Tag Archives: Education

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas school finance and reform, Charles Koch on why he fights for liberty

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The Kansas legislature passed a school finance bill that contains reform measures that the education establishment doesn’t want. In response, our state’s newspapers uniformly support the system rather than Kansas schoolchildren. Then, in the Wall Street Journal Charles Koch explains why liberty is important, and why he’s fighting for that. Episode 39, broadcast April 20, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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In Kansas City, private schools seen as ‘a perversion’

If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between public schools and private schools, a top Kansas school administrator knows the difference:

David A. Smith, Chief of Staff, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

David A. Smith, Chief of Staff, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

David Smith, chief of staff for Kansas City, Kan., public schools, said the bill was targeted at students specifically in low-income districts, including his district. Now, he is trying to figure out what this portion of the bill will mean for public schools.

“It is beyond my comprehension how encouraging students to go to a private school serves the public good,” Smith said. “It is such a perversion of what it means to serve the public that I don’t get it.” (Legislators offer tax credits for scholarships to private schools, KU Statehouse Wire Service via Hays Daily News)

Consider these circumstances:

(a) Parents feel that their children are not thriving in Smith’s public school, and
(b) parents find a private school that they feel will help their children, and
(c) taxpayer money for these students is diverted from Smith’s public school to private schools that are teaching the children.

Is the result of these activities a “perversion?” Isn’t the public also served when children are educated in private schools? And if the private schools do a better job than the public schools, hasn’t the public been delivered better service?

Smith may not realize that if private schools are not doing a good job, students are not forced to attend them. They can go to other schools, including the public schools. But students who are not doing well in Smith’s school don’t have many alternatives. Perhaps none.

The attitude expressed by Smith is a opportunity to recognize and understand the real issue in the debate over schools in Kansas: Which is more important — public schools (and unions, teachers, principals, administrators, superintendents, service employees, school architects, school construction companies) or Kansas schoolchildren?

David A. Smith knows the answer that best serves his interests.

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Competition in markets

children-arm-wrestling-beach-176645_1280Competition must surely be one of the most misunderstood concepts. As applied to economics, government, and markets, the benefits of competition are not understood and valued.

Usually when people think of competition they think of words like hostile, cut-throat, or dog-eat-dog. They may reference the phrase “survival of the fittest,” making analogies to the law of the jungle. There, competition is brutal. The winners kill and eat the losers. Or, they may refer to games or sporting events, where a competition is created specifically to produce a winner and a loser.

But as David Boaz of the Cato Institute explains in his essay Competition and Cooperation, it’s different in markets. There, as Boaz explains, people compete in order to cooperate with others, not defeat them:

The competitive process allows for constant testing, experimenting, and adapting in response to changing situations. It keeps businesses constantly on their toes to serve consumers. Both analytically and empirically, we can see that competitive systems produce better results than centralized or monopoly systems. That’s why, in books, newspaper articles, and television appearances, advocates of free markets stress the importance of the competitive marketplace and oppose restrictions on competition.

We often see people plead for cooperation, as being preferred over competition: “Can’t we all get along?” But Boaz says this: “What needs to be made clear is that those who say that human beings ‘are made for cooperation, not competition’ fail to recognize that the market is cooperation. Indeed, as discussed below, it is people competing to cooperate.”

Boaz says that cooperation is so essential to human flourishing that we don’t just want to talk about it; we want to create social institutions that make it possible. That is what property rights, limited government, and the rule of law are all about.

If we didn’t have well-defined property rights and rule of law, we would be continually fighting — competing, that is — over property and who owns it. Boaz says “It is our agreement on property rights that allows us to undertake the complex social tasks of cooperation and coordination by which we achieve our purposes.”

Cooperation and coordination in markets is what has allowed us to progress beyond the simple societies where each person has only what he himself produces, or what he can trade for with those in his immediate surroundings. Maybe it would be wonderful if this cooperation and coordination could be accomplished through benevolence, that is, by people doing good simply for good’s sake. Sort of like “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” During the last century we saw how political systems based on that philosophy worked out.

Human nature isn’t always benevolent. People are self-interested. They want more for themselves. In economies where property rights are respected and protected, the only legitimate way to get more stuff for yourself is by trading with others. You figure out what other people want, you produce it, and give it to them in exchange for what you want. And if you can figure out what people really want, that is, what they’re willing to trade a lot of their stuff in order to obtain, you can prosper. And since the trading is voluntary, both parties to the trade are better off.

In Adam Smith’s lasting imagery over two centuries ago: “By directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

Figuring out what others place high value on and providing it to them — and doing that better than someone else — is what competition in markets is about. As Boaz said, it is “people competing to cooperate.” When you generate success in this way, rather than by stealing from others, we all benefit. We experience what Boaz and others call the “civil society.” We cooperate with others to get what we want, instead of beating them over the head and stealing from them. Our desire for more stuff, coupled with property rights and rule of law, means that we compete to make others’ lives better, so that in turn our own lives can be better.

Who knows best what people should have? Each person knows best for themselves, of course. People place different values on things, but it each person who knows best what he values, and how much he values it.

That’s the way voluntary markets work. But government and politics works differently. Here’s what Milton Friedman had to say on this topic: “[The political system] tends to give undue political power to small groups that have highly concentrated interests; to give greater weight to obvious, direct and immediate effects of government action than to possibly more important but concealed, indirect and delayed effects; to set in motion a process that sacrifices the general interest to serve special interests rather than the other way around. There is, as it were, an invisible hand in politics that operates in precisely the opposite direction to Adam Smith’s invisible hand.”

So the benefits of market competition and cooperation are turned around and perverted in government and politics. There are many examples of this. Currently in Kansas we have a vivid example unfolding. The Blob — that’s the public school establishment — doesn’t want to allow competition, at least not competition using taxpayer funds in the form of charter schools, vouchers, or tax credit scholarships. It doesn’t want existing teachers to face competition from professionals who haven’t spent years earning a teaching degree and obtained a license.

Instead of the values of civil society, where people compete to cooperate with others in order to accomplish their goals, our public schools operate under a different system. Politicians and courts will tell us how much to spend on schools, and will pass laws to seize payment from people. Bureaucrats will tell us what schools will teach, and how they will teach it. If parents don’t like what government provides, they’re free to send their children somewhere else. But they still must pay for a product they’ve determined they have no use for.

The benefit of market competition, that is, the “constant testing, experimenting, and adapting” that Boaz writes about, is missing from government-run schools. Instead, the centralized monopoly of public schools plods along. We place all our eggs in the No Child Left Behind basket. That law is now considered by nearly everyone as a failure. So we attempt to impose another centralized, monopolistic system: the Common Core Standards.

Instead of peacefully and happily competing to cooperate in the education of Kansas schoolchildren, there is vitriol. Extreme vitriol, I would say. No one seems happy with the system. Great effort is spent fighting — jungle competition, we might say, rather than cooperating. And for some crazy reason, we use this system for many other things, too.

For more on this topic, see Competition and Cooperation: Two sides of the same coin by Steven Horwitz.

Kansas school finance reporting and opinion

school-crayons-colored-pencils-168392There’s a range of opinion, that’s for sure.

Republicans concede bill would let teachers be fired without cause (Wichita Eagle)
“Statehouse Republicans are having to abandon a key talking point in their effort to defuse teacher anger over an anti-tenure bill the Legislature passed a week ago, conceding the bill would allow school districts to fire veteran teachers without having to give a reason why. If Gov. Sam Brownback signs the bill into law, teachers would essentially be at-will employees of their school districts and able to challenge termination only if they allege the firing violates their constitutional rights.” Click here to read.

Kansas bill renews debate about how easy it should be to fire teachers (Kansas City Star)
There is a diversity of opinion, much conflicting, it seems: “It’s not too damn hard to fire a teacher,” said Marcus Baltzell, the director of communications for the Kansas National Education Association. “It’s just that the teacher has a redress of due process, a hearing officer, (a chance to say) ‘Here’s my take. Here’s what we’ve done to address the area of concern, and I believe this is unfair.’” … “Lawmakers who backed the change — it becomes law if Gov. Sam Brownback signs it — argued that dumping dead weight from the faculty has become harder than it ought to be.” … “I don’t like tenure. I never have,” said Rep. Ward Cassidy, a Republican from northwest Kansas who worked as a high school principal for 20 years. “Good principals have a whole lot of other things to do besides going through all you need to fire a teacher.” Click here to read.

In Wichita, Brownback neither praises nor criticizes measure stripping K-12 teacher tenure rights (Wichita Eagle)
“… most questions he was asked after his short talk concerned a provision to strip veteran K-12 teachers of tenure rights in the recently passed public school financing bill, which he said he has not decided whether to sign. And while he didn’t criticize that provision, he didn’t endorse it either.” Click here to read.

In Kansas, education is all about money and politics for UMEEA (Kansas Policy Institute)
“Media reaction to the school finance legislation has been pretty predictable. It focuses almost exclusively on institutions and ignores the impact on students. As usual, it’s all about money and politics. Unions, media and their allies in the education establishment (UMEEA) oppose tax credit scholarships for low income students. They rail against taxpayer money going to private schools and how that might mean a little less money for public institutions but ignore the very real purpose and need for the program. (FYI, the scholarship program is capped at $10 million; schools are expected to spend almost $6 billion this year.) Achievement gaps for low income students are large and getting worse, despite the fact that At Risk funding intended to improve outcomes increased seven-fold over the last eight years. So predictably, a program to give an alternative to low income students in the 99 lowest-performing schools is attacked by UMEEA as being unfair to institutions. Media and their establishment friends don’t even make a token mention of the serious achievement problem. It’s all about money and politics.” Click here to read.

Far-Right Kansas Legislature Sells Out Kansas Schools (Kansas Democratic Party)
“But none of these stories could compete with what the Kansas Legislature did to Kansas public schools. Under the cover of night and with virtually no debate or hearings, the Kansas Legislature forced through an education “reform” bill that stripped teachers of due process rights, passed out even more tax breaks to corporations, and potentially widened the disparity between rich schools and poor schools. School districts say new school finance bill will widen disparities.” Click here to read.

Opinion: Public education under attack (Lawrence Journal-World)
“The inclusion of these so-called “policy” provisions in the school finance bill passed by the Legislature are a mistake and will actually harm the very schools that the Kansas Supreme Court sought to assist. This is just one more step in the Legislature’s assault on public K-12 education in Kansas.” Click here to read.

Teachers are sacrificial lambs in school finance (Iola Register via High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times)
A confused editorial. The writer says that teachers are held accountable to, among others, school administrators, but usually it is claimed that teachers need defense from this accountability. “The defense of tenure is at its best when you consider a teacher is accountable to hundreds of ‘bosses’ — parents and school boards as well as administrators.” Click here to read.

Selling education (Hutchinson News)
“Two elements of the bill are particularly troubling. One creates a $10 million-a-year corporate welfare program in support of private education. It allows large companies to enjoy a 70-percent credit against their state tax liability if they offer scholarships to at-risk students who move to private schools. This has nothing at all to do with public education equity; rather it creates a mechanism to damage the finance structure for public schools. The second concerning component redefines “teacher” as a way to eliminate due process protections. And the concept of teacher tenure is a myth. The current due process for teachers simply ensures a written termination notice and the right to challenge the decision through review by a hearing officer. In fact the Kansas Association of School Boards reported that the state sees about 10 due process claims each year – hardly a number that indicates a systemic problem that requires legislative action. The measure is little more than a way to break the teachers’ union and silence those teachers who honestly educate and advocate for their students.” Click here to read.

Richard Crowson: We Need Some Education (KMUW)
“And that guy who was smiling and joking with me in the checkout line at the grocery last Saturday? He lit a firebomb, taped a tax credit for private school supporters on it, and flung it through the window of a first grade classroom in the wee hours of Sunday morning.” Click here to read.

Rep. Rooker ‘heartsick’ over results of education finance bill (Prairie Village Post)
Small steps towards Kansas education reform are “immoral” and make this representative “heartsick.” Click here to read.

Shame, says Wichita Eagle editorial board (Voice for Liberty)
The Wichita Eagle editorial board, under the byline of Rhonda Holman, issued a stern rebuke to the Kansas Legislature for its passage of HB 2506 over the weekend. Click here to read.

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Schools and the nature of competition and cooperation, Wind power and taxes

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A Kansas newspaper editorial is terribly confused about schools and the nature of competition in markets. Then, we already knew that the wind power industry in Kansas enjoys tax credits and mandates. Now we learn that the industry largely escapes paying property taxes. Episode 38, broadcast April 6, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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In Kansas, education is all about money and politics for UMEEA

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Education is all about money and politics for UMEEA

By Dave Trabert

Media reaction to the school finance legislation has been pretty predictable. It focuses almost exclusively on institutions and ignores the impact on students. As usual, it’s all about money and politics.

Unions, media and their allies in the education establishment (UMEEA) oppose tax credit scholarships for low income students. They rail against taxpayer money going to private schools and how that might mean a little less money for public institutions but ignore the very real purpose and need for the program. (FYI, the scholarship program is capped at $10 million; schools are expected to spend almost $6 billion this year.)

Achievement gaps for low income students are large and getting worse, despite the fact that At Risk funding intended to improve outcomes increased seven-fold over the last eight years. So predictably, a program to give an alternative to low income students in the 99 lowest-performing schools is attacked by UMEEA as being unfair to institutions. Media and their establishment friends don’t even make a token mention of the serious achievement problem. It’s all about money and politics.

