Tag Archives: Kansas State Board of Education

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.

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/.

VIDEO: KPERS payments and Kansas schools

There is a claim that a recent change in the handling of KPERS payments falsely inflates school spending. The Kansas State Department of Education says otherwise. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Click here for more about this topic.

David Dennis, gleeful regulatory revisionist

David Dennis, candidate for Sedgwick County Commission, rewrites his history of service on the Kansas State Board of Education.

In 2012 the Lawrence Journal-World reported this regarding a meeting of the Kansas State Board of Education: “Board chairman David Dennis of Wichita said the state needs more information on home schools to ensure that children are being taught. … Dennis suggested perhaps the board should propose legislation to increase the state reporting requirements for home schoolers.”1 Other newspapers published similar reports.

Now, Dennis is a candidate for the Sedgwick County Commission. At a candidate forum held by the Wichita Pachyderm Club on June 10, I asked Dennis about regulation of homeschools. Was that representative of his stance towards homeschooling and regulation?

In his response, Dennis said the board never sent a recommendation to the Legislature. But that wasn’t the question that I asked. Here is a transcription of my question.

“This week the Wichita Eagle reported that as part of the effort to retain Cargill in Wichita that the City of Wichita will appoint an ombudsman to help shepherd Cargill through the labyrinth is the word they use of business processes and regulations in Wichita. Which seems to me to be tantamount that regulation in Wichita is burdensome. So for all candidates, I would ask, how do you feel about that? What can you do to streamline regulation? And for you, Mr. Dennis, I’m particularly concerned because as a member of the State Board of Education you proposed that the board recommend the Kansas Legislature pass regulations regarding the performance of home schools. So I’m wondering if that’s indicative of your philosophy toward a free market in education and regulation in general.”

In his response to this question, Dennis made a point of “correcting me,” contending that the Kansas State Board of Education never sent such a recommendation to the Legislature. He said it again for emphasis, thereby “correcting” me twice.

Initially, I was confused by his answer. I thought perhaps I had misstated the premise of my question. But after listening to the recording, I realized that I asked the question precisely as I had intended. I said that Dennis proposed that the board recommend regulation to the Legislature, not that the board actually made such a proposal to the Legislature.

Perhaps, I thought, David Dennis didn’t hear my question correctly. So I followed up by email, including a link to an audio recording of the exchange, the same recording that appears at the end of this article. He stood by his response.

I don’t like calling anyone a liar. I’m willing to allow that people misspoke, or didn’t understand the question, or had an episode of faulty recollection, or that they changed their position over time. So maybe this episode doesn’t represent David Dennis lying. Perhaps three newspaper reporters incorrectly reported what Dennis said during the board of education meeting.2 3

But David Dennis was gleeful in “correcting” me in public. Twice. And in a forum where debating the speakers is not part of the culture.

Maybe Dennis’s response wasn’t a lie. But it was deceptive. It was evasive. It was characteristic of someone who is supremely confident in himself, even when he is wrong.

Perhaps this confidence is useful when serving as a military officer, as Dennis did. But it isn’t evidence of humility, and that’s something we need in our public servants.

Following is an excerpt from the candidate forum containing my question and the response from the candidates. A recording of the entire meeting as available at From Pachyderm: Sedgwick County Commission candidates. The participating candidates were Dennis and his opponent Karl Peterjohn in district 3, and Michael O’Donnell, the Republican candidate in district 2. (Only Republican candidates were invited.)


Notes

  1. Rothschild, Scott. State board discusses home-schooling requirements. Lawrence Journal-World, August 14, 2012. Available at www2.ljworld.com/news/2012/aug/14/state-board-discusses-home-schooling-requirements/.
  2. Associated press in Topeka Capital-Journal. Kansas education board looks into home schooling concerns. August 14, 2012. Available at cjonline.com/news/2012-08-15/kansas-education-board-looks-home-schooling-concerns.
  3. Tobias, Suzanne Perez. Kansas education official’s comment riles home-schooling parents. Wichita Eagle, August 18, 2012. Available at www.kansas.com/news/article1097490.html.

KPERS payments and Kansas schools

There is a claim that a recent change in the handling of KPERS payments falsely inflates school spending. The Kansas State Department of Education says otherwise.

A member of the Kansas State Board of Education has written an article that has received widespread attention. But the member, Jim Porter, is wrong on several accounts.

