Category Archives: Education

Education gap on Wichita City Council

Currently there is discussion in Wichita on whether higher education is valued by residents. Following, from April 2011, a look at the educational achievement of the Wichita City Council. The members of the council cited below were Lavonta Williams, Sue Schlapp, Jim Skelton, Paul Gray, Jeff Longwell, and Janet Miller. Carl Brewer was mayor.

Before Jim Skelton left the council in January, none of the four men serving on the Wichita City Council had completed a college degree. The three women serving on the council set a better example, with all three holding college degrees.

Of the candidates running in next week’s election for four council seats and the office of mayor, less than half hold college degrees.

Is it necessary to complete college in order to serve in an office like mayor or city council? Apparently, none of the four men who held these offices without a degree thought so. The two running to retain their present positions — Mayor Carl Brewer and council member Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita) — evidently don’t think so, or they would not be running again.

But we tell young people that college holds the key to success. We encourage schoolchildren to consider college and to take a rigorous high school curriculum in order to prepare for it. We encourage families to save for college. Our region’s economic development agency promotes the number of people with college or advanced degrees. We promote our colleges and universities as a factor that distinguishes Wichita. We hope that our elected officials will set an example we want young people to follow.

Once in office, we ask our city elected officials to attempt to grasp and understand complex sets of financial data, working with a budget of about half a billion dollars for the City of Wichita. We hope that they will be able to consider large and weighty issues such as the role of government in a free society. Members of the professional management staff — bureaucrats — that manage the city, county, and state are generally required to hold college degrees.

The irony is that elected officials often are highly reliant on the bureaucratic staff for information, data, and advice, and this professional bureaucracy is often highly educated. Does this imbalance create problems?

Elected officials compared to regular people

Amazingly, it turns out that elected officials, as a group, are less knowledgeable about civics than the general population. That’s the finding of Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which surveyed Americans and their knowledge of civics in 2008. After analyzing the data, ISI concluded: “Simply put, the more you know about American government, history, and economics the less likely you are to pursue and win elective office.”

Tax benefits for education don’t increase education

Here’s evidence of a government program that, undoubtedly, was started with good intentions, but hasn’t produced the intended results.

Tax season ended last week. Taxpayers have filed for over $30 billion in credits and deductions for college expenses they paid in 2017.

Evidence now clearly shows that these credits have zero effect on college attendance. The tax credits surely make those who get them better off, but they do nothing to increase education. If their intent is to increase schooling, they are a failure.

Continue reading at The Brookings Institution article The tax benefits for education don’t increase education.

NAEP results for 2017 available in interactive visualizations

When properly considered, Kansas often underperforms the nation in the most recent assessment of “The Nation’s Report Card.”

The results for the 2017 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, were recently released. I’ve prepared interactive visualizations of some of the results. To access the visualizations, click on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

When considering NAEP results, it’s important to consider subgroups, such as race/ethnicity and school lunch status, which is a proxy for poverty. It’s important because states vary widely in the composition of subgroups.

For example, consider an accompanying example from the visualization. We see that when considering all students, Kansas does better than the national average in percent of students performing as basic or better. This is true in all four combinations of grade and subject.

Looking at black students alone, however, we see that Kansas underperforms the nation, except in one instance where there is a tie.

For Hispanic students alone, Kansas does better in all instances except for one tie.

For white students alone, Kansas underperforms the nation in three instances, and outperforms in one.

This statistical anomaly is known as Simpson’s Paradox. It may appear when comparing subgroups to aggregated data when the proportional composition of subgroups varies between populations, in this case the states. For grade 4 reading, 64 percent of students in Kansas were white. For the nation, it was 49 percent. This is a difference in composition that must not be ignored.

The relatively low proportion of minority students is why Kansas appears to perform better than the nation. The apparent superior performance of Kansas melts away when looking at subgroups.

Kansas and the nation, percent at basic or better. Click for larger.
Kansas and the nation, percent at proficient or better. Click for larger.

Public education factbook for 2017

The fifth edition of data on public schools in Kansas is available.

Kansas Policy Institute has released a new edition of its Public Education Fact Book. KPI describes this book:

KPI’s fifth annual Public Education Fact Book is a one-stop shop for data on public school information from The Sunflower State. Numerous scientific surveys show that citizens are grossly misinformed on many pertinent facts of public education in Kansas. Aid and spending per-pupil are much higher than many Kansans believe, and student achievement is lower than understood. This fact book series aims to rectify this situation.

This document is available to read online here, or contact KPI for a printed copy.

Fake news, meet fake research

Do you think we have a problem with fake news? Let me introduce you to fake research.

Think of the term “peer-reviewed research.” What comes to my mind is the academic or scientific researcher, wearing a white lab coat, dispassionately and impartially following the data and experiments down whatever path they lead.

