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What Finland's Example Proves


Dear Deborah,

Time to disagree. Finland is the answer. No, I don't mean that we should or can copy Finland, but that we can learn from the remarkable synthesis that Finland has achieved. Their schools meet all or most of your pedagogical criteria—they "focus on a playful and wonder-filled childhood," and they prize teacher autonomy and school autonomy. Yet they do so within the context of a specific and carefully wrought national core curriculum. What is essential for children in urban areas is also essential for children in the remote rural areas. Teachers are free to be creative and passionate because they are clear about what their job is. Their autonomy is freedom to teach, not curricular anarchy.

I would not suggest that we copy the Finnish core curriculum. It is theirs, not ours. But the lesson to be learned is that a common core curriculum is necessary so as to establish clear understandings within which pedagogical creativity can bloom and prosper.

I also do not agree with you about the curriculum in New York state. New York has had mandated Regents' examinations for high school graduation for the past century, but with these differences from a genuine core curriculum: First, only the highest-achieving students took those examinations until about 10 years ago; second, when the Regents' exams became a universal requirement, the content and expectations of the exams were dumbed down; third, a testing regime is not the same as a specific, coherent curriculum that shows a progression of ideas, knowledge, and skills from the earliest elementary grades to high school graduation.

Nor do I agree about the example of Massachusetts. That state developed excellent statewide curriculum frameworks after the passage of the 1993 education reform act, an act that pumped billions of new dollars into the schools in return for an agreement to set statewide standards and to develop examinations based on those standards. And you are right about this: Since the adoption and implementation of its superb curriculum frameworks, Massachusetts has soared to #1 in the nation on the tests of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The latest test results show that students in Massachusetts are #1 in reading and in mathematics. This was no accident, nor did it evolve from the independent, uncoordinated actions of the elected school boards. It is the fruit of an educational strategy that was tried and succeeded.

Certainly, as I pointed out, Finland is a homogeneous nation. It does not have anything like our religious, cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity.

I maintain that our diversity makes it hard for us to forge a national core curriculum, but our diversity makes it necessary that we do so. In a nation as diverse as ours, we need a common language and a large fund of shared values and references in order to talk to people who do not share our religious, cultural, ethnic, or racial background. In order to maintain a democratic society, we need to be able to communicate and exchange ideas, to sustain diverse coalitions, and to recognize our common goals and work together with others who are different from us. Collaboration requires some mutuality, and such mutuality is not possible without the ability to communicate and to recognize that "we are all in the same boat," we are part of the same community even as we are members of many other, different communities. This communication would be greatly facilitated, I believe, by a coherent curriculum that spans the years from elementary school through high school.

Without a national core curriculum, our schools are at the mercy of the low-level national curriculum created willy-nilly by test publishers and textbook publishers. Now, I know people in this business and know that they are upstanding citizens who are trying to give the states more or less what they want, while not stirring up any hornets' nests and not provoking any controversy. In effect, our highly decentralized system of schooling has left the issue of what to teach to commercial interests, those who write the standardized tests (they have to ask about something, they have to make assumptions about what students have learned) and those who compile (not write, but compile) the textbooks that are sold in every state (they too must assume what should be taught).

So, I would contend that we have a national curriculum; that it is in the hands of the marketplace and the educational publishing industry; and that it is no substitute for the national core curriculum that would emerge if we set our collective minds to the task of writing it. We have a default curriculum. I think we can do much better.

What Finland's example proves, I think, is that it is possible for a nation to have both what you believe in and what I believe in at the same time; that our ideas and agendas are not mutually exclusive. No, we should not copy Finland's curriculum. We should create our own. But yes, every school of education should have a course in which students read the national curricula of half a dozen other nations. We can all learn by studying how other nations, with different cultures and different challenges, managed to do it. It can be done. If done well, it works well. It does not sacrifice anything you care about, it does not destroy the creativity and passion of teachers, and it helps to improve the quality of education across the nation.



Before we rush to national standards: let us consider "elite" private schools.

The teachers at these schools CREATE their own curriculum, in the case of math often WRITING the textbooks themselves. It's even more amazing when you consider that these teachers are rarely "certified." Their students still manage to do quite well, despite the absence of government mandates.

I think the solution is CHOICE. Provide vouchers to ANY educational setting a parent wants (how one educates their child is as personal as religion), then allow individual schools to set their own curriculum and staffing standards.

Schools will meet the needs of families or families will find a different setting. It doesn't have to be so complicated.

I am not in favor of the status quo - children locked in schools that don't meet their needs. I just think you've misdiagnosed the problem.

We know one-size fits all DOES NOT work, nor is it desirable.

America has always been the great experiment in liberty. We are abandoning that mission by subjecting all children to a standardized, government-run childcare / economic training model.

Individuals and their families deserve better.


Quite compelling essay, especially regarding the fact that we already have a de facto national curriculum, as there are few choices from publishers and their offerings tend to be very similar.

If we were to adopt quality national standards, how would you envision those standards being translated into practice?

California has what many would consider high quality standards. And yet, the translation of those standards into the classroom has been very weak at best. How would adopting/implementing national standards be any different than the situation seen in California?

Erin Johnson

In effect, our highly decentralized system of schooling has left the issue of what to teach to commercial interests...

I could not agree more!! This is exactly what I think.


Matt--I am only conditionally a supporter of choice. It does provide a short term solution that gets a few kids out of situations that are unspeakable. The problem is capacity. I am always doubtful of the assertion that elite private school teachers are "rarely certified." We know that certification is only a very rough proxy for quality. How many more of these non-certified jewels are available--and might their motivation to teach be altered if the "elite" schools became less elite due to some variation on choice that brings in a non-elite clientele? In addition, how would you keep the "non-elite" private schools (actually more available) from accepting state-sponsored students?

The way to grant teachers a greater degree of freedom is to set clear standards that their efforts must reach. You better believe those "elite private schools" have some expectations of their teachers, and are not likely to keep them around if their home-grown curriculum isn't adequately preparing their kids for entry into elite secondary institutions.


Elite private schools have one huge advantage: demographics of their student body. Their students come from homes where parents have a high level of education and a high income, many books in the home, time and readiness to take their children to libraries and museums, lots of conversation and vocabulary.

None of the choice demonstrations have proven the point you make. The voucher experiments in Milwaukee, Cleveland and DC have not shown quantum gains, nor any gains for that matter.

Sorry, but choice is not "the answer." I do not think there is any single answer, but based on what we now know, it seems clear that choice is not it.

Diane R

Having national standards supposes that there is agreement as to what should be taught at each grade level.

Well, here's some "standards" I would strongly support, and yet I have a feeling this isn't what bureaucrats have in mind.

All students will:

Learn to plan / operate their own small business.

Learn to love and take care of yourself and your family members.

Learn to make decisions for themselves and see that choices have consequences; we are all ultimately responsible for our own lives.

Learn to manage their finances and grow true wealth.

Learn from adult mentors in the adult world (away from classroom) about how to succeed in a given profession or field.

