Category Archives: Wichita and Kansas schools

Kansas school fund balances

Kansas school fund balances rose this year, in both absolute dollars and dollars per pupil.

As Kansans debate school funding, as the Kansas Supreme Court orders more school spending, and as schools insist that spending has been slashed, a fact remains: Kansas schools don’t spend all the money they’ve been given. Unspent fund balances grow in many years, and grew this year.

Fund balances are necessary for cash flow management. They buffer the flows of receipts and expenditures. The issue is what levels of balances are necessary, and, more importantly, how the balances change over years.

In Kansas, school districts report fund balances on July 1 of each year. Looking at fund balances on that date over time gives insight into how districts are managing receipts and expenditures. If a fund balance falls from July 1 of one year to July 1 of the next year, it means that the district spent more money from the fund than it put in the fund. The opposite is also true: If a balance rises, it means less was spent than was put in.

Based on recent data from the Kansas State Department of Education, fund balances rose rapidly after 2008, remained largely level from 2011 through 2015, and rose for 2016 and 2017.

For the school year ending in 2017, total fund balances were $2,016,863,070. (This value does not include non-school funds like museums and recreation center funds.) For 2016, the figure was $1,871,026,493. This is an increase of $145,836,577, or 7.8 percent.

Around half of these fund balances are in bond and capital funds, which are different from operating funds. Without these capital funds, balances rose from $935,116,567 to $970,188,922. This is an increase of $35,072,355, or 3.8 percent.

When fund balances rise, it is because schools did not spend all their revenue. If schools say that cuts had to be made, and at the same time fund balances are rising, Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these idle fund balances.

I’ve gathered data about unspent Kansas school funds from Kansas State Department of Education and present it as an interactive visualization in a variety of tables and charts. Data is available for each district since 2008. You may explore the data yourself by using the visualization. Click here to open it in a new window. Data is from Kansas State Department of Education in current dollars (not adjusted for inflation). Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Top chart: Fund balances in all funds except non-school funds. Bottom: Without bond and capital funds. Click for larger.

Wichita student/teacher ratios

Despite years of purported budget cuts, the Wichita public school district has been able to improve or maintain student/teacher ratios.

When discussing school funding, there is controversy over how spending should be measured. What funds are included? Is KPERS included? Should we adjust for enrollment and inflation? What about bond and interest funds and capital outlay?

The largest expenditures of schools — some 80 percent nationwide — is personnel costs. In Kansas, and Wichita in particular, we’re told that budget cuts are causing school class sizes to increase.

When we look at numbers, we see that the Wichita school district has — over the long term — been able to maintain or reduce its student/teacher ratios. (Student/teacher ratio is not the same statistic as class size.) There have been a few ups and downs along the way, but for all three school levels, the ratios are lower or nearly the same than they were ten years ago. (Click charts for larger versions.)

This means that Wichita schools have been able to increase employment of teachers at a faster rate than enrollment has risen.

So however spending is categorized in funds, whether KPERS contributions are included or not, whether the funding comes from state or local sources, whether spending is adjusted for inflation, the Wichita school district has been able to improve or maintain its student/teacher ratios.

Data is from USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2016, Miscellaneous Statistics, page 118, and CAFR from other years.

Wrong direction for Wichita public schools

A letter in the Wichita Eagle illustrates harmful attitudes and beliefs of the public school establishment.

The letter is titled “Wrong direction.” It was submitted by John H. Wilson, was published on February 26, 2017, and may be read here.

What’s wrong in this letter? Here’s one thing: “First, the ill-founded assertion is that parents are well equipped to identify the best school for their children. Wrong.”

This is an incredibly bigoted assertion. This is one of the standard arguments against school choice, that parents — particularly minority and low-income families — don’t have the ability to make wise choices in schools for their children. Instead, an educated elite, of Wilson is a member, must make these decisions, they say.

There is a whif of plausibility in Wilson’s claim. In Wichita, where there is no school choice except for a small tax credit scholarship program, parents don’t have much experience making decisions regarding schools for their children. Across the country, however, where parents are given choices, we see parents becoming involved. With school choice programs, parents have a chance to make a difference.

Here’s something else that is rich in irony. With school choice, Wilson says, “Public schools organization and management would become a nightmare.” The private sector, however, manages situations like this every day. The irony is that the fleet of public school administrators hold many advanced degrees in public school administration. But school choice, evidently, is too complicated to manage.

Finally, Wilson references “a highly successful and proud institution, our public schools.” I’d like to call his attention to the nearby chart of results from the Kansas school assessments for the Wichita school district. According to the Kansas State Department of education, “Level 2 indicates that the student is doing grade-level work as defined by the standards but not at the depth or level of rigor to be considered on-track for college success. Level 3 indicates that the student is performing at academic expectations for that grade and is on track to being college ready.”

Looking at fourth grade reading — a very important benchmark — we see that considering college-level readiness, 35.5 percent of students are at that standard. But only 17.6 of African-American students are at that level, and 29.7 percent of Hispanic students. The performance is worse for math, and worse again at eighth grade for both subjects.

I don’t think this is “highly successful,” and I don’t see how Wilson is proud of this legacy. Except: He’s part of the public school establishment, which vigorously protects itself from any meaningful competition.

