In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: There are worthy goals the Kansas Legislature should tackle, and the need for school choice in Kansas. Episode 107, broadcast January 31, 2016. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.
In a refreshing change, Kansas schools have adopted realistic standards for students, but only after many years of evaluating students using low standards.
For years Kansas schools have used low standards to evaluate students. That is, Kansas was willing to say students are “proficient” at a much lower level of performance than most other states. But now the new Kansas standards are more in line with those of other states, and present a more truthful assessment of Kansas schoolchildren.
This is the finding of the EducationNext report After Common Core, States Set Rigorous Standards. EducationNext is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform.
The report compares the proportion of students considered “proficient” on the states’ own exam with that of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” The report explains:
Data from both the NAEP and state tests allow for periodic assessments of the rigor of each state’s proficiency standards. If the percentage of students identified as proficient in any given year is essentially the same for both the NAEP and the state exams, we can infer that the state has established as strict a proficiency standard as that of the NAEP. But if the state identifies a higher percentage of students as proficient than the NAEP, we can conclude that the state has set its proficiency bar lower than that of the NAEP.
From 2003 to 2013 the Kansas standards were weak, earning letter grades ranging from “C” to “D” in the EducationNext reports. In another similar study, the Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales series from National Center for Education Statistics, Kansas standards were also found to be low compared to other states. NCES is part of the United States Department of Education and the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education. It has not yet examined the 2015 NAEP and state exam scores.
Now, after comparing Kansas state assessments to the 2015 NAEP exam, Kansas earns a grade of “A” from EducationNext for the strength of its standards.
This grade of “A” does not reflect the performance of Kansas schoolchildren on tests. Instead, it means that the state has raised the definition of “proficient” to a higher level. A presentation by Kansas State Department of Education to the Kansas State Board of Education explains the relationship of the new standards to the former:
The Kansas College and Career Ready Standards are more rigorous than the previous Kansas Standards. The Mathematics test is more demanding than even the ACT and taken a year earlier. The assessment is also more demanding than the NAEP assessment. Kansas takes seriously the current issues of college dropout and remediation rates and feels higher standards are necessary to help remedy the problem.
Kansas is not alone in making a change:
The results are striking: The last two years have witnessed the largest jump in state standards since they were established as part of the federal accountability program. Overall, 36 states have strengthened their standards since 2013, while just 5 have loosened them, and 7 have left their standards essentially unchanged. In short, the Common Core consortium has achieved one of its key policy objectives: the raising of state proficiency standards throughout much of the United States.
This is a refreshing change for Kansas. It means that after many years of evaluating students with weak standards and low expectations, Kansas now has reasonable standards.
A joint statement released by Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents’ Association, and Kansas National Education Association makes claims about Kansas public schools that aren’t factual.
The Kansas public school establishment is proud of Kansas schools. In a joint statement released at the start of this year’s legislative session, satisfaction with schools is evident: “Our Kansas public schools are great. … The results are there. Working with parents and communities, Kansas schools rank in the top ten nationally on every measure on reading and math tests, high school completion and college preparation.”
According to National Center for Education Statistics, Kansas does have a high percentage of students that graduate from high school. But this is the only bright spot for Kansas students. In many other measures Kansas is near the middle of the states, and in some cases much below the middle.
In the recent report Quality Counts by Education Week, Kansas ranked twentieth overall among the states.
For last year’s ACT scores, Kansas ranked twenty-first in composite score. Kansas ranked twentieth in readiness for college in English, and twentieth also for math readiness.
In U.S. News and World Report’s How States Compare in the 2015 Best High Schools Rankings, we find Kansas ranked forty-fifth among the states, with 1.3 percent of its high schools earning a gold or silver medal. There were no gold medals; only silver.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” reveals the unfortunate weakness in Kansas schools. NAEP is a test that is the same in all jurisdictions. Consider fourth grade math, looking at the percent of students who score “proficient” or better. For all students, Kansas ranks twenty-second, a little above the middle. But when we look at subgroups, something else appears. For black students Kansas ranks thirty-eighth, for Hispanic students the rank is thirty-fourth, and for white students the rank is twenty-ninth. Similar patterns exist for math and reading in grades four and eight. The highest Kansas ranks in any subgroup is fifteenth for grade eight math for Hispanic students. (Click here for a pdf version of these rankings. An interactive visualization of these scores is here.)