But it isn’t always that way. Retraction Watch tracks research papers that have been retracted. There are a variety of reasons for retractions. Honest mistakes are made, yes. But striking is how much outright and blatant fraud exists in the academic publishing world. Here is a sampling of some articles from Retraction Watch:

“A physicist formerly based at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for faking data.” (U.S. gov’t physicist sentenced to 18 months in prison for fraud)

“Do you know the difference between a group of researchers in the same field who cite each other’s related work, and a group of authors who purposefully cite each other in order to boost their own profiles?” (How to spot a “citation cartel”)

“In October, the Journal of Biological Chemistry retracted 19 papers coauthored by cancer biologist Jin Cheng, formerly at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. That’s something you don’t see every day.” Also: “It’s every researcher’s worst nightmare: a manuscript gets rejected during peer review, then shows up later — published by one of the reviewers.” (Top 10 Retractions of 2016)

“When it comes to detecting image manipulation, the more tools you have at your disposal, the better. In a recent issue of Science and Engineering Ethics, Lars Koppers at TU Dortmund University in Germany and his colleagues present a new way to scan images. Specifically, they created an open-source software that compares pixels within or between images, looking for similarities, which can signify portions of an image has been duplicated or deleted.” (Sleuthing out scientific fraud, pixel by pixel)

“The situation should sound familiar to readers who follow such “sting” operations: Spears submitted a fake paper to the so-called “predatory” journal, it was accepted one month later with no changes, and published.” (Surprise! Paper retracted after author tells journal it’s a “pile of dung”)

And, to top it off:

And today, we bring you news of an effort by John Bohannon, of Science magazine, to publish fake papers in more than 300 open access journals. Bohannon, writing as “Ocorrafoo Cobange” of the “Wassee Institute of Medicine” — neither of which exist, of course — explains his process:

The goal was to create a credible but mundane scientific paper, one with such grave errors that a competent peer reviewer should easily identify it as flawed and unpublishable. Submitting identical papers to hundreds of journals would be asking for trouble. But the papers had to be similar enough that the outcomes between journals could be comparable. So I created a scientific version of Mad Libs.

The paper took this form: Molecule X from lichen species Y inhibits the growth of cancer cell Z. To substitute for those variables, I created a database of molecules, lichens, and cancer cell lines and wrote a computer program to generate hundreds of unique papers. Other than those differences, the scientific content of each paper is identical.

The result? 157 journals accepted the paper and 98 rejected it. (Science reporter spoofs hundreds of open access journals with fake papers)

Retraction Watch has a blog. You can subscribe to email updates. Also, you can keep informed on Facebook and Twitter. An upcoming project is completing a database for tracking retractions.

School choice and funding

Opponents of school choice programs argue the programs harm traditional public schools, both financially and in their ability to serve their remaining students. Evidence does not support this position.

The prevalent argument is that charter schools and other school choice programs drain funds from public schools. That is, if a public school student chooses to attend a charter or private school, and if the money follows the student to the other school, the public school district loses money that it otherwise would have received. Therefore, the public school district is worse off, and so too are its students.

A rebuttal is that since a public school has shed the responsibility for schooling the student, its costs should fall correspondingly. This would be true if all the costs of a public school are variable. Some costs are fixed, however, meaning they can’t be adjusted quickly — in the short run, that is. An example is the cost to maintain a classroom. If a school has one less student than the year before, it still requires the same support for utilities. One or several fewer students doesn’t mean that fewer teachers are needed.

Public schools and their lobbyists, therefore, argue that school choice programs are a financial burden to public schools. Under school choice programs, they say, public schools lose students and their accompanying funding, but the public schools retain their fixed costs.

The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts (cover)The question, then, is what portion of a school’s costs are variable, meaning costs that schools can adjust quickly, and what portion are fixed, meaning they can’t be adjusted quickly? Benjamin Scafidi, professor of economics at Kennesaw State University, has examined schools looking for the answer to this question. His paper The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts, published by EdChoice (formerly The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice), holds answers to these questions.

The first question is this: What is the relation of school choice programs to school districts’ variable costs? Scafidi has endeavored to determine the breakdown between variable and fixed costs in each state. In Kansas, for the 2008 – 2009 school year, total spending per student was $11,441. Of that, Scafidi estimates $3,749, or 32.8 percent, were fixed costs. Variable costs were $7,692, or 67.2 percent. Since then spending has risen, but there’s no reason to think the allocation of costs between fixed and variable has changed materially. For the school year ending in 2015 total spending per student was $13,1241. That implies fixed costs per student of $4,305 and variable costs per student of $8,819.

Now, how much money would a public school lose if a student chose to attend a school other than the traditional public schools? For Kansas this question is complicated by recent changes in the way public schools are funded. Prior to the school year ending in 2016, Kansas used a school funding formula that started with a figure called “base state aid per pupil.” For 2015 the value was $3,852, and that is the starting point for calculating state spending per student.

In a recent presentation on this topic, Scafidi said: “Any school choice program where about $8,000 per student or less, on average, follows the child to the school of his or her choice, improves the fiscal situation of the public school district, on average, and students who remain in public schools have more resources available for their education.” Considering only base state aid per pupil, a typical Kansas school district, which has variable costs of $8,819 per student, has its fiscal situation improved when it loses a student and the accompanying $3,852 in state funding.

Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014
Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014
Many Kansas students, however, trigger much more funding due to weightings that compensate for the purported higher costs of some situations. The largest weighting in Kansas, based magnitude, is the “at-risk” weighting. It adds 45.6 percent to base state aid. So if a Kansas public school loses such a student and weighting, it loses $5,608 in funding. That is far less than its variable costs of $8,819. State funding for Kansas schools in the school year ending in 2015 was $8,5672 per student, still less than school districts’ variable costs.

I asked Scafidi what is the dividing line between variable and fixed costs? The answer is that within two or three years, schools should be able to adjust their fixed costs to be in line with their needs. This is in line with the economic and accounting reality that says in the long run, all costs are variable.

Can school districts adjust their costs quickly in response to changing enrollments? This may be a problem for the very smallest districts, those with just one or two teachers per grade, Scadifi concedes. In his paper, Scafidi illustrates two examples of districts in Georgia with just over 1,000 students making adjustments. In Kansas, there are 286 school districts. Of these, 207 have enrollment of less than 1,000 students, but only 20 percent if the state’s students are in these small districts.

School districts often dispute the contention that they are able to reduce their variable costs rapidly in response to enrollment changes. Scafidi notes that if school districts say they cannot reduce costs when they lose students, the implication is that all of their costs are fixed. If that is true, then schools should not receive additional funding when enrollment rises. If all their costs truly are fixed, the total cost of running a school district does not change with enrollment — either up or down.

Going forward in Kansas

Kansas is in the process of formulating a new school financing method. For the school years ending in 2016 and 2017 the state has used a block grant method, whereby state funding to school districts was frozen at the 2015 level with some increases programmed into the law. Current law anticipates a new funding formula being passed in the 2017 legislative session and applied to the school year ending in 2018.

One of the most important goals for the new funding method should be transparency and flexibility. The prior school finance formula was criticized as being complex and difficult to understand. For example, in June the Kansas Legislature held a special session in order to increase school funding in response to a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court. But, more than half of the higher funding the Wichita school district received went to property tax reduction, rather than being spent on schools.3 Citizens have trouble understanding how increasing state school funding means a reduction in property tax instead of more teachers or schoolbooks. This illustrates a problem with transparency in the prior funding formula.

Remaining students

We have seen that school choice programs do not harm the finances of local school districts. The second question concerns the quality of education for the students who remain in public schools.

To answer this question, we must recognize the wide variation of teacher efficacy. Some are very good, and some very poor. Further, the difference between good and bad is large. Eric A. Hanushek and others have found that very good teachers routinely produce 1.5 years of gain in achievement during an academic year. Bad teachers produce 0.5 years of gain.4 If a student is unfortunate enough to experience ineffective teachers two or three years in a row, the student may be so far behind as to never catch up.

What does this have to do with school choice programs? If public schools have to downsize due to students lost for any reason — including school choice programs — this gives public schools an opportunity to shed their least effective teachers. This means that students who remain in public schools have a higher likelihood of experiencing the most effective teachers.


  1. Kansas State Department of Education. Total Expenditures by District. Available at
  2. ibid.
  3. Lowry, Brian. Kansas schools will stay open as court OKs funding fix. Wichita Eagle, June 28, 2016. Available at
  4. Hanushek and Rivkin. Teacher Quality. Available here.

The nation’s report card and charter schools

  • An interactive table of NAEP scores for the states and races, broken down by charter school and traditional public school.
  • Some states have few or no charter schools.
  • In many states, minority students perform better on the NAEP test when in charter schools.

The U.S. Department of Education, through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), conducts the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) every other year. Known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” it is “the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.”1

NAEP is useful because the test is created and administered independently of the states: “Since NAEP assessments are administered uniformly using the same sets of test booklets across the nation, NAEP results serve as a common metric for all states and selected urban districts.”2 This is important because studies have shown that states vary widely in the rigor of the tests they create themselves: “The key finding is that the variation among state achievement standards continues to be wide.”3

The NAEP tests are administered at several grade levels and for a variety of subjects, but the primary focus is on math and reading, at grades four and eight. I’ve gathered test scores from NCES for the 2015 test cycle, for these two subjects and two grade levels, with the results broken down by race and whether the school is a charter school. I gathered the data using the NAEP Data Explorer available at NCES4 and used Tableau Public to present the data. The data includes the scale score for each state, grade, and subject, along with the percentage of students scoring “Below Basic,” “At or above basic,” “At or above proficient,” and “At Advanced.”

There are two visualization dashboards. Each starts by breaking down the data by state, race, and school type (charter school or not). One visualization shows the data at this level, while a second continues to break down the data by subject and grade. There are many missing values, usually meaning there is no data, or not enough data to be a reliable sample. You may access the visualization here.

NAEP scores for national public schools. Click for larger.
NAEP scores for national public schools. Click for larger.
At the national public school level, when looking at all students, charter schools are outscored by traditional public schools (TPS). Looking at subgroups by race, we find that charter schools score higher than TPS.

