider growth in height instead of growth in test scores. If two states wanted to measure the average height of their fourth graders, but one state (Florida) first identified the shortest 20% of third graders and held them back to grow an additional year before measurement, the study’s results would not be useful.

    “That, in brief, is the key problem that professor Chatterji identifies with the Heritage report. Florida’s retention policy, instituted in 2002, focuses on third graders, who are held back when their reading scores are low. The Heritage report focuses on NAEP fourth grade reading scores. Low scoring readers—mostly black and Hispanic—were screened out of grade 4 tests, which resulted in inflated and erroneous fourth-grade scores. “Chatterji’s review explains very clearly why the simplistic comparison of fourth graders before and after Florida’s grade retention policy is a predictable and worthless exercise,” says Kevin Welner, professor of education at the University of Colorado and the director of NEPC.

    The review also points out that NAEP scores at other grade levels and even NAEP scores in fourth-grade math do not show the same jump as NAEP fourth grade reading. That is, the report cherry-picks the best data. Also, even if scores in Florida are in fact increasing, the report’s methods are too weak to allow for a causal inference. The report uses only descriptive test score trends to compare states and then make sweeping generalizations. Moreover, many other changes occurred in Florida during the period analyzed, including the phasing in of one of the nation’s most ambitious class-size reduction reforms—yet the report never mentions these other possible causes of any improvements.

    “Notwithstanding the clear problems with Dr. Ladner’s analysis, he has done an excellent job in marketing,” says Welner. “He has repackaged his analysis for at least seven individual states, showing each state’s purported failings relative to Florida. This is how policy gets made—and it isn’t pretty.”


  6. After considering all of the information given, do you think your children are being prepared with the education they are receiving for living in the 21st Century and competing with people throughout the world? And are the citizens getting a good bang for their tax dollars being spent on education?

    Anyone who is on this site has a computer – each person I am sure will do their research on this important issue and act accordingly.

  7. Paying big bucks for nothing……………it is no wonder we have money problems throughout our governments………dishonest entities are alive and well and they are right in your backyard…….


  8. T. Parrish says:

    Thank you, Jerry L Kellog Sr, for the thoughtful and resourced responses to many of Dr. Ladner’s claims.

  9. To compare US HS Seniors to those of the rest of the world is not an apples to apples comparison. Many other countries route the bottom half of the students to what would be the equivalent of trade schools here and only the top half of students go on to attend what we would call high school.

    If you compare the top half of our students to the top half of international students in high school, the differences are much less than commonly assumed. In fact, in this type of competition, the US does surprisingly well, besting all but a few small countries.

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