When comparing Kansas NAEP scores to the national average, using appropriate subgroups, we find that often Kansas underperforms the national average. The reason for this anomaly is Simpson’s Paradox, in which aggregated data hides differences between subgroups. Given that white students across the nation score higher than black or Hispanic students, and that Kansas has a high proportion of white students compared to the nation and many states, Simpson’s Paradox makes Kansas NAEP scores — only when considering all students — appear high. But if you are a parent with young black children learning to read, would you rather be in Kansas (thirty-seventh in reading for black students, grade four), Louisiana (twenty-fifth), or Colorado (third)?
It’s unfortunate that Kansas does not rank better in all these measures. What’s worse is the insistence that Kansas schoolchildren are doing well. Notwithstanding this evidence, after listing all the ways Kansas schools and teachers work to make school great, the joint statement says “This is how the Kansas school system operates. We are good at.”
But it isn’t good for Kansas schoolchildren to be in a system that does not recognize the truth.
A joint statement released by Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents’ Association, and Kansas National Education Association exposes the attitudes of the Kansas public school establishment.
In a joint statement by the leaders of the Kansas public school establishment the clear theme is that education must be provided by public schools. Not schools in general, but public schools.
There’s no reason that education must be provided by government, and many reasons to keep government out of education. Across the spectrum of human activity, government provides services at high cost, with low levels of diversity and innovation, and with low accountability. School choice programs allow parents and children to find alternative non-governmental sources of education (although charter schools are public schools).
Defenders of public schools over school choice programs note that parents do have choice. Parents can, they say, enroll their children in private schools. But these parents still must pay for the public schools, which severely reduces their ability to pay private school tuition. That isn’t much choice. And for parents in poor neighborhoods, such as Wichita’s zip code 67214 where the median family income is $29,637, there isn’t much money available for private school tuition, or to move their households to suburban school districts. The latter is a form of school choice available to middle-class and wealthy parents that isn’t available to low-income families.
Across the country 393,467 students participate in school choice programs, in this case defined as vouchers, tax credit scholarships, or education savings accounts. 1 There are around 49 million students in public schools. So for every one student in these school choice programs, 125 students remain in public schools.
Despite the small number of students enrolled in school choice programs, the anti-choice establishment vigorously fights against any school choice program, even the small Kansas tax credit scholarship program. Kansas State Department of Education reports that since the beginning of the scholarship program, there have been 73 students awarded scholarships which totaled $108,384. 2
Seventy-three students. $108,384. The public school establishment describes this as a grave threat, something that drains public schools of funds. For a bit of context, there are executives of Kansas Association of School Boards and Kansas National Education Association that earn more than $108,384 per year. These executives earn these salaries, in part, by blocking the type of school choice programs that benefit children living in Wichita’s zip code 67214 with its median family income of $29,637.
Why is the public school establishment so firmly against school choice? Private schools don’t pay dues to the Kansas Association of School Boards. Teachers not in traditional public schools are not members of Kansas National Education Association, the teachers union. Without this revenue, it might be difficult to pay the high salaries of KASB and KNEA executives and staff.
But there’s more. The ideological bent of these groups is for more government, more taxes, more government spending, and more governmental control over the people of Kansas. Consider this sentence from the joint statement: “Now, we turn our attention this week to the Statehouse in Topeka where the Legislature is gathering to consider how to provide for the people of Kansas.” (emphasis added)
In a nutshell, there is the paternalistic governing philosophy of our state’s public school establishment: Government provides for us.
- Edchoice.org, (2016). Available at: http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/2016-ABCs-WEB.pdf Accessed 26 Jan. 2016. ↩
- Ksde.org, (2016). Available at: http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/Action%20Items/Leglislative%20Report%20January%202016%20%20TCLISSP.pdf Accessed 26 Jan. 2016. ↩
Kansas non-profit executives work to deny low-income families the school choice opportunities that executive salaries can afford.
Can afford to send their children to any school.