Learn to attempt difficult tasks and to get back up again when you fail.

Learn to be comfortable interacting in the adult world with people of all ages.

Learn to grow their own food and be stewards of the environment.

Learn to defend themselves, both with words (written and spoken) and, as a last resort, physically.

These are the kind of standards that have "life meaning." National standards as they're usually discussed are about "memorizing data." Memorizing anyting you don't need to use on a regular basis is a completely outdated notion.

The worst part of all this is that you can't have both. Defenders of "data standards" will claim you can, but there just isn't enough hours in the day. Besides, if you're being treated like cattle and told what to do, when to do it, where to do it, and how to do iit from preschool - college, you are stunted developmentally.

You are never trully an independent person.

Here's an example of the false promise of uniform standards - which supposedly will improve society.

Take History. The idea is that if we teach kids history through memorization of facts, they'll be better citizens and we won't repeat past mistakes. Sounds great. But where is the proof of this?

I will use my home state of VA as an example. We have had standards in place for many years and they're considered quite "rigorous."

So, after forcing kids to memorize historical facts about America and to take government and civics courses, can we demonstrate that today's young adults in VA are better citizens than their predecessors?

I know that young people continue not to vote in elections, especially state and local elections. (Why should they when they've never been given the responsibility/freedom of making choices about their own lives?)

I know that government / history courses haven't stopped us from engaging in more wars or caused us to demand more fiscal accountability from our government leaders.

I know that government / history classes haven't been shown to reduce the crime rate.

Most history courses are about artificially conditioning kids to be patriotic. The end result is we get idiotic statements like, "The soldiers in Iraq are dying for my freedom." No they're not! Our freedom was never is jeoprady. Patriotism is great, but it should come from within, based on one's own judgement, not the artificial indoctrination of the state.

If you want to teach American history, encourage liberty, personal freedom/responsibility, participation in the outside world away from the walls of a classroom, and democratic decision making BEFORE kids become adults.


I wish you addressed Deb's point - which I see as bigger than any others, even more than total wealth - of universal health care, a welfare system, and the more narrow range of wealth in Finland.

As I've said, I often switch sides on Standards, agreeing with whoever made the last post. But I can't help but see this debate as irrelevant to students like mine. And its not just poverty per se. It is the American type of generational poverty in a society that is so efficient in ranking itself by wealth, but so inefficient in preventing health problems from paralyzing unlucky families.

I'm not really expressing a counter-argument. I'm mostly requesting a widening of the topic. How, in practical terms, do you make this issue relevant to schools with the highest populations of the poorest kids?

I'm certainly not arguing with you if you apply the same logic to this issue as you applied to Matt's advocacy of vouchers. There are no single answers. And certainly answers that rely heavily on curriculum are out of their league when addressing high poverty schools.


I believe you are arguing against a "straw man" when you write you are against allowing for-profit textbook companies to dictate the curriculum. Nobody is arguing the opposite.

In her last post Deborah wrote that schools and districts can defend their own standards, and should have external experts evaluating how well the schools and/or districts live up to their standards. This is possible and desirable, and will have standards more closely tailored to the values of the community, who know their interests best.

The textbook industry is no doubt lacking in many ways, but that is not a good enough reason for adopting national standards--which I do not believe can or will represent the diverse values and interests of this large and ostensibly democratic nation. Perhaps textbook companies should be prosecuted under anti-trust. Or, schools should be given the resources necessary for purchasing books more relevant to their curricula.

Our colleges and universities do not have a national curriculum (aside, perhaps, from specialty degrees or state certifications), but they do not appear beholden to for-profit textbook companies forcing them to teach particular topics. No, books are part of the expense of attending college.

The best teachers I know do not teach to textbooks, but are extremely resourceful in finding rich and engaging curriculum materials from many sources. But they also shouldn't be spending the money out of their own pockets for collecting all of these materials. A more appropriate course of action is giving teachers and schools a more reasonable budget for books, rather than imposing a national curriculum so the same (profit-driven/corrupt?) textbook companies could be selling the same wares to everyone.

> inland is a homogeneous nation. It does not have anything like our religious, cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity.

This is a straw man. There are nations that are more diverse than the U.S. that are also doing much better than the U.S. Finland's success, therefore, is not explained by its homogeneity.


Are there nations more stratified that outperform the US?

The answer is no--not even close, looking at the Gini coefficient of inequality, for example.


"I maintain that our diversity makes it hard for us to forge a national core curriculum, but our diversity makes it necessary that we do so." That's about as profound as it gets. I might add our diversity is what has made us great and that we should celebrate our diversity. E pluribus unum...out of many, one.

Let's see Finland achieve their academic excellence with our diversity and then I'll grant them some degree of accomplishment.

As I've stated before, I am a huge fan of having a national curriculum, developed by representatives of the fifty state DOEs. My only reservation in this direction would be the politics - who gets the contract(s) to print the one national test, even the standards themselves? What publishing company is awarded the contract to print the textbooks? Who develops the computer software to accompany/augment all this? One can only hope it's not a relative of the sitting president.


How the purported success of elite private schools translates into choice as the answer for the woes in our schools is a bit enigmatic.

The parents of these kids have had choices, unavailable to the rest of our population, their entire lives and are now passing it on to their children via their wallets. The kids in these families have little or no concept as to how the rest of America lives/survives today. Their level of privilege is often beyond the comprehension of the rest of us. Elite private schools - you might want to revisit that one.

Choice in cities like Cleveland, Milwaukee, and DC has sadly been, in too many instances, for the convenience of parents/guardians and NOT for the students' well-being or achievement.



"How would adopting/implementing national standards be any different than the situation seen in California?" My guess would be the bureaucracy in California is staggering. Even the Governator can't seem to muddle through to get to the bottom line - implementation. If national standards were developed it would be the responsibility of each individual state to appropriately implement them. Their records (test scores) would be as transparent as could be imagined. There would be no place for any state official to hide. If the job were not getting done someone would be held responsible and actions would have to be taken to rectify those situations. The situation in California could not be tolerated on a national scale.

To Paul Hoss:

You ask who would get the contract to print the textbooks and to develop the software for national curriculum standards. The answer is (drum roll): Whoever wants to. When there are clear and coherent standards, there is no reason to have a single textbook publisher chosen by the government. Let lots of publishers compete to do the best job preparing textbooks that reflect high quality curriculum. We would have a real marketplace, instead of the current cartel-like situation where only 3 or 4 megapublishers control 75% of the marketplace and aim for the LCD (lowest common denominator).



You point out that the test writers and compilers must make assumptions about what the students are learning. The guesswork, of course, doesn't stop there: administrators, teachers, and students, must in turn anticipate what will be on the test. It becomes a merry-go-round of uncertainty.

Then the test prep companies march in and say, "We know what's on the test better than anyone else does!" The nervous schools buy "curricular packages" that in fact are anything but.

Some might argue that this problem would disappear if individual schools had the authority to develop their own curricula. I doubt that many schools would be equipped to do this. Instead, a few would come up with something splendid, while others would flail or seek help from the test prep companies and various pseudo-educational outfits.