In his article, Porter stated that a recent change in the handling of Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) contributions falsely inflates school spending.1

This 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.

In response, Kansas Policy Institute noted 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.”2

Here, Dale Dennis contradicts Porter. Dennis is Deputy Commissioner at Kansas State Department of Education and head of Fiscal and Administrative Services.

Wichita Public Schools, State Revenue by Source, KPERS ContributionsEven though Dennis is the state’s top education finance official, we don’t have to rely solely on him to illustrate Porter’s error. 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.

Trabert’s article explains other ways in which Porter is wrong. I have to wonder what is the underlying reason for Porter writing things like this. Is he being told incorrect information or is he simply lying?


Notes

  1. “Deception #2 – Until recently the state contribution to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) was sent directly to KPERS. Now the funds are transferred to the public school account and then transferred to KPERS on the same day. Again, this was lauded as an increase to public school funding even though it was the same amount of money with just an additional transfer from the State of Kansas to the school to KEPRS.” Jim Porter for Kansas State Board of Education – District 9 Facebook post. Available at www.facebook.com/JimPorterKSBOE9/posts/1001536676582800.
  2. “Jim Porter’s Deception #2 – 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. Again, Mr. Porter doesn’t define “recently” but most people would take it to mean within the time frame he references (the Brownback administration) and that clearly is not the case.” Trabert, Dave. State school board member should practice what he preaches. Available at kansaspolicy.org/state-school-board-member-practice-preaches/.
  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.

School choice in Kansas: The haves and have-nots

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 $158,809
Donna Whiteman, Assistant Executive Director $105,872

Can afford to send their children to any school.

Kansas National Education AssociationKansas National Education Association Political Action Committee
Executives and annual salaries 2
Karen Godfrey, President $98,234
Claudette Johns, Executive Director $125,052
Kevin Riemann, Associate Executive Director $123,143
David Schnauer, General Counsel $114,886
Marjorie Blaufuss, Staff Counsel $116,731
Mark Desetti, Director of Governmental Relations $115,106
Anthony White, Uniserv Director $112,605
Burle Neely, Uniserv Director $111,199

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?

School Choice in Kansas - The Haves and Have Nots b

Notes:

  1. Source: IRS Form 990 for 2013
  2. Source: IRS Form 990 for 2013
  3. Source: U.S. Census, 2014

Kansas school standards found lower than in most states

A second study finds that Kansas uses low standards for evaluating the performance of students in its public schools.

What is the relative strength of weakness of the standards your state uses to evaluate students? A new study provides answers to this question. The report is Why Proficiency Matters. It is a project of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

This study is important because the most widely-reported source of data about student achievement is a state’s own assessment tests. But there are problems, as explained in the report:

A proficiency cut score is an actual number (score) on an assessment that draws the line determining where a student is proficient. States use different tests and set different proficiency cut scores to determine the proficiency level for knowledge and skill mastery. When proficiency cut scores are set too low, it conveys a false sense of student achievement.

Each state has its own tests, and each state sets the bar for what is considered “proficient,” as well as for other descriptive measures such as “basic.” It’s not surprising that states vary in the rigor of their standards:

The difference between NAEP and individual states’ proficiency expectations are wide and varied. Therefore, state-reported proficiency is not equivalent to proficiency on NAEP. This is referred to as the “proficiency gap”. States with large proficiency gaps are setting the bar too low for the proficiency cut score, leading parents and teachers to believe students are performing better than they actually are.

This study looks at the results students on tests in each state and compares them to a national standard, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). By doing so, the study evaluates the strength or rigor of the standards used by each state. This does not judge the actual performance of the student. Rather, it assesses the decisions made by the state’s school administration as to what standards they will hold students.

This is not the only effort to assess state standards. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is part of the U.S. Department of Education, also performs a similar analysis. See Kansas school standards evaluated.

Results for Kansas

The results of the analysis show that Kansas holds students to low standards of achievement. Kansas says students are “proficient” at a very low level of accomplishment, relative to other states. This is consistent with the separate analysis performed by National Center for Education Statistics.

These are the findings for Kansas:

Grade 4 reading: Kansas standards are ranked 39 out of 50 states.
Grade 8 reading: 45 of 50 states.
Grade 4 math: 36 of 50 states.
Grade 8 math: 36 of 50 states.

