For Kansas progressives, it’s all about school spending, not performance

Once again, Kansans are subjected to a rant by Kansas House of Representatives Democratic Leader Paul Davis. On Facebook, he continually complains about the lack of funding for Kansas schools, recently writing “What do you think is more important: tax cuts for millionaires or funding for your local school?”

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Here are some concepts I wish Davis would explain to his Facebook fans. This might be good practice as he considers a run for the Kansas governorship.

First, Kansas schools have increased employment.

Second, Kansas schools don’t spend all the money they’ve been given, and the pile of unspent cash continues to grow far beyond what is needed for cash flow management.

Third, everyone’s taxes have been cut in Kansas.

But here’s the worst thing Kansas has done. It’s a fact that Paul Davis won’t tell you, and it’s something that is very harmful for Kansas schoolchildren: At a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its standards for schools.

This is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales.

This project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. As explained in Kansas school standards and other states, Kansas standards are relatively low, compared to other states.

naep-reading-changes-2009-kansas

For Kansas, here are some key findings. First, NCES asks this question: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of reading standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

naep-math-changes-2009-kansas

A similar question was considered for math: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of mathematics standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the mathematics assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased (the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change).”

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its mathematics grade 4 assessment between 2005 and 2009, but the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change.”

For mathematics, NCES judges that some standards were weakened, and some did not change.

In its summary of Kansas reading standards, NCES concluded: “In both grades, Kansas state assessment results showed more positive changes in achievement than NAEP results.” For mathematics, the summary reads: “In grade 4, Kansas state assessment results showed a change in achievement that is not different from that based on NAEP results. In grade 8, state assessment results showed a more positive change.”

In other words: In three of four instances, Kansas is claiming positive student achievement that isn’t apparent on national tests.

Kansas is not alone in weakening its standards during this period. It’s also not alone in showing better performance on state tests than on national tests. States were under pressure to show increased scores, and some — Kansas included — weakened their state assessment standards in response.

What’s important to know is that Kansas school leaders are not being honest with Kansans as a whole, and with parents specifically. In the face of these findings from NCES, Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane M. DeBacker wrote this in the pages of The Wichita Eagle: “One of the remarkable stories in Kansas education is student achievement. For 10 years straight, Kansas public school students have shown improvement on state reading and math assessments.” (Thank teachers for hard work, dedication, May 27, 2011.)

A look at the scores, however, show that national test results don’t match the state-controlled tests that DeBacker touts. She controls these states tests, by the way. See Kansas needs truth about schools.

A year later a number of school district superintendents made a plea for increased funding in Kansas schools, referring to “multiple funding cuts.” (Reverse funding cuts, May 3, 2012 Wichita Eagle.) In this article, the school leaders claimed “Historically, our state has had high-performing schools, which make Kansas a great place to live, raise a family and run a business.”

These claims made by Kansas school leaders are refuted by the statistics that aren’t under the control of these same leaders.

I wonder why Paul Davis doesn’t write about these topics on Facebook.

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One thought on “For Kansas progressives, it’s all about school spending, not performance”

  1. Tax cuts and school funding aren’t ‘either/or’ choices as portrayed by Rep. Davis. It would also be nice to see K-12 discussion focused on honest examinations of outcomes (as suggested in this story) instead of beating the ‘just spend more’ drum…especially since the data shows that that has no bearing on outcomes. It costs a lot of money to fund public education, but it’s how the money is spent that matters…not how much.

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