Kansas school assessments for Wichita. Click for larger.

Kansas state school assessments

An interactive presentation of Kansas state school assessment scores at the state, district, and building levels.

Kansas State Department of Education makes available school assessment results at its website Kansas Building Report Card, available at ksreportcard.ksde.org. The present assessments were first given in 2014, although results for that year were not made available.1

KSDE background explains that scores on the tests are categorized in four levels: “Kansas assessment results are now reported in four levels. Level 1 indicates that student is not performing at grade-level standards. Level 2 indicates that the student is doing grade-level work as defined by the standards but not at the depth or level of rigor to be considered on-track for college success. Level 3 indicates that the student is performing at academic expectations for that grade and is on track to being college ready. Level 4 indicates that the student is performing above expectations and is on-track to being college ready.”

When KSDE presents assessment results through the report card website, it shows the percent of students whose scores fall into each category. While this is useful, I present the data in a different way, using these categories:

  • Level 1
  • Level 2 or higher
  • Level 3 or higher
  • Level 4

Thus, “Level 2 or higher” holds the percentage of students doing grade-level work or better, and “Level 3 or higher” holds the percentage of students on track to being college ready or better.

There are three visualizations, one for building-level results, another for district-level results, and another for state-level. (Because of the differing sizes of buildings and districts, it is not possible to simply aggregate statistics to a higher level.)

Here are the links to the visualizations:

Example from the visualizations. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Kansas State Board of Education. Agenda Packet for July 2014. http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/Board/Materials%20&%20Agendas/2014/JULY%20BOARD%20PACKET%20rfs.pdf.

Kansas teachers union versus students

There’s no surprise that a labor union would support its members over all other considerations, even Kansas schoolchildren.

Kansas National Education Association, the Kansas teachers union, wants to restore due process rights to teachers.

The union believes that without due process, also called tenure, teachers are subject to arbitrary dismissal. A common story is that a school board member whose child isn’t made — say, quarterback on the football team or head cheerleader — could pressure school administrators to take action against the responsible coach or teacher. Pressure could even be brought to change grades.

That could happen. It probably happens. But this is not a reason to saddle schoolchildren with bad teachers, which is what due process does. In a recent survey, teachers said five percent of their colleagues are failures, earning the grade of F.1

Given that teacher quality is the most important factor success factor that schools can control,2 3 4 why are these five percent still working in schools as teachers?

Due process laws are the answer. This is the system the Kansas teachers union wants to restore. If successful, the winners are the union and bad teachers. The losers are Kansas schoolchildren.


Notes

  1. “If we use the traditional definition of a C grade as ‘satisfactory,’ then the public, on average, thinks about one-fifth of teachers in the local schools are unsatisfactory (13% D and 9% F). … Even teachers say 5% of their colleagues in local schools are failures deserving an F, with another 8% performing at no better than the D level.” No Common Opinion on the Common Core. http://educationnext.org/2014-ednext-poll-no-common-opinion-on-the-common-core/.
  2. Center for Public Education. Teacher quality and student achievement: Research review. http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Staffingstudents/Teacher-quality-and-student-achievement-At-a-glance/Teacher-quality-and-student-achievement-Research-review.html.
  3. RAND Corporation. Teachers Matter: Understanding Teachers’ Impact on Student Achievement. http://www.rand.org/education/projects/measuring-teacher-effectiveness/teachers-matter.html.
  4. Hanushek, Eric. Teacher Quality. http://hanushek.stanford.edu/publications/teacher-quality.

Accountability in Kansas public schools

Critics of school choice say there is no accountability outside the traditional public schools. Here are the standards Kansas used to hold its schools accountable.

Are non-traditional public schools held properly accountable? Do charter schools and private schools escape the accountability standards states use for their traditional public schools, particularly in Kansas?

A standard argument against school choice is that charter schools and private schools are not held accountable. Underlying this argument is the assumption that parents have neither the time nor technical expertise to properly evaluate the schools their children attend. Only those with special training can do this, goes the argument.

This argument is troubling because it is often directed at parents of minority children, or parents who are from low-income households, or parents who may not be highly educated. Besides being elitist and bigoted, it doesn’t recognize the poor job that Kansas state education officials have done holding public schools accountable. Fortunately, Kansas school officials have corrected this, but it doesn’t make up for the years that Kansas purposefully used low standards to evaluate students, and told us students were doing well.

The former Kansas school standards for grade four reading, showing Kansas ranking low among the states.
The former Kansas school standards for grade four reading, showing Kansas ranking low among the states. Click for larger.
For years Kansas schools have used low standards to evaluate students. That is, Kansas was willing to say students are “proficient” at a much lower level of performance than most other states. Worse than that, during the 2005 to 2009 time period, Kansas actually weakened its standards.1 Coincidentally, this was during the time that Kansas courts ordered more spending in Kansas schools, and the legislature generally complied.

The new Kansas standards, however, are more in line with those of other states, and present a more truthful assessment of Kansas schoolchildren.

This is the finding of the EducationNext report After Common Core, States Set Rigorous Standards.2 EducationNext is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform.