NAEP scores for Colorado. Click for larger.
NAEP scores for Colorado. Click for larger.
Colorado is an example of a state where charter schools have broad success. When considering all students, Colorado charter schools have better scores than the traditional public schools. For the subgroups of white and Hispanic students, charter schools have higher scores. The data is not available for black students. Overall, 10.9 percent of Colorado student are in charter schools (2014 data).5

NAEP scores forIllinois. Click for larger.
NAEP scores forIllinois. Click for larger.
Illinois is an example of how it is important to look at subgroups of data instead of simply considering all students in a state. For Illinois, considering all students, traditional public schools score better than charter schools 252 to 243, which is a substantial margin. But considering only black students, charter schools do better than TPS, 240 to 230. For Hispanic students the gap is larger, with charter schools outperforming TPS, 278 to 242.

The Illinois results are in line with what the oft-cited CREDO study has found: “Looking back to the demographics of the charter school sector in the 27 states, charter school enrollment has expanded among students in poverty, black students, and Hispanic students. These are precisely the students that, on average, find better outcomes in charter schools.”6

A companion to this visualization is an interactive table showing charter school prevalence and enrollment in the states. Click here to use this visualization.


  1. National Assessment of Educational Progress. About. Available at
  2. ibid.
  3. National Center for Education Statistics. About the NAEP State Mapping Analyses. Available at
  4. Available at
  5. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), Table 216.90. Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey. 1999-2000 through 2013-14.
  6. Center for Research on Education Outcomes. National Charter School Study 2013. Available at

School spending in the states

School spending in the states, presented in an interactive visualization.

The Elementary/Secondary Information System (ElSi) is a project of National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NCES is “the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.”1 Here is data from ElSi regarding per-pupil revenue and spending in the states.

Near the end of this article are definitions of each measure. There are measures for total expenditures and total current expenditures. The major difference is that the current expenditures measure does not include the cost of construction of schools and the expense of debt associated with that.

Of note, the values for “United States” are the average of the values for the states, computed with equal weight without regard for the total spending or number of students in each state.

As of the date of publication, data was available through the school year ending in 2013.

Since these data series cover substantial periods of time, I’ve also used the Consumer Price Index2 to adjust the figures for the effects of inflation. Each measure has a companion whose name starts with “i.” This is the value adjusted for inflation, based on the CPI. You may choose to view the values as reported by ElSi, which are in current dollars. These are the values not adjusted for inflation. Or, you may use the “i.” measures, which are in constant dollars.3

This data is presented in an interactive visualization created using Tableau Public. To access the visualization and its explanatory page, click here.

School spending in Kansas and the United States. Click for larger.
School spending in Kansas and the United States. Click for larger.

Definitions of measures

Total Revenues (TR) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
Total revenues per student ate the total revenues from all sources (tr) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file.

Total Expenditures (TE11+E4D+E7A1) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
This is the Total Expenditures (Digest) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file. The Total Expenditures (Digest) is the subtotal of Direct State Support Expenditures for Private Schools (e4d).

Total Current Expenditures for Public El-Sec (TE5) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
This is the total current expenditures for public elementary and secondary education (te5) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file. The Expenditures for equipment, non-public education, school construction, debt financing and community services are excluded from this data item.

Local Revenues (STR1+R2) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
Local revenues per student are the total of all local revenue categories (strl and r2) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file. Local revenues are raised and allocated by local governments.

State Revenues (R3) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
State revenues per student are revenues received by the LEAs from the state (r3). divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file.

Federal Revenues (STR4) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
Federal revenues per student are federal revenues (str4) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file.


  1. National Center for Education Statistics. About us.
  2. United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Price Index.
  3. The U.S. Census Bureau explains: ” Constant-dollar values represent an effort to remove the effects of price changes from statistical series reported in dollar terms. The result is a series as it would presumably exist if prices were the same throughout as they were in the base year-in other words, as if the dollar had constant purchasing power.” Current versus Constant (or Real) Dollars.

School staffing and students

Trends for the nation and each state in teachers, administrators, and students, presented in an interactive visualization.

Each year states report data to the National Center for Education Statistics. While NCES provides methods for extracting data, it isn’t an easy process, and opportunities to produce charts are limited. Here I present trends in teachers, administrators, and students for each state from 1998 to the school year ending in summer 2014, the most recent year of data that is available.

For each state, the charts show the growth in teachers, administrators, and students. For both teachers and students, the value used is full-time equivalency. A table also shows pupil/teacher ratio and pupil/administrator ratio.

There are some obvious mistakes in the data. An example is the number of administrators reported for Kansas for years 2007 through 2009. Figures obtained directly from Kansas State Department of Education show no sudden drop and increase in the count of administrators. Nonetheless, I have presented the data as retrieved from NCES.

Sorting on columns.
Sorting on columns.
For the nation as a whole, the count of students has increased 8.5 percent since 1998. The count of teachers (full-time equivalent) rose by 13.4 percent, and the number of administrators by 19.4 percent. Individual states vary widely, with many having increased administrators at a far faster pace than either students or teachers. Some states, however, have reduced the number of administrators, or the rate has grown slower than students and teachers.