Kansas National Education Association Political Action Committee
Executives and annual salaries 2
Karen Godfrey, President $98,234
Claudette Johns, Executive Director $125,052
Kevin Riemann, Associate Executive Director $123,143
David Schnauer, General Counsel $114,886
Marjorie Blaufuss, Staff Counsel $116,731
Mark Desetti, Director of Governmental Relations $115,106
Anthony White, Uniserv Director $112,605
Burle Neely, Uniserv Director $111,199
Can afford to send their children to any school.
All the above lobby vigorously against any form of school choice.
Can this family afford school choice?
As in years past, a survey finds that when Kansans are asked questions about the level of school spending, few have the correct information. From Kansas Policy Institute.
Survey Finds Kansans Misled on School Spending
December 14, 2015 — Wichita — Kansas Policy Institute released a new Survey USA Poll of 509 registered voters in Kansas showing a significant disconnect between voters’ perception of Kansas school spending and true expenditures.
The survey found 47% of Kansans believe per-pupil funding has dropped more than 5% in the last 5 years. Another 15% believe it has dropped less than 5%. In fact, school funding has increased by 6.4%. Only 7% of those surveyed believe there have been such increases.
“The narrative coming out of school districts is intentionally misleading,” said Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert. “District officials aided by their government funded lobbyists are telling parents and students that because they didn’t receive increases as big as they want, they are being ‘cut’. This is patently false.”
Citizens have also been misled about actual funding amounts. The survey found 61% of Kansans believe per-pupil funding from the state is less than $5,000 when in reality, it was $8,567 last year; 61% also believe total funding is less than $10,000, while actual funding was $13,124 per pupil. Less than 10% of Kansans identified true funding levels. “Knowing the extent to which school districts have misled Kansans, it’s no wonder that so many are upset about school funding,” said KPI President Dave Trabert.
However, when voters are faced with the factual data of per pupil spending and cash reserve balances, a majority reject the idea of paying more taxes to fund schools, 50% somewhat or strongly disagree to 41% somewhat or strongly agree.
“Every Kansan wants to do what is best for their child’s education. Unfortunately, too many Kansans haven’t been trusted with the complete truth and won’t have the opportunity to make sure their children are in the best possible situation to succeed,” said KPI Vice President and Policy Director James Franko.
The survey also found that 66% agree, somewhat or strongly, that spending on out-of-the-classroom expenses should be provided on a more efficient, regional basis to divert savings back into classroom spending. only 21% are somewhat or strongly opposed.Support for this common-sense concept extends across all geographic and ideological boundaries, yet local school boards remain fiercely opposed.
“Kansans need to know the truth about record-setting school funding”, said Dave Trabert. “Only through an informed citizenry can we create sound economic policy and improve education outcomes for our students.”
The survey was of 509 registered voters with a 4.4% margin of error. Full results of the survey can be viewed here.
Part of the difficulty in understanding and debating school spending in Kansas is the starting point, that is, the lack of factual information. From 2012, a look at a survey that revealed the level of knowledge of school spending by Kansans.
When asked about the level of spending on public schools in Kansas, citizens are generally uninformed or misinformed. They also incorrectly thought that spending has declined in recent years.
In a press release, KPI president Dave Trabert said “As Kansans consider how to deal with the potential fallout from another school lawsuit, pressure to expand Medicaid, ballooning pension deficits and concerns about rising property taxes, we wanted to check again to see how perceptions of the facts influences opinions. Good information is essential to informed opinions and it is clear that when given the facts, Kansans offer much different responses than what is typically reported from overly-simplistic public surveys.”
Here’s the first question of the survey, asking about Kansas state spending on schools: “How much state funding do you think Kansas school districts currently receive per pupil each year from JUST the state of Kansas? Less than $4,000 per pupil? Between $4,000 and $5,000? Between $5,000 and $6,000? Or more than $6,000 per pupil?”
The correct answer is the last category, according to Kansas State Department of Education. State spending on Kansas schools, on a per-pupil basis, is $6,984 for the most recent school year. That’s total state-funded spending of $3,184,163,559 divided by 456,000.50 full time equivalent students. 13 percent of survey respondents chose the correct category. 44 percent thought the correct answer was less than $4,000.
An audit finds that a handful of Kansas teachers have accumulated KPERS service credits while working for teachers unions.