Many seem to think there’s more freedom to be found in starting all over than in working off of a common curriculum. Why does our culture hold bare beginnings in such high regard? Is there really much creativity to be found there? Does it really protect us from outside authority, or does it make us even more susceptible to it?

Diana Senechal,
In the absence of an explicit syllabus, what is taught is based on whatever the state puts on its tests. In effect, by refusing to establish clear curricular guidelines, we cede authority to write the curriculum and the tests to the publishers of tests and textbooks, that is, to the commercial market. The test-prep companies know what to test. Consequently instead of getting serious about what students should learn, what they should know and be able to do, how teachers can collaborate to devise the best lessons, everyone is left to obsess about testing and test preparation. And the tests, sad to say, are dumbed down, undemanding, and often content-free. Last year, a sixth grade class in NYC prepared for and passed the biology Regents exam for high school graduation. They had good test preparation. This is all pathetic. Leaving every school and every teacher to write their own curriculum would be useless because it would disadvantage the large numbers of children who move in every year. Worse, with no curriculum or a different curriculum in every school, the tests devised by the publishers would become (as it now is) our de facto national curriculum.

Diane R

The discussion is interesting, but futile. Unless and until we address the issue of nonperforming troublemakers we will continue to be a nation at risk. We can have the greatest teachers, the best lessons, national standards, etc., but if the students do not want to learn and if there are no consequences for their behavior, then our schools and students will remain at risk.

It is not poverty of material possessions, but the poverty of values that is the problem. There are many poor people who succeed, but we allow too many students to make excuses for their failures. We need to quit trying to appease and enable students and we need to hold students accountable. Students must have a stake in their education. We cannot continue to promote nonperforming troublemakers.

I recently read an article about a teacher named Jamie, who is working at an inner-city school through a program similar to Teach for America. Jamie is working in tough district where the teacher retention rate, she estimates, is well under 50 percent. Her job consists almost entirely of discipline, and her students commonly refer to her as “cracker” and “white bitch.” Why is this allowed? Why would anyone think our schools and students would be successful when so much class time is devoted to discipline? Who can learn in that type of atmosphere? Studies have shown that the average teacher in the United States spends 48% of his/her time on discipline.

Better teachers, textbooks, curriculum, and/or national standards will not fix the behavior problems in our schools.

My friend requested a student teaching assignment at an inner-city school too. He wanted to make a difference. Instead the students verbally attacked him, he was threatened with physical violence, his car was keyed, and when he was at the mall five young men surrounded him and said if he came back to the high school they would kill him.

The administrators at the high school shrugged their shoulders and said that threatening behavior is common. (In essence we have allowed the inmates to take over our institutions.) The administration told my friend that if he wanted to teach at their high school, then he would have to accept that type of behavior. He decided that he would teach at a Jesuit high school.

Would schools in Finland tolerate this type of behavior? Why do we tolerate it?

I disagree with many of the bloggers who claim that students are not doing well because the class/school is not relevant or they don’t feel they need to participate if a class is “boring.” Many things in life are boring, but you still have to do them. For example, reading the fine print on a mortgage loan is BORING, but it is very important that you read it. If more borrowers had read the boring fine print, we would not be in the sub-prime mess today. If more people read and understood what repealing the Glass-Steagall Act meant, and why it was created during the Great Depression, then we would not be in an economic meltdown. If more teachers were courageous enough to teach about the "BORING" events instead of changing their curriculum to make it “exciting” or “relevant,” then we would not have many of the problems that we have in this country and the world today.

Yes Matt, you do need to study and know about things even if you don't use them on a daily basis. Practicing music or sports can be boring too, but it is important that you do the boring drills. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that is true in education too. Each piece might not make sense and certain pieces may be tedious and/or boring, but it is important that you develop the discipline to learn each piece and apply it to the whole. Often, we don't know the end or how a piece of knowledge fits into the entire learning spectrum, but it is important that we still learn from and do our best in each of our classes. Part of life is making an attempt or giving it your best shot even if you are bored.

Shannon, the reason we keep repeating the mistakes of the past is because we fail to learn from them. If you don't know the context or dates it is hard to put information and knowledge in perspective. There is a big difference between learning and applying knowledge, but the absence of knowledge is not the solution!

When I was younger I hated school, I thought my classes and teachers were BORING, and I thought school was a prison. I swore I’d never pick up another book once I graduated. I was wrong. Now I want to learn and/or read everything I can get my hands on. There are not enough hours in the day for all the reading, learning, seeking, etc., that I want to do. I had no idea how important the “boring” classes were to my success.

The teachers, the classes, the standards, the tests, were not the problem. I was the problem. I was not ready to learn and I had no idea why an education was important. I’m glad my parents and teachers did not listen to my whining and pleas of boredom, etc. I'm glad the teachers didn't try to appease me by making their curriculum "relevant" and "fun." I'm glad I didn't miss out on the things I needed to know because teachers were too afraid to teach me “boring” lessons.

They saved me from a life of misery by telling me I had to participate in the "boring" classes and that I was expected to do my best. Without that foundation I would not be able to pursue my dreams today.

BTW, I also hated cleaning up my room, folding my clothes, eating vegetables, etc., but those boring awful things developed in to the good habits, discipline, and a productive life.

There are any things you don't realize you need, until much later in life. School/education seems to be a huge one for many students. One of the reasons we (society) keep repeating mistakes of the past is because we fail to learn about events and issues because they are “boring” or not relevant, etc. Only learning about things you are interested in or that are exciting or that are presented in an entertaining way is like living on a diet of cookies and ice cream. It tastes great and is a nice dessert, but it can't sustain you if that is all you eat.

If we allow students to dictate which classes they will take based on entertainment value or “relevance,” or their idea of what is good for them, then we will continue to have mortgage meltdowns, disasters, poverty, ignorance, etc. As long as we continue to appease the students rather than hold them accountable, then our students and nation will continue to be at risk. You don't always get to do exactly what you want in life and that is not point of life anyhow.

As Ben Franklin stated, "Short change your education now and you will be short of change for the rest of you life." Society will also be short changed when we lose the creativity, productivity, and potential of students who were never challenged.


The California situation is not due to state incompetence but the same ineffective school structure that is seen throughout the US.

California has been a leader in articulating what children should learn but are greatly hampered in that vision by the type of school structure that is prevalent in every state.

This is not a situation unique to California but an endemic problem throughout the US. That is our schools are not set up to either incorporate external standards nor develop any plans for improvements.

This was not an critism of Caliofornia, per se, but an illustration of how difficult it will be to implement national standards into our schools without substantial structural changes.

Erin Johnson

Former Teacher: Your passionate argument has made my day (which starts very early today).

I agree! We must not cater to kids' ideas of what is interesting and boring. But I believe strongly that establishing a curriculum would help give more authority to the teacher.

If the teachers are on their own to pick reading materials, but obliged to do test prep and teach "strategies" and such, then any teacher who teaches actual literature and grammar is taking a risk. Moreover, she's an oddball. And you know how some kids are about oddballs.