Kansas school test scores, an untold story

If the Kansas public school establishment wants to present an accurate assessment of Kansas schools, it should start with its presentation of NAEP scores.

Kansas public school leaders are proud of Kansas schools, partly because of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Kansas ranks high among the states on this test. It’s important, however, to examine the results from a few different angles to make sure we understand the entire situation.

I’ve gathered scores from the 2013 administration of the test, which is the most recent data available. I present data in an interactive visualization that you may use through the links at the end of this article. The most widely available NAEP data is for two subjects: reading and math, and for two grades, fourth and eighth. In the nearby images captured from the visualizations, I present data for Kansas and the average for national public schools. I’ve also added Texas and Florida, as schools in those states have sometimes been mentioned in comparisons to Kansas. The numbers in the charts are the percent of students that score at or above proficient.

NAEP scores grouped by ethnicity. Click for larger version.
NAEP scores grouped by ethnicity. Click for larger version.

Considering all students, Kansas has the best scores for all combinations of grade levels and subjects, except for one.

When we compare black students only, we find Kansas outperformed by Texas in all cases. National public schools beat Kansas in one case, and tie in another.

Looking at Hispanic students only, Florida beats Kansas in three cases and ties in one. In some cases the difference is large.

Looking at white students only, Texas outperforms Kansas in all cases. National public schools score higher than Kansas in three of four cases.

Another way to look at test scores is to group students by eligibility for free or reduced school lunches. This is a widely used surrogate for family income. In this analysis Kansas performs better in comparison to other states, but Kansas is not always the best.

NAEP scores grouped by free/reduced lunch eligibility. Click for larger version.
NAEP scores grouped by free/reduced lunch eligibility. Click for larger version.

These visualizations are interactive, meaning that you may adjust parameters yourself. For the visualization grouping students by ethnicity, click here. For the visualization grouping students by school lunch eligibility, click here.

In Kansas, school employment rises again

For the fourth consecutive year, the number of teachers in Kansas public schools has risen faster than enrollment, leading to declining pupil-teacher ratios.

Listening to Kansas school officials and legislators — not to mention politicians campaigning for office — you’d think that Kansas schools had very few teachers left, and that students were struggling in huge classes. But statistics from Kansas State Department of Education show that school employment has rebounded, both in terms of absolute numbers of teachers and certified employees, and the ratios of pupils to these employees.

The story is not the same in every district. But considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past four years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Since the number of teachers has risen proportionally faster than enrollment, the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.

The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but the number of certified employees has also risen, and the ratio to pupils has mostly fallen.

(In the chart, “fiscal year” refers to the calendar year in which the school year ends. So fiscal year 2015 refers to the 2015-15 school year.)

Public school advocates complain that class sizes in Kansas schools are rising. I understand that the ratio of teachers to pupils is not the same statistic as class size. They measure different things. But if Kansas schools, considered as a whole, have rising teacher and certified employment levels that leads to decreasing pupil to teacher ratios, and at the same time class sizes are increasing — we have to wonder about the management of schools.

I’ve created an interactive visualization that lets you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here to open the visualization in a new window. Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

Kansas school enrollment and employment data. Click for larger version.
Kansas school enrollment and employment data. Click for larger version.

Kansas school spending and achievement

Following, from Dr. Walt Chappell, a discussion of Kansas school spending. Chappell served on the Kansas State Board of Education from 2009 to 2012.

The truth is, Governor Brownback and most Kansas legislators have worked hard to get more money into K-12 classrooms and have increased funding to educate our children each of the last four years. Claims that funds for schools have been cut, supposedly causing test scores to drop, schools to close, class sizes to go up and college tuition to increase are totally false.

apple-chalkboard-books-2Yes, there was a large reduction of $419 million to fund Kansas schools in 2009 when Mark Parkinson was Governor. The 2008 Great Recession hit Americans hard and state tax revenues dropped like a rock. Then, in 2011, the Federal government stopped sending emergency TARP funds to all states.

The Kansas Legislature made up the $219 million in Federal cuts by raising the amount spent from state tax revenues by $223 million. Brownback signed that budget bill.

Continue reading Kansas school spending and achievement

What is truth on education finance in Kansas?

