Over the past week, I’ve been dealing with the question of “How do Florida and Kentucky compare on the NAEP over the years?” The first four parts of this “Matching Kentucky education against a state with massive school choice options” blog series dealt with those states’ performance on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Grade 4 reading assessments and are available at these links:
Part 1 — All Student NAEP Scores
Part 2 — White Student NAEP Scores
Part 3 — Black Student NAEP Scores
Part 4 — School Lunch Eligible Student NAEP Scores
Today, we explore something different from test results. As you will see in the table below, we are going to look at some other factors that are commonly claimed to be important in the relative performance of state education systems. Given the fact that Florida clearly moved from behind to ahead of Kentucky on the NAEP for Grade 4 reading over the years, be prepared for some surprises.
First, we hear Kentucky educators complaining all the time that they are not getting enough money to educate our students properly. Well, take a look at the first two columns of data in the table. Whether we talk about total per pupil revenue for education in each state or just about current education spending (which leaves out non-classroom activity items like capital expenditures), Florida as of 2016 was spending a lot less per pupil than Kentucky. If funding were a crucial game maker, this simply would not be.
But, it gets more interesting. Data collected by the NAEP Data Explorer web tool tell us that in 2013 Florida had a notably higher percentage of students eligible for the federal free and reduced cost lunch program. This was the last year that the NAEP’s school lunch data was not potentially impacted by the new Community Eligibility Program for school lunches, which can make more recent NAEP lunch information non-comparable across states. So, if poverty were the key, we should expect Kentucky to be outperforming Florida, not the other way around.
Next up the table looks at the percentage of students in each state that are, or recently were, characterized as English language learners (ELL). This is a big deal for Florida due to its large Hispanic population. Again, more ELL students should tilt the academic scales in Kentucky’s favor, but that isn’t what is happening.
Finally, the racial achievement gaps are no secret in our schools. The excuse makers for Kentucky’s education system say higher minority populations make it more difficult for schools to educate. Well, if that were inevitably the case, Kentucky once again should be stepping away from Florida, not the other way around that we showed you is actually happening in NAEP Grade 4 reading results.
To close this blog series, any way you slice the NAEP Grade 4 reading picture, it looks like school choice rich Florida has moved from notably behind to well ahead of the pack. That most definitely includes choice rich Florida moving ahead of choice poor Kentucky. And, Florida has done this despite higher poverty and minority levels and notably lower per pupil funding. Something else has to explain what is going on, and school choice looks even more likely to be part of the explanation now that we examined some of the non-academic facts of life for Florida and Kentucky.
And, that is something our legislators need to consider – NOW.
Tech Notes: NAEP data was obtained from the NAEP Data Explorer web tool.
The US Census education finance data came from the online “2016 Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data,” Table 11