If the curriculum has specific subject matter in it, then the teacher will not have to go out on a limb to teach such things. The whole school will be behind the effort. If a student complains, he or she will be reminded that it's part of the curriculum.

Curriculum does not solve discipline problems! But it does help, especially if the curriculum is filled with challenging, specific subject matter. The teacher is "allowed" to teach it, and the students are required to learn it.

Standards and standardized curricula are great ideas, but pose a problem of who or what entity is responsible for creating the curricula. Having a set standard that all students meet or strive for is clear and helps to eliminate the problems that transient students encounter when moving from one state or even one school to another, but because different areas have very different values and beliefs, on single national system will be very difficult to establish beyond a very general outline. Until the genius comes along that can establish the necessary steps for universal learning, it will be hard to establish any successful form of universal curriculum.

Two things come to mind in all of this: 1) The Finnish written language is perhaps the most transparent in the world. It takes much less time and effort to learn to read and spell Finnish words. I am sure there is a correlation between easy-to-learn orthography and test scores in that language. 2) In California, state standards have driven what the textbook publishers publish. The criteria to be adopted for CA public schools is extremely explicit, down to the number of lessons, minutes, etc. Of course, those publishers may or may not provide such extensive curriculum adaptations for states with a lower population base.


You highlight another key problem with our school system and in particular how quality curricula is developed and adopted by our schools.

Just following the California standards based upon time for the lessons and the number of lessons, etc... does not correlate with quality curricula. While the original intent of the standards may be very good, in practice their translation into quality materials used by students/teachers in the classroom leaves much to be desired.

It is possible to produce pages and pages of "lessons" that technically follow the explict directions in the standards, and yet is very poorly written, horribly organized and confusing to the students.

In fact, that description pretty much describes most of the textbook material available in California. (And most other states as well.)

So if the actual materials used by students (textbooks, workbooks etc...) does not improve their learning, of what benefit were the standards in the first place?

Erin Johnson

What I love about these comments is that their very diversity makes my point! With due respect to you all, how can we arrive at a single answer when such intelligent and articulate and passionate people disagree so fundamentally.

The question is: what don't we disagree about? Hopefully, that schools should first and foremost be in the business of teaching the "how to" of nourishing and sustaining democracy--even if we disagree on the best way to do that is, are there some aspects of this task we see as more critical than others? Like that at the very least each child deserves the same public resources as the most favored receive?

I wonder if we could even agree about that?

Generally, in life, I'm for putting as few things as possible to a vote. It turns out that an awful lot of stuff are necessary to decide by law. So which of our hopes for schooling ought to be The Law of the Land.



Interesting. I see tremendous commonality, especially in the dissatisfaction regarding the status quo.

Additionally, I see a great deal of support for providing a quality learning experience for our children. Given the tone and tenor of the discussions, I suspect that our collective ideas regarding what a quality learning environment would entail would be rather similar.

The most contentious disagreements seem to revolve around how to get from here to there. That is, what is the best process to change our situation so that our schools become better? And frankly, that process should be contentious.

If the question is between our schools remaining as they are or substantial change, where do you think that those that read/contribute to this blog would vote for?

Erin Johnson


You may be entirely correct that Finland has an advantage in reading due to their transparent language.

But English can (almost) be taught as a transparent language as well. But this approach is not popular in our schools today.

Given the fact that our schools have no methods/structures in place for self-improvement (adopting the latest "fad" does not count!), it is unlikely that the vast majority of our children will benefit from these quality reading techniques.

Quite tragic.

Erin Johnson

Finland is also getting top scores in math, science, and problem solving. I don't think that an "easy-to-learn orthography" is the reason why their 15 year olds do so much better than ours in these subjects.



Perhaps not completely.

But when it only takes 6-9 months to fluently decode Finnish versus the 2-3 years for English (with our current techniques) there is an opportunity cost associated with the increased time to learn to decode English.

Additionally, with our current techniques for teaching English, an estimated 10-15% of students do not learn to fluently decode, which can significantly hamper their comprehension. This rarely happens in transparent languages.

Is it possible that this extra cognitive load reduces reading attainment? Yes. Is this the whole story? Probably not.

Erin Johnson

Ms. Ravitch-

I'm afraid that your reading of the choice literature is inaccurate. You assert that differences in private school achievement can be solely attributed to family background differences. Studies going back to James Coleman finds this is not the case. You assert that there have been no gains found associated with participation in voucher programs, when in fact random assignment studies have repeatedly found gains.

As an incentive to revisit the literature, I'll reopen the Moynihan Challenge that I posed to the unions a few years for you. They never mustered anything more than windy rhetoric:


I hope that you can do better than blustery bombast, and if not, that you might reconsider your position.

While you are at it, visit the NAEP website. If you do, you will find that Florida, which instituted both instructional and choice based reforms, has made progress even greater than that of MA, with a much more difficult to educate population and spending far less per pupil.


"What I love about these comments is that their very diversity makes my point! With due respect to you all, how can we arrive at a single answer when such intelligent and articulate and passionate people disagree so fundamentally."

Exactly. There is no one answer. We are fortunate in that our pluralistic nature will ALLOW for a multitude of approaches to get the job done. The obvious lesson of reading/contributing to this blog is that our bridged differences can all be appreciated as long as they get the job done - adequately/appropriately educating our citizenry.


If there is compelling evidence in support of this idea then I would be interested to see it. I mean, maybe I am just wrong.

But, acknowledging that I know absolutely nothing about the Finnish language, here is how I was thinking about it...

If the ease of the Finnish language is the controlling variable, and not the hard work and structural reforms with which the Finns have sought to improve their schools in recent decades, then why have they not always been at the top of the "cognitive heap?" Name the technological advances or scientific discoveries that Finland brought to the world. Finnish philosophers? Finnish mathematicians? Politicians? I mean, if the structure of the language has conferred this enduring cognitive benefit, why is the world not filled with Finnish innovations?

A counter example. Putonghua (Mandarin) is a brutal language to learn. About 5000 separate characters need to be brute force memorized just to get through a newspaper. Educated people probably memorize more than 50,000 characters. Worse, there are no pronunciation clues in Mandarin character itself. Different dialects that use the same written language are pronounced so differently that speakers are unable to communicate.

And pronunciation is very important. The difference between pronouncing the syllable "ma" with tone 1 (high and flat) and the same syllable pronounced with tone 3 (start at the middle of your vocal range, dip to the bottom, sweep up to the top of your tonal range) means that you just called your new colleague's mother a "horse". And of course the difficulty of the Chinese language is an explanation for why they have always been so technologically backward, why they never invented things like gunpowder, printing, or the compass.



Anyway, that is why I thought that there is probably more to Finland remarkable accomplishments in recent years than a permanent cognitive advantage built into the structure of their language.

Indeed, I wonder if the brute force memorization involved in learning Mandarin does not confer an advantage when it comes to things like math. I know of no evidence for it, but I wonder.

In the meantime, me and my Mandarin flash cards, will continue with our hard work (and pathetic progress.)