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Duane Goossen distorts the truth on education finance

By Dave Trabert

Former state budget director Duane Goossen’s recent blog post entitled “Woe to Education Finance” is yet another example of data being deliberately distorted or falsified for political gain. Mr. Goossen served as budget director under governors Graves, Sebelius and Parkinson and has been a vocal critic of anything even hinting at efficient government…let alone lower tax burdens. Indeed, his post concludes, “The fallout from the governor’s tax plan has made investment in Kansas public schools impossible.” That false claim is completely debunked on page 60 of the Division of Budget’s FY 2015 Comparison Report, showing that state funding of schools will increase by $176 million this year (not counting property taxes that will finally be recorded properly as state aid).

And that’s just the beginning of the false claims and distortions.

Goossen: “Costs for supplies, electricity, transportation, and teachers’ salaries are all increasing. But for the coming academic year, schools must cover those growing expenses with $548 less for each student than they had 6 years ago.”

Table 1 shows the most recent estimate of per-pupil spending for the year just ended. Even if the portion recorded as Federal and Local is unchanged this year, the addition of $176 million will take per-pupil expenditures to roughly $13,411. That would be $751 more per-pupil than six years ago … not $548 less.  Mr. Goossen is only telling a partial story, as shown in the next section.

What’s more, to the extent that costs are increasing for schools, they are also increasing for individual families and businesses. Mr. Goossen is essentially demanding that taxpayers give government a raise when they have no such power with their own paychecks and are facing rising costs as well. His demand for more money also presumes that districts are organized and operating efficiently, which we know is not true according to multiple Legislative Post Audit studies.

Note: The KSDE estimate for 2013-14 was provided before the addition of funding during the recent legislative session, so it is possible the actual spending will be higher than the estimate. It should also be noted that KPI’s estimate of 2014-15 utilizes data from Budget and KSDE and that there could be reporting differences between those entities that would affect the Total. This note also applies to Table 5.

Goossen: “In the 2008/2009 school year, school budgets were based on a per pupil amount of $4,400 — the high point for school finance in Kansas. For the upcoming 2014/2015 school year, lawmakers budgeted $3,852.”

Mr. Goossen writes this as though the amounts listed are all that is provided to schools. In reality, he is talking only about Base State Aid Per Pupil, which is just the beginning point for a portion of school funding. As shown above, total aid per-pupil is about three times greater than Base and that total state aid that is more than double the Base. He deliberately ignores funding that doesn’t suit his preferred narrative.

Goossen: “At its root, a school district’s budget is determined by an amount per pupil multiplied by the number of students. School districts can then add on a “local option budget” of up to 33 percent of the basic budget. Schools must run their classrooms and education programs within that total.”

“Deceptive” would be a generous interpretation of Mr. Goossen’s representation in this regard.  As shown in Table 2, he is grossly understating total aid to school districts. Multiplying Base State Aid Per Pupil times Weighted Enrollment produces an amount roughly equal to Base State Aid plus extra money provided through many weightings (At-Risk, Bilingual, Transportation, etc.); adding Local Option Budget money would lead on to believe that school funding for 2013 was about $3.2 billion.  The actual total, according to the Kansas Department of Education, was $5.8 billion.

 

Saying “schools must run their classrooms and education programs within that total” is the caveat that saves his representation from being an outright false claim. There is no official definition of “education programs” but he later provides a few examples of what he may exclude from “education programs,” saying “… school districts also receive funds for to pay for other things: the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS), special education, school building construction, capital outlay, food service, etc. However, that funding must be used for its intended purpose.”

It is true that money for the listed spending categories must generally be used for those purposes, but his “etc.” contains a lot of unrestricted funding, the most notable of which, Supplemental General State Aid, was $339 million for 2013 and is budgeted to be $448.5 million this year.

Mr. Goossen and other “just spend more” proponents loudly proclaimed over the last few years that the Legislature should raise Base State Aid in accordance with the Supreme Court settlement over Montoy. But now that the Supreme Court has effectively reversed that ruling and says that all funding, including State, Federal, Local and even KPERS must be counted toward adequacy, they have a decidedly different — and quite hypocritical — position. They still cling to Base State Aid as their touchstone and refuse to acknowledge that, as the Supreme Court says, “… a stable retirement system is a factor in attracting and retaining quality educators — a key to providing an adequate education.”

It is also worth noting that school districts say nicer facilities lead to better student outcomes when they want more money for that purpose, but facilities suddenly don’t count when they want other money. Spending more money on facilities also makes less available for other functions, as does having district employees perform functions that could be privatized, which forces more money to be spent on KPERS.