An ugly, inconvenient truth about low income achievement gaps emerges when the data is honestly examined. We compiled and published the information in our2014 Public Education Fact Book, available on our web site. For example, only 45 percent of 4th grade low income students can read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension on the state assessment, versus 74 percent of those who are not low income. State assessment data also shows that 57 percent of low income students in private accredited Kansas schools can read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension. Tax credit scholarships offer a lifeline to low income students who want to try something else.

And before the attacks on the validity of the data begin, know that Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker and I participated in a discussion on the topic before the House and Senate Education committees recently; she could have objected or corrected me when I presented this KSDE achievement data. She did not. Instead, she said low income achievement gaps are large and getting worse. Even the education establishment agrees that having effective teachers in classrooms is probably the most important element of improving outcomes, but of course money and politics take priority over students, so UMEEA attacks efforts to make it easier and faster to remove ineffective teachers. After all, the adults in the system are a higher priority than students.

And don’t forget to throw in some clichés … efforts to help students are “ideological” but prioritizing institutional demands is “progressive” and “pragmatic.” UMEEA likes to pretend that “just spend more” and promoting institutional demands are not ideological positions.

Media is also spreading institutional notions that increasing the Local Option Budget (LOB) ceiling from 31 percent to 33 percent will create inequities among school districts, even though legislators just agreed to fully equalize the LOB. If school districts really believed that higher ceilings create inequity, they would be calling for the ceiling to be reduced. One must wonder if the real issue is that districts don’t want to, or can’t, justify the need for higher property taxes to local voters.

UMEEA will continue to attack legislators for combining policy reforms with the commitment to increase spending for equalization, but the simple reality is that that may have been the only real chance to get these student-focused initiatives passed. In that regard, spending more money finally made a difference for students.

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Kansas values, applied to schools

A Kansas public policy advocacy group makes an emotional pitch to petition signers, but signers should first be aware of actual facts.

To drum up support for its positions, Kansas Values Institute has started on online petition urging Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to veto HB 2506. Here’s the pitch made to potential petition signers:

“Governor Brownback has had four years to make schools a priority, but all he has to show for it is classrooms that are over crowded, parents paying rising school fees, and his signature achievement: the largest cut to classrooms in the history of Kansas. The Supreme Court’s ruling gave the Governor a chance to correct his course.”

Now, the governor has not necessarily been a friend of education, if by that we mean Kansas schoolchildren and parents. His lack of advocacy for school choice programs stands out from the progress that other Republican governors have made in their states. See The Year of School Choice and 2013: Yet Another ‘Year of School Choice.’

Kansas school spending, per student, from state, local, and federal sources, adjusted for inflation.

Kansas school spending, per student, from state, local, and federal sources, adjusted for inflation.

But we ought to hold public discourse like this to a certain standard, and the pitch made by Kansas Values Institute deserves examination.

Kansas school spending, per student, adjusted for inflation. While base state aid per pupil has declined, state and total spending has remained steady after declining during the recession.

Kansas school spending, per student, adjusted for inflation. While base state aid per pupil has declined, state and total spending has remained steady after declining during the recession.

With regard to school funding, cuts were made by Brownback’s predecessors. Since he became governor, funding is pretty level, on a per student basis adjusted for inflation. It’s true that base state aid per pupil has declined due to the cuts made by governors before Brownback. But state and total funding has been steady since then.

Nonetheless, some people insist on using base state aid as the measure of school spending. They make this argument even though total Kansas state spending per pupil the past year was $6,984, or 1.82 times base state aid of $3,838. Adding local and federal sources, spending was $12,781 per student, or 3.33 times base state aid.

Ratios of school spending to base state aid.

Ratios of school spending to base state aid.

Further, as can be seen in the nearby chart, there has been a steady increase in the ratios of state and total school spending to base state aid.

This is important, as the Kansas Supreme Court issued some instructions in the recent Gannon decision when it remanded part the case to the lower court. The Court said all funding sources are to be considered: “In the panel’s assessment, funds from all available resources, including grants and federal assistance, should be considered.” This will certainly test the faith in courts that school spending boosters have proclaimed.

So the claims of the present governor being responsible for “the largest cut to classrooms in the history of Kansas” is false.

Then, what about “classrooms that are over crowded”? Kansas State Department of Education has data on this topic, sort of. KSDE provides the number of employees in school districts and the number of students. I obtained and analyzed this data. I found that the situation is not the same in every school district. But considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.

Kansas school employment ratios

The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio of these employees to pupils has fallen.

There’s also a video explaining these statistics. Click here to view it at YouTube. Others have noticed discrepancies in school job claims. See Kansas school employment: Mainstream media notices.

In its pitch, Kansas Values Institute complain that class sizes in Kansas schools are rising. The data that we have, which is the ratio of teachers to pupils, is not the same statistic as class size. They measure different things. But if Kansas schools, considered as a whole, have rising teacher and certified employment levels and the pupil to teacher ratio is decreasing, and at the same time class sizes are increasing — we have to wonder about the management of schools. What are schools doing with these new employees?

As far as I know, no one tracks school district fees across the state. I’d welcome learning of such data.

But regarding data we do have, we see that Kansas Values Institute is either not paying attention, or simply doesn’t care about truthfulness.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee). Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

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Kansas Policy Institute at work

Kansas CapitolA letter in the Wichita Eagle accused Kansas Policy Institute of the “destruction of K-12 education.” Following is part of the comment KPI president Dave Trabert wrote in response to the letter. It’s a good recap of what KPI has done the past few years. I’m left to wonder how anyone who cares about Kansas schoolchildren could be opposed to the work KPI has done.

We are showing citizens and legislators the facts about student achievement. Contrary to claims of nation-leading achievement, Kansas students scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and ACT are just about average. Overall averages are distorted by demographic differences but scores for each student cohort (White, Low Income, etc.) are actually about average across the nation.

We are showing citizens and legislators that the achievement gaps for low income students in Kansas are large and growing. Even [Kansas Education Commissioner] Diane DeBacker had to agree with that statement in front of the House and Senate Education Committees.

We proved that Kansas State Department of Education and the State Board of Education reduced performance standards to some of the lowest in the nation (according to the US Dept. of Ed.).

We are giving people the truth about school spending and showing that very large spending increases did very little to improve achievement.

We are showing people that school spending continues to set records, even though districts are not even spending all of the money they are given to run schools.

Kansas newspapers against the children

apple-wormA Kansas newspaper editorial illustrates that for the establishment, schools — the institution of public schools, that is — are more important than students.

An unsigned editorial in the Garden City Telegram proclaimed “Another attempt to undermine public schools materialized last week in the Kansas Statehouse.” (Legislators turn to ALEC for poor plan on schools, March 25, 2014.)

What was in a bill that so worried the Telegram editorial writers? According to the op-ed, the dangerous provisions are “expansion of charter schools, overhaul of teacher licensing and tax breaks for private school scholarships.”

To the Telegram, these ideas are “radical” and would “undermine” public schools. These ideas are from American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), purportedly funded by Charles and David Koch. To low-information newspaper editorialists, the source of an idea alone is sufficient evidence to condemn it. To buttress its argument, the Telegram mentions the Koch Brothers several times along with Americans for Prosperity, the tea party, and other “special interests.”

What’s curious is that the op-ed says “ALEC promotes concepts of free-market enterprise and limited government, which are worthy of discussion in legislative pursuits.” It’s good that the op-ed writers realize this. Very good.

But the next sentence criticizes ALEC’s “one-size-fits-all approach.” That’s a strange claim to make. The education reforms that ALEC supports — and the public school establishment hates — are centered around providing more choices for students and parents. The public schools that the Telegram defends are the “one-size-fits-all approach.” School choice programs foster diversity, creativity, and entrepreneurship in education. Government schools are the opposite.

Further, these school choice programs do not “target” public schools, as claimed in this op-ed. It is true that school choice programs provide competition for public schools. But to say that giving choices to parents and students is targeting public schools assumes a few things: First, it assumes that the institution of public schools is more important than Kansas schoolchildren.

Second, it assumes that public schools are somehow more worthy of taxpayer funds than are charter schools and private schools. But should taxpayer funds be spent where government school bureaucrats want, or where parents believe their children will get the best education?

Third, allowing and encouraging competition is not “targeting.” Proclaiming this reveals lack of understanding of economic competition in markets. In the jungle, the winners kill and eat the losers. But in markets, competition is a discovery process. Competition spurs people to innovate with new products, or become more efficient. As new products and services are discovered and refined through competition, the old products and services must adapt or fall by the wayside. But the old stuff doesn’t die, as do animals in the jungles. People and capital assets from failing enterprises are recycled into the new successful enterprises, and life goes on — except everything is better.

That’s the real problem. Kansas schools are not getting better. Editorials like this are part of the problem. It doesn’t help that the Wichita Eagle excerpted this editorial.

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In Kansas, base state aid is only a small part of spending

chalkboard-portion-800Considering only base state aid per pupil leads to an incomplete understanding of school spending in Kansas. The Gannon school finance decision reinforces this.

Much of the discussion surrounding school funding in Kansas has centered around base state aid per pupil. It’s the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula, and therefore an important number.

Ratios of school spending to base state aid.

Ratios of school spending to base state aid.

Base state aid per pupil has fallen in recent years. Because of this, public school spending advocates claim that spending has been cut. But that’s not the case. As shown in the nearby chart, there has been a steady increase in measures of school spending when compared to base state aid.

Considering Kansas state spending only, the ratio of state spending to base state aid was 1.10 in 1998. By 2013 that ratio had risen to 1.82, an increase of 65 percent for the ratio.

For total spending, the ratio rose from 1.86 to 3.33 over the same period, an increase of 79 percent.

What’s important to realize is that the nature of Kansas school funding has changed in a way that makes base state aid per pupil less important as a measure of school spending. Research from Kansas Policy Institute has shown that while base state aid per pupil has not grown, total state spending on schools has grown. Two reasons are rising spending on KPERS pension contributions and aid to schools for bond construction projects. The largest factor is rapid growth in the spending produced by the school finance formula’s various weightings.

A chart is available from KPI at Simple Comparisons of Base State Aid are Deceptive.

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas school finance lawsuit, problems solved?

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The Kansas Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Gannon v. Kansas, the school finance lawsuit. What did the court say, and did it address the real and important issues with Kansas schools? Episode 37, broadcast March 30, 2014. View below, or click here to view on YouTube.

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In Kansas, the Blob is worked up

apple-chalkboard-books“Education reformers have a name for the resistance: the education ‘Blob.’ The Blob includes the teachers unions, but also janitors and principals unions, school boards, PTA bureaucrats, local politicians and so on.” (John Stossel, The Blob That Ate Children.)

In Kansas, we’re seeing the Blob at full activation, vigorously protecting its interests. The source of the Blob’s consternation is a bill in the Kansas Legislature that would add charter schools and tax credit scholarships to the educational landscape in Kansas. (Kansas does have charter schools at present, but the law is so stacked in favor of the Blob’s interests that there are very few charter schools.)

An example of a prominent spokesperson for the Blob is the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman. She recently wrote regarding Kansas school funding: “In the Kansas Speaks survey released last fall by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, two-thirds said they wanted to see more K-12 state funding.”

I don’t doubt that these results are accurate. The desire for good schools is nearly universal. But when we look at the beliefs of people, we find that they are, largely, uninformed and misinformed about the level of school spending. Kansas Policy Institute commissioned a survey that asked the public a series of questions on schools and spending. (See Citizens generally misinformed on Kansas school spending.) A key finding is that most people think that schools spend much less than actual spending, and by a large margin. Further, most people think spending has declined, when in fact it has risen. These finding are similar to other research commissioned by KPI, and additional surveys by other organizations at the national level.

Not surprisingly, when citizens and taxpayers learn the true level of school spending, their attitude towards school spending changes. That’s dangerous to school spending advocates — the Blob. It diminishes their most compelling arguments for more school spending — “it’s for the kids.”

The Eagle editorial board, along with the Kansas City Star, has been instrumental in misinforming Kansans about school spending. These newspapers continually use base state aid per pupil as the measure of schools spending, when in fact this is just a fraction of total spending on schools. (See Here’s why Kansans are misinformed about schools.)

The survey that Holman relies upon as evidence of the desire for more school spending didn’t ask — as far as I know — questions to see if respondents were informed on the issue. Even worse: Instead of seeking to educate readers on the facts, Holman resorts to demagoguery and demonizing, referring to “education reforms coveted by some conservatives and the American Legislative Exchange Council.” There, the two evils: Conservatives and ALEC, the substance of her argument.

Reform in Kansas

There are two reforms being talked about in Kansas that are popular in other states. Popular except with the Blob, that is.

One is a tax credit scholarship program. This lets corporations make contributions to organizations that would provide scholarships for students to attend private schools. The corporations would then receive credits against their income tax. The Blob opposes programs like this. The Blob says that these programs simply let students that are already in private or church schools have the state pay their tuition.

But the proposed law in Kansas this year, as in years past, contains these provision: For the scholarship program, students must qualify as “at-risk” students and be attending a school that qualifies as “title I,” a program that applies to schools with many students from low-income families.

Further, the student must have been enrolled in a public school before seeking a scholarship, unless the student is less than six years old.

Together these requirements rebut the argument of the Blob: That the scholarships are just a way for children already in private or church schools to get tax funds to pay for their schools. Instead, the law targets these scholarships at students from low-income households.

