Klein’s supply-side observation merits empirical investigation with respect to schools, but Figure 2 also notes the educational growth rate of neighboring Arizona, Nevada. Nevada saw the second increase in the number of schools in the country and shared Arizona’s rapidly growing population trend, but has not seen remarkable levels of educational growth. Why could it be?
The growth of Arizona public schools has come primarily (but almost exclusively) in the form of charter schools. Arizona charter schools have created opportunities for families to match their students with special schools and have prompted districts to participate in open enrollment. In the Phoenix metro area, open-enrolled transfers outnumber charter school students, in large part because suburban Arizona districts are actively involved.
Nevada has a much smaller charter school sector, which means that enrollment growth in Silver State has been absorbed primarily by the construction of new district schools. Arizona has developed a diverse set of schools focused on wildly different offerings such as the arts, classical education, STEM, horseback riding, and more. Most Nevada schools followed the Clark County School District formula because they struggled to build relatively standardized schools quickly enough.
Having the highest academic growth rate among US states doesn’t translate into becoming a world champion. If you look at Arizona’s Grade 4 and 8 NAEP scores in math and reading, they reveal below-average scores on average in Grade 4, with Grade 8 scores at or near the national average. Given that the U.S. national average performs poorly in international comparisons, Arizona still had a lot of work to do, even before the pandemic caused a substantial academic setback for students. There is one great achievement that Arizona educators can build on, however: Before the pandemic, Arizona public school students were learning more per year than students in any other state.
Variety is the spice of life. It may also be the spice of schooling.
Matthew Ladner is the editor-in-chief of RedefinED.