Goossen:  “Costs for supplies, electricity, transportation, and teachers’ salaries are all increasing. But for the coming academic year, schools must cover those growing expenses with $548 less for each student than they had 6 years ago.”

The false claim about per-pupil spending being down was already debunked but Goossen also implies here that Base State Aid Per Pupil is all that schools receive to pay for supplies, electricity, transportation and teachers’ salaries, which of course is not true. Table 3 highlights other major unrestricted funding sources that Mr. Goossen and others routinely ignore in their pursuit of more money.

At-Risk funding does carry some restrictions but that funding is not required to be used for the exclusive benefit of students who generate the funding. For example, the KSDE At-Risk Guidelines say “At-Risk funds can be used to support classroom teacher salaries to the proportional percent identified at-risk students.” The guidelines merely require that at-risk students be present in the classroom.

Table 4 shows spending from the K-12 At-Risk Fund in 2013 (another $19.8 million was spent from the At-Risk 4 year-old Fund, which can be used for K-12), including money spent on each category that Mr. Goossen implied could only be funded with Base State Aid dollars. Most of the salary expenditure was for regular classroom teachers but money was also used to pay for custodians, support staff and administration.

Goossen: “The per-pupil figure has dropped because state funding has dropped.”

Table 1 shows that per-pupil funding of schools has increased. Table 5 shows that state funding has also increased each year since 2011 and is budgeted to set a new record this year. Again, Mr. Goossen does not allow the facts to get in the way of his political narrative.

Goossen: “Is the state in a position to add money to push the per-pupil amount up?

Set aside the fact that that just happened. The real issue here is that Mr. Goossen is posing the wrong question. “Just spend more” is simply about institutional demand for more money and completely disregards the educational needs of individual students. Political demand for more money also ignores these realities:

  • Every Legislative Post Audit report says districts are not operating efficiently.
  • $430 million of education funding was used to increase district cash reserves since 2005.
  • Student achievement on independent national tests is relatively unchanged despite large funding increases over the last decade.

One must wonder how much of Kansas’ and the nation’s student achievement woes are attributable to political self-interest and putting a higher priority on institutions than on the needs of individual students.

In Kansas, education is all about money and politics for UMEEA

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Education is all about money and politics for UMEEA

By Dave Trabert

Media reaction to the school finance legislation has been pretty predictable. It focuses almost exclusively on institutions and ignores the impact on students. As usual, it’s all about money and politics.

Unions, media and their allies in the education establishment (UMEEA) oppose tax credit scholarships for low income students. They rail against taxpayer money going to private schools and how that might mean a little less money for public institutions but ignore the very real purpose and need for the program. (FYI, the scholarship program is capped at $10 million; schools are expected to spend almost $6 billion this year.)

Achievement gaps for low income students are large and getting worse, despite the fact that At Risk funding intended to improve outcomes increased seven-fold over the last eight years. So predictably, a program to give an alternative to low income students in the 99 lowest-performing schools is attacked by UMEEA as being unfair to institutions. Media and their establishment friends don’t even make a token mention of the serious achievement problem. It’s all about money and politics.

An ugly, inconvenient truth about low income achievement gaps emerges when the data is honestly examined. We compiled and published the information in our2014 Public Education Fact Book, available on our web site. For example, only 45 percent of 4th grade low income students can read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension on the state assessment, versus 74 percent of those who are not low income. State assessment data also shows that 57 percent of low income students in private accredited Kansas schools can read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension. Tax credit scholarships offer a lifeline to low income students who want to try something else.

And before the attacks on the validity of the data begin, know that Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker and I participated in a discussion on the topic before the House and Senate Education committees recently; she could have objected or corrected me when I presented this KSDE achievement data. She did not. Instead, she said low income achievement gaps are large and getting worse. Even the education establishment agrees that having effective teachers in classrooms is probably the most important element of improving outcomes, but of course money and politics take priority over students, so UMEEA attacks efforts to make it easier and faster to remove ineffective teachers. After all, the adults in the system are a higher priority than students.

And don’t forget to throw in some clichés … efforts to help students are “ideological” but prioritizing institutional demands is “progressive” and “pragmatic.” UMEEA likes to pretend that “just spend more” and promoting institutional demands are not ideological positions.