Another possible reform is charter schools. These are schools that are public schools and receive public funding, but operate outside the present education establishment and local school boards. The Blob objects to this because they say that without government oversight, charter schools aren’t held accountable. The Blob must forget that charter schools are accountable to parents of children, which is a higher standard than the accountability of government bureaucrats. Also, unlike the regular public schools, the government can’t force children to attend a charter school.

The Blob criticizes charter schools because they say they “cherry-pick” the best students, leaving public schools with the worst. Here’s what the proposed Kansas law says: “A public charter school shall enroll all students who wish to attend the school.” If more students apply than the school has space, students will be selected via lottery. In most areas that have charter schools, there are many more aspirants than available spaces, and students are chosen by lottery. That would undoubtedly be the case in Kansas.

The Blob says that charter schools pick only the students they want, and therefore lead to segregation. Here’s the proposed law: “A public charter school shall be subject to all federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, gender, national origin, religion, ancestry or need for special education services.”

Here’s what the Blob really hates: “A public charter school shall be exempt from all laws and rules and regulations that are otherwise applicable to public schools in this state.” And also this: “Teachers in public charter schools shall be exempt from the teacher certification requirements established by the state board.”

The Blob values its rules and regulations that make work for its fleets of bureaucrats. Never mind that these regulations probably don’t increase student learning. That’s not the point.

And the political muscle of the Blob, the teachers unions? Well, charter school teachers usually aren’t unionized. The union is in favor of public schools only if the the teachers are in unions.

What the Blob won’t tell you

The Kansas Blob is proud of Kansas schools, partly because of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Kansas ranks pretty high among the states on this test. It’s important, however, to examine the results from a few different angles to make sure we understand the entire situation. An illustrative video is available here.

Visualization of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.

Visualization of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.

Data for the 2013 administration of the test was just released. I’ve gathered scores and made them available in a visualization that you can use at wichitaliberty.org. The most widely available NAEP data is for two subjects: reading and math, and for two grades, fourth and eighth. The video presents data for Kansas, Texas, and the average for national public schools. I choose to compare Kansas with Texas because for several reasons, Kansas has been comparing itself with Texas. So let’s look at these test scores and see if the reality matches what Kansas school leaders have said.

Looking at the data for all students, you can see why Kansas school leaders are proud: The line representing Kansas is almost always the highest.

NAEP makes data available by ethnic subtypes. If we present a chart showing black students only, something different appears. Now Texas is higher than Kansas in all cases in one, where there is a tie.

If we consider Hispanic students only: Texas is higher in some cases, and Kansas and Texas are virtually tied in two others. National public schools is higher than Kansas in some cases.

Considering white students only, Texas is higher than Kansas in three of four cases. In some cases the National public school average beats or ties Kansas.

So we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

  • When considering all students: Kansas scores higher than Texas.
  • Hispanic students only: Kansas is roughly equal to Texas.
  • Black students only: Kansas scores below Texas.
  • White students only: Kansas scores below Texas in most cases.

When you hear the Blob trumpet high Kansas test scores, does it also explain the nuances? No, of course not, But you can examine these test scores in an interactive visualization.

Kansas school standards

Another problem you won’t hear about from the Blob: Kansas has low standards for its schools. Even worse, at a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its already low standards for schools.

Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states.

Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states.

This is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. As explained in Kansas school standards and other states, Kansas standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains. (View below, or click here to view in HD at YouTube.)

For Kansas, here are some key findings. First, NCES asks this question: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of reading standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

Row of lockers in school hallway

Kansas school employment: Mainstream media notices

Row of lockers in school hallwayWhen two liberal newspapers in Kansas notice and report the lies told by a Democratic candidate for governor, we know there’s a problem. (Okay, the Kansas City Star is really a Missouri newspaper, but covers Kansas too.)

Peter Hancock wrote in the Lawrence Journal World: “Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, reportedly claimed again last week that school funding cuts under Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration have led to ‘thousands’ of teacher layoffs, a claim that has already been shown to be greatly exaggerated.” (Davis still exaggerating teacher layoff claims, March 12, 2013)

On the same day Steve Kraske of the Star reported: “Kansas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis appears to be exaggerating the number of teacher layoffs under Gov. Sam Brownback. In an Overland Park forum last week, Davis said said that the governor’s budget cuts to education had resulted in thousands of teacher layoffs. But an annual personnel report from the state Education Department showed that a total of only 201 teachers were the victims of a ‘reduction in force’ in the 2011 and 2012 school years.” (Davis exaggerates teacher layoff figures)

None of this is news, at least to those who have been paying attention and are willing to dig into the Kansas State Department of Education for statistics. Well, the part about Paul Davis telling lies is news, as it is ongoing and contrary to the facts that Rep. Davis must surely know. (If he doesn’t know, what does that tell us?)

Kansas school employment

Last July I obtained, analyzed, and reported on Kansas school employment trends. I found that the situation is not the same in every school district. But considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.

Kansas school employment ratios

The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio of these employees to pupils has fallen.

There’s also a video explaining these statistics. View it below, or click here to view in high definition at Youtube.

Davis and others complain that class sizes in Kansas schools are rising. I understand that the ratio of teachers to pupils is not the same statistic as class size. They measure different things. But if Kansas schools, considered as a whole, have rising teacher and certified employment levels that leads to decreasing pupil to teacher ratio, and at the same time class sizes are increasing — we have to wonder about the management of schools.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee).

Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

Rally for school choice, Topeka, 2014-02-11

Rally for school choice in Kansas

Rally for school choice, Topeka, 2014-02-11A grassroots coalition of educators, advocates, parents, and Kansans came together to make the case for school choice in the Kansas State Capitol on 11 February 2014. This was the first capitol rally in Kansas’ history focused on school choice.

Participants included
- Andrea Hillebert of Mater Dei Catholic School in Topeka
- Becky Elder of The Northfield School for the Liberal Arts in Wichita
- James Franko of Kansas Policy Institute
- Jeff Glendening of Americans for Prosperity
- Cristina Fischer of the Kansas Education Freedom Movement
- Chiquita Coggs, co-founder of Holman Academy in Kansas City, KS
- Tammy Hope, Decoding Dyslexia-Kansas
- Derrell Bradford, Better Education for Kids in New Jersey
- Pastor Wade Moore, Christian Faith Centre in Wichita

There is also a podcast holding audio from some of the speakers. View the video below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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Kansas school finance lawsuit reaction

apple-chalkboard-booksFollowing is news coverage and reaction to the Kansas school finance lawsuit Luke Gannon, et al v. State of Kansas.

Press release from Kansas Supreme Court
The court declared certain school funding laws fail to provide equity in public education as required by the Kansas Constitution and returned the case to Shawnee County District Court to enforce the court’s holdings. The court further ordered the three-judge panel that presided over the trial of the case to reconsider whether school funding laws provide adequacy in public education — as also required by the constitution. … The court set a July 1, 2014, deadline to give the Legislature an opportunity to provide for equitable funding for public education. If by then the Legislature fully funds capital outlay state aid and supplemental general state aid as contemplated by present statutes, i.e., without withholding or prorating payments, the panel will not be required to take additional action on those issues. But if the Legislature takes no action by July 1, 2014, or otherwise fails to eliminate the inequity, the panel must take appropriate action to ensure the inequities are cured.

The full opinion

Court Orders Kansas Legislature to Spend More on Schools New York Times
Kansas’s highest court ruled on Friday that funding disparities between school districts violated the state’s Constitution and ordered the Legislature to bridge the gap, setting the stage for a messy budget battle in the capital this year. … Most of the attention in the case, Gannon v. Kansas, had been focused on the trial court’s order to raise base aid per student to $4,492, a 17 percent increase over the current level, to provide an adequate education for all Kansas students. On Friday, the Supreme Court held that the district court had not applied the proper standard to determine what constituted an adequate funding level and asked the lower court to re-examine that issue. “Regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy in education” under the State Constitution, the decision read.

Kansas must heed court’s call for fairer school funding Kansas City Star.
The Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance ruling Friday cast a bright light on the Legislature’s willful failure to meet its funding obligations to poorer school districts and their students. The state’s duty to promote equity in public education is well established. A previous court ruling ordered legislators to provide payments to districts with low tax bases to help lessen the gap between them and districts that can more easily raise money through property taxes. But in 2010 the Legislature cut off equalization money meant to help poorer districts with capital needs. A year later, lawmakers even amended a statute to excuse themselves from providing money for that purpose through 2017. They also reduced and prorated supplemental payments to help less wealthy districts meet day-to-day needs.

Court declares Kansas’ school funding levels unconstitutional Los Angeles Times
The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s current levels of school funding are unconstitutional, and ordered the Legislature to provide for “equitable funding for education” by July 1. The long-anticipated ruling was a victory for education advocates in the state, but it may be a short-lived one as the Legislature has vowed to defy court orders on the subject. … According to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kansas is spending 16.5% less per student, or $950 per pupil, on education in 2014 than it did in 2008.

Kansas Supreme Court finds inequities in school funding, sends case back to trial court Wichita Eagle
The Kansas Supreme Court found some unfairness — but not necessarily too few dollars — in the state’s funding of schools and sent a mammoth school-finance case back to a lower court for further action. The court found disparities between districts to be unconstitutional and set a July 1 deadline for lawmakers to address that. But it stopped short of saying the state is putting too few dollars in the pot, leaving that issue for another day. … Both school advocates and Republican lawmakers declared partial victory in the wake of the ruling in the lawsuit brought by the Wichita school district and others against the state. But they offered strikingly different interpretations of the decision.

Kansas Supreme Court on school finance: A summary of the ruling Lawrence Journal-World

Court decision gives little clarity on adequacy of K-12 funding Topeka Capital-Journal
Plaintiffs and interested third parties articulated different interpretations of Friday’s school finance ruling, with some saying it is a call for more K-12 funds and conservative groups saying there is no rush.

KS Supreme Court: Legislators made ‘unconstitutional’ school funding choices Kansas Watchdog
In a long-awaited decision, the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday ruled that state lawmakers created “unconstitutional” and “unreasonable wealth-based disparities” by withholding certain state aid payments to public schools. … While the Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court decision regarding the state’s failure to equitably disburse capital outlay and supplemental general payments to Sunflower State schools, it stopped short of issuing a decree for specific funding to meet the Legislature’s constitutional requirement to provide an “adequate” education.

Governor Sam Brownback and legislative leadership outline opportunity for progress following Kansas Supreme Court Ruling on Education Funding (full press release)
Today Governor Sam Brownback, joined by Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ray Merrick and other legislators responded to the Kansas Supreme Court ruling on the Gannon vs Kansas case. “We have an opportunity for progress,” Governor Brownback said. “My commitment is to work with legislative leadership to address the allocation issue identified by the court. We will fix this.” The court has set out steps for the legislature to end the lawsuit by July 1, 2014. It affirms the Constitutional requirement for education to be “adequate” and “equitable.” “Our task is to come to resolution on capital outlay funding and local option budgets before July 1,” said Senate President Wagle. “We now have some clarity as we work toward resolution of issues that began years ago under prior administrations.”

Davis comments on Gannon ruling
The court today made it clear that the state has not met its obligation to fund Kansas schools in equitable way. It is time to set it right and fund our classrooms.

Kansas Policy Institute
Statement from Dave Trabert, the president of Kansas Policy Institute, in response to Gannon v. State of Kansas:
“We’re encouraged that the Court ruled that total spending cannot be used to measure adequacy. This is especially important because spending is currently based on deliberately-inflated numbers in the old Augenblick & Myers report. To this day, no one knows what it costs for schools to achieve required outcomes while also making efficient use of taxpayer money. “The next step in helping each student succeed while acting responsibly with taxpayer money is to model a K-12 Finance Commission on the KPERS Study Commission. The Legislature and Governor Brownback should determine what schools need to achieve required outcomes while organized and operating in a cost-effective manner, including appropriate equity measures, and fund schools accordingly.”

Americans for Prosperity-Kansas
The Kansas chapter of the grassroots group Americans for Prosperity released the following statement in response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance decision handed down today:
“For years, those demanding more education spending have ignored anything other than the base state aid per pupil which is only part of overall education funding,” said AFP-Kansas State Director Jeff Glendening. “We are pleased that the Supreme Court has specifically directed that ‘funds from all available resources, including grants and federal assistance, should be considered,’ and that ‘total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy.’
“In light of the Court’s ruling that ‘adequacy’ of education is determined by student outcomes rather than spending, and adopted standards similar to those adopted by the legislature in 2005, now is the time to consider how we are spending education dollars.
“Kansans are spending more than an average of $12,700 per student, and K-12 education currently makes up more than half of our state budget. Despite that, less than 60 percent of education dollars actually make it into the classroom. To meet the educational standards set out by the Legislature and Supreme Court, and give every Kansas child the opportunity they deserve, we must do better.
“We know that the discussion of school finance is not over, and will continue to play out in the courts as the Supreme Court sent the issue of ‘adequacy’ back to the District Court. It’s our hope that the lower court will carefully look at student outcomes and local spending decisions, rather than automatically demanding more state spending, and recognize its role in the constitutionally-defined separation of powers.”

Kansas National Education Association
We are disappointed that today’s announcement by the Kansas State Supreme Court prolongs a resolution of the school finance issue. It didn’t deal directly with the current critical need in Kansas public schools. Together, the citizens of Kansas made sacrifices at a time when the state and national economy were in crisis. During that time Kansans came together and dealt with staggering cuts to education, believing the promise of full restoration to public school funding once the state economy had rebounded.