The report compares the proportion of students considered “proficient” on states’ own exams with that of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” The EducationNext report explains:

Data from both the NAEP and state tests allow for periodic assessments of the rigor of each state’s proficiency standards. If the percentage of students identified as proficient in any given year is essentially the same for both the NAEP and the state exams, we can infer that the state has established as strict a proficiency standard as that of the NAEP. But if the state identifies a higher percentage of students as proficient than the NAEP, we can conclude that the state has set its proficiency bar lower than that of the NAEP.

From 2003 to 2013 the Kansas standards were weak, earning letter grades ranging from “C” to “D” in the EducationNext reports. In another similar study, the Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales series from National Center for Education Statistics, Kansas standards were also found to be low compared to other states. NCES is part of the United States Department of Education and the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education. It has not yet examined the 2015 NAEP and state exam scores.

Now, after comparing Kansas state assessments to the 2015 NAEP exam, Kansas earns a grade of “A” from EducationNext for the strength of its standards.

This grade of “A” does not reflect the performance of Kansas schoolchildren on tests. Instead, it means that the state has raised the definition of proficient to a higher level. A presentation by Kansas State Department of Education to the Kansas State Board of Education explains the relationship of the new standards to the former:

The Kansas College and Career Ready Standards are more rigorous than the previous Kansas Standards. The Mathematics test is more demanding than even the ACT and taken a year earlier. The assessment is also more demanding than the NAEP assessment. Kansas takes seriously the current issues of college dropout and remediation rates and feels higher standards are necessary to help remedy the problem.3 4

Kansas is not alone in making a change, according to the EducationNext report:

The results are striking: The last two years have witnessed the largest jump in state standards since they were established as part of the federal accountability program. Overall, 36 states have strengthened their standards since 2013, while just 5 have loosened them, and 7 have left their standards essentially unchanged.

This is a refreshing change for Kansas. It means that after many years of evaluating students with weak standards and low expectations, Kansas now has reasonable standards.

But who do we hold accountable for the years of having low standards and further weakening them, while at the same time telling us Kansas students were performing well on tests?


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Kansas has lowered its school standards. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-has-lowered-its-school-standards/.
  2. http://educationnext.org/after-common-core-states-set-rigorous-standards/.
  3. Kansas State Department of Education. Cut Scores for the Kansas Assessment Program. Archived at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9MdTJhRVBEeEg3NTA/view.
  4. Also, see Kansas State Department of Education, Office of the Commissioner. Kansas College and Career Academic Readiness Asessment. http://www.ksde.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=KCpy0dXYuzc%3D&tabid=561&portalid=0&mid=3121.

School choice in Kansas: Some have it. Many do not.

Kansas non-profit executives work to deny low-income families the school choice opportunities that executive salaries can afford.

Kansas Association of School BoardsKansas Association of School Boards
Executives and annual salaries 1
John Heim, Executive Director $182,471
Donna Whiteman, Assistant Executive Director $120,041
Brian Jordan, Assistant Executive Director $106,568
Douglas Moeckel, Deputy Executive Director $109,425
David Shriver, Assistant Executive Director $103,845

These executives can afford to send their children to any school.

Kansas National Education AssociationKansas National Education Association
Executives and annual salaries 2
Mark Farr, President $118,314
Claudette Johns, Executive Director $149,553
Kevin Riemann, Executive Director $139,327
David Schnauer, General Counsel $142,630
Marjorie Blaufuss, Staff Counsel $123,584
Anthony White, Uniserv Director $119,782
Burle Neely, Uniserv Director $116,559
Gregory Jones, Uniserv Director $117,559

These executives can afford to send their children to any school.

All the above lobby vigorously against any form of school choice.

Zip code 67214 in Wichita from Google mapsZip code 67214, Northeast Wichita
Median family income $29,637 3

Can this family afford school choice? Probably not. It is these minority children and children from low-income families that most need school choice. The cruel irony is that the highly paid executives work to deny school choice to these families.

Above the line, families have enough income to pursue many forms of school choice. Below the line, school choice is probably not affordable. Click for larger.

Notes

  1. IRS Form 990 for 2014
  2. IRS Form 990 for 2015
  3. U.S. Census, 2014

Kansas school spending, an interactive visualization

An interactive visualization of spending for Kansas school districts.

The accompanying visualization holds both nominal dollar amounts and amounts adjusted to reflect 2016 dollars. Data includes state aid, local aid, federal aid, and total spending for each school district, both total and per pupil. The visualization includes both tables and charts.

Kansas school spending, entire state, through 2016. Click for larger. This is an example from the visualization.
Kansas school spending, entire state, through 2016. Click for larger. This is an example from the visualization.
For the school year ending in 2016, total spending per pupil was $13,015. This is down from an inflation-adjusted $13,222 for 2015, a decline of 1.56 percent. Considering state funding only, per-pupil funding for 2016 was $8,540, down from an inflation-adjusted $8,631 for 2016, a decline of 1.05 percent.

In fiscal year 2015 there was a shift in the way property tax revenue is reported, with revenue formerly counted as “local” being counted as “state.” One of the tabs in the visualization shows the sum of local and state values, which eliminates the effect of the change in reporting.

Kansas Policy Institute has spending data without KPERS (retirement) spending at Non-KPERS funding sets another per-pupil record in 2015-16.