Media is also spreading institutional notions that increasing the Local Option Budget (LOB) ceiling from 31 percent to 33 percent will create inequities among school districts, even though legislators just agreed to fully equalize the LOB. If school districts really believed that higher ceilings create inequity, they would be calling for the ceiling to be reduced. One must wonder if the real issue is that districts don’t want to, or can’t, justify the need for higher property taxes to local voters.

UMEEA will continue to attack legislators for combining policy reforms with the commitment to increase spending for equalization, but the simple reality is that that may have been the only real chance to get these student-focused initiatives passed. In that regard, spending more money finally made a difference for students.

Kansas Association of School Boards: Putting institutions and money before individual students

kansas-association-school-boards-signFrom Kansas Policy Institute.

Kansas Association of School Boards: Putting institutions and money before individual students
By Dave Trabert

There is no question that many students receive a fine public education and go on to success in college or career, but there is also no question that thousands of students are left behind every year. Continuing to pour money into the current broken system — whether ordered to so by courts or by choice — will not close the large achievement gaps that exist for students of color and those from low-income families.

Yet institutional demands for more money continue to drive the debate. Many mission statements effectively say “it’s all about the kids” but in reality, the wants of institutions and the adults in the system often prevail over student needs.

A recent blog post from Mark Tallman and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) is loaded with more examples of institutions misrepresenting the facts of student achievement and school funding to justify the extraction of more money from taxpayers.

Here’s the first example. “KASB research has shown that the percentage scoring at Basic is a good indicator of the state’s graduation rate, i.e. the percentage of students who complete high school. The percentage scoring at Proficient is a rough indicator of the percentage of students who will meet college readiness benchmarks on the ACT test. In other words, the percent at Basic might be considered the percentage of student “on track” to graduate, and the percent at Proficient indicates those “on track” to be ready for college-level academics.”

First of all, a high school graduation rate says nothing about actual achievement.  In fact, the Kansas Board of Regents reports that 30 percent of 2011 Kansas high school graduates who attended a public college in Kansas actually signed up for remedial training – keep in mind that students voluntarily sign up for these courses and cannot be made to do so by the college. These students apparently know that they aren’t ready to take credit-bearing courses in college.  Also, only 30 percent of the 2013 class who took the ACT test scored high enough to be considered college-ready in English, Reading, Math and Science. (Incredibly, KASB representative Tom Krebs testified earlier this year that the ACT college-readiness measure shows that local school districts are doing a good job — because only 30 percent of today’s jobs require a 4-year degree!)

Also, the KASB research that purports to find ‘good indications’ is called a bivariate analysis, meaning that only two variables are considered. This reminds me of something the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) once said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. He noted that northern states tended to have the best student achievement, so we should move schools closer to the Canadian border to improve achievement. His point was that simple bivariate analyses and non sequiturs are no substitution for honest analysis. A bivariate analysis doesn’t control for other factors that may (and frequently do) make a difference.

Note also that KASB continues to lower the bar and now often speaks of the percentage of students at Basic+ instead of Proficient+ on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  They referenced high rankings on Proficient+ until people became aware that Kansas’ proficiency levels are in the 30 percent and 40 percent range. Now they talk about Basic+ so they can use higher percentages and make the institutions look better.

Example #2

On October 7, Mr. Tallman wrote, “KASB absolutely agrees that differences in student characteristics must be considered in evaluating educational performance … the most important factor .. is socio-economic status.”

But that “belief” is largely ignored on October 11 when he writes, “To measure overall state performance, we calculate the average of the percentage of students scoring at both Basic and Proficient on the four tests (Grade 4 reading and math; Grade 8 reading and math). We then rank the average percent for each state.” Two of the four percentages he averaged are based on All Students, which brings the mostly-White states to the top of his list. You see, students of color are two to three years’ worth of learning behind White students, so the states with highest overall average performance are those with the lowest levels of minorities. (This is the essence of Senator Moynihan’s observation.)

Similar achievement gaps exist between low income students and others. And since Census data shows that minorities are twice as likely to live in poverty as Whites, KASB’s deliberate decision to not control for race and income produces very predictable results that are favorable to their overall point (it’s all about the money). Every state in the KASB calculation of the Top Ten states in Reading and Math has Free and Reduced Lunch Eligibility levels below the national average of 48.1 percent. Most of them are well below. The point of KASB’s exercise is of course about money. The states chosen to appear in their top ten all spend more than Kansas.