Click here to open and use the visualization.

Data is from the Elementary/Secondary Information System (ElSi) at National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. The number of administrators is calculated as the sum of “LEA Administrators” and “LEA Administrative Support Staff.” LEA Administrators is defined by NCES as “The count of Local education agency superintendents, deputy and assistant superintendents, and other persons with district-wide responsibilities such as business managers and administrative assistants. Excludes supervisors of instructional or student support staff.” LEA Administrative Support Staff is defined as “The count of Staff members who provide direct support to LEA administrators, including secretarial and other clerical staff.”

Using the visualization. Click for larger.

Teachers unions vs. students

From PragerU:

There is a dilemma in American education. On the one hand, teachers are essential to student achievement. On the other, teachers unions promote self-interests of their members which are antithetical to the interests of students. So, how do we fix this problem? In five minutes, Terry Moe, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, delineates this quandary and offers solutions.

View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

College environmentalists use public records laws

Washington Free Beacon:

College environmentalists are using public records laws to investigate the circumstances surrounding the hiring of an economist at the University of Kansas (KU) who has spoken out against wind subsidies, according to his attorney.

Dr. Art Hall, executive director of the Center for Applied Economics at the university, found himself at the center of an environmentalist campaign after testifying to the state legislature that Kansas should do away with green energy quotas in the spring of 2014. Shortly after his testimony, Schuyler Kraus, a KU student and environmentalist, submitted a public records request demanding all of his email correspondence dating back to 2004.

Continue reading at Washington Free Beacon, Environmentalists Use Records Law to Investigate KU Economist.

For more on this topic, see KU records request seen as political attack and Art Hall: My decision to fight for academic freedom.

Academic freedom under fire at Kansas: Will the AAUP be consistent?

Writing at National Review’s The Corner, David French wonders “Will the AAUP and other national academic organizations defend academic freedom at Kansas with the same zeal they defended it at UVA and Wisconsin?” For more on this issue, see KU records request seen as political attack and Art Hall: My decision to fight for academic freedom.

Academic Freedom Under Fire at Kansas: Will the AAUP Be Consistent?
By David French

When it comes to threatening core liberty interests, activists can be nothing if not industrious — sometimes using even well-intentioned laws as sledgehammers against disfavored views and disfavored speakers.

Witness the emerging use of state open-records laws to harass dissenting professors. The tactics are simple: Take advantage of the fact that most major research universities are public institutions to engage in wide-ranging fishing expeditions of individual scholars’ e-mail accounts and other records — including of personal e-mails — in the hopes of finding something, anything to shame or embarrass the scholar into silence. The threat to academic freedom is obvious: Scholars often engage colleagues, interested members of the public, and others to test ideas and theories before they’re ready for prime time, and the thought that every written thought can now be splashed across the Internet will lead to timidity and self-censorship. High-quality research depends on a free-wheeling exchange of ideas. Compelled disclosure of all communications will inevitably suppress academic discourse.

This is particularly true for minority viewpoints on campus. Or for those engaged in controversial speech. If you think conservative professors have enough challenges on campus, imagine a world where they navigate the minefield of hiring committees only to enter a world where their every email — no matter how tenuously it relates to their work as a “public official” — is read by a gang of hostile, angry third parties who are ready to twist every utterance to shame and humiliate them. How many people would want to work in that environment? How many people would find that environment conducive to scholarship and research?

Continue reading at Academic Freedom Under Fire at Kansas: Will the AAUP Be Consistent?

Art Hall: My decision to fight for academic freedom

My decision to fight for academic freedom
By Art Hall

For more than 25 years, I have dedicated myself to teaching economics and generating original economic research focused on public policy issues. Like all scholars nationwide, I have operated under the bedrock principle of academic freedom.

Academic freedom is the unfettered ability to research and teach, and a natural extension of rights protected under the First Amendment — without the fear of interference or persecution.

Dr. Art Hall
Dr. Art Hall
Since 2004, I have had the esteemed privilege of directing the Center for Applied Economics at the KU School of Business. (I also teach economics classes.) The Center’s purpose is to offer economic analysis and economic education relevant for policy makers, community leaders, and other interested citizens. This purpose often involves providing legislative testimony and conducting public policy research on subjects that may be controversial but are nonetheless important.

A student group at KU that disagreed with testimony I delivered on a specific piece of legislation used the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) to request copies of my private e-mail correspondence for the past 10 years. This is a misuse of open-records law, a type of misuse that seems to be spreading nationwide. The policy intent of open-records laws is to aid the transparency of government operations and deliberations, not to suppress debate and free academic inquiry.

The students’ misuse of KORA explains why I recently took legal action against KU; not out of hostility or secrecy, but to take a stand for the principle of academic freedom. While my attorney and I believe that the private records the students asked for are exempt from release under certain provisions of the KORA, KU planned to comply with the students’ request. My legal action will allow a judge to adjudicate the different interpretations of KU’s legal obligations under the KORA.