Kansas Supreme Court rules in school finance case Kansas Health Institute
Kansas’ top court today released its long-awaited decision in the school finance case and while the ruling settled little for now, both sides in the litigation said they found things to like about it.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, whose office defended the state in Gannon v. State of Kansas, said he didn’t believe the mixed decision would necessarily require the Legislature to spend more on K-12 schools, though that would be one option for making the state’s school finance formula constitutional again. … But representatives of the school districts that took to court claiming state aid dollars have been unequal and inadequate said they felt confident they would win the remainder of their points at retrial and that the Legislature would need to authorize an added $129 million in K-12 spending by July 1 to meet the standards spelled out in the unanimous decision. “We are not concerned about this. All of our proof at trial was presented using the correct standard that the court now directs to be used,” at retrial, said John Robb an attorney for the four public school districts that sued the state.

Kansas Supreme Court issues ruling on school finance Wichita Public Schools
The Kansas Supreme Court issued its ruling on the school finance lawsuit on March 7. It upholds the concept that the legislature must adequately fund schools in Kansas and that the funding must be distributed equitably. It requires the Kansas Legislature to fund capital outlay and Local Option Budget equalization by July 1, 2014. That means immediate increases in some state funding for education. … “Overall, we think this is a great ruling for Wichita and Kansas kids,” said Lynn Rogers, BOE member. “It upholds the concept that the State of Kansas is responsible for adequately and equitably funding our students’ education.” Rogers said that the lawsuit is for all Kansas students and that they deserve a quality education regardless of where they live in the state. “The education we provide is the foundation for our workforce and the future of Kansas,” said Superintendent John Allison. “If we don’t give our students a quality education now, we will pay for it in the future.”

Kansas Judicial Center

We can predict the loser in the Kansas school lawsuit

The Kansas Supreme Court will hand down the school finance decision Friday.

The Kansas Supreme Court will hand down the school finance decision Friday.

No matter which side wins the Kansas school finance lawsuit, we already know who loses: Kansas schoolchildren. The last time schools won a suit, the state lowered its standards for schools.

Talking about school spending is easy, even though most Kansas public school spending advocates refuse to acknowledge the totality of spending. (Or if they acknowledge the total level, they may make excuses for the spending not being effective.) Advocating for more spending is easy. It’s easy because the Kansas Constitution says the state must spend on schools. Parents want more spending, and so do teachers, public employee unions, and children. It’s easy to support more spending on schools because anyone who doesn’t is demonized as anti-child, anti-education, and even anti-human.

But the focus on school spending lets the Kansas public school establishment off the hook too easily. Any and all shortcomings of Kansas schools can be blamed on inadequate funding. That’s what the establishment does.

The focus on school spending also keeps attention away from some unfortunate and unpleasant facts about Kansas schools that the establishment would rather not talk about. Kansas needs to confront these facts for the sake of Kansas schoolchildren. If the court orders more spending and the legislature complies, not much is likely to improve, but the public school establishment will say everything that’s wrong has been fixed.

The focus on spending

First, citizens are generally misinformed on Kansas school spending. In surveys, most people usually guess that schools spend less than half of the correct amount. It’s a problem not only in Kansas; it’s a nationwide issue.

Then, there is a tenuous connection between increased school spending and better student outcomes. Many studies point out the rapid rise in school spending over the decades, but test scores are flat.

Even liberal think tanks realize the school class size is not an important factor.

Even liberal think tanks realize the school class size is not an important factor.

Public school spending advocates say that increased spending will allow smaller class sizes. But class size reduction is very expensive and produces only marginal benefits compared to other strategies. The Center for American Progress — normally in favor of anything that increases government spending — wrote this in its 2011 report The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction

The evidence on class size indicates that smaller classes can, in some circumstances, improve student achievement if implemented in a focused way. But CSR [class size reduction] policies generally take exactly the opposite approach by pursuing across-the-board reductions in class size at the state or federal level. These large-scale, untargeted policies are also extremely expensive and represent wasted opportunities to make smarter educational investments. Large-scale CSR policies clearly fail any cost-benefit test because they entail steep costs and produce benefits that are modest at best.

The CAP report tells readers what does work to improve student outcomes:

Researchers agree that teacher quality is the single most important in-school determinant of how much students learn. Stanford economist Eric A. Hanushek has estimated that replacing the worst 5 percent to 8 percent of teachers with average teachers would dramatically boost achievement in the United States.

KNEA: There are no bad teachers.

KNEA: There are no bad teachers.

But Kansas ranks low in policies regarding teacher quality. The current lawsuit doesn’t address issues like teacher quality or other specific reforms that will actually help Kansas schoolchildren. By the way, the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) believes there are no bad teachers.

What Kansas did after the last lawsuit

Consider what Kansas did the last time schools won a lawsuit: The state lowered its school standards. Simply put, Kansas didn’t have rigorous standards for its schools, and it lowered them after the last court decision.

national-center-education-statistics-state-mapping-naep

The National Center for Education Statistics produces a report titled Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. (NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.)

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. The conclusion of NCES is that Kansas school standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains. (View below, or click here to view in HD at YouTube.)

For Kansas, here are some key findings. First, NCES asks this question: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of reading standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

A similar question was considered for math: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of mathematics standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the mathematics assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased (the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change).”

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its mathematics grade 4 assessment between 2005 and 2009, but the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change.”

For mathematics, NCES judges that some standards were weakened, and some did not change.

In its summary of Kansas reading standards, NCES concluded: “In both grades, Kansas state assessment results showed more positive changes in achievement than NAEP results.” For mathematics, the summary reads: “In grade 4, Kansas state assessment results showed a change in achievement that is not different from that based on NAEP results. In grade 8, state assessment results showed a more positive change.”

In other words: In three of four instances, Kansas is claiming positive student achievement that isn’t apparent on national tests.

Following are two examples of charts from the NCES study where Kansas school standards rank compared to other states. Click on them for larger versions.

Kansas Grade 4 Reading Standards

Kansas Grade 4 Math Standards 01

WichitaLiberty.TV.20

WichitaLiberty.TV February 23, 2014

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: There are efforts to have the Kansas Legislature expand the open records law to include the spending records of several taxpayer-funded agencies, but the City of Wichita wants to keep the records secret. Then, did you know the Kansas teachers union has a media response team? Finally, Arthur Brooks makes the moral case for free enterprise. Episode 32, broadcast February 23, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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Kansas school test scores must be evaluated considering demographics

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When comparing Kansas school test scores to those of other states, it’s important to consider disaggregated data. Otherwise, we may form an inaccurate and unfounded impression of Kansas schools.

Kansas school leaders are proud of Kansas schools, partly because of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Kansas ranks pretty high among the states on this test. It’s important, however, to examine the results from a few different angles to make sure we understand the entire situation. An illustrative video is available here, or at the end of this article.

Data for the 2013 administration of the test was just released. I’ve gathered scores and made them available in a visualization that you can use by clicking here. The most widely available NAEP data is for two subjects: reading and math, and for two grades, fourth and eighth. The video presents data for Kansas, Texas, and the average for national public schools. I choose to compare Kansas with Texas because for several reasons, Kansas has been comparing itself with Texas. So let’s look at these test scores and see if the reality matches what Kansas school leaders have said.

Looking at the data for all students, you can see why Kansas school leaders are proud: The line representing Kansas is almost always the highest. This data considers the state as a whole, and ignores important statistical considerations.

NAEP makes data available by ethnic subtypes. If we present a chart showing black students only, something different appears. Now Texas is higher than Kansas in all cases in one, where there is a tie.

If we consider Hispanic students only: Texas is higher in some cases, and Kansas and Texas are virtually tied in two others. National public schools is higher than Kansas in some cases.

Considering white students only, Texas is higher than Kansas in three of four cases. In some cases the National public school average beats or ties Kansas.

So we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

  • When considering all students: Kansas scores higher than Texas.
  • Hispanic students only: Kansas is roughly equal to Texas.
  • Black students only: Kansas scores below Texas.
  • White students only: Kansas scores below Texas in most cases.

How can this be? The answer is Simpson’s Paradox. A Wall Street Journal article explains: “Put simply, Simpson’s Paradox reveals that aggregated data can appear to reverse important trends in the numbers being combined.”

The Wikipedia article explains: “A paradox in which a trend that appears in different groups of data disappears when these groups are combined, and the reverse trend appears for the aggregate data. … Many statisticians believe that the mainstream public should be informed of the counter-intuitive results in statistics such as Simpson’s paradox.”

In this case, the confounding factor (“lurking” variable) is that the two states differ greatly in the proportion of students in ethnic groups. For example, in Kansas, 69 percent of students are white. In Texas it’s 33 percent. This large difference in the composition of students is what makes it look like Kansas students perform better on the NAEP than Texas students.

But looking at the scores for ethnic subgroups, which state would you say has the most desirable set of NAEP scores? It’s important to know that aggregated data can mask or hide underlying trends.

Here’s a question for you: Have you heard Kansas school leaders talk about this? Or do they present Kansas NAEP test scores without considering the different makeup of the states?

Voice for Liberty radio logo for featured posts 01

Voice for Liberty Radio: Rally for school choice

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150

In this episode of WichitaLiberty Radio: This week children and parents rallied for school choice in the Kansas Capitol. This broadcast features two speakers. First is Derrell Bradford, who is Executive Director at Better Education for New Jersey Kids. The second speaker is Chiquita Coggs, who started a charter school in Kansas City, Kansas that had its charter withdrawn.

This is podcast episode number 12, released on February 16, 2014. Here’s selections from a rally for school choice at the Kansas Capitol, February 11, 2014.

Shownotes

Derrell Bradford, Better Education for Kids
Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
Moving Kansas Schools from Monopoly to Free Choice
Weak Charter School Law Works Against Taxpayers’ Interests

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Our Kansas grassroots teachers union

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)

Letters to the editor in your hometown newspaper may have the air of being written by a concerned parent of Kansas schoolchildren, but they might not be what they seem.

It’s fashionable for school advocacy groups to bash their critics as mere lackeys of a top-down driven power structure. It is the advocates for school spending — teachers, parents, children, school principals — that are the true grassroots, they say.

So it might be surprising to learn that Kansas’ largest teachers union has a plan and mechanism for distributing its message. It’s called the KNEA Media Response Team, and it says it is “responsible for promoting KNEA and public education in the print and electronic media.”

kansas-national-education-assocation-knea-media-response-team-logo-01The team’s web page holds language like: “The KNEA Media Response Team builds on existing KNEA media outreach efforts and is a sanctioned KNEA Board Task Force.”

Task Force. Sounds like a military organization, not a grassroots advocacy group. Sanctioned. Sounds like someone had to obtain official permission. Obtaining permission from a central authority isn’t characteristic of grassroots activism.

The page also says: “Because we’re seeking fresh voices, board members, council presidents and local presidents are not encouraged to apply.”

It’s a detailed plan: “During the first year, there will be only one per media market. To participate, members must attend the initial MRT training or have taken Cyndi’s message framing session within the last two years.”

There are pre-determined talking points on a secret web page: “Refer to KNEA member only Web page for basic messages on key education issues (https://ks.nea.org/membersonly/talkingpoints.html), or contact KNEA Communications for help with other issues. Use these to write your response.”

It’s encouraged, although not mandatory, to get pre-approval for the communiques team members have developed: “Submit your letter to the editor or guest column to the newspaper via e-mail. Send a copy to Cyndi. Initially, members may send their letter to Cyndi first before submitting it to a news organization.”

If the union leaders have a message they want to promulgate, you may be asked to help: “At certain times, you may be asked to write letters promoting KNEA’s positive goals for public education, instead of responding to what others write.”

There’s a contract team members must agree to: “I agree to become a KNEA Media Response Team writer for 2009-2010. I understand and support the goals and guidelines of the KNEA Media Response Team. I will work with KNEA Communications to write letters to the editor and engage in other media activity that helps promote public education.”

All this would be less objectionable if KNEA was truly working for the good of Kansas schoolchildren. But notice that KNEA is concerned with public education only, not education in general. That’s because teachers in private schools, religious schools, and homeschooling parents aren’t union members. Then, when you learn that KNEA opposes nearly all forms of education reform — especially measures that would bring greater accountability to teachers and schools — the target of the union’s concern is obvious: Not the children. See Kansas reasonable: The education candidates.

Kansas Capitol

Kansas school finance lawsuit deflects from issues that could help schoolchildren

Kansas Capitol

Regardless of which side wins the Kansas school finance lawsuit, we know who loses: Kansas schoolchildren.

Talking about school spending is easy, even though most Kansas public school spending advocates refuse to acknowledge the totality of spending. (Or if they acknowledge the total level, they may make excuses for the spending not being effective.) Advocating for more spending is easy. It’s easy because the Kansas Constitution says the state must spend on schools. Parents want more spending, and so do teachers, public employee unions, and children. It’s easy to want more spending on schools because anyone who doesn’t is demonized as anti-child, anti-education, and even anti-human.

But the focus on school spending lets the Kansas public school establishment off the hook too easily. Any and all shortcomings of Kansas schools can be blamed on inadequate funding, and that’s what happens.

The focus on school spending also keeps attention away from some unfortunate and unpleasant facts about Kansas schools that the establishment would rather not talk about. Kansas needs to confront these facts for the sake of Kansas schoolchildren. If the court orders more spending and the legislature complies, not much is likely to improve, but the public school establishment will say everything that’s wrong has been fixed.

The focus on spending

First, citizens are generally misinformed on Kansas school spending. In surveys, most people usually guess that schools spend less than half of the correct amount. It’s a problem not only in Kansas; it’s a nationwide issue.