Spending and revenue data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Inflation-adjusted data calculated using Consumer Price Index, all items, 1982-84=100 (series CUUR0000SA0) from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The price level used for 2016 is for the first half of 2016. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Click here to open the visualization in a new window.

Pupil-teacher ratios in the states

Kansas ranks near the top of the states in having a low pupil-teacher ratio.

Pupil-teacher ratios in the states for 2015. Click for larger.
Data from National Center for Education Statistics, ELSI Elementary and Secondary Information System, shows that Kansas is near the top of the states in pupil-teacher ratio, meaning that Kansas has many teachers compared to the number of students. NCES is a division of the U.S. Department of Education.

A common complaint in Kansas is that class sizes have been rising. While pupil-teacher ratio is not the same measure as class size, the question is this: If Kansas has a low pupil-teacher ratio, but class sizes are (purportedly) large and rising, what are these teachers doing?

In the chart of pupil-teacher ratios over time, we see that while the ratio in Kansas rose for the 2015 school year, the trend over time is down, meaning that the number of teachers has increased faster than enrollment. The ratio for 2015 is the same as for 2008, and lower than the years before then.

Also, note the position of Kansas compared to other states. The pupil-teacher ratio in Kansas is lower than in most states.

This data is available in an interactive visualization. You may select different views of the data, and filter for specific states and time frames. Click here to access the visualization.

Pupil-teacher ratios in the states, with Kansas highlighted. Click for larger.

A Wichita school official talks about KPERS

A board member of the largest school district in Kansas repeated an untruth that has unfortunate consequences for Kansas schoolchildren.

At a recent meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club Wichita school board member Sheril Logan participated in a panel discussion on local government legislative agenda. (The entire program may be accessed here.)

She told the audience, “Truly, data can be maneuvered to make it look like what you want. We all know that. So can funding streams.”

She went on to explain that what happened in the “last couple of years” was, for example, KPERS funds being counted differently.

What Mrs. Logan told the Wichita Pachyderm Club is a standard argument of Kansas public school spending advocates, which is that because of a change in the way teacher retirement funds (KPERS contributions) are handled, it looks like the state is spending more on schools, when in fact it is not. According to her, this happened in the “last couple of years.”

The story about KPERS reporting being changed in an underhanded way is told so often by the public school spending establishment that it is difficult to criticize Mrs. Logan for being wrong. Board members and others are told this so often, from sources they believe as authoritative, that they believe it. They want to believe it.

Kansas Policy Institute asked the Kansas State Department of Education about this matter. It found this: “According to Dale Dennis, KPERS funding was last sent directly to KPERS in 2004; it has since been sent directly to school districts included in reported school funding totals.”1

Here, Dale Dennis contradicts what a board member of the state’s largest school district told the Wichita Pachyderm Club. Dennis is Deputy Commissioner at Kansas State Department of Education and head of Fiscal and Administrative Services, widely cited as the leading authority on Kansas school finance..2

Wichita Public Schools, State Revenue by Source, KPERS Contributions. Click for larger.
Even though Dennis is the state’s top education finance official, we don’t have to rely solely on him to illustrate the error of believing the KPERS spending reporting has undergone recent changes. Information from the Wichita public school district3 shows the same. Here I’ve plotted the funding sent by the state of Kansas to USD 259 for KPERS contributions. As Dennis indicated, in 2005 the Wichita school district started receiving money from the state for KPERS. Prior to that year it received none.

We might note that when this change in KPERS reporting started, Kathleen Sebelius was governor. If the change in KPERS reporting is, in fact, deceitful, we ought to ask why it happened under her watch.

Does it matter?

Does it really matter that there is this confusion about KPERS reporting? Yes. It matters a lot, and for two reasons.

First, what the Kansas public school spending establishment says is incorrect. We should value the truth above all.

Second: If we believe that Kansas public schools are underfunded, there is a ready-made excuse for anything and everything. If anyone points out that Kansas schools have problems, the excuse is that there’s isn’t enough money. This lets Kansas public school officials off the hook, and needed reforms are squashed. Even reforms that will save money.


Notes

  1. Trabert, Dave. State school board member should practice what he preaches. Available at kansaspolicy.org/state-school-board-member-practice-preaches/.
  2. Kansas State Department of Education. Fiscal & Administrative Services. http://www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services.
  3. USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds, and USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2007, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds.

Kansas school employees by type

An interactive visualization of relative trends in Kansas school employment.

Kansas State Department of Education makes available tables of the number of employees working in Kansas schools. Employees are classified in two broad categories, Certified and Non-Certified. Within each category, employees are further classified by job type such as Superintendent, Curriculum Specialist, and Social Worker.

Example from the visualization, showing assistant superintendents highlighted. Click for larger.
I’ve gathered the tables back to fiscal year 2002 (the 2001 — 2002 school year) and present them in an interactive visualization. There are separate visualizations for Certified and Non-Certified employees. In each, as shown in the instruction, you may check the check boxes to add or remove types of employees. For the employee types that are shown, you may click to highlight types apart from the others.

The line charts show the relative change in the number of employees. You may learn whether the number of employee type A is growing faster or slower than employee type B.

The visualization also holds tables showing the number of employees.