If my private, personal communications are released, I will not be the only one whose academic freedom is jeopardized. The issue is much larger, and could ultimately jeopardize the academic freedom of any scholar at a public institution of higher education.

My views about academic freedom in this matter are consistent with those advocated by the nation’s premier organization for higher education faculty: the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has stated that a crucial component of academic freedom is the ability of faculty to engage with a variety of experts as they pursue their research. With the odd exception of the Kansas chapter (which reportedly provided funding to the student group seeking my private documents), the AAUP has consistently stood by professors and researchers in shielding their private correspondence from over-reaching records requests, acknowledging the threat that this kind of activity poses to academic freedom.

Both the Kansas Board of Regents and the University of Kansas Faculty Council strongly support the principle of academic freedom. In a unanimously passed resolution, the Faculty Council wrote, “academic freedom … is essential to the mission of the University: to educate students and to engage in scholarly inquiry.”

Furthermore, there is an emerging body of legal precedent that allows researchers the latitude they require to correspond broadly with experts with diverse viewpoints without fearing their thoughts will be misconstrued, published and used against them in order to silence them.

The Supreme Court has written that “scholarship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust.” In the Sweezy decision, the majority wrote, “merely to summon a witness and compel him, against his will, to disclose the nature of his past expressions and associations is a measure of governmental interference in [academic] matters.”

In this landmark academic freedom case, the Court ultimately ruled that “these are rights which are safeguarded by the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment.”

For anyone questioning why I would take legal action against KU, let me be clear. I am taking legal action for my students, for the University, for Kansas, and to preserve the integrity of all forms of academic and scholarly research for my peers.

When I decided to take legal action, I knew it would create controversy and suspicion. But my commitment to academic freedom compelled me to do it.

Art Hall directs the Center for Applied Economics at the KU School of Business, where he is also a lecturer in economics.

KU records request seen as political attack

A request for correspondence belonging to a Kansas University faculty member is a blatant attempt to squelch academic freedom and free speech.

When conservative groups seek records of correspondence of liberal university professors, the American Association of University Professors defends its withholding based on academic freedom. That is, until the subject of a records request is a Kansas University professor who believes in free markets and receives funding from the Left’s favorite target, Charles and David Koch. Then, the local chapter of AAUP flips its position. It will even contribute money against the ideal of academic freedom.

In 2011 Republicans in Wisconsin requested the correspondence of a professor who was critical of American Legislative Exchange Council, a free market advocacy group. AAUP argued against releasing the records, writing:

We believe that disclosure of Professor Cronon’s e-mail correspondence will inevitably produce a chilling effect not only on Professor Cronon’s academic freedom but also on the academic freedom of his faculty colleagues and of faculty members throughout the University of Wisconsin system, with potentially deleterious effects on the quality of research and teaching. We urge you to do what you can to resist complying with this outrageous request. (source here)

In defense of a professor at the University of Virginia whose correspondence was sought by a conservative group, AAUP also defended academic freedom:

The AAUP and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) filed a joint amicus brief in support of UVA and Professor Mann, urging that “in evaluating disclosure under FOIA, the public’s right to know must be balanced against the significant risk of chilling academic freedom that FOIA requests may pose.” ATI’s request, the brief stated, “strikes at the heart of academic freedom and debate.” … The AAUPUCS brief argued, however, that “in the FOIA context, the public’s right to information is not absolute and courts can and do employ a balancing test to weigh the interest of the public’s right to know against the equally important interests of academic freedom.” (source here)

When a student group requested correspondence of a Kansas University professor, the local chapter of AAUP flipped its stance regarding academic freedom. It even contributed money towards the costs of the records request.

The political motivation of AAUP and the student group that filed the request cannot be overlooked. The primary subject of the request for correspondence is Dr. Arthur P. Hall. He is a lecturer in the KU School of Business and Director of its Center for Applied Economics. He believes in free markets and economic freedom. He won an award for his teaching of MBA students this year. He testifies to the Kansas Legislature against rent-seeking and crony capitalism. Hall and the Center also receive funding from the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation.

It’s the latter that probably stirs up suspicion and opposition. It doesn’t matter that around the world we’ve found that free markets and economic freedom create better living conditions for everyone. It doesn’t matter that disclosure of e-mail correspondence “will inevitably produce a chilling effect” on academic freedom. As long as a political attack on Koch Industries can be advanced, anything is fair game. Principles no longer apply.

A political attack

The request for Hall’s correspondence was made by Schuyler Kraus, who is president of the student group Students for a Sustainable Future. Members of SSF have ties to groups like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and PowerShift. SSF advertises that members will have networking opportunities with these groups and “Forecast the Future, Kansas Interfaith Power & Light, etc.” These groups have mounted political attacks on Charles and David Koch for years.

SFF also listed as an advisor Manny Abarca, who is Recycling Operations Coordinator for KU as well as Community Affairs Liaison for Emanuel Cleaver, the Democratic Congressman from Kansas City, Missouri. Prior to that he worked for U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill.

