Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday November 26, 2010

Bill Gates on school reform. Microsoft Chairman and founder Bill Gates, in an effort to help the states save money on schools, recently gave a speech, as reported by the New York Times: “He suggests they end teacher pay increases based on seniority and on master’s degrees, which he says are unrelated to teachers’ ability to raise student achievement. He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools.” This is a refreshing take on the issue of class size. For more background on these issues from Voice for Liberty, click on Focus on class size in Wichita leads to misspent resources, Wichita public school district’s path: not fruitful, In public schools, incentives matter, and Wichita school district policy is misguided. For what it’s worth, incoming Kansas governor Sam Brownback doesn’t seem to have these issues on his agenda for education reform.

Now the schools look for savings. The Lawrence Journal-World reports on an initiative to save on utility costs in the Lawrence public school system. “Teachers are unloading their refrigerators, flipping off computer monitors and unplugging their coffee pots — all to help the Lawrence school district save a few bucks over the Thanksgiving break. It’s all part of an ongoing program to trim utility costs, thus far saving the district at least $3.6 million.” I wonder: why hasn’t the school district been doing this already? This is more evidence that spending can be cut in ways that won’t harm children, despite the shrill claims of school spending advocates when they, like Wichita Representative Jim Ward or outgoing governor Mark Parkinson, claim that spending has already been “cut to the bone.” Lawrence, USD 497, contributed to the 2005 Kansas schools lawsuit, but is not a member of this year’s group suing taxpayers for more money. Give a small measure of credit to this district, that they’re trying to cut costs first instead of suing taxpayers.

Business climate under Brownback. A poll by the Wichita Business Journal indicates that Kansans think the state’s business climate will improve under incoming governor Sam Brownback — barely. 53 percent of respondents clicked on “Yes, it will get better.” The rest thought the business climate will remain the same or get worse. This is not a scientific poll, but represents the sentiment of those readers who chose to participate.

The parent trigger. A law in California allows parents whose children are in failing public schools to petition the school to become a charter school, close down, other undergo other reform. Called the “parent trigger,” the law was promoted from the political left, unlike most reform proposals which come from the political right. The Center for School Reform at the Heartland Institute explains in the policy brief The Parent Trigger: A Model for Transforming Education. As the full report states: “America’s $400 billion public education system exists primarily to serve grown-ups — bureaucrats, unions, and other special interests — not kids.” The primary opposition to this measure comes from — naturally — the teachers union: “Because many parents will likely choose to have their schools convert to charters and most charter schools are not unionized, powerful unions like the California Teachers Association view parental empowerment as a threat.” Anyone who has read much about school reform knows that the teachers unions and schools spending advocacy groups are the greatest threat to any meaningful reform. In Kansas, the two groups that consistently oppose meaningful reform are Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB).

Public or private parks? John Stossel asks whether parks should be public or privately owned. A video clip shows several interviewees insisting that parks must be public. Unknowing to these people, they were all interviewed in a privately-owned park. In this video clip, Stossel explains the tragedy of the commons and the benefits of private property. His written article concludes: “What private property does — as the Pilgrims discovered — is connect effort to reward, creating an incentive for people to produce far more. Then, if there’s a free market, people will trade their surpluses to others for the things they lack. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit makes the community richer.”

Kansas Rep. Jim Morrison. Kansas Representative Jim Morrison of Colby has died. Services are pending.

Kansas City Mayor not happy with job poaching. The flow of jobs from Kansas City Missouri across the border to Kansas needs to stop, says Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser. The Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) program is to blame, he says. This program allows companies to use nearly all the payroll withholding taxes its employees pay for its own benefit instead of supporting the Kansas budget. In urging Missouri to step up its ability to offer incentives, Funhouser used the term “nuclear deterrence.” He seems to indicate that the ability of one state to counter another state’s incentives might stop companies from moving just to get incentives. See Kansas City Star article Loss of jobs to Kansas irks Kansas City’s mayor. It’s a little ironic to hear Missouri complain about generous Kansas incentives, as Kansas politicians like Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer often complain about the incentives other states offer that Kansas can’t match, and how they wish they had other “tools in the toolbox.” Also, Star columnist Mary Sanchez is wrong when she writes “Present-day market realities call for upfront capital incentives for companies to relocate.”


3 thoughts on “Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday November 26, 2010”

  1. I watched KSN’s Jessica Schlageck’s report on the new survey results released Monday by the Foundation for Educational Choice regarding Kansan’s erroneous perceptions of educational funding. Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute gave an excellent interview where he astutely pointed out that Kansans generally don’t realize just how much tax money Kansas schools already receive and that, as the schools ask for more and more, the schools nor the public have yet to define”How much is enough.” The fact is that if we increase taxes to 100% and give all the money to the schools we would destroy our economy and have no schools at all, so obviously there’s some upper limit to the necessity for school funding. It’s also interesting that the individual leading the vanguard in the court battle is not a parent or business person, the sort of person you think would be leading the way if more spending were necessary to produce greater economic growth—what businessman or parent would be against that?—but rather, John Morton, Newton’s school superintendent, one biased toward bloated school system overhead: the perpetuation of his own salary.
    I was further interested to note that my comment to that article reflected the wisdom of Bill Gates shared just above on the WichitaLiberty site, that better teachers—who are rare—and larger class sizes are the keys to cost effective achievement. Further it’s time we shrank district staff overhead and dispensed with wasteful extravagances as it seems Lawrence schools are learning to do. With that as an introduction here was my response to the KSN report which can be found at http://www.ksn.com/news/local/story/Survey-results-fan-flames-in-education-funding/SplQIipXz02lMClBXF4cZA.cspx :
    According to the “Trends International Math Science Study,” students from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Russia and England all score higher on the study’s standardized test than the United States and yet the United States spends more than any of these as a percentage of GDP, except for England, and more than all in terms of real dollars according to the CIA World Factbook. There is no relationship between dollars spent on education and individual achievement as far as raw throwing dollars into school systems is concerned. Probably the best educational value in Wichita is the Classical School of Wichita which has one of the highest National Merit Scholar to student ratios at a fraction of the cost of public education by any measure. School funding advocates like superintendent Morton of Newton are clearly biased since they directly benefit from increased taxation for schools and yet there is no direct correlation in any available data of economic growth trending with educational expenditure. Quite to the contrary, some of the chronically poorest nations on earth, with the worst education, spend the highest percentage of GDP on education. What matters most is quality curriculum, quality leadership, and quality teachers that can be achieved with higher student-teacher ratios and fewer frills exactly as they have been doing and are doing in Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Japan and Russia. In order for class size to make any statistical difference in achievement the class must be smaller than 10 and then it would be virtually impossible, read astronomically expensive, to equip all such classrooms with excellent teachers, and so the achievement gain due to small classes would be reversed by poor teachers. The truth is that larger classes with exceptionally well qualified teachers and complete parental support with excellent lean leadership is the path to educational excellence for the masses as well as economic prosperity for the economy as a whole. At least that’s what Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Korea have proved. The elite will have their “Roxbury Latin’s,” of course, but it’s not good for anyone for everyone to have them.

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