The Land of (Dis)enchantment

Recently I reported that Florida’s students with disabilities exceeded multiple states statewide averages for all students on multiple 2022 NAEP exams. This is both encouraging (for Florida) and disturbing for much of the rest of the country. But wait the news gets better (worse) still.

Above are charts showing NAEP fourth grade math scores for both students without disabilities (on the left) and those students with disabilities (on the right). Nationwide the average achievement gap between students without disabilities and students with disabilities was 38 points, and the gap varies between states.
Notice that Florida, marked in red, ranked first for students with disabilities and ninth for students without disabilities. Now look a bit closer. See it yet? Let me help you out:

I’ll leave it to you dear reader as to whether you prefer to marvel at the improvement in outcomes for students with disabilities in Florida, lament the outcomes in New Mexico, or both. Put me down for “both” please. Just in case you are tempted to write this off to some kind of COVID-era fluke, it actually happened before in 2005 and very close to happening in 2009, long before the pandemic.


As noted earlier, Florida provides a relatively large amount of choice to both students with disabilities and students generally. Florida has also spent decades of effort in promoting sound reading instruction for all students. New Mexico’s public education system seems much more focused on generating adult salaries and pensions.

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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of NextSteps. 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.

One Comment

New Mexico’s state schooling disables its pupils.

I’d like to know the abilities of these children in science, or second languages. Any data there? (My fear is that, as is generally true in the USA, an excessive concentration on elementary skills ends up limiting the competencies of all young Americans, who thereafter struggle to qualify for employment, while job positions remain unfilled, unnecessarily slowing down our economy.)

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