On August 3, the Kansas chapter of AAUP contributed $1,000 to SFF.
On August 3, the Kansas chapter of AAUP contributed $1,000 to SFF. Click for larger version.
When KU said the request for Hall’s records would cost $1,800, SFF was able to raise that amount quickly, aided by $1,000 from the Kansas chapter of AAUP. That’s the local chapter of the national group that opposes release of the correspondence of liberal professors. (For a student group, SSF seems to have access to funds, offering to pay students $12.50 per hour for political work.)

Students for a Sustainable Future Facebook post. Click for larger version.
Students for a Sustainable Future Facebook post. Click for larger version.
Why would the Kansas chapter of AAUP attack academic freedom in the case of Hall’s correspondence, while at the national level AAUP defends academic freedom? As Hall wrote in an op-ed, “With the odd exception of the Kansas chapter (which reportedly provided funding to the student group seeking my private documents), the AAUP has consistently stood by professors and researchers in shielding their private correspondence from over-reaching records requests, acknowledging the threat that this kind of activity poses to academic freedom.”

This episode shows that the Left views “academic freedom” much like it does “free speech.” The Left will defend free speech and academic freedom at any cost — as long as they agree with what is being said and taught. The Left can’t tolerate the marketplace of ideas that Charles and David Koch support, even when it’s just one faculty member of a large university school.

That, quite simply, is the reason for the requests made to KU for Hall’s correspondence. By harassing certain faculty and the university, the Left thinks it can shut down speech. While promoting free speech and open scientific and economic inquiry, the Left mounts attacks like this on those who don’t conform to the liberal orthodoxy present at most universities.

In a message to fellow School of Business faculty, Hall explained that he has nothing to hide regarding his correspondence. He expressed concern, however, that political opponents might “cherry-pick language from hundreds of emails to weave a story.” That sword cuts both ways. The university should not acquiesce quietly to this attempt to silence one of its faculty. It should not set a precedent that conservatives might justifiably cite when requesting correspondence of liberal faculty members.

Wichita has school choice, they say

Wichita public schools apple logoWriting in the Sunday Wichita Eagle, USD 259 (Wichita public school district) superintendent John Allison told Wichitans something they probably didn’t know: Parents of Wichita schoolchildren benefit from the district’s school choice program:

First, investment in the Wichita public schools allows for remarkable parental choice. Much has been discussed recently about the choice we must give families in order to meet the needs of their children. In Wichita, we are proud that for more than 20 years, families have been offered choice through our district’s magnet school program.

Nearly 30 percent of our schools have a unique magnet focus, enabling students from across our community to consider robust options ranging from science to art, public service to environmental stewardship. Thousands of parents make the decision every year to become part of this rich magnet school tradition, which has helped the Wichita public schools remain a vibrant and diverse school district that has grown by more than 1,500 students in the last 10 years.

I don’t see how Allison believes that magnet schools are equivalent to “remarkable parental choice.” Generally, school choice refers to actual choice programs where parents might choose the regular public school, or perhaps a charter school, or perhaps a private school with its cost paid fully or partially through vouchers or tax credit scholarships. Sometimes school choice programs allow students to enroll in public schools in neighboring school districts.

Wichita and Kansas have none of these programs. (Actually, Kansas does have charter schools, but the law is so weak that there are very few of these schools.) Wichita’s magnet schools are part of the government school system. This means they benefit from taxpayer funding, which is over $12,500 per student per year.

But it also means that these schools suffer all the pathologies that afflict the public school system. That’s not much of a choice.

Kansas teachers union: No competition for us

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union, is an effective force that denies Kansas parents the choice as to where to send their children to school. The union also works hard to deny teachers choice in representation.

In Bullying Teachers: How Teachers Unions Secretly Push Teachers and Competitors Around, Joy Pullmann states the problem: “In routine tracking of education-related legislation, The Heartland Institute’s School Reform News has uncovered evidence that teachers unions across the country routinely inhibit teachers from joining or speaking out about competing, nonunion teachers associations.”

Pullmann explains legislation from 2011 when Garry Sigle, who is Executive Director at Kansas Association of American Educators, supported equal access to teachers.

In 2011, House Bill 2229 would have given the state an equal access law regarding teacher associations. It stalled in the Senate and found no sponsors this year. In the meantime, public school principals in Kansas have refused to let Garry Sigle, executive director of the state’s AAE affiliate, even enter their schools because the local union affiliate would file a labor grievance against the schools if they did. Similar and repeated instances in the state are documented below.

The legislative page for this bill is Substitute HB 2229 by Committee on Federal and State Affairs — Teachers; professional employees association; equal access act. The last notation on the calendar is “Died in Senate Committee.” The bill would do these things, according to the supplemental note prepared by Kansas Legislative Research:

To give equal access for all professional employees’ associations to the professional employees physical or electronic school mailboxes;
To allow equal access for all professional employees’ associations to attend new teacher or employee school orientations and other meetings; and
To not designate any day or breaks in a school year by naming or referring to the name of any professional employees’ association.