Should Kansas schoolteachers who take time off to work for teachers unions accumulate state pension benefits credits at the same time? An audit from Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit finds this has been happening. The audit is titled “KPERS: Evaluating Controls to Detect and Prevent Fraud and Abuse.” The full audit report is here, and highlights are here.
In summary, the audit found this: There were teachers who weren’t teaching, but who were working for an “education association.” Each school district reported the teachers as still working for the school district. Therefore, the non-teachers accumulated pension credits that will increase their benefits after retirement.
The report notes that “KNEA and its local affiliates are advocacy organizations for educators and are not KPERS-covered employers.” (In case you didn’t know, the “education associations” mentioned above are teachers unions.) It also states this practice has been going on for many years.
The report observes: “Second, if that [giving non-school district employees KPERS credit] were happening, the state (rather than the schools) would bear the cost of the additional employer contributions. That is because the state has historically paid the school districts’ share of the KPERS obligation.” This hints at the source of the problem: Someone else was paying. School districts don’t pay for KPERS. Instead, the state does. That, of course, means the state’s taxpayers pay. Recent reforms in the way KPERS is treated may help change this.
Based on votes made in the Kansas Senate, the advertising claims of Sedgwick County Commission candidate Carolyn McGinn don’t match her record.
But voting records don’t match these claims.
Several voting scorecards in recent years show Senator McGinn ranking low in terms of voting for economic freedom issues. These issues generally concern taxation, wasteful spending, and unnecessary regulation. In recent years, a freedom index has been produced by Kansas Policy Institute. In 2012 the Kansas Economic Freedom Index was a joint product of Americans for Prosperity-Kansas, Kansas Policy Institute, and myself. In 2010 I produced an index by myself. All tabulations show McGinn rarely voting in favor of economic freedom.
In the 2014 formulation, McGinn scored 25.8 percent. Four senators (Kansas has 40 senators) had lower scores. Some Wichita-area legislators that had higher scores than McGinn include Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Representatives Ponka-We Victors, Gail Finney, Jim Ward, Tom Sawyer, and Brandon Whipple. All these are Democrats, by the way, and they voted more in favor of economic freedom than did Carolyn McGinn.
In 2013, McGinn scored 40 percent. Eight senators had lower scores.
In 2012 the scores were calculated in a different manner. McGinn scored -6, with 16 senators scoring lower.
There was no index for 2011.
In 2010, on an index that I produced, McGinn scored seven percent. Three other senators had the same score, and one had a lower score.
At a recent forum, McGinn criticized the concept of a vote index, telling the audience: “The economic freedom index, I just find that interesting. Because it’s based on amendments after we’re out of session, so you can pick and choose what you want for who.”
She’s right, in a way. I don’t know what she meant by “amendments,” but the organizations that construct voting scorecards choose votes that they believe distinguish candidates along some axis. Usually the votes are chosen after they’re made, although sometimes organizations “key vote” an issue. That means they alert legislators in advance of a vote that the vote will be included on their scorecard.
There are organizations that are in favor of more spending, less accountability, and fewer choices for Kansas parents and schoolchildren. They produce scorecards, too. In particular, Kansas Association of School Boards found that McGinn never voted against their position from 2009 to 2012. Kansas National Education Association, while not making a scorecard public, recommended that its members vote for McGinn.
A Hutchinson News editorial contained an uninformed opinion of which special interest groups are working for the best interests of Kansans. Following, Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute explains that influence may be shifting from media, unions, the education establishment, cities, counties, and school boards to those with different views — those of limited government and economic freedom that empower citizens, not an expansive government and its beneficiaries. The editorial referred to is Goodbye Democracy, Hello Wealthocracy.
Media spin a threat
By Dave Trabert
Kansans are bombarded with claims that range from innocently incomplete to quite deliberately false. Increasingly, the media perpetrates this bad information. That behavior limits civil discourse and is a serious threat to personal freedom and our democratic republic.
Media should use its powerful voice to provide unbiased information. Instead, we see a growing trend in Kansas media to distort the truth, ignore facts and attack those who disagree with their view of the world. A recent Hutchinson News editorial is an example of this petulant behavior.
