Jeb Bush continues to promote the education reforms he implemented during his eight years as governor. (Photo by Mark Wolfe/FEMA.)

By Mc Nelly Torres
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

A Colorado think tank has described the research of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s top education advisor as “nonsensical, confusing and disingenuous.”

Matthew Ladner received a 2011 Bunkum Award from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder for the research he has published while working as a senior policy and research advisor at Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, a nonprofit whose mission is to encourage Florida-style education reform in other states.

The National Education Policy Center, a nonprofit that produces peer-reviewed research on education policy, presents the award annually to honor what the center views as shoddy education research.

“We’ve never before found someone with an individual record of Bunkum-worthy accomplishments that just cries out for recognition,” said Kevin G. Welner, director of NEPC. “Dr. Ladner’s body of Bunk-work is focused on his shameless hawking of what he and the governor [Jeb Bush] call the ‘Florida Formula’ for education success.”

Bush couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday because he was traveling.

Ladner, who has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston, mocked the Bunkum Awards last year when a report he co-authored with Lindsey Burke won the honor. He did not respond to an interview request Thursday. However, Ladner wrote about receiving this year’s Bunkum Award in a blog post today.

“Honestly, I can’t take credit for this great honor,” Ladner wrote. “It was Governor Bush and his team of fearless reformers who ignored the wailing howls of K-12 reactionaries and forced through a set of reforms that improved Florida education steadily over time.”

Ladner has authored a number of studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform for organizations including the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate-supported organization that pushed for “Stand Your Ground” legislation in Florida and other states.

Ladner, who has testified before Congress and state legislatures, previously served as vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank that supports school choice. He was also the director of state projects at the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for School Choice.

Since last year, Ladner and Bush have given a series of presentations around the country using Florida as an example to promote the types of education reforms Bush implemented during his eight years as governor. These reforms include creating and implementing standardized tests, providing greater choice with charter schools, extending vouchers for special-needs programs and offering a tuition tax credit for private schools.

Ladner argues that because Florida students’ test scores have increased during a period of school choice and grade retention, these policies must be responsible for the scores.

However, the National Education Policy Center cites evidence that links grade retention to increased dropout rates, not to improved academic achievement.

While Florida’s recent student test scores are unimpressive, Ladner still supports the education reform policies. He blames the poor scores on a slide in real estate values and other outside factors.

UPDATE, June 1, 5:50 p.m.: FCIR was unable to reach Ladner Thursday. However, today Ladner emailed the following response regarding the National Education Policy Center’s Bunkum Award:

NEPC has willfully ignored a number of very serious flaws in their theories regarding Florida’s education improvement which I have brought to their attention on a number of occasions. Their initial reviewer ignored an article published in the nation’s most influential education policy journal that directly addressed concerns she raised, duplicated someone else’s published work without citation, and then unknowingly published data in her own appendix which undermined her central thesis. Rather than addressing any of this, NEPC chose to go downhill from this already inauspicious start with ever more fantastic theories about why Florida’s NAEP scores improved.

NEPC has made it impossible for me to take them seriously, and I am therefore happy to accept their award.