Click here to open the visualization in a new window.

Using the visualization.
Using the visualization.

Government schools’ entitlement mentality

If the Kansas personal income grows, should school spending also rise?

Kansas Policy Institute has noticed something about the Kansas public school spending establishment, in particular Kansas Association of School Boards. KPI president Dave Trabert wrote “KASB published a three-part series last week, making the case that school funding and other government spending hasn’t kept up with the growth in personal income.”1 KASB believes that if Kansans’ personal income rises, so too should school spending, and in proportion.

This is not the first time KASB has made this argument. Last year I wrote “If Kansas personal income rises but the school spending establishment doesn’t get its cut, something is wrong, they say.”2

I also wrote: “Another indication of the perversity of this argument is that spending less of a share of our income to obtain a product or service is usually viewed as an advancement, not a situation to be cured. For example in 1929, American households spent 23.4 percent of disposable personal income on food. In 2013 it was 9.8 percent. This is a good thing.”

Read the complete article from KPI at Government’s Entitlement Mentality — Part 1.


Notes

  1. Trabert, Dave. Government’s Entitlement Mentality — Part 1. https://kansaspolicy.org/governments-entitlement-mentality-part-1/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. For Kansas schools, a share of your income is the standard. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-schools-share-income-standard/.

Decoding the Kansas teachers union

Decoding and deconstructing communications from KNEA, the Kansas teachers union, lets us discover the true purpose of the union.

Here, we look at a dispatch from Kansas National Education Association’s “Under the Dome” newsletter from March 14, 2013. It may be found here. The topic of this day was a charter school bill. Kansas has a law that allows charter schools, which are public schools that operate outside many of the rules and regulations that govern traditional public schools. But the Kansas law is written in a way that makes it difficult to form a charter school, and as a result, Kansas has very few charter schools.

KNEA, the teacher union in Kansas, says: Rep. Ed Trimmer noted that a study provided by the proponents (anti-public school “think tank” Kansas Policy Institute) reported that the worst performing charter schools are in states that have multiple charter school “authorizers” — just like this bill.

This sentence holds much of the key to understanding the motives of the teachers union, and the rest of the public school spending lobby. First, they use the term “anti-public school.” This lets us know that for all the bluster coming from the teachers union and its allies about the importance of education and Kansas schoolchildren, it is only public schools that interest them. The simple reason is that in private schools and charter schools, the teachers aren’t union members. It is those union members that the union cares about. Other schools where teachers can work free of the union and its influence are competition to the union.

The use of “think tank” lets us know that the union doesn’t think Kansas Policy Institute is deserving of respect. KPI uses government data to show the true state of Kansas public education, so naturally the teachers union needs to suppress the tellers of truth.

By the way, I don’t think KPI is “anti-public school.” KPI advocates for school choice, to be sure, but school choice programs comfortably co-exist with public schools in many states. And — let’s remind the teachers union that charter schools are public schools.

Then the use of “authorizers” in quotes: Charter school authorizers oversee the charter schools they authorized. In Kansas, the only charter school authorizers are local school boards, and they have shown very little willingness to authorize charters. Here’s what is interesting: In some states with good charter school laws, authorizers must hold their charter schools accountable. In Denver, for the 2011 school year, 25 percent of the charters seeking renewal were closed.1 (There, charters are reauthorized every third year.) That type of accountability is rarely seen in the traditional public schools, where poor-performing schools live on, year after year.

The teachers union says: The Committee reconvened at 1:30 to get a special presentation by anti-public school zealot Dave Trabert of the “think tank” Kansas Policy Institute. Trabert sold his usual snake oil denouncing Kansas public schools as failing most students and thoroughly confused the committee with his talk of NAEP, NCLB, RTTT, state assessments, cut scores and the performance of Texas schools compared to Kansas.

See? The teachers union doesn’t like to talk about the performance of Kansas schools. Anyone who presents the data is denounced. It’s easy to see why. 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.”2 The important thing to remember is that the test is not under the control of states. It is the same in all states, and allows for state-to-state comparisons. (More about this in a moment.)

Kansas and Texas NAEP scores. Click for larger.
Kansas and Texas NAEP scores. Click for larger.
Nearby is a chart showing performance on the NAEP test. It presents data for grade four reading over time, divided by major categories of race. It shows the percent of students scoring at the level of Basic or better, and on a separate scale, at Proficient or better.

Looking at the first column of data, labeled “All Students,” we can see that Kansas performs better than Texas in every year. It is this finding that the teachers union and its allies use to promote the goodness of Kansas schools.

Aggregated data like this can hide some underlying truths. Look at the third column, reporting scores for black students. For “At or above Proficient,” Kansas and Texas students perform nearly the same. For Basic or better, Texas has the clear advantage in most years.

Similar investigation reveals that for Hispanic students, Texas and Kansas score nearly the same. For white students, Texas scores better than Kansas in each year.

So which schools are better in fourth grade reading, Kansas or Texas? If you were the parent of a young black child learning to read, Texas is doing a better job. For that matter, if you were the parent of a young white child learning to read, Texas has been doing a better job than has Kansas.

(By the way, Texas spends less on its schools than Kansas, on a per-pupil basis.3)

(These charts are derived from an interactive visualization of NAEP scores that I developed. You may access it here to conduct your own investigations.)