Then, there is a tenuous connection between increased school spending and better student outcomes. Many studies point out the rapid rise in school spending over the decades, but test scores are flat.

center-american-progress-false-promise-class-size-reduction

Public school spending advocates say that increased spending will allow smaller class sizes. But class size reduction is very expensive and produces only marginal benefits compared to other strategies. The Center for American Progress — normally in favor of anything that increases government spending — wrote this in its 2011 report The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction

The evidence on class size indicates that smaller classes can, in some circumstances, improve student achievement if implemented in a focused way. But CSR [class size reduction] policies generally take exactly the opposite approach by pursuing across-the-board reductions in class size at the state or federal level. These large-scale, untargeted policies are also extremely expensive and represent wasted opportunities to make smarter educational investments. Large-scale CSR policies clearly fail any cost-benefit test because they entail steep costs and produce benefits that are modest at best.

The CAP report tells readers what does work to improve student outcomes:

Researchers agree that teacher quality is the single most important in-school determinant of how much students learn. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has estimated that replacing the worst 5 percent to 8 percent of teachers with average teachers would dramatically boost achievement in the United States.

But Kansas ranks low in policies regarding teacher quality. The current lawsuit doesn’t address issues like teacher quality or other specific reforms that will actually help Kansas schoolchildren.

What Kansas did after the last lawsuit

Consider what Kansas did the last time schools won a lawsuit: The state lowered its school standards. Simply put, Kansas didn’t have rigorous standards for its schools, and it lowered them after the last court decision.

national-center-education-statistics-state-mapping-naep

The National Center for Education Statistics produces a report titled Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. (NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.)

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. The conclusion of NCES is that Kansas school standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains. (View below, or click here to view in HD at YouTube.)

For Kansas, here are some key findings. First, NCES asks this question: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of reading standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

A similar question was considered for math: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of mathematics standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the mathematics assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased (the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change).”

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its mathematics grade 4 assessment between 2005 and 2009, but the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change.”

For mathematics, NCES judges that some standards were weakened, and some did not change.

In its summary of Kansas reading standards, NCES concluded: “In both grades, Kansas state assessment results showed more positive changes in achievement than NAEP results.” For mathematics, the summary reads: “In grade 4, Kansas state assessment results showed a change in achievement that is not different from that based on NAEP results. In grade 8, state assessment results showed a more positive change.”

In other words: In three of four instances, Kansas is claiming positive student achievement that isn’t apparent on national tests.

Following are two examples of charts from the NCES study where Kansas school standards rank compared to other states. Click on them for larger versions.

Kansas Grade 4 Reading Standards

Kansas Grade 4 Math Standards 01

Voice for Liberty Radio: David Boaz of Cato Institute

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150

In this episode of WichitaLiberty Radio: David Boaz spoke at the annual Kansas Policy Institute Dinner. David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute and has played a key role in the development of the Cato Institute and the libertarian movement. He is a provocative commentator and a leading authority on domestic issues such as education choice, drug legalization, the growth of government, and the rise of libertarianism. Boaz is the former editor of New Guard magazine and was executive director of the Council for a Competitive Economy prior to joining Cato in 1981. He is the author of Libertarianism: A Primer, described by the Los Angeles Times as “a well-researched manifesto of libertarian ideas,” the editor of The Libertarian Reader, and coeditor of the Cato Handbook For Policymakers. His articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, National Review, and Slate. He is a frequent guest on national television and radio shows, and has appeared on ABC’s Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, CNN’s Crossfire, NPR’s Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered, John McLaughlin’s One on One, Fox News Channel, BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other media. His latest book is The Politics of Freedom.

This is an excerpt of David Boaz speaking in Wichita, October 15, 2013.

Shownotes

Cato Institute
David Boaz at Cato Institute
David Boaz: Independent Thinking in a Red-Blue Town
Books by David Boaz
Kansas Policy Institute

Kansas school spending, according to the Telegram

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Another Kansas newspaper editorial shows that when writing about Kansas school spending, facts are sometimes not observed.

The Garden City Telegram analyzed the recent State of the State address delivered by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. In an editorial, the newspaper wrote: “In his speech, Brownback mentioned the quest for ‘world-class education’ in Kansas. But during his time in office, he presided over the largest overall cut in public education funding in the state’s history.” (School daze, January 18, 2014)

kansas-school-spending-per-student-2013-10-chart-01

Nearby is a chart of Kansas school spending (click it for a larger version). It’s adjusted for inflation. Spending is not as high as it was at its peak, but the newspaper’s claims of “largest overall cut” don’t match the facts. The Telegram editorial writers might also care to note who was governor when spending did decline.

Those who claim school spending has been cut or is inadequate usually cite only base state aid per pupil, which has fallen. But it’s only the starting point for all the other spending. In totality, spending on schools in Kansas is over three times the level of base state aid. Also, comparisons are often made to what the Kansas Supreme Court said base state aid should be to its actual value. But the court doesn’t know how much should be spent on schools.

It’s important to consider the totality of spending and not just base state aid. It’s important because total spending is so much greater than base state aid. Also, total spending accounts for some of the difficulties and expenses that schools cite when asking for higher spending.

For example, schools often point to non-English speaking students and at-risk students as being expensive to educate. In recognition of this, the Kansas school finance formula makes allowances for this. According to the Kansas Legislator Briefing Book for 2013, the weighting for “full-time equivalent enrollment in bilingual education programs” is 0.395. This means that for each such student a school district has, an additional 39.5 percent over base state aid is given to the district.

For at-risk pupils, the weighting is 0.456. At risk students, according to the briefing book, “are determined on the basis of at-risk factors determined by the school district board of education and not by virtue of eligibility for free meals.”

Taken together, bilingual students considered to be at-risk generate an additional 85.1 percent of base state aid to be sent to the district, per student.

These weightings are the reason why that while base state aid per pupil was $3,838 last year, total state aid per pupil was $6,984. Total state spending was 1.82 times base state aid.

College costs in Kansas: Rising by more than a tad

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Have college costs exceeded the rate of inflation by just a “tad,” as claimed by a Kansas college professor?

Washburn University Political Science Professor Mark Peterson wrote in a recent op-ed that “The actual cost of obtaining postsecondary education has, like everything else, continued to rise — mostly at the rate of inflation plus a tad.”(Mark Peterson: State sends wrong higher-ed message, Wichita Eagle, Sunday, January 26, 2014.)

The College Board keeps track of college costs and publishes its findings at Trends in College Pricing. Of particular interest is a table titled “Figure 5. Inflation-Adjusted Published Tuition and Fees Relative to 1983-84, 1983-84 to 2013-14 (1983-84 = 100).” This table assigns the cost of tuition and fees for the 1983-1984 school year to be 100, and tracks changes from that level. These numbers are adjusted for inflation.

For the 2013-2014 school year, the values of this index are this:
Private non-profit four-year college: 253
Public four-year college: 331
Public two-year college: 264

The interpretation of these numbers is this: For private non-profit four-year colleges, the cost of tuition and fees is 2.53 times the level in 1983-1984. Or, since these values are inflation-adjusted, the cost rose 2.53 times as fast as inflation.

For public four-year colleges, the rate of increase was higher: 3.31 times the rate of inflation over the past 30 years.

Turning our attention to Kansas: Kansas Policy Institute has examined college costs. Its findings can be found in A Historical Perspective of State Aid, Tuition and Spending for State Universities in Kansas. Nearby is a table from that report. Note that over the ten-year period covered, inflation rose by 25.3 percent. For the six Regents Institutions in Kansas, all except for Fort Hays State had costs increasing by over 100 percent. That’s over four times the ate of inflation. University of Kansas costs rose by 193.6 percent, or 7.6 times the rate of inflation.

inflation-kansas-colleges-kansas-policy-institute-2013-table-2

Remember, Professor Peterson wrote that college costs had risen “mostly at the rate of inflation plus a tad.” His language leaves him a little wiggle room, as “mostly” and “tad” don’t have precise meanings. But evidently the product of the two is a pretty large number.

Peterson also wrote regarding public postsecondary education that “its price continues to climb and the Kansas general fund contributes less.” Note that the KPI table shows that state aid has declined by one-tenth of one percent over ten years. That, I think, qualifies as a “tad.”

Kansas school test scores, the subgroups

To understand Kansas school test scores, look at subgroups.

Kansans are proud of their public schools. The public school education establishment refers with pride to top-ten rankings among the states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.”

In his recent State of the State Address, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback made a similar claim, stating “According to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, Kansas fourth graders are in one of the 10 best states for reading proficiency.”

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If we’re going to rely on the NAEP test as evidence of the goodness of Kansas public schools, we should take a critical look at the scores. I’ve gathered NAEP test score data from the NAEP Data Explorer at the National Center for Education Statistics and made the data available in an interactive visualization.

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This visualization uses “competition” ranking in the way it handles ties. In this example, the first three states have the same score, so they are all ranked “1.” The next state is ranked “4.”

This means that the rank values will always reach to 50, except for instances where there is missing or incomplete data. Actually, this data set extends to rank 52, as it contains the District of Columbia and the national average. I’ve also rounded the reported scores to integer values.

To look at the governor’s claim: For all students in 2013, Kansas ranked 9 in grade 4 math, and 7 in grade 8 math. In reading, Kansas ranked 22 for grade 4, and 26 for grade 8. In his speech, the governor claimed Kansas was top 10 in reading. But it’s in math that Kansas students did that well. Reading scores are more toward the middle of the states.

The importance of subgroups

If we really want to gain understanding of how Kansas compares to other states on the NAEP, we need to take a look at subgroups of students, particularly subgroups based on race/ethnicity. The visualization of NAEP scores lets us do that.

naep-rankings-states-example-2014-01
Start with math for grade 4. We see these rankings for the major subgroups:
All students, 9
Black, 8
Hispanic, 11
White, 17

For math, grade 8:
All students, 7
Black, 10
Hispanic, 13
White, 14

For reading, grade 4:
All students, 22
Black, 20
Hispanic, 26
White, 19

For reading, grade 8:
All students, 26
Black, 24
Hispanic, 37
White, 33

Kansans should not be proud of some of these results. For grade 8 reading, the scores for Hispanic and White students rank lower than the national average.

Another dimension for creating subgroups is based on poverty. NAEP uses eligibility for the national school lunch program as a proxy for poverty. If a student is eligible for the lunch program, the student is considered to be poor.

Starting again with math grade 4, here are the rankings among the states for Kansas:
All students, 9
Eligible, 4
Not eligible, 12

For math, grade 8:
All students, 7
Eligible, 8
Not eligible, 6

For reading, grade 4:
All students, 22
Eligible, 20
Not eligible, 13

For reading, grade 8:
All students, 26
Eligible, 28
Not eligible, 15

Some of the grade 8 reading rankings are lower than the national average.

As you can see, sometimes Kansas ranks very well among the states. In other instances, Kansas ranks much lower, even below the national average. It’s important for Kansans — be they citizens, schoolchildren, parents, education professionals, or (especially) politicians of any party — to understand these scores. If we don’t, we risk failing to recognize both the good things about Kansas schools and the areas that need improvement. Especially for the latter case, it’s Kansas schoolchildren who will suffer if we are not honest.

There are two visualizations that you may use. Click here to open the visualization for race/ethnicity in a new window. Click here to open the visualization for national lunch program eligibility in a new window.

Voice for Liberty Radio: Mike O’Neal, Kansas Chamber of Commerce

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In this episode of WichitaLiberty Podcasts: Mike O’Neal, who is president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, spoke yesterday to the Wichita Pachyderm Club. A large part of his talk was on the topic of Kansas school finance and other education topics. This podcast contains that portion of his speech.

O’Neal graduated from Kansas University and also its law school. He served in the Kansas House of Representatives for 28 years, with his final four years as Speaker of the House. He joined the Kansas Chamber as President and CEO in 2012 as he retired from the legislature.

This is podcast episode number 4, released on January 18, 2014.

Shownotes

Kansas Chamber of Commerce
Mike O’Neal at Wikipedia
Mike O’Neal at LinkedIn
Mike O’Neal biography at Kansas Chamber
The Gannon opinion
Kansas school topics from Voice for Liberty
Kansas State Department of Education
Kansas Policy Institute

Kansas school employment

Kansas school employment: The claims compared to statistics

School

Claims made about Kansas schools don’t match the state’s statistics.

Responding to the State of the State Address delivered by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Kansas House of Representatives Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis provided figures regarding Kansas public schools, telling Kansans: “On top of that, public school class sizes are growing, [and] teachers have been laid off by the thousands.”

Statistics from Kansas State Department of Education, however, show that school employment has rebounded, both in terms of absolute numbers of teachers and certified employees, and the ratios of pupils to these employees.

Kansas school employment

The story is not the same in every district. But considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen. (This ratio is not the same statistic as average class size, but it’s the data we have. Plus, if schools are hiring teachers at a rate higher than the increase in students, we should expect class sizes to fall.)

Kansas school employment ratios

The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio to pupils has fallen.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee). Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

There’s also this to consider about class size. In 2011 the Center for American Progress released a report about class size reduction in schools and the false promise it holds for improving student achievement. (The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction)

It’s quite astonishing to see CAP cite evidence from Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution and Caroline Hoxby of Stanford and Hoover. These two researchers are usually condemned by the public education establishment and bureaucracy, including teachers unions. These are some of the key constituents CAP usually caters to.

In a nutshell, class size reduction produces very little benefit for students. It’s also very expensive, and there are other things we should be doing instead if we really want to increase student achievement.

