Matthew Ladner

Arizona parents need truth in advertising for schools

Posted on April 14, 2010 | Author: Matthew Ladner
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Senator John Huppenthal is sponsoring Senate Bill 1286 to label public schools with a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F, based on overall AIMS test scores and gains in student learning. The proposal is based on education reforms put in place in Florida a decade ago. There schools with D and F grades have significantly improved when faced with losing students. Arizona schools would do the same.

Dr. David Garcia of Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute recently analyzed school transfer data, and his results reinforce the need to clarify school performance labels. The following table presents Garcia’s research, which shows the variation in year-to-year re-enrollment rates for Arizona elementary schools that use the current state labels under AZLEARNS:

Re-enrollment in Elementary Schools by AZLEARNS Label, 2009



Highly Performing


Performing Plus













In 2009, 16 percent of students in underperforming schools did not re-enroll in them if they were eligible to do so. Imagine 100 students start kindergarten at a typical elementary school. A year later, only 84 are still in the school in first grade. The next year, losing another 16 percent leaves 70 students in the second grade. By the time that group of kindergarteners reach sixth grade, there are only 41 of them left. This is not a ringing endorsement of the school.

We do not know how many students transfer due to dissatisfaction with their first school. But we can certainly infer the association is greater among low performing schools. Notice the student loss rate is twice as high in the bogusly labeled “performing schools” compared to excelling schools.

One conclusion of Dr. Garcia’s report is not to expect parental choice to improve Arizona public schools, because people are not moving their kids. Except, of course, they are moving their kids. My sons attend a district elementary school in which 27 percent of the students are out-of-boundary transfers. Many charter schools have long waiting lists.

The Morrison Institute’s report, along with the consistent improvement in Florida school performance, make the case for clear labels and more, rather than less, parental choice options.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research for the Goldwater Institute.

Learn More:

Goldwater Institute: New test scores show urgent need for education reform

Goldwater Institute: Demography Defeated: Florida’s K-12 Reforms and Their Lessons for the Nation

Morrison Institute: School Re-Enrollment

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