We can see why the teachers union demeans and demonizes those who present data like this.

The former Kansas school standards for grade four reading, showing Kansas ranking low among the states.
The former Kansas school standards for grade four reading, showing Kansas ranking low among the states.
Why are NAEP scores important? Doesn’t the State of Kansas have its own tests? The answer is yes, Kansas has its own tests. And until recently these tests — the standards that the state used to measure achievement — were very weak. That is, Kansas was willing to say students are “proficient” at a much lower level of performance than most other states. In some cases, just a handful of states had lower standards than Kansas. But now the new Kansas standards are more in line with those of other states, and present a more truthful assessment of Kansas schoolchildren. Not surprisingly, scores on the new tests are lower.4

In the past, the teachers union and its allies used the (generally good) performance on these very weak Kansas tests to conclude that Kansas schools were performing well. But that was a lie.

The teachers union says: He was joined via Skype by noted ideological researcher Matthew Ladner. Ladner, who greatly admires Jeb Bush and Florida schools was brought to Kansas by Trabert and KPI once before. Only back then his presentation was colored by the fact that he won a “Bunkum Award” from the National Educational [sic] Policy Center (NEPC). The NEPC, located at the University of Colorado is a national consortium of education researchers and academicians who review the reports of think tanks to make sure it is based on sound research standards.

First, Florida schools perform well on the NAEP, relative to Kansas. If you need convincing, use the visualization of NAEP scores referenced above to compare Florida and Kansas. You’ll find many cases where Florida does better than Kansas.

(By the way, Florida spends less than Kansas on schools, on a per-pupil base.3 This is the real problem the teachers union and its allies have with Florida and Texas: These states spend less than Kansas.)

Now: What is the National Education Policy Center (NEPC)? Just like the Kansas teachers union says, it reviews the reports of think tanks. And when it does, its criticisms are routinely shredded when placed under scrutiny. (Example criticism of one NEPC writer: “His review is deeply flawed and significantly misrepresents our data and findings.6) Almost all the reports it finds to be faulty are published by conservative/libertarian think tanks, although I did see a Brookings Institute report criticized.

Here’s something else: The Kansas teachers union and its allies vigorously attempt to discredit KPI because of its purported funders. If that is a valid concern or criticism, consider this. NEPC’s funders include the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.7 Teachers unions funding research to discredit non-union schools. Who could have figured?

Now we ask this: Should we hold the Kansas teachers union to the same standards it expects of others?


Notes

  1. Colorado League of Charter Schools.
  2. National Assessment of Educational Progress. About. Available at nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau. Annual Survey of School System Finances: Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by State: Fiscal Year 2014. https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/SSF/2014/00A08.
  4. Weeks, Bob. After years of low standards, Kansas schools adopt truthful standards. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/after-years-of-low-standards-kansas-schools-adopt-truthful-standards/.
  5. U.S. Census Bureau. Annual Survey of School System Finances: Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by State: Fiscal Year 2014. https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/SSF/2014/00A08.
  6. Jim Kessler, Tess Stovall, and Dee Dee Dolan. A Response to the National Education Policy Center: “NEPC review is fatally flawed.” http://www.thirdway.org/memo/a-response-to-the-national-education-policy-center-nepc-review-is-fatally-flawed.
  7. National Education Policy Center. Support. http://nepc.colorado.edu/support.

Kansas school spending: Visualization

An interactive visualization of revenue and spending data for Kansas school districts.

The accompanying visualization holds both nominal dollar amounts and amounts adjusted to reflect 2016 dollars. Data includes state aid, local aid, federal aid, and total spending for each school district, both total and per pupil. The visualization includes both tables and charts.

School spending in Kansas and the United States. Click for larger.
For the school year ending in 2016, total spending per pupil was $13,015. This is down from an inflation-adjusted $13,222 for 2015, a decline of 1.56 percent. Considering state funding only, per-pupil funding for 2016 was $8,540, down from an inflation-adjusted $8,631 for 2016, a decline of 1.05 percent.

Kansas Policy Institute has spending data without KPERS (retirement) spending at Non-KPERS funding sets another per-pupil record in 2015-16.

Spending and revenue data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Inflation-adjusted data calculated using Consumer Price Index, all items, 1982-84=100 (series CUUR0000SA0) from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The price level used for 2016 is for the first half of 2016. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Click here to open the visualization in a new window.

Decoding the Kansas teachers union

Explaining to Kansans what the teachers union really means in its public communications.

After the November 2016 election, the Kansas National Education Association — our state’s teachers union — wants to explain to Kansas the meaning of the results. But it takes a seasoned eye to recognize the subterfuge the union uses to advance its interests. The message from the union may be read at It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Following, quotes from the union missive and interpretation.

“But at KNEA, we are focusing on what the 2016 election means for public education.” Here the writer — lobbyist Mark Desetti — correctly identifies the concern of the teachers union: Public education. Not education, but only public education. Why? Teachers in private schools are not union members. Neither are teachers in charter schools, even though these schools are public schools. So you can see the concern of the union is more precisely only the public schools where there are union members.