The report summarizes the important studies in class size reduction. The upshot is that there is only one study showing positive results from class size reduction, and that effect was found only among the early grades. The effect decreased after a few years, even though small class sizes were still used.

The report also notes that class size reduction is very expensive to implement. Because it is, the report says we should look to other ways to increase student achievement, such as policies relating to teacher effectiveness: “The emerging consensus that teacher effectiveness is the single most important in-school determinant of student achievement suggests that teacher recruitment, retention, and compensation policies ought to rank high on the list.”

On teacher quality and teacher effectiveness: When Sandi Jacobs of National Council for Teacher Quality appeared in Kansas a few years ago, we learned that Kansas ranks below average on its policies that promote teacher quality.

In the example she illustrated, third graders who had teachers in the top 20 percent of effectiveness for the next three years went from the 50th percentile in performance to the 90th. For students with teachers in the lowest 20 percent for the same period, their performance dropped from the 50th percentile to the 37th percentile. More on this topic is at Kansas ranks low in policies on teacher quality.

Kansas school efficiency on display

apple-wormWhen you hear that Kansas schools have “cut to the bone,” or are operating at maximum efficiency, or have nowhere else to cut, or there’s no need to audit school district efficiency, think of this.

When Kansas governmental agencies receive requests for records, they must respond to the requester within three business days. Most often this response does not contain the requested records. Instead, it’s either a statement of how much the records will cost, or a denial of the request.

Every agency I have dealt with — federal, state, city, county — has sent this response by email.

That is, except for USD 259, the Wichita public school district.

wichita-school-district-envelope-records-request-example

The Wichita public school district sends the response in the form of a printed letter, mailed using United States Postal Service Priority Mail at a cost of $5.05 for postage. That’s in addition to the cost of preparing a printed letter. This has happened to me several times.

Every governmental agency I have encountered, except for the Wichita Public School district, is content to use email to respond to records requests, at a very low cost.

Within a budget of over $600 million, five dollars isn’t much. Except: This pattern of wasting money on postage must be repeated many times each year.

So when you hear that Kansas schools are grossly underfunded, or that teachers have to spend their personal funds to buy classroom supplies, ask yourself this: “Why does the Wichita public school district spend $5.05 in postage to send something that everyone else sends by email?”

Kansas schoolchildren shortchanged by Kansas City Star

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Another newspaper editorialist ignores the facts about Kansas schools. This is starting to be routine.

In a collection of toasts and roasts, Kansas City Star columnist Steve Rose criticizes Kansas Governor Sam Brownback on a variety of fronts, especially on school funding:

A ROAST to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who led the charge for the most radical and irresponsible tax cuts in the history of Kansas and, perhaps, the entire country. One of the unfortunate victims of these cuts is education, both K-12 and higher education. The damage will be gradual, but it will be felt to be sure. Brownback says he is investing in more jobs. But he is dis-investing in education. What could be more vital to the Kansas economy and attracting businesses than a high quality educational system? (Roasts and toasts suitable for the new year, January 11, 2014)

kansas-school-spending-per-student-2013-10-chart-01

Dis-investing in education.: Nearby is a chart of Kansas school spending. It’s adjusted for inflation. Spending is not as high as it was at its peak, but claims of “slashing” or “dis-investing” don’t apply, either.

Those who claim school spending is inadequate usually cite only base state aid per pupil, which has fallen. But it’s only the starting point for all the other spending. In totality, spending on schools in Kansas is over three times the level of base state aid. Also, comparisons are often made to what the Kansas Supreme Court said base state aid should be to its actual value. But the court doesn’t know how much should be spent on schools.

Those who make claims of cutting schools should note this: Considering the entire state, two trends have emerged. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the student-teacher ratio has fallen. The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio to pupils has fallen.

Kansas school employment

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts.

Kansas school employment ratios

Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee).

What could be more vital to the Kansas economy and attracting businesses than a high quality educational system? Rose is right. Good schools are vital to our future. If only Kansas had them.

The focus on school spending — that’s all writers like Rose write about — keeps attention away from some unfortunate and unpleasant facts about Kansas schools. Kansas needs to confront these facts for the sake of Kansas schoolchildren. Editorials like this are very harmful to Kansas schoolchildren, because if spending is increased, not much is likely to improve, but the public school establishment and editorialists like Steve Rose will say that everything that’s wrong has been fixed.

Here’s what Kansas needs to confront. Regarding Kansas school performance, we have to confront two unpleasant realities. First, Kansas has set low standards for its schools, compared to other states. Then, when the Kansas Supreme Court ordered more spending in 2005, the state responded by lowering school standards further. Kansas school superintendents defend these standards.

When referring to “strong public school system,” here’s what Kansans need to know. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Kansas ranks pretty high among the states on this test. It’s important, however, to examine the results from a few different angles to make sure we understand the entire situation. An illustrative video is available here.

Kansas and National NAEP Scores, 2011, by Ethnicity and Race

If we compare Kansas NAEP scores to those of Texas, we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

  • When considering all students: Kansas scores higher than Texas.
  • Hispanic students only: Kansas is roughly equal to Texas.
  • Black students only: Kansas scores below Texas.
  • White students only: Kansas scores below Texas in most cases.

What explains this paradox is that the two states differ greatly in the proportion of students in ethnic groups. In Kansas, 69 percent of students are white. In Texas it’s 33 percent. This large difference in the composition of students is what makes it look like Kansas students perform better on the NAEP than Texas students.

But looking at the scores for ethnic subgroups, which state would you say has the most desirable set of NAEP scores? It’s important to know that aggregated data can mask or hide underlying trends.

Here’s a question for you: Have you heard Kansas school leaders talk about this? Do Steve Rose and the Kansas City Star editorial board know this?

New York Times on Kansas schools, again

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The New York Times — again — intervenes in Kansas schools. As it did last October, the newspaper makes serious errors in its facts and recommendations.

An op-ed in the New York Times is being used by the Kansas public school spending establishment as evidence for the need to increase school spending in Kansas. (What’s the Matter With Kansas’ Schools?, January 8, 2014) The authors are David Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center, and Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Before Kansas schoolchildren celebrate that the nation’s newspaper of record has taken up their case, let’s examine some of the claims and reasoning used by these authors.

kansas-school-spending-per-student-2013-10-chart-01

The op-ed makes this claim: “Overall, the Legislature slashed public education funding to 16.5 percent below the 2008 level.” Claims like this look only at base state aid per pupil funding, which is just part of total spending. Total state aid per pupil this past school year was $6,984. Base state aid per pupil was $3,838. Total state spending, therefore, was 1.82 times base state aid.

It’s important to consider the totality of spending and not just base state aid. It’s important because total spending is so much greater than base state aid. Also, total spending accounts for some of the difficulties and expenses that schools cite when asking for higher spending. For example, advocates for higher school spending often point to non-English speaking students and at-risk students as being expensive to educate. In recognition of this, the Kansas school finance formula makes allowances for this. According to the Kansas Legislator Briefing Book for 2013, the weighting for “full-time equivalent enrollment in bilingual education programs” is 0.395. This means that for each such student a school district has, an additional 39.5 percent over base state aid is given to the district.

For at-risk pupils, the weighting is 0.456. At risk students, according to the briefing book, “are determined on the basis of at-risk factors determined by the school district board of education and not by virtue of eligibility for free meals.” Taken together, bilingual students considered to be at-risk generate an additional 85.1 percent of base state aid to be sent to the district, per student.

The decline in base state aid per pupil is a convenient fact for public school spending boosters. They can use a statistic that contains a grain of truth in order to whip up concern over inadequate school spending. They can cite this as an argument for increasing spending, even though spending has been rising.

Further, citing only base state aid reduces “sticker shock.” Most people are surprised to learn that our schools spend $12,781 per student. It’s much easier to tell taxpayers that only $3,838 was spent. But that’s not a complete picture, not by far. For more on this, see Kansas school spending holding steady and Kansas school spending, by district.

The Times op-ed also states “Class sizes have increased, teachers and staff members have been laid off.” But statistics show that school employment has rebounded, both in terms of absolute numbers of teachers and certified employees, and also in the ratios of students to these employees. This video explains.

The story is not the same in every district. But considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the student-teacher ratio has fallen. The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio to pupils has fallen.

Kansas school employment

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts.

Kansas school employment ratios

Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee).

The Times continues: “The judges also found that the Legislature was not meeting even the basic funding amounts set in its own education cost studies.” We shouldn’t rely on these documents. See Suitable education in Kansas. The primary study that Kansas relies upon is defective in this way, according to testimony from Kansas Policy Institute: “Augenblick & Myers (A&M) openly admitted that they deliberately deviated from their own Successful Schools methodology and delivered artificially high spending numbers by ignoring efficient use of taxpayer money. Amazingly, the Montoy courts still based their rulings on ‘evidence’ that was known to be worthless. And now the Shawnee County District Court is following that legal precedent in its ruling on Gannon.

The Times also writes “A victory for the parents would be heartening” and “Kansans rightfully take pride in their strong public school system.”

Talking about school spending is easy, although the Times, like most Kansas newspapers, doesn’t tell its readers the full story on spending. Advocating for more spending is easy. It’s easy because the Kansas Constitution says the state must spend on schools, parents want more spending, teachers want it, public employee unions want it. It’s easy to want more spending on schools because anyone who doesn’t is branded as anti-child, anti-education, anti-human.

But the focus on school spending lets the Kansas public school establishment off the hook too easily. Any and all shortcomings of Kansas schools can be blamed on inadequate funding, and that’s what happens.

The focus on school spending also keeps attention away from some unfortunate and unpleasant facts about Kansas schools that the establishment would rather not talk about. Kansas needs to confront these facts for the sake of Kansas schoolchildren. Editorials like this in the New York Times are very harmful to Kansas schoolchildren, because if the editorial’s recommendation is taken, not much is likely to improve, but the public school establishment will say that everything that’s wrong has been fixed.

Here’s what Kansas needs to confront. Regarding Kansas school performance, we have to confront two unpleasant realities. First, Kansas has set low standards for its schools, compared to other states. Then, when the Kansas Supreme Court ordered more spending in 2005, the state responded by lowering school standards further. Kansas school superintendents defend these standards.

When referring to “strong public school system,” here’s what Kansans need to know. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Kansas ranks pretty high among the states on this test. It’s important, however, to examine the results from a few different angles to make sure we understand the entire situation. An illustrative video is available here.

Kansas and National NAEP Scores, 2011, by Ethnicity and Race

If we compare Kansas NAEP scores to those of Texas, we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

  • When considering all students: Kansas scores higher than Texas.
  • Hispanic students only: Kansas is roughly equal to Texas.
  • Black students only: Kansas scores below Texas.
  • White students only: Kansas scores below Texas in most cases.

What explains this paradox is that the two states differ greatly in the proportion of students in ethnic groups. In Kansas, 69 percent of students are white. In Texas it’s 33 percent. This large difference in the composition of students is what makes it look like Kansas students perform better on the NAEP than Texas students.

But looking at the scores for ethnic subgroups, which state would you say has the most desirable set of NAEP scores? It’s important to know that aggregated data can mask or hide underlying trends.

Here’s a question for you: Have you heard Kansas school leaders talk about this? Does the New York Times editorial board know this?

Kansas education topic on ‘This Week in Kansas’

school-homework

Kansas education issues were a topic on a recent segment of KAKE TV “This Week in Kansas.”

Opening the show, Representative Jim Ward made a small but potentially consequential mistake when he said the “legislature has violated their constitutional duty to provide for an adequate or sufficient education.”

The Kansas Constitution actually says this in Article 6, Section 6(b): “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.”

It’s too bad that the Kansas Constitution doesn’t mandate that the state provide an “adequate or sufficient” education, as that would provide the basis for a lawsuit that would actually — potentially — benefit Kansas schoolchildren.

The performance of Kansas schools that the education establishment touts wilts when examined under a statistical microscope. If we compare Kansas NAEP scores to those of Texas, we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

  • When considering all students: Kansas scores higher than Texas.
  • Hispanic students only: Kansas is roughly equal to Texas.
  • Black students only: Kansas scores below Texas.
  • White students only: Kansas scores below Texas in most cases.

(For more on this, see Kansas school test scores, in perspective.)

Furthermore — and this is important considering the significance given to the current school finance lawsuit: At a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its already low standards for schools.

That is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. As explained in Kansas school standards and other states, Kansas standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains.

Sample conclusions of this analysis for Kansas include:

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

Mark Tallman of Kansas Association of School Boards also appeared. His focus is primarily on spending, but also makes the same mistakes when citing the performance of Kansas schools.

LOB property tax increase already in effect

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From Kansas Policy Institute.

LOB property tax increase already in effect

By Dave Trabert

About a year ago we asked the Kansas Department of Education to verify our calculation of the Local Option Budget (LOB) property tax increase that would result if Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) was increased from $3,838 per-pupil to $4,492 in accordance with a final Gannon ruling in favor of the plaintiffs/against Kansas taxpayers. KSDE verified our calculation but didn’t mention that the Legislature had already authorized districts to calculate LOB based on a hypothetical BSAPP of $4,433. Therefore, our reporting that increasing BSAPP to $4,492 would prompt an LOB increase of $154 million was inadvertently inaccurate, since most of that increase has already taken place. Upon learning of the potential mistake, we immediately contacted KSDE for clarification and issued this correction. We apologize for our role in this inadvertent reporting.

It should also be noted that the authorization to calculate LOB at a hypothetical rate of $4,433 expires on June 30, 2014; if not re-authorized, LOB calculations will be based on the actual amount of BSAPP, which currently is $3,838.