Example #3

“The State Board of Education has continued to set higher standards.” That’s a real whopper.  Our research shows how and when the Kansas State Board of Education chose to reduce performance standards, to the point where the U.S. Department of Education reports that Kansas has some of the lowest performance standards in the nation. Before publishing our findings, we asked KSDE and KBOE to let us know if there was anything factually incorrect in our work. They didn’t respond.

Example #4

“Economic data indicates Kansas must increase the percentage of high school graduates and college-ready students to meet future employment needs and provide “middle class” incomes.” It’s true that people with more education are able to earn more money but that speaks to the important of getting an education. It has nothing to do with the amount taxpayers are expected to spend on public education.

Example #5

“New national reports have indicated Kansas has further reduced spending compared to most states.” This is a reference to a bogus claim made by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which we completely de-bunked in a separate blog post. CBPP does not publish their data; they only share their “conclusions.” Our request to see their data has gone unanswered. Meanwhile, KSDE data shows that new records for school funding were set in 2012 and 2013 and are predicted to be broken again in 2014.

Example #6

This final example represents the culmination of all the previous misrepresentations. “The totality of the evidence indicates that funding does play an important role in state student achievement and that it will be extremely difficult — and, in fact, unprecedented — for Kansas to improve achievement on NAEP results without additional revenues.” The data, however, tells a much different story.

No change on NAEP scores despite a 32 percent inflation-adjusted increase in per-pupil spending since 1998 (even with all KPERS spending removed, it’s still a 29 percent increase).

ACT scores are flat overall, although White scores slightly increased over the last ten years while scores for Hispanic and African American students are flat or down a bit. ACT doesn’t publish income-based scores.

And after nearly $3 billion in targeted At Risk (low income) spending, there’s virtually no improvement in those students’ achievement.

Yep … it’s all about the money. It’s all about demands to put more money into a system despite voluminous evidence that large funding increases have not closed student achievement gaps and roughly half of all Kansas students are clearly not leaving high school ready for college or careers.

These large achievement gaps do not exist because those students cannot learn, but because they do not have equal access to educational opportunities. Kansas has tried ‘throwing money at the problem’ and it has not worked. Until elected officials and citizens support implementation of student-focused funding and other policy initiatives, they are tacitly choosing to place a higher priority on institutional wants than on student needs.

P.S.  We’re working with legislators and school districts to show how a lot more money can be made available to classrooms by improving district efficiency. It costs a lot of money to fund public education, but it’s how the money is spent that matters … not how much.

WichitaLiberty.TV October 13, 2013

WichitaLiberty.TV, a television news and commentary television program covering Wichita and Kansas government and politics.

On this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: First, host Bob Weeks looks back at some issues covered in earlier episodes of WichitaLiberty.TV to see if there’s been progress. Then, Bob uses a little bit of elementary statistics to uncover unfortunate facts about Kansas public schools. Finally, Amanda BillyRock illustrates another chapter of “Economics in One Lesson” about Spread-The-Work Schemes, and Bob illustrates with local applications. Episode 16, broadcast October 13, 2013. View below, or click here to view on YouTube.

Kansas school test scores, a hidden story

School blackboardWe hear a lot about how Kansas shouldn’t strive to become more like Texas, especially regarding schools. Defenders of high school spending in Kansas portray Texas as a backwater state with poor schools. This video takes a look at Kansas and Texas school test scores and reveals something that might surprise you. (Click here to view in high definition at YouTube.) Narrative explanation follows.

Superficially, it looks like the Kansas school spending establishment has a valid point. Scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states, has Kansas scoring better than Texas (with one tie) in reading and math, in both fourth and eighth grade.

That makes sense to the school spending establishment, as Kansas, in 2009, spent $11,427 per student. Texas spent $11,085, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Considering only spending deemed by NCES to be for instruction, it was Kansas at $6,162 per student and Texas at $5,138.

Texas also has a higher pupil/teacher ratio. Texas has 14.56 students for each teacher. In Kansas, it’s 13.67. (2009 figures, according to NCES.)

So for those who believe that school spending is positively correlated with student success, Kansas and Texas NAEP scores are evidence that they’re correct in their belief.

But let us take another look at the Kansas and Texas NAEP scores. Here’s a table of 2011 scores.

kansas-texas-naep-test-scores-2011

Notice that when reporting scores for all students, Kansas has the highest scores, except for one tie. But when we look at subgroups, all the sudden the picture is different: Texas has the best scores in all cases, except for two ties. Similar patterns exist for previous years.