“And here in Kansas, our legislative races look more like the best of times.” The public schools really hate being called government schools. But when the outcome of elections affects your outlook, well, that sounds like a government institution.

“At least for those of us who advocate for children, schools, and teachers.” The teachers union’s only concern is teachers. Do not be persuaded otherwise. If the union really cared about children, it would stop opposing school choice programs.

“Combined with moderate Republican victories, this creates a pro-public education block of as many as 75 votes.” Again, public education is the union’s concern.

“The people of Kansas, regardless of party affiliation have let it be known that they are done with the Brownback ‘experiment’ and want to go in a new direction. That direction includes funding our schools and taking care of our children and families.” Governor Brownback was ill-advised to liken cutting taxes to an experiment. As adults, we ought to recognize the boasting of politicians. This doesn’t mean that cutting taxes was wrong. Cutting taxes is the right thing to do, as it means government leaves more resources in the hands of those who earned it. It leaves more money in the productive private sector, instead of in the wasteful public sector, Also, the union should have ended the last sentence at “funding our schools.” If the union truly cared about children and families, it would stop opposing giving parents the power of school choice.

“Kansans also rejected the governor’s attempt to politicize our Supreme Court.” But, the court is already politicized, and in a direction the union favors. So, the union appears to be taking the high ground.

“This vote ensures that our courts will stay free of political and ideological tampering.” If the court really wanted to stay out of politics, it would rule that the level of school spending is a legislative decision, not a judicial decision. But since most of the justices were nominated by a committee overstocked with political liberals, then appointed by liberal governors, the union is pleased with the court.

“Justice should never be for sale.” Well, when you already own the justices on the Kansas Supreme Court, it’s easy to float such high-minded, but transparent, proclamations.

Do not be persuaded by the claims of the Kansas teachers union. The union continually opposes reform measures that would help students simply because reform would mean fewer union members. That — and only that — is the job of the teachers union.

Trump and school choice

Could a President Trump bring more school choice to Kansas?

One of the campaign planks of President-Elect Donald J. Trump is support for school choice. Specifically, his campaign page states: “Immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion towards school choice. This will be done by reprioritizing existing federal dollars.”1

In the next point: “Give states the option to allow these funds to follow the student to the public or private school they attend. Distribution of this grant will favor states that have private school choice, magnet schools and charter laws, encouraging them to participate.”

Normally I would not be in favor of adding to federal spending, but Trump proposes to “reprioritize” existing funds. He is not specific on details.

What could this mean to Kansas? If these funds were allocated to the states proportionally by population — as good a guess as any — Kansas would receive about $182 million. If students were awarded — for example — $5,000, this means 36,400 students could receive this benefit. This amount pays for tuition in some private schools, and goes a long way for paying for others.2 Nationally, charter schools operated on a budget of $7,131 per student in 2014.3 The State of Kansas should be happy to make up the difference, as that is far less than what the state spends now.

The problem with this initiative is that it is targeted towards states that already have school choice programs. Kansas has a small private school scholarship whose existence may be in peril. Kansas has a law that allows for charter schools, but it is limited and designed to make charters very difficult to form.

Targeting these funds towards states with existing school choice program is precisely backwards of what should be done. The funds should go to states that have no — or little — school choice. This will help students overcome the objection of the education establishment that hates school choice, which is that school choice drains money from traditional public schools. That argument is false, but funding from the federal government would help counter that argument.4

Undoubtedly the public school spending lobby will develop other arguments against school choice in Kansas.

Offsetting the increased federal spending would be reduced public school by the states, as most school funding formulas are based on the number of students.


Notes

  1. Donald J. Trump for President. Education. November 9, 2016. http://www.donaldjtrump.com/policies/education/
  2. For example, see Classical School of Wichita at around $6,000 per year, Cair Paravel Latin School in Topeka at around $7,000 to $8,000 per year, and the Independent School in Wichita from $10,000 to $10,600 per year.
  3. Center for Education Reform. Survey of America’s Charter Schools. http://www.edreform.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2014CharterSchoolSurveyFINAL.pdf.
  4. Weeks, Bob. School choice and funding. https://wichitaliberty.org/education/school-choice-funding/.

Kansas school fund balances

  • Kansas school fund balances rose significantly this year, in both absolute dollars and dollars per pupil.
  • Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these funds to offset cuts they have contended were necessary.
  • The interactive visualization holds data for each district since 2008.

As Kansans debate school funding, as the Kansas Supreme Court considers ordering more school spending, and as school spending boosters insist that school spending has been slashed, a fact remains constant: Kansas schools don’t spend all the money they’ve been given. Fund balances grew in many years, and rose rapidly this year.

Fund balances are necessary for cash flow management. The issue is what levels of balances are necessary. Based on recent data from the Kansas State Department of Education, fund balances rose rapidly after 2008, remained largely level from 2011 through 2015, and rose for 2016.

For the school year ending in 2015, total cash balances were $1,745,557,046. (This total does not include non-school funds like museums and recreation center funds.) For 2016, the figure was $1,871,026,493. This is an increase of $125,469,450, or 7.2 percent.

Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these funds to offset cuts they have contended were necessary.