Dear Colleagues,

I too, encourage you all to go read Dr. Ladner's OpEd...


But not, dear reader, as an example of cogent reasoning or insightful experimental design.

Read carefully "Moynihan's Challenge." He warns us to "... beware of certainty where none exists."

Then, after a quick trip through the Looking Glass (involvement of mushrooms undetermined), Dr. Ladner asked the opponents of school choice to prove that the intervention is harmful!

Ummm, Dr. Ladner, what exactly is your Null Hypothesis here? (I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that your Ph.D. did not involve the design and execution of any Randomized Controlled Trials.) It is you that needs to rise up to meet Moynihan's Challenge.

The FDA requires drug companies to provide evidence that new therapeutics are safe and effective. In your Alice-rewrites-the-scientific-method world, every snake oil that came along would be approved unless some demonstrated evidence of harm!

I am open to (though skeptical of) the claim that school choice has something to add to fixing our problems. (I am, however, no more skeptical of school choice than any of a thousand other proposed "silver bullets.") Your null hypothesis ought to be that that school choice will effect no significant changes in student performance.

When you are ready to rise to Moynihan's Challenge and produce well designed RCTs, carefully controlled for the inputs, that demonstrate significant and persist improvements in student performance** then I will buy you a steak dinner! And Champagne! And do it with a smile because anytime we find out "What Works" we should all find cause for celebration!


**Submit these to the Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse as neutral arbiter. When your studies are up on WWC showing strong evidence of effectiveness--you can collect on your dinner.

Dr. Ladner's comment contains a misreading and a logical error.

He twists what Diane Ravitch wrote. Her words: "Elite private schools have one huge advantage: demographics of their student body. Their students come from homes where parents have a high level of education and a high income, many books in the home, time and readiness to take their children to libraries and museums, lots of conversation and vocabulary."

Does she say that differences in private school achievement can be "solely" attributed to family background differences? No.

Also, Dr. Ladner makes a logical error in comparing Massachusetts' NAEP scores with Florida's score increases. You can't compare progress with prowess. It's a similar logical error that permitted the NYC DoE to give high-achieving schools a "grade" of C because they didn't make as much "progress" as certain failing schools.


There have been eight random assignment studies that I am aware of that find gains -academic and otherwise- associated with participation in choice programs. None of them show any harm. This exceeds the FDA standard. My claim is not that school choice is a silver bullet- merely that it has been demonstrated to improve student learning and increase parental satisfaction.

Ms. Senechal- you are correct about Diane's point on private schools, and of course, demographics do matter. However, there have been a number of studies showing that the performance differences between, for instance, inner city Catholic and inner city public schools cannot be explained simply by differences among the students.

On your point about MA and Florida, I completely disagree. Don't get me wrong-MA should be proud of their high scores AND should be proud of the progess they have made over the previous decade.

Florida's record of reform, however, is even more impressive since the Jeb Bush reforms of 1999. Florida's K-12 population has far more economically disadvantaged children, is ethnically "majority minority." Florida's Hispanic students have made such large gains in 4th grade reading since 1998 that in 2007 they outscored the statewide average for 15 different states, including California and Oregon.

More impressive still, Florida's free and reduced lunch eligible Hispanic students outscore the statewide average for all students in California, admittedly within the margin of error, but extraordinary nonetheless.

Dr. Ladner,

"This exceeds the FDA standard."

Oh no it doesn't!

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has not, to my knowledge reviewed these studies for sound scientific design, absence of technical flaws, etc.

I did not know the institute for which you work. Poking around on its Web site leads me to believe that it is not neutral on the issue of school choice. Fair enough. I admit to a small ideological bias against school choice. But my bias would melt away faster than a budget surplus inside the Beltway if you can convince me that it "works".

That is why we will need WWC to take a look.

But that is likely to take a few years. Why don't you pick the strongest (your choice) of the eight studies and post a link for us here. There are quite a few people here who will not be intimidated by looking at correlation coefficients, HLMs, effect sizes or other stats.

That would move this discussion along faster than your statement of certainty--and others of skepticism.


Slight ideological bias against vouchers? Really? GB wouldn't be short for Gerald Bracey would it? If so, nice to talk to you again Dr. Bracey.

The famous (or infamous depending upon your viewpoint) Dr. Bracey would set just such a trap. Ask for a study, and then muddy the waters as much as possible. It's a clever strategy, getting reporters to write that the literature on choice is "mixed" or "disputed" when it is actually is quite positive.

This very dead horse has been brutalized several times already. Note however that even if Bracey and his "slightly" ideological compatriots were right, the programs studied have always provided a fraction of the per pupil spending.

Bracey's clever tactic of engaging in a nihlistic methodological debate ultimately distracts from the fact that these programs produce better results than the public schools at a fraction of the cost and radically improve parental satisfaction. Even if Bracey and his cohorts were correct- the kids do just as well academically at a fraction of the cost while radically improving parental satisfaction.


If you are interested in the number of students that fail to learn to decode in the US versus countries that enjoy a transparent language try:

"Cross-National Comparisons of Developmental Dyslexia in Italy and the United States"
Lindgren, de Renzi and Richman

Abstract: www.jstor.org/pss/1130460

If you are interested in how English can be taught is if it were a transparent language (completely unlike the chaotic mess presented as reading instruction in our schools today) and the advantages this confers both in decoding(large gain)and comprehension(small gain), these could get you started:


Early Reading Instruction by Diane McGuinness

There are a few programs being developed in our country that I could point you towards, but I would rather do that off-line.

Erin Johnson

Dr. Ladner,

You are stalling. Admit it. Are you going to give us a study to read or not? Many people here would read it--not just me.

I am most certainly not Professor Bracey. He thinks that international comparisons are a delusional fiction authored by people who hate our schools. I think that we have a decade or two to improve the functioning of our schools before it becomes a existential crises. I have been citing and favorably recommending a series of papers by Eric Hanushek--show me where Gerald Bracey has ever done that.

You seem kind of new to this whole "Internet thing" so I will offer a bit of unsolicited advice. When new to a forum it is wise to either "lurk" for awhile or, alternatively, exhibit a modicum of decorum until you understand the "rules" of the new community with which you have engaged. You waltz in, and accuse one of the respected co-moderators of this forum of "blustery bombast", and express certainty--while simultaneously warning us to beware of those who do.

Diane, by the way, is the conservative half of Bridging Differences. If anything, she should be predisposed to "your" side of this debate. That she expresses her doubts will be of special interest to the crowd that reads this blog. I cannot claim to know why my fellow forum dwellers are here but, for my part, this discussion intrigues me because I think that we must bridge the right-left divide in this nation if we are to improve our schools. We all come here with our biases, but I see lots of people here working to look beyond those to see what the evidence supports. If you want to participate in that effort I am confident that everyone here will welcome your contribution.

