Tag Archives: Wichita and Kansas schools

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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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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.

Kansas Flint Hills

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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After Gannon, will Kansas public school spending boosters still love courts and constitutions?

Will Kansas Progressives’ expressed love for courts and constitutions hold up in light of the school finance decision?

In January Paul Davis, a prominent Kansas Democrat and candidate for governor, tweeted “With the school ruling due any day now, will Brownback comply w/the court order or try & rewrite the KS constitution?” These words were followed by a link to Davis’ website that copies an article from the New York Times. (That article has its own host of problems, explained in New York Times on Kansas schools, again and More about the New York Times on Kansas school finance.)

paul-davis-tweet-comply-court-2014-01-12This mantra — that the Kansas Constitution requires the legislature to spend more on public schools — has been the drumbeat of Kansas Progressives. Their reverence for and deference to the Kansas Constitution is curious in light of their opinion of the United States Constitution.

The Kansas Supreme Court’s decision in Gannon v. Kansas contains something that Kansas Progressives support: A ruling that Kansas schools are not funded equitably. It’s thought by many that $129 million in extra spending is needed to fix the discrepancy.

But the Supreme Court stopped there, sending the issue of adequate funding back to the lower court along with a few instructions. It’s these instructions that will test Kansas Progressives’ belief in the wisdom of courts and their reverence for the Kansas Constitution.

Kansas public school spending supporters — that right there gives away their main motivation — want more school spending. Whatever distortions of facts they make, well, it’s all for the kids, don’t you know?

So right away the public school spending supporters want to deflect attention away from the performance of Kansas schools. Spending is easier to talk about, and the facts about Kansas school performance is not nearly as pretty as the education establishment wants you to believe. Two things to know: When evaluated in the light of the demographic differences between Kansas and other states, the performance advantage of Kansas largely disappears (see Kansas school test scores must be evaluated considering demographics. Further, Kansas has weak standards for its schools, and further weakened them not long ago (see Why are Kansas school standards so low?).

Kansas Judicial Center

Kansas Judicial Center

The Court had something to say about this in its opinion: “Regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy in education required by Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution.” So perhaps we will see a court consider the results of Kansas schools rather than just the inputs.

Then, when we consider spending, the public school spending establishment performs a slight of hand, directing attention to only a portion of spending on schools: base state aid per pupil. That measure of spending has declined. But it’s a narrow measure. In the last school year base state aid per pupil was $3,838. That’s the figure often used as the level of school spending. But in that year total Kansas state spending per pupil $6,984, or 1.82 times base state aid.

Adding local and federal sources, spending was $12,781 per student, or 3.33 times base state aid.

This is important, as the Court issued some instructions in its remanding of the case to the lower court. 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.”

Also, the public school spending establishment has argued that spending on teacher retirement shouldn’t be included in school spending. It doesn’t make it into the classroom, they say. (One wonders if teachers would continue to work if schools did not provide a retirement program.) But the Court has a different opinion: “Moreover, state monies invested in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) may also be a valid consideration because a stable retirement system is a factor in attracting and retaining quality educators — a key to providing an adequate education.”

The Court gave the public school spending establishment a little hope for relief. Often that establishment says that a multitude of rules and regulations prevent funds from being spent in the way they want. The Court said these restrictions may be considered: “The panel may consider the restrictions on the use of these federal, pension, and other funds and determine that even with the influx of these additional monies the school districts are unable to use them in the manner necessary to provide adequacy under Article 6. But regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy.”

There again the Court issued the instruction regarding spending as a measure of an adequate education.

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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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WichitaLiberty.TV: For whose benefit are elections, school employment, wind power, unions, unemployment

Wichita City HallIn this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The controversy over the timing of city and school board elections provides an insight into government. Then: Can a candidate for governor’s claims about Kansas school employment be believed? Wind power is expensive electricity, very expensive. A Wichita auto dealer pushes back against union protests. Finally, what is the real rate of unemployment in America? Episode 36, broadcast March 23, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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.

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.

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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

Kansas school employment

Kansas school employment: The statistics and the claims

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Bus trip for school choice

Following is a message from Americans for Prosperity-Kansas.

We hope you’ll join the fight for economic freedom in a most critical area: school choice.

School choice empowers families. Education should be child-centered, not institution-centered. Free-market and consumer-driven reforms will have a positive impact on the nation’s schools, student outcomes and parental satisfaction in their children’s education.

Join AFP-Kansas an other organizations at a rally for school choice at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11 at the Kansas State Capitol.

Your registration includes the following at no charge:

  • Bus transportation to and from Topeka (We will depart from Lawrence Dumont Stadium, but we’ll also be able to pick up riders at the Matfield Green Service Area along the turnpike if needed. To be picked up/dropped off at Matfield Green, please select the ‘Matfield Green depart’ ticket on the registration page.)
  • Lunch
  • A tour of the State Capitol
  • Attendance at the School Choice Rally with numerous other organizations

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)

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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.

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.

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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

WichitaLiberty.TV January 19, 2014

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: How much would you pay to visit the Wichita Art Museum? You might be surprised to learn how much each visit really costs. Then: A transparency agenda for Wichita city government and the Kansas Legislature. Finally, a look at public schools wasting money. Episode 28, broadcast January 19, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Voice for Liberty Radio: Jeff Glendening, Americans for Prosperity

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150In this episode of WichitaLiberty Podcasts: The day after Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s State of the State Address, I talk with Jeff Glendening at the Kansas Capitol. He’s Kansas State Director for Americans for Prosperity.

Prior to joining AFP in 2013, Jeff most recently was vice president of political affairs with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, where he worked to expand the Chamber’s grassroots network, and to promote a pro-growth economic climate in Kansas. Aside from his work with the Kansas Chamber, Jeff has been involved in Kansas politics for a number of years, and has worked on the staffs of several members of legislative leadership, including Speaker of the House, House Majority Leader and Speaker Pro Tem. Jeff has also worked on gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and U.S. House campaigns.

This is podcast episode number 3, released on January 17, 2014.

Shownotes

Americans for Prosperity-Kansas
Americans for Prosperity, national site
Americans for Prosperity-Kansas statement on State of the State Address
State of the State address for 2014, by Sam Brownback
Response by House of Representatives Minority Leader Paul Davis

Kansas school employment

Kansas school employment: The claims compared to statistics

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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)

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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’

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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 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.

baldwin-city-school-spending-2013-11

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:

paul-davis-facebook-2013-11-20

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.”

goddard-school-spending-2013-11

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.

goddard-school-employment-2013-11

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.

Kansas school logic, Goddard-style

Goddard logic school employment

Fiscal 2010, according to figures from Kansas State Department of Education, was the recent low in school funding for Goddard, reflecting spending cuts made during the recession of the Sebelius/Parkinson era. Since then, in actual dollars, this has happened:

State aid per pupil increased from 6,343 to 7,260.
Federal aid per pupil declined from 720 to 269.
Local aid per pupil increased from 3,650 to 4,813.
Total spending increased from 10,713 to 12,342.

Data from KSDE also shows that the Goddard school district has increased the number of teachers and other certified employees in recent years, and the corresponding ratios of these employees to students has fallen.

KNEA: supporting institutions at children’s expense

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)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.