The basic premise of “Goodbye Democracy, Hello Wealthocracy” is that elected officials are chosen and kept in line by special interest groups. The author allows that moneyed interests work both sides of the aisle in Washington and in other states but incredibly asserts that this is not the case in Kansas. He says, “Here, the GOP rules, and the split is between those who labor for their constituents and those who pledge allegiance to their sponsors.”
Even casual political observers know that to be laughably false. Republicans have a paper majority, but even cub reporters know it is meaningless. KPI’s Economic Freedom Index has consistently found Republicans at the top and bottom of rankings based on their votes for economic and educational freedom.
The dividing line is not party affiliations or labels like liberal, moderate or conservative. Rather, it’s a philosophical belief in the role of government and collectivism versus the personal liberty of individuals.
There is no such thing as a “wealthocracy,” but special interest groups do influence politics. Claiming this to be the exclusive province of Kansans with a limited government perspective, however, is a conscious lie.
The behaviors attributed to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity (recruiting and financially supporting friendly candidates for public office and encouraging elected officials to see things their way) are equally attributable to public employee unions, school board associations and others with big-government views. “Laboring for constituents” is a Hutchinson News euphemism for upholding the self-serving ideals of KNEA, KASB, state employee unions and other institutional interests.
There is nothing wrong, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, about special interests attempting to influence government. The difference — and perhaps the real objection of The Hutchinson News — is that their “side” is losing its long-standing monopoly over information and, with it, heavy influence over government and citizens.
The Kansas Policy Institute is perhaps the leading provider in Kansas of factual information on school funding and student achievement. Our information often differs from that published by media, unions and the education establishment, but they are facts nonetheless.
The editorial said, “… few lobbyists dominate like the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute.” We’re flattered to be considered a dominant force, but the editorial conveniently didn’t mention other dominant players, including cities, counties, school boards and unions. The objection is not to our dominance; it’s that we don’t share the big-government/collectivist perspective of The Hutchinson News.
We call that hypocrisy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
From Kansas Policy Institute.
KNEA: supporting institutions at children’s expense
By Dave Trabert
The Kansas National Education Association’s slogan is “Making public schools great for every child.” It may be a coincidence that their slogan seems to emphasize institutions over students, but many of their actions quite deliberately put institutional interests first. My belief has nothing to do with individual teachers. Kansas is blessed with thousands of dedicated teachers who get up every morning thinking of ways to help students and they deserve citizens’ gratitude and support for everything they do. My comments are not directed at teachers, but at the institution of the KNEA.
The most recent example of this teacher union (the organization) putting institutional interests ahead of student needs was in an email blast they sent last week about hearings held by the Special Committee on Education. It began with their usual vitriolic put-downs of people with whom they disagree and concluded by saying, “…that everything we know from student assessment – … Kansas continues to improve and that Kansas continues to perform in the top tier of states….”
KNEA knows that that is a deliberately misleading statement. In fact, they wrote it following a detailed presentation for the Committee showing that, while many Kansas students do quite well and likely are very competitive internationally, roughly half of Kansas students (those who qualify for Free & Reduced Lunch) are two to three years’ worth of learning behind. Even more disheartening is the fact that those achievement gaps are getting wider.
The National Center for Education Statistics says that 10 points on NAEP is the equivalent of a year’s worth of learning. The gap was 24 points (roughly 2.4 years) in 1998 when Kansas first participated in NAEP. It was 22 points in 2005 before funding was dramatically increased. But now, after nearly $3 billion in targeted At Risk spending, the gap is wider than ever at 28 points. The gap for 8thgrade students in Reading is 24 points…three points wider than it was in 2005. The gaps for 4th grade and 8th grade Math are 18 points and 24 points, respectively. FYI, the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) is on record saying that NAEP is the “gold standard.”
Similar patterns exist on the state assessment. the gaps between 2006 and 2012 for Reading and Math both grew slightly. Unfortunately, performance for low income students declined in 2013. (We’ve submitted a request for the 2013 data on students who are not eligible for Free & Reduced Lunch.)