I’ve gathered data about unspent Kansas school funds and presented it as an interactive visualization. You may explore the data yourself by using the visualization. Click here to open the visualization in a new window. Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Kansas school fund balances, all districts. Click for larger.
Kansas school fund balances, all districts. Click for larger.

Kansas and Arizona schools

Arizona shows that Kansas is missing out on an opportunity to provide better education at lower cost.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau tells us this:1

Total Spending Per Pupil:
Arizona: $7,528. Kansas: $9,972.

Spending on Instruction Per Pupil:
Arizona: $4,091. Kansas $6,112.

This data is from the school year ending in 2014, which is the most recent data from the Census Bureau that includes data from all states in a comparable fashion.

So how do Arizona and Kansas Students compare? A nearby table holds data from the 2015 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” This is a snapshot of a larger interactive visualization.2

For each state, I show the data for traditional public schools and for charter schools. (As Kansas has very few charter schools, there is no data for this category.) Kansas scores exceed Arizona scores in only one instance.

Arizona embraces charter schools and other forms of school choice. In 2014, 17.8 percent of Arizona public schools were in charter schools. Kansas has a law that allows for charter schools, but it is designed to make charters difficult to form and run. Plus, the Kansas public school community fights against charter schools. As a result, only 0.5 percent of Kansas students are in charter schools.3

Can Kansas learn from Arizona with its lower costs and higher student achievement?

Kansas and Arizona test scores. Click for larger.
Kansas and Arizona test scores. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. Public Education Finances: 2014. Table 8: Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by State: Fiscal Year 2014. Available at census.gov/library/publications/2016/econ/g14-aspef.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. The nation’s report card and charter schools. Available at wichitaliberty.org/education/nations-report-card-charter-schools/.
  3. Author’s compilation of data from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD). Available here.

Public school experts

Do only those within the Kansas public schooling community have a say?

In a letter to the Wichita Eagle, a longtime educator asks “Just how much confidence in the schooling community should taxpayers embrace?”1

The answer should be: Some.

The author’s primary topic in this letter was school funding. He writes that public school educators are best qualified to decide school funding issues, and we should trust their judgment.

The problem is that public school educators have a self-interest in this matter that goes beyond the achievement of Kansas schoolchildren. Teachers complain that class sizes are too large. At what level would teachers agree that their classes are not oversized? When making that decision, do they weigh the much larger expenditures that will be required to reduce class sizes substantially?

The success of class size reduction has a mixed record. For example, when the Brookings Institution surveyed the literature, it came to this conclusion: “Class-size reduction has been shown to work for some students in some grades in some states and countries, but its impact has been found to be mixed or not discernable in other settings and circumstances that seem similar. It is very expensive.”2

More importantly, do educators consider that smaller class sizes mean more teachers, and that if school districts have hired the best teachers first, then any additional teachers hired must be (by definition) less qualified than current teachers? This is important because teacher quality is known to be — by far — the largest factor in student achievement.3

Small classes are good. Most people like personalized attention. But teacher quality really matters:

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year. Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile. And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.4

Wichita school district student-teacher ratios. While not the same measure as class size, these ratios have generally improved or remained constant.
Wichita school district student-teacher ratios. While not the same measure as class size, these ratios have generally improved or remained constant.

Despite this, our state’s public school establishment tells us that we must have smaller classes.

Besides the obvious self-interest of public school educators, there is also this: They have lied to us. Blatantly. For years our state’s education leaders have told us that Kansas schoolchildren score well on the state’s achievements test. This should be good news, but the Kansas tests were much less stringent that other states’ test. The National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education, has published many studies over the years that documented the weakness of the Kansas assessments. For some years, only a handful of states had standards weaker than ours.5 6

Finally, last year Kansas adopted realistic standards. A presentation by the Kansas State Department of Education to the Kansas State Board of Education explained the relationship of the new standards to the former: “The Kansas College and Career Ready Standards are more rigorous than the previous Kansas Standards.”7

This admission came, however, after many years of telling us Kansas students were among the nations’ best. But Kansas students were taking easier tests.

Undoubtedly those who work in our public schools have much knowledge about their operation and what needs to be fixed. But they have an obvious self-interest, and we need others to look at schools, too.


Notes

  1. John H. Wilson. Trust judgment of school educators. Wichita Eagle, October 6, 2016. Available here.
  2. Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst and Matthew M. Chingos. Class Size: What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy. Brookings Instutition. Available at http://www.brookings.edu/research/class-size-what-research-says-and-what-it-means-for-state-policy/.
  3. “For instance, the median finding across 10 studies of teacher effectiveness estimates that a teacher who is one standard deviation above the average in terms of quality produces additional learning gains for students of 0.12 standard deviations in reading and 0.14 standard deviations in math.” Dan Goldhaber. In Schools, Teacher Quality Matters Most. EducationNext. Available at educationnext.org/in-schools-teacher-quality-matters-most-coleman/.
  4. Gladwell, Malcolm. *Most Likely to Succeed.* Available at www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/12/15/most-likely-to-succeed-malcolm-gladwell.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school standards evaluated. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-standards-evaluated/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school standards found lower than in most states. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-standards-found-lower-than-in-most-states/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. After years of low standards, Kansas schools adopt truthful standards. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/after-years-of-low-standards-kansas-schools-adopt-truthful-standards/.