If, on the other hand, you plan to claim to have scientific evidence that you refuse to produce, undermine your own credibility by inverting the meaning of Moynihan's challenge, exhibit basic ignorance of the scientific method by challenging your opponents to disprove your hypothesis rather than undertaking to prove it yourself--you may want to take your shtick back to talk-radio-land. You may be out of your depth here.

I also feel the need to apologize to my fellow forum dwellers for my uncharacteristic outburst of temper here. It has been a trying week in Our Nation's Capitol and I confess to being feed-up. But I am heading off to a wonderful education event this evening and will be surrounded by talented and hard-working young people celebrating their achievements of the past year. My own small role in this event each year is one of my favorite. I will be back tomorrow--with a better attitude.


The key to "fixing" public education is quite complex, but it should start with a return to basics.

Children should be taught to work for mastery and not just grades. There SHOULD be a national curriculum and each child should have a laptop with which to work individually on that curriculum until they are done with school. (With technology today, the possibilities are endless).

Well, my eigen is difficult to describe in the short amount of time I have at the moment.

Suffice it to say, that treating humans as cattle being herded about and programmed by the "bell" is not sufficient. Setting a higher expectation and giving them all the same exact opportunities to learn necessary educational material so that they have a sense of accomplishment and truly assimilated knowledge with a desire to be lifelong learners should be the vision as well as the goal.

My you do seem tetchy G.B. but I suppose I would be as well if someone mistook me for Gerald Bracey. Please therefore do accept my apology on that account.

I take issue with your point about the scientific method. The nonacademic benefits of choice have been demonstrated repeatedly and are not in dispute. These benefits are enjoyed with less spending, freeing resources for other uses. The burden of proof therefore should lie not on choice supporters, but rather with opponents. With these benefits broadly acknowledged, the question becomes not why, but why not?

Here is a study for you to read:



Why not choice?

1. Because it distracts from reforms that would improve our schools.

Constantly subjecting our schools to reform measures that fail to improve our children's learning risks/creates burn out from our teachers, students, parents and general public. In and by itself, school choice does nothing to improve classroom instruction and thus our children's learning experiences.

2. Student mobility

Say we did give all our children vouchers. What happens if the student moves during the middle of the year and there are no spots left in the schools nearby?

Would you insist that schools accept all students regardless of when they move in? How does this fit into your concept of choice? Would you allow schools to turn down students and create hardships on families by forcing them to send their children to schools far away from their home? or multiple children to multiple schools?

3. Special Needs Students

What happens to the students that need special education? School choice goes both ways. By allowing parents to choose their schools, you would also be allowing schools to choose their students. What would happen to special needs students that do not have a school that suits them nearby?

Can you not come up with educational reforms that might actually improve our students' learning?

Erin Johnson


1. That's not what happened in Florida. They put in choice and other reforms and have seen tremendous progress in their NAEP scores.

2. I think your point here presupposes the abolishment of the public school system (?) That isn't going to happen. A choice system would lead to the creation of new private school options, meaning there would be more open seats to choose from even for mid year transfers than would otherwise be the case.

3. A huge percentage of students don't have a school that suits them now. As for special needs, the largest voucher program in the country, the McKay Scholarship Program in Florida, allows children with an IEP to pick a public or private school of their choice and have the full state funding follow the child.

The program has been steadily growing, and almost 19,000 children with disabilities are in the program this year attending 824 private schools.

Nationwide, about 2% of children with disabilities attend private schools at public expense. Often, this is the result of parents successfully suing districts under IDEA. Children with access to specialized attorneys have therefore been attending private schools for years.

The McKay program is superior to this in that it equalizes opportunity (no need to sue) and it caps a maximum scholarship value at around $22,000 per year.

Public school officials have been claiming for decades that they don't receive enough money for special needs children- that they shift massive amounts of money out of general ed into special ed.

They can scarcely complain then when children with disabilities leave with their (presumably inadequate) funding. Studies by the Manhattan Institute have found that a) parents in the program are very enthusiastic about it and b) public schools facing relatively high levels of competition from McKay do a better job educating their special needs children. The Florida program has since been copied in Ohio, Utah, Arizona and Georgia.

There are plenty of other reforms which ought to be pursued, but again, Florida's combined top-down/bottom up strategy has shown fantastic progress.


So are you arguing that we should have choice for some students but not all?

Or are you saying that the "public school" system would be the school of last resort, useful only for those kids that no other school wants?

Additionally, the NAEP gains in Florida are tiny at best.

Compared to the gains seen in some of the better school systems around the world, the case in Florida is hardly compelling.

If you are looking at school systems that actually increase student learning, countries such as Russia, Italy and Singapore may have more to offer in terms of real educational improvements (see 2006 PIRLs results for 4th grade reading and compare to any state/school system within the US.)

Are you looking to improve our students' learning or promoting a political adenda?

If you were interested in providing our children with a better education then there are definitely more compeling educational reforms than school choice.

Erin Johnson

I am arguing that public schools will successfully compete in a choice situation.

Go and take a look at Florida's NAEP score gains since 1998. Break the results down by ethnicity and free/reduced lunch status for 4th grade reading, and track the results over time.

In 2007, Florida's Hispanic students outscore 15 statewide averages on 4th grade reading, their African-American students outscore two the statewide averages for all students in two states.

Choice isn't a magic bullet, and other reforms were pursued simultaneously in Florida. The point is that these reforms were complimentary rather than competing.

The Florida legislature seems convinced. On the last day of the session this year they passed a large expansion of the tuition tax credit program for low-income children with almost half of the joint African American caucus of the House and Senate voting in favor.


Slightly positive scores in Florida are better than the alternative (that is lower scores).

But when you consider the global scale of education, the very, very small gains seen in Florida pale in comparison to that seen in countries around the world.

Our schools are not facing a "fine tuning" if you will but a significant difference in learning between our students and students who learn in other school systems.

So while you trumpet "school choice" as the reform of the day, our children are still not learning anything comparable to that seen in the best schools around the world.

How do you justify supporting such a poor educational reform positon when there are multiple initiatives that would serve our children better and actually support their learning at levels seen in the best schools around the world?

Erim Johnson

I think there are a variety of reforms other than choice that hold promise, especially in the teacher quality field. But I'm curious- what do you see as the "more promising reforms" to be pursued?


Our students are not learning very much compared to the best school systems around the world. While there are many aspects of our schools for which we can improve on, student learning should be our primary focus.

As such, all school improvements/organizational changes must focus on improving the quality/quantity of learning that our children experience.

Children learn from a specific teacher in a specific classroom. All learning and thus all improvements need to/should focus on what is happening in the classroom. While quality teaching is an issue, it is only one of three issues that affect student learning. That is: there are 3 aspects of schooling essential to enabling quality student learning:

1. Quality teaching (We have great teachers, but their methods for the most part suffer in comparison to those methods used in the best schools around the world.)

2. Excellent curricula (Standards can help guide, but it is the actual classroom material that is essential for quality learning)

3. Accurate assessment completely aligned with both teaching and curricula. (There are multiple types of assessments that can qualify, but it is the alignment with the classroom instruction that is essential to enabling quality learning.)