Setting LOB aside, let’s revisit the potential impact on citizens and the state budget if the Gannon ruling is upheld and implemented.

Continue reading

WichitaLiberty.TV December 29, 2013

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In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Are Kansas school leaders being honest with schoolchildren and parents regarding Kansas school test scores? Then: Walter Williams on greed. Finally: Do we have too many laws? A look at the problem of overcriminalization. Episode 24, broadcast December 29, 2013. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Here’s why Kansans are misinformed about schools

You should always believe what you read in the newspapers, for that makes them more interesting.
– Rose Macauley

kansas-city-star-opinionIn an editorial of some 600 words on the topic of Kansas schools, Kansas City Star editorial writers whip up support for higher school spending, but totally omit the facts readers need to know. In the end, it’s Kansas schoolchildren who are harmed most by editorials like this. (Much rides on the future of Kansas public school funding)

Talking about school spending is easy, although the Star, like most Kansas newspapers, doesn’t tell its readers the full story on spending. Advocating for more spending is easy. It’s easy because the Kansas Constitution says the state must spend on schools, parents want more spending, teachers want it, public employee unions want it. It’s easy to want more spending on schools because anyone who doesn’t is branded as anti-child, anti-education, anti-human.

But the focus on school spending lets the Kansas public school establishment off the hook too easily. Any and all shortcomings of Kansas schools can be blamed on inadequate funding, and that’s what happens.

The focus on school spending also keeps attention away from some unfortunate and unpleasant facts about Kansas schools that the establishment would rather not talk about. Kansas needs to confront these facts for the sake of Kansas schoolchildren. Editorials like this in the Kansas City Star are very harmful to Kansas schoolchildren, because if the editorial’s recommendation is taken, not much is likely to improve, but the public school establishment will say that everything that’s wrong has been fixed.

Spending

In its editorial, the Star cited only base state aid per pupil funding, which is just part of total spending. Total state aid per pupil this past school year was $6,984. Base state aid per pupil was $3,838. Total state spending, therefore, was 1.82 times base state aid.

It’s important to consider the totality of spending and not just base state aid. It’s important because total spending is so much greater than base state aid. Also, total spending accounts for some of the difficulties and expenses that schools cite when asking for higher spending. For example, advocates for higher school spending often point to non-English speaking students and at-risk students as being expensive to educate. In recognition of this, the Kansas school finance formula makes allowances for this. According to the Kansas Legislator Briefing Book for 2013, the weighting for “full-time equivalent enrollment in bilingual education programs” is 0.395. This means that for each such student a school district has, an additional 39.5 percent over base state aid is given to the district.

For at-risk pupils, the weighting is 0.456. At risk students, according to the briefing book, “are determined on the basis of at-risk factors determined by the school district board of education and not by virtue of eligibility for free meals.” Taken together, bilingual students considered to be at-risk generate an additional 85.1 percent of base state aid to be sent to the district, per student.

The decline in base state aid per pupil is a convenient fact for public school spending boosters. They can use a statistic that contains a grain of truth in order to whip up concern over inadequate school spending. They can cite this as an argument for increasing spending, even though spending has been rising.

Further, citing only base state aid reduces “sticker shock.” Most people are surprised to learn that our schools spend $12,781 per student. It’s much easier to tell taxpayers that only $3,838 was spent. But that’s not a complete picture, not by far.

Kansas schools compared to others

Kansas school leaders are proud of Kansas schools, partly because of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Kansas ranks pretty high among the states on this test. It’s important, however, to examine the results from a few different angles to make sure we understand the entire situation. An illustrative video is available here.

If we compare Kansas NAEP scores to those of Texas, we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

  • When considering all students: Kansas scores higher than Texas.
  • Hispanic students only: Kansas is roughly equal to Texas.
  • Black students only: Kansas scores below Texas.
  • White students only: Kansas scores below Texas in most cases.

What explains this paradox is that the two states differ greatly in the proportion of students in ethnic groups. In Kansas, 69 percent of students are white. In Texas it’s 33 percent. This large difference in the composition of students is what makes it look like Kansas students perform better on the NAEP than Texas students.

But looking at the scores for ethnic subgroups, which state would you say has the most desirable set of NAEP scores? It’s important to know that aggregated data can mask or hide underlying trends.

Here’s a question for you: Have you heard Kansas school leaders talk about this?

Kansas school standards

At a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its already low standards for schools.

This is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. As explained in Kansas school standards and other states, Kansas standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains.

Sample conclusions of this analysis for Kansas include:

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

The public knowledge

Thanks to editorials like this, the average person is misinformed about school spending and other school issues. When citizens in Kansas and across the nation are asked questions about school spending, we learn they are totally uninformed. Even worse, several recent candidates for the Wichita school board were similarly uninformed. See Wichita school board candidates on spending.

What we need to know is this: Is the Kansas City Star editorial board uninformed, misinformed, or simply lying to its readers?

Kansas school test scores: What they don’t tell you

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: When comparing Kansas school test scores to those of other states, it’s important to consider disaggregated data. Otherwise we may — figuratively speaking — let the forest obscure the trees. For more on this issue, see: Kansas school test scores, in perspective. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Kansas school test scores, in perspective

School blackboardWhen comparing Kansas school test scores to those of other states, it’s important to consider disaggregated data. Otherwise we may — figuratively speaking — let the forest obscure the trees.

Kansas school leaders are proud of Kansas schools, partly because of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Kansas ranks pretty high among the states on this test. It’s important, however, to examine the results from a few different angles to make sure we understand the entire situation. An illustrative video is available here, or at the end of this article.

Data for the 2013 administration of the test was just released. I’ve gathered scores and made them available in a visualization that you can use at wichitaliberty.org. The most widely available NAEP data is for two subjects: reading and math, and for two grades, fourth and eighth. The video presents data for Kansas, Texas, and the average for national public schools. I choose to compare Kansas with Texas because for several reasons, Kansas has been comparing itself with Texas. So let’s look at these test scores and see if the reality matches what Kansas school leaders have said.

Looking at the data for all students, you can see why Kansas school leaders are proud: The line representing Kansas is almost always the highest.

NAEP makes data available by ethnic subtypes. If we present a chart showing black students only, something different appears. Now Texas is higher than Kansas in all cases in one, where there is a tie.

If we consider Hispanic students only: Texas is higher in some cases, and Kansas and Texas are virtually tied in two others. National public schools is higher than Kansas in some cases.

Considering white students only, Texas is higher than Kansas in three of four cases. In some cases the National public school average beats or ties Kansas.

So we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

  • When considering all students: Kansas scores higher than Texas.
  • Hispanic students only: Kansas is roughly equal to Texas.
  • Black students only: Kansas scores below Texas.
  • White students only: Kansas scores below Texas in most cases.

How can this be? The answer is Simpson’s Paradox. A Wall Street Journal article explains: “Put simply, Simpson’s Paradox reveals that aggregated data can appear to reverse important trends in the numbers being combined.”

The Wikipedia article explains: “A paradox in which a trend that appears in different groups of data disappears when these groups are combined, and the reverse trend appears for the aggregate data. … Many statisticians believe that the mainstream public should be informed of the counter-intuitive results in statistics such as Simpson’s paradox.”

In this case, the confounding factor (“lurking” variable) is that the two states differ greatly in the proportion of students in ethnic groups. For example, in Kansas, 69 percent of students are white. In Texas it’s 33 percent. This large difference in the composition of students is what makes it look like Kansas students perform better on the NAEP than Texas students.

But looking at the scores for ethnic subgroups, which state would you say has the most desirable set of NAEP scores? It’s important to know that aggregated data can mask or hide underlying trends.

Here’s a question for you: Have you heard Kansas school leaders talk about this?

Kansas news reporting questioned

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Media should be a neutral reporter of facts

By Dave Trabert

“An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.” — Thomas Jefferson

I wonder what Mr. Jefferson would say about the state of today’s media. Television, cable, print and internet media routinely ignore basic journalistic principles and openly choose sides, often ignoring the facts and perpetuating falsehoods to convince citizens that their view is the right one. In some cases, it’s done in support of conservative causes; most often, it’s in support of “progressive” ideals that strip citizens of their personal freedom. It’s bad enough when facts are ignored in editorials but ignoring facts and choosing sides in news stories is tantamount to journalistic malpractice.

Local media gave us two examples of this behavior recently.  A November 22 Kansas City Star report said, “Kansas still had fewer jobs in October 2013 than it did in December 2012, the month before the Brownback tax cuts took effect.” The reporter when on to say, “Put another way: Kansas has actually lost 3,311 jobs since the Brownback tax cuts took effect.”

This is a great example of media looking for ways to inject their support or opposition of policy into news stories while quite deliberately ignoring pertinent facts. The clear purpose in that KC Star story was to show disdain for tax reform and the facts were not allowed to detract from that purpose.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data quoted by the reporter (although certainly not disclosed) was Labor Force Employment, which comes from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and represents employed persons by place of residence. The more commonly-used BLS report of non-farm employment is estimated based on the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey of business establishments, and represents a count of jobs by place of work.

The CPS data chosen by the KC Star is based on where people live, not where they work. There is no way of knowing to what extent the job losses reported in the CPS data are attributable to people who live in Kansas but work in Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado or Oklahoma. Data from the CES survey of businesses, however, avoids that issue because it is based on where people work.

And surprise! This data shows just the opposite of the story told by the KC Star.

Job growth is occurring in Kansas but that inconvenient truth gets in the way of the Star’s opposition to tax reform, so they spin a tale that suits their purpose and pass it off as “news.”

The Topeka-Capital Journal provided another example of journalistic malfeasance on November 24 in a one-sided recitation of school districts’ funding complaints. Not unlike the piece in the Star, its political purpose comes through loud and clear.

“When Gov. Sam Brownback took office, schools like this one were already reeling. The recession had brought what were likely the largest cuts to their operating budgets in state history. But once the recession faded, those funds didn’t rebound as some had hoped. Meanwhile, the governor cut income taxes — reductions meant to bolster the economy.”

That reads like an ad for a made-for-TV fictional movie, with the emphasis on fiction. Not a shred of funding facts were provided, which would of course expose that the claims are crafted to meet the political purpose.

Let’s look at the facts (all of which are readily available from the Kansas Department of Education). First of all, we’ll look at actual spending instead of the misleading reference to “budget.” Individuals and businesses think of “budget cuts” as spending reductions but when government says their budget was cut, it most often means that their plan to spend more was partly stymied.

I’ll make an assumption here that “operating” means current operating costs and excludes capital outlay and debt service (it wasn’t defined in the CJ story).

There was a 2.3 percent reduction in total operating expenditures in 2010, with per-pupil operating spending dipping by 3.5 percent. Portraying reaction to this paltry decline as “reeling” (or allowing school districts to do so) is hardly justifiable. Those small declines in total and per-pupil spending came on the heels of very large spending increases between 2005 and 2009 of 35 percent and 32 percent, respectively. (FYI, in case anyone tries to claim that schools suffered because state funding declined dramatically in 2010, remind them that nearly all of that money was replaced by legislators with federal stimulus money; the funding just temporarily shifted.)

Calling the 2010 minor spending dip the largest cut in state history makes it sound monumental and only feeds the political hype. In reality, 2010 was the only spending reduction that occurred since 1990, which is as far back as KSDE can cite; they tell us that prior years’ data has been archived and isn’t readily available. Details needed to identify operating spending in the KSDE online database only go back to 2004 (KPI has tracked it since 2005) but we do know that total spending did not decline between 1990 and 2010.

Allowing districts to claim they were “reeling” and quoting a legislator as saying districts are in “survival mode” deliberately ignores well-known facts that counter the veracity of those claims. For example, districts haven’t even spent all of the tax money received since 2005; about $420 million was used to increase operating cash reserves. Districts are also wasting a lot of money with inefficient operations.  Every single Legislative Post Audit study on school efficiency has found that schools could operate much more efficiently. If media is going to print “sky-is-falling” claims by school districts and those who support their institutional desires, they have a journalistic obligation to also publish facts that call such claims into question.

The article also perpetuates the myth that Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) is all districts receive to operate schools. The story allows two legislators and others to at least imply that BSAPP is the sole funding source and that the Legislature is deliberately underfunding schools despite a large body of evidence to the contrary.

The story cites no other per-pupil amount and fails to disclose that BSAPP is only about 30 percent of total funding provided by taxpayers. For the record, KSDE reports that per-pupil support of public education set a new record last year at $12,781 and is expected to hit $12,885 this year. District administrators know (and we’ve certainly informed media quite often) that they receive a lot more money than BSAPP to fund general operations. Local Option Budget (LOB) funds, which are provided through legislative authority, have increased 71% between 2005 and 2013, going from $341.7 million to $585.3 million.

Contrary to the claim made by one legislator quoted in the story, BSAPP was not put into statute as what the Legislature deemed to be “… the appropriate number to fund our schools.”  The Legislature made no such declaration. The Legislature increased funding based on a court order and under threat of having the State Supreme Court close schools. But the facts don’t fit the story that some people want to perpetuate, so rhetoric is substituted to fulfill a political purpose.

Kansas Policy Institute and other have published the facts surrounding school funding cases, including a full legal analysis of Montoy vs. State of Kansas.  We most recently published “Student-Focused Funding Solutions for Public Education,” which again cites many facts that explain why every court case on school funding is based on deliberately-inflated figures. Despite all the rhetoric, supposition and claims to the contrary, the simple proven truth is that no one — not a single legislator, superintendent, reporter, policy analyst or judge — knows how much money schools need to achieve required outcomes while operating efficiently. No such study or analysis has ever been conducted in Kansas.

