Why is this news? “The association representing Kansas school boards Wednesday formed a committee to analyze options available to local district officials to maximize educational return on investments in K-12 public schools.” (KASB creates panel to study K-12 school efficiency, Topeka Capital-Journal.)
KASB is the Kansas Association of School Boards. One might think that their prime mission is to “maximize educational return on investments.” What could be more important when considering the lives of Kansas schoolchildren and the plight of taxpayers?
It’s likely that this panel has been formed in response to a school efficiency task force created by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. That task force has been criticized by the public school establishment for lack of educators in its membership.
So now a panel of educators has been formed to examine efficiency in school spending. Does anyone notice the irony: Those already running the Kansas public school system have had the power to implement efficiency measures. They don’t need permission or a task force.
Some highlights of the presentation include slides 10 and 11, which show that the ACT composite score didn’t really decline in 2012. Instead, the demographic weighting shifted. In fact, says KPI president Dave Trabert, “The composite score has been flat for several years and the last time it dropped (applying the 2012 demographic weighting to actual scores) was in 2009 when K-12 funding per-pupil (total and state) peaked. So much for the KASB theory that budget cuts caused ACT scores to decline.”
As Trabert noted, demographics play a large role in understanding student achievement. See my article Kansas school test scores should make us think for an explanation of how Simpson’s Paradox masks the problem with Kansas student test scores.
Slides 13 and 14 compare state assessment scores and state aid, again demonstrating that there is no correlation (let alone causation) between achievement and spending changes. Slide 17 shows that despite the claims of massive cuts to education, taxpayer funding of public education set a new record in 2012. Slide 18 breaks down state aid into several components, proving that simple comparisons of base state aid are quite deceptive.
Slide 42 tells a particularly compelling story: The less that districts spend per-pupil on administration, the more they spend on student and staff support (except for the five largest districts, but even there, higher spending per-pupil is associated with a wider gap on support spending). This shows that efficiency is not just about saving money. It’s also a way to put resources to more productive uses.