These three aspects of schooling need to be tightly aligned and have their primary goal be promoting quality student learning.

As such, we should be asking ourselves, how should “school” be organized/structured to promote quality learning?

International comparisons between our schools and more successful school systems allow us to tease out the fundamental problems in our school system that we would not normally see.

There are four fundamental differences between our school system and that seen in those school systems that are focused on student learning; quality teaching, a clearly articulated and highly aligned assessment process, excellent curricula and a school system that is organized solely to improve student learning.

1. Quality teaching requires a tight, trusting relationship between student and teacher. To encourage that critical teacher-student relationship, successful school systems use external evaluations for their students. That is the teacher is not forced in the antagonistic role of “grading” their students.

The use of external evaluations is a critical element in the success of quality school systems around the world.

By allowing the teacher to focus on teaching and not “grading” the student, the focus in the classroom becomes what students need to learn. Quality learning necessitates a trust between teacher and student. By insisting that our teacher “grades” the student, that trust is undermined and the quality of learning diminishes. External evaluations (in many forms) are used successfully in the best school systems around the world to both clarify expectations and encourage a quality relationship between teacher and student.

2. The curricula that our children/teachers use in the classroom is for the most part horribly organized and poorly written. In response to our poor school structure and curricular adoption process, publishers produce materials that maximize the likelihood of “adoption” to the detriment of student learning. The materials they produce are typically vapid, vague, poorly organized and have a smattering of everything but content. If the materials appear as if they cover the material without offending anyone’s sensibilities, there is a high likelihood that it will be adopted. But this does not serve our children well. Without quality materials in the classroom, how can we expect quality learning to occur?

3. Our external tests/assessments are for the most part at odds with classroom learning. We have multiple assessments that we give our children, but to what goal? Certainly, if the tests were to improve student learning, should they not be developed to test what is going on in the classroom? Should not the test give valuable, timely feedback to both teachers and students regarding their learning? Currently, our tests are more burdens that help.

Our children are probably the most tested in the world. But the assessments only vaguely correlate with what the teacher is teaching in the classroom. We have little/no feedback mechanisms for connecting the classroom with the assessment. Quality assessments can enhance learning if and only if, they are directly connected with what the student is supposed to be learning.

4. But mostly we lack a school structure designed to encourage self-improvement, for students, teachers and the school as a whole. We have no processes in place to promote quality learning or to incorporate/evaluate new ideas about teaching, learning or the optimal ways of assessing learning. (Current “professional development” does not qualify! Nor does just trying out the latest educational fad. A quality self-improvement system has goals and specific ways of telling whether those goals were met.) That is, if there is a new idea about how to encourage children to learn better/more, how do we implement/evaluate it? For the most part, implementation and evaluation of quality teaching techniques is hit or miss. And for the most part it is a miss. We have no organizational systems in place to promote quality teaching, quality curricula or of critiquing the assessments that we give our students.

Our schools are not structured to enable quality learning. Without a system that is organized to focus on student learning how will any tertiary reforms ever make a difference in our children learning?

Erin Johnson

I'm also an enthusiast for teacher quality reforms, but I'm having trouble imagining how to operationalize what you've described into concrete reforms.

South Korea hires their teachers from the top 5% of university graduates, is able to do so because they pay them much higher salaries, is able to pay much higher salaries because they have class sizes around twice the American average. Needless to say, they pound American students in international comparisons despite spending less per pupil and having a per capita income below that of the poorest American state.

The McKinsey Company summed up the system by quoting a South Korean official saying "The quality of a school system cannot exceed the quality of the teachers."


No American state has yet adopted such far reaching reforms- dropping our national fetish with class size in favor of one with teacher quality. In the meantime, Florida's reforms are by far the most effective we've seen. Since 1998, the percentage of students scoring basic or better on 4th grade reading increased by 32%, proficient or better by 54% and advanced by 100%.

Let's take a look at Florida's performance on NAEP.
Fourth grade reading went up very well indeed, from a scale score of 206 in 1998 (below the national average) to a scale score of 224 in 2007 (above the national average).
However, in 8th grade, the gains were not so impressive. Florida 8th graders went from a scale score of 255 in 1998 (6 points below the national average) to 260 in 2007 (1 point below the national average).
Some who have posted comments would attribute these gains solely to choice, but the real story in 4th grade (I think) is the instructional reforms in reading, specifically a statewide program called "Just Read, Florida," which emphasizes phonics.

Diane Ravitch


Teaching quality and “teacher quality” are not synonymous.

How would pulling the “top 5%” of American graduates from our schools change *teaching* quality? Do those “top 5%” know something about teaching that everyone else our country does not know?

Operationalizing educational reforms are rather simple when the problem is well defined.

Could you share your thoughts about what think the main problem(s) with our schools is(are)? And for any given improvement, how would you measure success?

Erin Johnson

Ms. Ravitch- I hope that I have been clear that I do not attribute all of the improvement in Florida's scores to choice. My point is that incentive and instructional based reforms are not mutually exclusive, and in fact can be complimentary. You are correct that 8th grade has been a tougher nut for Florida to crack, but national 8th grade scores have been flat since 1998.

There is a large amount of evidence that some of this improvement happened due to the choice programs, including studies of the A+ program by the Manhattan and Urban Institutes.

In 1998, free and reduced lunch eligible children in MA were 13 points ahead of frl kids in Florida. In 2007, the gap had narrowed to a single point with both states improving over time. Similarily, African Americans were 16 points behind their MA African Americans in 1998 but only 3 points behind in 2007. Florida expanded a lead among Hispanic students from 4 points to 9 points during the same period.

Matthew Ladner,
I don't think that a comparison of Florida and Massachusetts NAEP scores over the past 10 years would be considered a trial of "choice" by any social scientist. There are too many intervening variables.
Both states had population fluctuation; both states had instructional changes; both states had some degree of choice; and in addition, there were many, many other variables that affect student performance.
You make a huge leap of logic to conclude that Florida's gains were largely, mainly, or hugely due to choice
Diane Ravitch

African American students in MA averaged a score of 202 in 4th grade reading in 1998. They went up to 211 in 2007.

In Florida, fourth-grade African American students went up from 186 in 1998 to 198 in 2007. Their gains are noteworthy, but their end point is five points below the MA starting point.

Fourth-grade MA Hispanic students went up from 194 in 1998 to 209 in 2007. Fourth-grade FL Hispanic students went up from 198 in 1998 to 211 in 2007. The two gains are quite comparable.

I'm not saying this to "prove" anyting about Florida vs. Massachusetts, even less about choice. It just seems to me, Matthew Ladner, that your take on the stats is simply one spin.

But to return to an earlier point about progress vs. prowess: it is strange to me that, when some gap is narrowed, those at the top of the gap are then faulted for the very narrowing: for not making as much "progress" as the rest. From what I understand, the tests are not designed to measure the progress of those at the top of the curve.

A state that is already performing well has less room for "progress" than a state that is not. I have a lot to learn about this, but I am convinced that a comparison of the "progress" of MA and FL is inherently flawed or at the very least would require a much closer analysis than is possible through mere inspection of the NAEP scores.

