And the 2022 NAEP pathetic literacy performance award goes to …

It’s award season here at reimaginED, and we’re reviewing a trend from “the Nation’s Report Card” for low-income students who tested in all 50 states between 2003 and 2022 on the fourth grade Reading exam. Basically, you want to see your state on the right side of the zero line on this chart that plots the literacy trend against a spending increase per pupil.

So based on this chart, which states are getting shortchanged the most by their public-school systems?

New York sticks out like a sore thumb on the spending side. New Yorkers ought not bother making “Oops, we catastrophically mishandled the pandemic” lame excuses because the state was to the left of the zero line in 2019.

Far from being the result of sort of unfortunate accident, the data reflects the outcome of policy preferences of the United Federation of Teachers and the various politicians they routinely influence.

Delightfully, the American founders created a system with federalism and New Yorkers have been fleeing, mostly to Florida.

Florida is one of a cluster of states that increased spending by a relatively small amount (about one-quarter of the New York increase) but saw relatively large reading gains for low-income students on NAEP. Other states include Alabama, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi and Nevada.

Pennsylvania appears to be the only state in the northeast to eke out any kind of increase, and the improvement is dominated by states in the south and the west.

The first chart badly shortchanges Florida because the state’s improvement started after 1998 (before all states took NAEP). The increase for low-income students between 1998 and 2022 amounts to an astounding 25 points, meaning the average low-income fourth grader in Florida read more than two grade levels higher than their peers in 1998.

Ultimately, though, Delaware’s academic catastrophe is simply too powerful to ignore: a 22-point decline in fourth grade reading scores for low-income students. Poor students already were showing a grade level lower performance in 2019 than in 2003, but the state managed to double up on that decline in the space of three years to bumble to a two academic year level of decline.

West Virginia and Minnesota tried to provide competition, but ultimately Delaware is the “winner” of the 2022 NAEP most pathetic literacy performance award.

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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of Next Steps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.

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