Having spent more than twenty years managing news operations in several states, I have great respect for journalism and those who diligently work to honestly inform citizens. I also know that reporters are sometimes forced to cover stories by editors and managers in ways they find objectionable and have misleading headlines slapped on their stories. But to paraphrase Jefferson, our republic cannot properly function when citizens are deliberately deprived of information. It is not the duty of media (or policy analysts) to make decisions for citizens, but to inform them so they can make their own decisions.

Kansas school spending, sort of

A recent article in the Topeka Capital-Journal complained of the plight of schools in Kansas. Like much reporting we see regarding Kansas schools, the story is incomplete.

One district cited in particular was USD 348, Baldwin City Schools. The story contained “As state aid dwindled.” Let’s look at some actual numbers.

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A nearby chart shows the level of spending in this school district for some recent years. The chart holds per-pupil amounts, adjusted for inflation. As the reporter noted, state aid did dwindle. That was during the recent recession, and the federal government increased aid to Kansas schools those years. The result was that total spending barely changed. (Click on the charts for larger versions.)

2009 was the highest level of spending for this district at $11,848 per pupil (adjusted to 2013 dollars). Spending in 2013 was $11,796.

baldwin-city-school-employment-levels-2013-11Looking at levels of employment, we can see from the charts that the number of employees had been declining, but was stable or slightly higher for the most recent year. The ratios of these employees to students was rising, but fell the last year.

baldwin-city-school-employment-ratios-2013-11It’s often noted that some portion of recent school funding has been increased contributions to KPERS, the teacher retirement system. This funding doesn’t get “into the classroom,” whatever that means. The Baldwin school superintendent told the reporter “I can’t use KPERS to gas up our buses.” That’s true. But he can buy fuel with the money he doesn’t have to spend on teacher retirement benefits.

If the Topeka Capital-Journal wants to do some reporting that will help Kansans understand what is happening in their schools, I suggest starting with the decisions that Kansas school leaders made regarding standards. If the reporter would look at the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales, a report produced by the National Center for Education Statistics, we could learn that at the time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its already low standards for schools. I’ve made it easy: All you have to do is view the illustrative video I made at Why are Kansas school standards so low?

Kansas school employment trends de-emphasize classroom teachers

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From Kansas Policy Institute.

School district employment trends de-emphasize classroom teachers

By Dave Trabert

A large body of research shows that nothing benefits students more than having effective teachers in the classroom. With that in mind, we thought it would be interesting to see how Kansas school district employment has changed over the years — comparing changes in regular classroom teachers to enrollment and other employment trends. All of the data was provided by the Kansas Department of Education (we appreciate their cooperation in helping to locate historical data) based on reports they receive from school districts.

The results are actually quite surprising and prompt a number of questions that legislators and parents may want to pose to school districts. But first, let’s look at the trends.

The first two tables show the changes in full time equivalent (FTE) employees over several time frames during the last twenty years.

1993 to 2005: These are the pre-Montoy years, during which time KPERS-adjusted school funding increased at a compound annual growth rate of 3.9 percent and FTE employment increased at a compound annual growth rate of 1.3 percent. KPERS retirement money was not included in reported funding until 2005, so we’ve added the annual amounts for 1993 through 2004 as provided by KSDE.

2005 to 2008: Large court-ordered funding increases began in 2006. School funding increased at a compound annual growth rate of 7.9 percent (from the 2005 base year) and FTE employment increased at a compound annual growth rate of 2.9 percent.

2008 to 2013: While the economic impact of the Great Recession began in 2009, school funding actually increased 4.0 percent that year. Total funding per KSDE dipped slightly in 2010 and 2011 (1.4 percent and 0.04 percent, respectively) and then increased in 2012 and 2013 (3.3 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively). We examine this period in total in the first table and then break it out by year in the second table.



Annual employment changes in the second table are compared to total school funding per-pupil as reported by KSDE and our own calculation per-pupil funding provided on state authority with all KPERS amounts removed. The state-provision calculation uses all funding sources provided to school districts through the state legislature’s statutory provision (except for KPERS as noted). This excludes all federal money and property taxes for bond levies that are approved by local voters. We exclude KPERS in this calculation to demonstrate that, contrary to claims in some circles, school funding increases are not totally driven by retirement spending.

Regular teacher employment has generally kept pace with enrollment over the years. Twenty years ago, there were 17.8 students per teacher, compared to 17.7 students per teacher in 2013. But the growth in non-teacher employment (40 percent since 1993) has significantly reduced the student-to-employee ratio from 8.0 to 6.7. Regular classroom teachers comprised 45 percent of school district total employment in 1993 but only represent 38 percent of employment today.

School district employment trends raise a number of thought-provoking questions.

  • Do district hiring practices (aides vs. teachers) indicate that district administrators and local school boards believe aides are more beneficial to students than hiring more teachers — or perhaps using the money to pay teachers a better salary?
  • What do parents and teachers think about this development?
  • Upon what analytical basis are such staffing decisions made?
  • Staff increases in the early Montoy years followed significant increases between 1993 and 2005, which, other than classroom teachers, were much greater than enrollment changes. Upon what analytical basis were decisions made to further increase staffing?
  • Do districts have any historical analysis that shows what necessary staffing levels should be? i.e., have districts been moving toward specific targets or are they just adding staff?

It’s critical to understand how districts resources are being allocated so that student-focused decisions can be made, especially since student achievement is relative stagnant and large, persistent achievement gaps exist for low income kids and students of color.

Kansas Association of School Boards: Putting institutions and money before individual students

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From Kansas Policy Institute.

Kansas Association of School Boards: Putting institutions and money before individual students

By Dave Trabert

There is no question that many students receive a fine public education and go on to success in college or career, but there is also no question that thousands of students are left behind every year. Continuing to pour money into the current broken system — whether ordered to so by courts or by choice — will not close the large achievement gaps that exist for students of color and those from low-income families.

Yet institutional demands for more money continue to drive the debate. Many mission statements effectively say “it’s all about the kids” but in reality, the wants of institutions and the adults in the system often prevail over student needs.

A recent blog post from Mark Tallman and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) is loaded with more examples of institutions misrepresenting the facts of student achievement and school funding to justify the extraction of more money from taxpayers.

Here’s the first example. “KASB research has shown that the percentage scoring at Basic is a good indicator of the state’s graduation rate, i.e. the percentage of students who complete high school. The percentage scoring at Proficient is a rough indicator of the percentage of students who will meet college readiness benchmarks on the ACT test. In other words, the percent at Basic might be considered the percentage of student “on track” to graduate, and the percent at Proficient indicates those “on track” to be ready for college-level academics.”

First of all, a high school graduation rate says nothing about actual achievement.  In fact, the Kansas Board of Regents reports that 30 percent of 2011 Kansas high school graduates who attended a public college in Kansas actually signed up for remedial training – keep in mind that students voluntarily sign up for these courses and cannot be made to do so by the college. These students apparently know that they aren’t ready to take credit-bearing courses in college.  Also, only 30 percent of the 2013 class who took the ACT test scored high enough to be considered college-ready in English, Reading, Math and Science. (Incredibly, KASB representative Tom Krebs testified earlier this year that the ACT college-readiness measure shows that local school districts are doing a good job — because only 30 percent of today’s jobs require a 4-year degree!)

Also, the KASB research that purports to find ‘good indications’ is called a bivariate analysis, meaning that only two variables are considered. This reminds me of something the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) once said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. He noted that northern states tended to have the best student achievement, so we should move schools closer to the Canadian border to improve achievement. His point was that simple bivariate analyses and non sequiturs are no substitution for honest analysis. A bivariate analysis doesn’t control for other factors that may (and frequently do) make a difference.

Note also that KASB continues to lower the bar and now often speaks of the percentage of students at Basic+ instead of Proficient+ on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  They referenced high rankings on Proficient+ until people became aware that Kansas’ proficiency levels are in the 30 percent and 40 percent range. Now they talk about Basic+ so they can use higher percentages and make the institutions look better.

Example #2

On October 7, Mr. Tallman wrote, “KASB absolutely agrees that differences in student characteristics must be considered in evaluating educational performance … the most important factor .. is socio-economic status.”

But that “belief” is largely ignored on October 11 when he writes, “To measure overall state performance, we calculate the average of the percentage of students scoring at both Basic and Proficient on the four tests (Grade 4 reading and math; Grade 8 reading and math). We then rank the average percent for each state.” Two of the four percentages he averaged are based on All Students, which brings the mostly-White states to the top of his list. You see, students of color are two to three years’ worth of learning behind White students, so the states with highest overall average performance are those with the lowest levels of minorities. (This is the essence of Senator Moynihan’s observation.)

Similar achievement gaps exist between low income students and others. And since Census data shows that minorities are twice as likely to live in poverty as Whites, KASB’s deliberate decision to not control for race and income produces very predictable results that are favorable to their overall point (it’s all about the money). Every state in the KASB calculation of the Top Ten states in Reading and Math has Free and Reduced Lunch Eligibility levels below the national average of 48.1 percent. Most of them are well below. The point of KASB’s exercise is of course about money. The states chosen to appear in their top ten all spend more than Kansas.

Example #3

“The State Board of Education has continued to set higher standards.” That’s a real whopper.  Our research shows how and when the Kansas State Board of Education chose to reduce performance standards, to the point where the U.S. Department of Education reports that Kansas has some of the lowest performance standards in the nation. Before publishing our findings, we asked KSDE and KBOE to let us know if there was anything factually incorrect in our work. They didn’t respond.

Example #4

“Economic data indicates Kansas must increase the percentage of high school graduates and college-ready students to meet future employment needs and provide “middle class” incomes.” It’s true that people with more education are able to earn more money but that speaks to the important of getting an education. It has nothing to do with the amount taxpayers are expected to spend on public education.

Example #5

“New national reports have indicated Kansas has further reduced spending compared to most states.” This is a reference to a bogus claim made by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which we completely de-bunked in a separate blog post. CBPP does not publish their data; they only share their “conclusions.” Our request to see their data has gone unanswered. Meanwhile, KSDE data shows that new records for school funding were set in 2012 and 2013 and are predicted to be broken again in 2014.

Example #6

This final example represents the culmination of all the previous misrepresentations. “The totality of the evidence indicates that funding does play an important role in state student achievement and that it will be extremely difficult — and, in fact, unprecedented — for Kansas to improve achievement on NAEP results without additional revenues.” The data, however, tells a much different story.

No change on NAEP scores despite a 32 percent inflation-adjusted increase in per-pupil spending since 1998 (even with all KPERS spending removed, it’s still a 29 percent increase).

ACT scores are flat overall, although White scores slightly increased over the last ten years while scores for Hispanic and African American students are flat or down a bit. ACT doesn’t publish income-based scores.

And after nearly $3 billion in targeted At Risk (low income) spending, there’s virtually no improvement in those students’ achievement.

Yep … it’s all about the money. It’s all about demands to put more money into a system despite voluminous evidence that large funding increases have not closed student achievement gaps and roughly half of all Kansas students are clearly not leaving high school ready for college or careers.

These large achievement gaps do not exist because those students cannot learn, but because they do not have equal access to educational opportunities. Kansas has tried ‘throwing money at the problem’ and it has not worked. Until elected officials and citizens support implementation of student-focused funding and other policy initiatives, they are tacitly choosing to place a higher priority on institutional wants than on student needs.

P.S.  We’re working with legislators and school districts to show how a lot more money can be made available to classrooms by improving district efficiency. It costs a lot of money to fund public education, but it’s how the money is spent that matters … not how much.

Spinning for fundraising, Kansas-style

Kansas liberals accuse Republicans of “spinning” statistics on school funding. Can we look at some actual numbers?

Candidate for Kansas Governor Paul Davis sent this fundraising email:

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This weekend another independent advocate for our schools called attention to Sam Brownback’s attempt to mislead Kansans about his real record on education. The fact is, Sam Brownback made the largest cut to our schools in Kansas history — leading to larger class sizes, school closings, and increased fees for parents.

But being the politician that he is, Sam Brownback is trying to spin his record. We won’t be fooled.

Kevin McWhorter of the Goddard School Board said it plainly, “State funding for education will continue to decline, and state officials will continue to twist the numbers to ask you to believe otherwise. Don’t fall for it. It’s just spin.”

Davis is referring to an op-ed in the Wichita Eagle written by a Goddard school board member. (Kevin R. McWhorter: Don’t fall for spin on school funding, November 17, 2013)

In his op-ed, McWhorter complains that present funding from the state is not as high as statute requires. He calls that a cut. He concludes that the “governor’s economic policy is a train wreck” and that “state funding for education will continue to decline.”

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Nearby you may find charts of data for the Goddard school district. (Click for larger versions.) You may draw your own conclusions. Recall that Sam Brownback became governor in 2011. The charts are derived from visualizations of data obtained from the Kansas State Department of Education. You may click here to access the visualization for school spending. Information about school employment, including a video and interactive visualization is at Kansas school employment trends.

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Charts for the entire state look similar: Employment going down, then rising. Ratios of employees to students improve correspondingly. This is not the case in every school district, however.

But not everyone believes the statistics. When the Kansas Republican Party posted a chart of statewide school employment on its Facebook page, someone remarked “Where do I find the facts supporting this graft [sic]? Where did the numbers come from? How are these more than 400 additional teachers and 500 certified employees being paid when school funding has been reduced?”

Sounds like someone’s been spun.