Ms. Ravitch-

I only claimed that the progress was partially due to choice, and on that front, there is a good amount of evidence.

First there are the studies of the failing schools voucher program by both the Manhattan and Urban Institutes. The Manhattan study in particular had a clever way of teasing out the impact of choice from that of stigma.

More recently, a study found that Florida's schools under threat from choice slowed their progress after removal of the threat of vouchers and another has found higher gains among students with disabilities in public schools associated with higher rates of McKay use.

It therefore seems quite reasonable to me to attribute a portion of the improvement in the state to choice based reforms. What evidence can you muster to support the notion that Just Read Florida contributed to the gains? Mind you, I suspect that it did, but is there any evidence?

Mr. Ladner,
I realize that you work for the Goldwater Institute and that you have a deep commitment to vouchers and choice. I don't have a commitment one way or the other on choice or vouchers.
The Manhattan Institute, as we both know, is a conservative think-tank whose studies always--always--support choice and vouchers. No surprises there.
The recent study by Cecelia Rouse and associates said that failing schools improved, but noted that the state had in place a clear, coherent strategy to send in coaches and technical assistance to help the schools improve.
If Florida's progress is dependent on the threat of vouchers, then all progress will come to a halt because--as you know--the Florida courts declared the voucher program unconstitutional.
Diane Ravitch

Only one of the three private choice programs was found unconstitutional, and you didn't answer the question I posed about Just Read Florida. Are there any credible studies linking that program to the improvement in Florida reading scores?

The executive order that created Just Read Florida came after the start of the 2001 school year. Given what we now about the glacial pace of change in gigantic school systems, I'm inclined to think that little of the improvement seen between 1998 and 2002 can be attributed to Just Read Florida.

Florida lawmakers put in a robust mix of testing, instructional and choice based reforms in 1999, and enjoyed substantial improvement in test scores. The bipartisan majority in favor of expanding the tax credit program indicates that those on the ground in the state believe that choice has beneficial- they voted for more of it.

If on the other hand you wish to attribute these gains solely to Just Read Florida, it is you who believes in a silver bullet, not me. The weight of the evidence simply does not support such the notion.

Only one of the three private choice programs was found unconstitutional, and you didn't answer the question I posed about Just Read Florida. Are there any credible studies linking that program to the improvement in Florida reading scores?

The executive order that created Just Read Florida came after the start of the 2001 school year. Given what we now about the glacial pace of change in gigantic school systems, I'm inclined to think that little of the improvement seen between 1998 and 2002 can be attributed to Just Read Florida.

Florida lawmakers put in a robust mix of testing, instructional and choice based reforms in 1999, and enjoyed substantial improvement in test scores. The bipartisan majority in favor of expanding the tax credit program indicates that those on the ground in the state believe that choice has beneficial- they voted for more of it.

If on the other hand you wish to attribute these gains solely to Just Read Florida, it is you who believes in a silver bullet, not me. The weight of the evidence simply does not support such the notion.

Mr. Ladner,

I am willing to accept that no one--not you or me--can say with certainty why Florida's scores increased over the past decade. You on the other hand have repeatedly insisted that it was the state's choice programs that lifted the scores. I tend to think that scores rise in response to better instruction, and I will admit that this hunch or conjecture is a result of my many decades of study and research and reflects my opinion, rather than an independent evaluation.

Let me remind you that the Florida state courts declared the main voucher program (Opportunity Scholarships) in the state unconstitutional in January 2006. The court left undisturbed the McKay Scholarships, a choice program for children with disabilities.

I repeat, if choice was the main engine of improvement for Florida, as you keep insisting, then all progress will be halted, except for children with disabilities.

Diane Ravitch

Ms. Ravitch-

I have taken pains to stress that I believe that there are multiple reasons that Florida's scores improved, not that it is all or even mainly due to choice. There are a number of studies by both right and left of center sources that support the notion that choice was partially responsible.

Nor is your description of the Opportunity Scholarships program being the "main" voucher program accurate. Of the three private choice programs, the Opportunity Scholarships program was always the smallest. The recent expansion of the tax credit program will be far larger than the Opportunity Scholarships ever were. The tax credit and McKay programs were much larger, charter schooling far larger still and rapidly growing.

Your contention that all statewide progress will halt due to the Opportunity Scholarships program going away isn't accurate. Now, as it turns out, those schools whose students were eligible for vouchers through the program dramatically slowed their improvement after the 2006 decision.


I don't think the state solutions teams went on vacation after 2006, or that the faculty at these schools ditched Just Read Florida. It seems to me that the weight of the evidence supports the notion that there is something to this whole parental choice thing after all.

I don't think we just saw almost half of Florida's African American legislative caucus vote for something certain to draw the ire of the education unions because they've been fooled by right wing think tanks. Rather, I believe that they know they've got something special going on in Florida, and that parental choice has been an important part of it.

Mr. Ladner,

I give up. You have no evidence that choice made a difference in Florida, but you insist that it did. There is no changing your mind. I give up.

Diane Ravitch

Ms. Ravitch-

I give up as well, but it is you who have no evidence to support what you are claiming. You admitted so yourself:


One moment finds you talking about the lofty standards of social science, the next asking me to accept something based upon a hunch. You have claimed that those who have found evidence contrary to what you believe are biased, and asked me to accept on faith that you are not. Despite my repeated statements to the contrary, you have continued to engage in a straw man argument that I am claiming that all the gains in Florida are due to choice, wwhen in fact I have claimed nothing of the sort.

Finally, when asked to produce a single study supporting your theory of what happened in Florida, you fail to do so, and instead appealing to your authority.

So I give up as well. I do however hope that you will reexamine the evidence. I think that if you were to do so in an open minded way, that you would see that the sort of reforms you espouse are complimented by parental choice.

Missing from Mr. Ladner's attempt to paint Florida's grade 4 scores is the fact that the state of Florida retains in grade 3 students who fail to meet criteria for promotion. Thus, the tested
group has been filtered. Students having trouble in grade 3, as defined by the state, are not in grade 4. Therefore, isn't it odd to compare a filtered group, which has been plucked of its problematic scorers, to a group which has not been filtered? Shouldn't such information have been included?

so in your history class you only learn about American history?

and i thought history of other nations were more interesting than our own :o)

so in your history class you only learn about American history?

and i thought history of other nations were more interesting than our own :o)

Adding missing info to Matt Ladner's continuous presentation of an incomplete story about Florida. He compares performance of grade 4 students
with one year being before the state mandated third grade retention policy, which plucks problem learners from the grade 4 sample based on their grade 3 difficulties, with a year after that policy was in effect. Shouldn't a research person who wanted to provide accurate information know better or is it all about pushing his political agenda? Go Ms. Ravich. Distribution of demographics and SES is behind many of the supposed victories we have to hear about these days. When will we stop using SES related achievement levels as
a definition of a "good" school rather than size of learning gain? I guess we may stop when it is no longer about political will in education and student
learning becomes the priority.

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