These performance statistics reflect students who are at Exceeds Standard and above. You see, KSDE doesn’t require students to be able to read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension (as defined by KSDE) to Meet the Kansas Reading standard. Students are not required to usually be accurate on all grade-level Math tasks to be Proficient and Meet the Kansas Math standard. KSDE and the State Board of Education reduced performance standards to the point where the U.S. Department of Education says Kansas has some of the lowest performance standards in the nation.
By the way, if you’re disturbed by the alarmingly low achievement levels of All Students who are low income, you’ll be appalled by the results for 11th grade students. One year away from entering the workforce or going on the post-secondary work, only 37 percent of low income 11th grade students can read grade appropriate material with full comprehension. Math drops off to 29 percent.
As is often the case with institutional interests, it’s all about the money. This little gem was included in the KNEA email.
“Spalding’s [Friedman Foundation] conclusion to his presentation comparing school finance formulas from our regional states is that there is no way to compare effectiveness of the various formulas except by looking at their results. So that begs the question, since Kansas’ results are among the highest in the nation, doesn’t that mean we have an effective school finance formula? What would happen if we actually funded our system?!”
Yep…it’s all about the money with this teacher union.
As for the claim that “…Kansas’ results are among the highest in the nation,” KNEA also knows that to be falsely driven by demographics. Simply put, there are two-to-three-year achievement gaps between White students and those of color…and Kansas is Whiter than many states. Here are the actual 2013 national rankings and scores showing that Kansas is actually just slightly above average overall (although White and Black students are slightly below average).
Pretending to have high achievement based on low performance standards and demographic skews is harmful to students, and ignoring that tens of thousands of students are falling farther behind is downright shameful. But that’s what happens when institutional interests prevail over student needs.
P.S. I shared this information and our school staffing data with KNEA leadership and offered to get together in a public or private setting to discuss the facts. I thought they would at least be interested to explore the fact that regular classroom teachers have only increased 7 percent over the last twenty years, while students increased 6 percent and non-teachers increased 40 percent. So far…crickets.
By James Sherk and Michael Cirrotti.
Teachers in Deerfield, Kansas, just did something unusual — they voted to decertify their union. The Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) no longer represents them.
Teachers disliking their union representation do not make news, but teachers actually leaving their union do: The law makes it very difficult for teachers to remove unwanted unions.
Unlike most public officials, unions do not stand for re-election, so their members cannot regularly hold them accountable. Workers can remove an unwanted union only by filing for decertification. But bureaucratic obstacles make it difficult to hold a vote on decertification. The hoops Deerfield’s teachers had to jump through illustrate this problem.
Joel McClure, the teacher who led the effort, submitted the appropriate paperwork to the Kansas Department of Labor in November 2012. But Kansas teachers can request a vote only in a two-month window every three years. KNEA officials contested the petition by claiming that the teachers missed the December 1 deadline. (The Department of Labor had misplaced the initial petition paperwork.) Then the KNEA objected that the teachers’ attorney was not certified in Kansas and that they did not have enough signatures. However, the teachers prevailed and voted out their union—in June, just eight months after the initial submission.
When asked why they went through such protracted effort, the teachers said their union ignored their concerns. They wanted instead to be actively involved in negotiations and work collaboratively with the school district. “The desire is for teachers to participate at the [bargaining] table, to have free access to information,” McClure said. “In our little school district, there’s no reason we can’t sit down at the table and work out our issues.”
Now they can. But most other teachers never get to choose their bargaining representatives. Their unions formed in the 1970s and have never stood for re-election since. In some of Kansas’s largest school districts, not one teacher voted for the current union. Teachers who do not want a prolonged legal battle get stuck with their union by default.
The law should give workers more choice about who represents them. Kansas legislators are reviewing Kansas HB 2027, which would require teachers unions to stand for re-election every two years and allow individual teachers to negotiate separate contracts. This would make unions more accountable to their members while allowing great teachers to negotiate for even better pay.
Americans trust teachers to educate our children. We should also trust them to choose who should represent them.
Michael Cirrotti is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.
Critics of public schools usually explain that they’re not faulting individual teachers. Instead, they target their criticism at the teachers union, bureaucratic school administration, or “the system” in general.
So when we observe the actions of teachers, we’re correct to wonder if they’re acting as citizens, or as teachers representing their school districts, or as union members, or in some other role. This issue is important when we take notice of the actions of teachers at a recent meeting of the South-Central Kansas Legislative Delegation in Wichita.