KNEA opposed this legislation. The committee in which it died was chaired by Pete Brungardt. Brungardt’s campaign was supported by KNEA, but he was defeated in the August 2012 primary election.

Reporting more about Kansas, Pullmann writes:

Many superintendents and principals in Kansas will not even let Garry Sigle give teachers information about his nonunion teacher organization. One superintendent told Sigle, “Why would I want to [let you talk to teachers in my district] if I knew that would create an issue between me and a union I have to negotiate with?” Sigle said. He asked the superintendent how many of his district’s teachers were in the NEA. Thirty or 40 percent, the superintendent said. So Sigle asked to speak to the others. The superintendent wouldn’t allow Sigle to speak to even nonunionized teachers. In one school, Sigle had an appointment to speak at a teacher in-service. “When the local NEA found out, they raised such a ruckus that [the principal] had to call and cancel me.”

Sigle’s alma mater, Fort Hays State University, would not let him speak to students in their teaching program “because they have a student NEA group and just can’t seem to find time in their schedule.” Smith also highlighted access difficulties with student teacher programs in Utah. “I don’t think, as a school of higher education, it’s your job to limit the information your students get,” Sigle said. “It baffles me that a school would do that.”

A principal has told Sigle if he stepped foot into her school she would have to report him or the school’s NEA chapter would file a contract grievance against her. “She said, ‘I can’t even let you come into the building,’” Sigle said in astonishment.

Sigle’s op-ed in the Topeka Capital-Journal explained the problem in a different way, opening with:

As employees in a right-to-work state, teachers in Kansas have a choice about which employee association, if any, they wish to join. However, current state law does not treat all employee associations the same way.

In fact, the Kansas National Education Association has an unfair advantage, having state-sanctioned monopoly access to public school employees.

Kansas schools are lacking choice: none for students, little for teachers, topped off with coercion for taxpayers.

The machine is not for the kids

America’s public education system is failing. We’re spending more money on education but not getting better results for our children.

That’s because the machine that runs the K-12 education system isn’t designed to produce better schools. It’s designed to produce more money for unions and more donations for politicians.

But for defenders of this machine — the public school spending establishment — it’s all about the kids, they say.

U.S. public schools seen as threat to national security

The Council on Foreign Relations, described by the Wall Street Journal as “the clubhouse of America’s establishment” is now in favor of something very un-establishment: school choice. The data is so grim, writes the Journal, that the poor performance of American public schools is now a national security issue.

Some statistics from the article: “Only a third of elementary and middle-school students are competent in reading, math and science.” … “The military can’t tap the 25% of American kids who drop out of high school, and 30% of those who graduate can’t pass the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery.” … “Even excluding teacher pensions and other benefits, per-pupil spending today is more than three times what it was in 1960 (in 2008 dollars).” (School Reform’s Establishment Turn: The Council on Foreign Relations endorses choice and competition. subscription required)

The CFR reports calls for applying to education the same factors that have lead to success in other areas of human endeavor: “U.S. elementary and secondary schools are not organized to promote competition, choice, and innovation — the factors that catalyze success in other U.S. sectors.”

The CFR report is U.S. Education Reform and National Security. The overview is blunt: “The United States’ failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country’s ability to thrive in a global economy and maintain its leadership role.”

In an interview with Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and co-chair of the task force that wrote the report, Klein said:

Probably the major finding that is sort of well known but not fully digested is that U.S. outcomes are essentially flat at the high school level, despite the fact the country has continued — over the last thirty to forty years — to invest significantly in K-12 public education. And while we’re making the investments and not getting the results, the rest of the globe is getting very different results.

If you [compare] the educational performance of the United States, for example, with that of China, or Finland, or Singapore, there are dramatic differences. The U.S. performance is much more akin to countries that we never could have thought would perform educationally at the level that we are. We used to have the highest percentage of high school graduates, the highest percentage of college graduates. It’s no longer so.

But perhaps the thing the report will shine a spotlight on is the national security implication. One statistic that blew members of this task force away is that three out of four kids today in America are simply ineligible for military service. It’s unbelievable. We’re drawing our national security forces from a very small segment of the population. And a lot of the problem is they simply don’t have the intellectual wherewithal to serve in the military.

The other thing we found is how non-innovative K-12 education is. K-12 education is still one teacher, twenty-eight kids, twenty-five kids, whatever, and trying to figure out the sweet spot for a class of very different and heterogeneous skills. Surely, you would think in an [education] industry that is as complex and dynamic and heavily invested in — second after health care in the United States — that you’d see dramatic innovations, and the truth is, you haven’t.

The report recommends adopting Common Core Standards, which is controversial.

A second recommendation, and one not present in Kansas to any degree, is school choice: “The second big idea is really a uniquely American approach, and it’s controversial. That is, to move toward meaningful [school] choice. We need to generate an environment that leads to innovation, and that empowers parents to really look over the next decade or so. We need to look at how we can transition from a monopoly on public school systems to one that gives parents and their children meaningful choices that stimulate innovation and differentiation.”