Here’s a message tweeted during that meeting from Judy Loganbill, a Wichita school teacher and until this year, a member of the Kansas House of Representatives:
— Judith Loganbill (@JudyLoganbill) March 2, 2013
This salty language inspired by political conflict: Is that Judy Loganbill citizen, teacher of young children, or union member speaking?
This glee spilled over to Facebook:
Randy Mousley is president of United Teachers of Wichita, the Wichita teachers union. Parents of Wichita schoolchildren might be interested in knowing which role he’s assuming when taking credit for his invention: Citizen, union leader, teacher, or something else?
“What workers decide to do with their paychecks is none of the Government’s business.”
Isn’t that a wonderful statement? It succinctly states the libertarian principle of self-ownership, which is that each person owns themselves and the fruits of their labor. Their paychecks, in this case. The author says that government has no business deciding how workers spend their pay, which I would interpret as meaning that government has no business levying taxes on income.
But I don’t think that’s what the author of this sentence meant.
Instead, the author of this statement wants more of Kansas workers’ paychecks diverted to government though taxation. That’s how the groups he’s represented are paid, and they always want more.
This statement comes from a petition at SignOn.org started by Colin Curtis, a Kansas political activist who has worked for public employee organizations. It’s in response to a bill that provides, in part, “It shall be unlawful for any professional employees’ organization, as defined in K.S.A. 72-5413, and amendments thereto, to use any dues, fees, assessments or any periodic payments deducted from a member’s paycheck for the purpose of engaging in political activities as defined in subsection (c).”
If this bill becomes law, public employee unions won’t be able to have government deduct these payments for them. They’ll have to fundraise like everyone else.
But if all you read was the petition that Curtis started, you’d think the bill does much more: “It’s time for the Government to get off of workers backs, out of their paychecks, and to end these outrageous attempt to strip workers of their First Amendment rights simply because they chose to join a union.”
A paycheck deduction isn’t a first amendment right. Not even close.
But I do understand why public employee unions like Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union, are worried about this legislation. If their members had to consciously make donations for political purposes (instead of automatic deduction), teachers might start wondering if the union is really worthwhile.
And I do agree with Curtis when he writes “It’s time for the Government to get off of workers backs.”
I wish he and Kansas public employee union leadership really meant this.
More about HB 2023
In her newsletter, Kansas State Representative Amanda Grosserode explains this bill:
I received a great deal of correspondence on this issue with most of it coming from outside the district. There was some confusion and misinformation about the legislation’s contents, which is to simply ban state or other units of government from making payroll deductions for members of public sector unions for the purpose of contributing to the union’s political action committee. For purpose of simple clarification:
- Dues for membership in an employee organization (union) will still be able to be processed through a paycheck deduction.
- Contributions to a political action committee (PAC) will not be allowed through a paycheck deduction.
- The language that restrains political activity for a public employee organization is not new law. That language was expanded.
- Political activity such as endorsements and contributions would be prohibited from the public employee organization which it is already prohibited from doing.
- Endorsements, political contributions to candidates, and other participation in engaging in ballot measures are to be from the Political Action Committee arm and not the organization arm.
Some misinformation that I have seen:
- The bill does not stop any employee organization from being involved in lobbying for or against legislation. It does not stop individual employees from advocating for or against legislation.
- Other organizations are unable to contribute to candidates or endorse candidates except through a PAC. This is very common. It is usually a federal tax issue that is involved. Most organizations have an educational and lobbying wing which is separate financially and by tax filings from the political action committee wing which endorses and financially supports candidate.
- No individual’s first amendment right is restricted. Individuals always can speak out.
My husband is a member of a public employee organization. This bill will not stop his dues being paid by paycheck deduction. This bill does not impact in any way his ability to advocate for or against an issue or legislation. It does not stop his organization from lobbying on legislation before the Legislature. It will only stop our family from contributing to a political action committee by way of a paycheck deduction.
I voted Yes on 2023. It is inappropriate for the state or any unit of government to be in the business of making payroll deductions for political purposes.
Can there be a point where demagoguery has been spread so deep and thick that no one believes it?
The union also wrote: “But beyond this, you need to ask your legislator if he or she has any respect for teachers at all. The war now being waged against public school teachers by the House is offensive and disrespectful. Within weeks of witnessing teachers in Newtown, Connecticut die for their students and a teacher in Taft, California put himself between his student and a gunman, the Kansas legislature seeks to de-professionalize the teachers of Kansas.”
In another email, KNEA wrote: “It gets worse! This is Day 11 in the War on Kansas teachers and the dawn was greeted with the introduction of HB 2123 — the Scott Walker Act of Kansas. … All of these bills are political payback for the public sector workers who, through their unions, tried to present an alternative view of Kansas’ future.”
In another: “Battle for free speech continues — HB 2032 — ‘silence the teachers‘ — heads for the full House.”
KNEA, can we talk? It’s not teachers that Kansans dislike. It’s you — the union and its leadership — that citizens recognize is a harmful force: First, to Kansas schoolchildren, and second, to Kansas taxpayers.
Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union, is an effective force that denies Kansas parents the choice as to where to send their children to school. The union also works hard to deny teachers choice in representation.
In Bullying Teachers: How Teachers Unions Secretly Push Teachers and Competitors Around, Joy Pullmann states the problem: “In routine tracking of education-related legislation, The Heartland Institute’s School Reform News has uncovered evidence that teachers unions across the country routinely inhibit teachers from joining or speaking out about competing, nonunion teachers associations.”
In 2011, House Bill 2229 would have given the state an equal access law regarding teacher associations. It stalled in the Senate and found no sponsors this year. In the meantime, public school principals in Kansas have refused to let Garry Sigle, executive director of the state’s AAE affiliate, even enter their schools because the local union affiliate would file a labor grievance against the schools if they did. Similar and repeated instances in the state are documented below.
The legislative page for this bill is Substitute HB 2229 by Committee on Federal and State Affairs — Teachers; professional employees association; equal access act. The last notation on the calendar is “Died in Senate Committee.” The bill would do these things, according to the supplemental note prepared by Kansas Legislative Research:
To give equal access for all professional employees’ associations to the professional employees physical or electronic school mailboxes;
To allow equal access for all professional employees’ associations to attend new teacher or employee school orientations and other meetings; and
To not designate any day or breaks in a school year by naming or referring to the name of any professional employees’ association.
KNEA opposed this legislation. The committee in which it died was chaired by Pete Brungardt. Brungardt’s campaign was supported by KNEA, but he was defeated in the August 2012 primary election.
Reporting more about Kansas, Pullmann writes:
Many superintendents and principals in Kansas will not even let Garry Sigle give teachers information about his nonunion teacher organization. One superintendent told Sigle, “Why would I want to [let you talk to teachers in my district] if I knew that would create an issue between me and a union I have to negotiate with?” Sigle said. He asked the superintendent how many of his district’s teachers were in the NEA. Thirty or 40 percent, the superintendent said. So Sigle asked to speak to the others. The superintendent wouldn’t allow Sigle to speak to even nonunionized teachers. In one school, Sigle had an appointment to speak at a teacher in-service. “When the local NEA found out, they raised such a ruckus that [the principal] had to call and cancel me.”
Sigle’s alma mater, Fort Hays State University, would not let him speak to students in their teaching program “because they have a student NEA group and just can’t seem to find time in their schedule.” Smith also highlighted access difficulties with student teacher programs in Utah. “I don’t think, as a school of higher education, it’s your job to limit the information your students get,” Sigle said. “It baffles me that a school would do that.”
A principal has told Sigle if he stepped foot into her school she would have to report him or the school’s NEA chapter would file a contract grievance against her. “She said, ‘I can’t even let you come into the building,’” Sigle said in astonishment.
Sigle’s op-ed in the Topeka Capital-Journal explained the problem in a different way, opening with:
As employees in a right-to-work state, teachers in Kansas have a choice about which employee association, if any, they wish to join. However, current state law does not treat all employee associations the same way.
In fact, the Kansas National Education Association has an unfair advantage, having state-sanctioned monopoly access to public school employees.
Kansas schools are lacking choice: none for students, little for teachers, topped off with coercion for taxpayers.