Kansas students score better than Texas students, that is true. It is also true that Texas white students score better than Kansas white students, Texas black students score better than Kansas black students, and Texas Hispanic students score better than or tie Kansas Hispanic students. The same pattern holds true for other ethnic subgroups.

How can this be? The answer is Simpson’s Paradox. A Wall Street Journal article explains: “Put simply, Simpson’s Paradox reveals that aggregated data can appear to reverse important trends in the numbers being combined.”

The Wikipedia article explains: “A paradox in which a trend that appears in different groups of data disappears when these groups are combined, and the reverse trend appears for the aggregate data. … Many statisticians believe that the mainstream public should be informed of the counter-intuitive results in statistics such as Simpson’s paradox.”

In this case, the confounding factor (“lurking” variable) is that the two states differ greatly in the proportion of white students. In Kansas, 69 percent of students are white. In Texas it’s 33 percent. This large difference in the composition of students is what makes it look like Kansas students perform better on the NAEP than Texas students.

But looking at the scores for ethnic subgroups, which state would you say has the most desirable set of NAEP scores?

Kansas progressives and those who support more spending on schools say we don’t want to be like Texas. I wonder if they are aware of Simpson’s Paradox and how it conceals important facts about Kansas school performance.

Why are Kansas school standards so low?

Row of lockers in school hallwayAt a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its already low standards for schools.

This is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. As explained earlier this week in Kansas school standards and other states, Kansas standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains. (View below, or click here to view in HD at YouTube.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: “Kansans are proud of the quality of their public schools, and a steady and continuing increase in student performance over the past decade has given us ample reason for that pride.” (Diane DeBacker : Pride in Kansas public schools is well-placed, March 20, 2012.)

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.

The same year 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. Before courts rule on school spending, and before we change Kansas school standards, we need to realize the recent stewardship of Kansas schools under current leadership.

Ask these questions before devoting more resources to Kansas public schools:

Why are Kansas school standards so low compared to other states?

Why did Kansas reduce its standards at the same time school spending was increasing?

Following are two examples of where Kansas school standards rank compared to other states. Click on them for larger versions.

naep-scale-equivalents-state-grade-4-reading-2009

Kansas Grade 4 Math Standards 01

Kansas school standards have changed

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 video uses the “Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales” report from the National Center for Education Statistics to show what Kansas has done to its educational standards. View below, or click here to view on YouTube, which may work better in some cases.

For background on this issue, see Kansas has lowered its school standards and More evidence of low Kansas school standards.

Other relevant articles include Kansas needs truth about schools, Kansas school superintendents defend low standards, and Kansas school test scores, in perspective.

Kansas school test scores, in perspective

We hear a lot about how Kansas shouldn’t strive to become more like Texas, especially regarding schools. Defenders of high school spending in Kansas portray Texas as a backwater state with poor schools.

Superficially, it looks like the Kansas school spending establishment has a valid point. Scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states, has Kansas scoring better than Texas (with one tie) in reading and math, in both fourth and eighth grade.

That makes sense to the school spending establishment, as Kansas, in 2009, spent $11,427 per student. Texas spent $11,085, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Considering only spending deemed by NCES to be for instruction, it was Kansas at $6,162 per student and Texas at $5,138.

Texas also has larger class sizes, or more precisely, a higher pupil/teacher ratio. Texas has 14.56 students for each teacher. In Kansas, it’s 13.67. (2009 figures, according to NCES.)

So for those who believe that school spending is positively correlated with student success, Kansas and Texas NAEP scores are evidence that they’re correct in their belief.

But let us take another look at the Kansas and Texas NAEP scores. Here’s a table of 2011 scores.

kansas-texas-naep-test-scores-2011

Notice that when reporting scores for all students, Kansas has the highest scores, except for one tie. But when we look at subgroups, all the sudden the picture is different: Texas has the best scores in all cases, except for two ties. Similar patterns exist for previous years.

Kansas students score better than Texas students, that is true. It is also true that Texas white students score better than Kansas white students, Texas black students score better than Kansas black students, and Texas Hispanic students score better than or tie Kansas Hispanic students. The same pattern holds true for other ethnic subgroups.

How can this be? The answer is Simpson’s Paradox. A Wall Street Journal article explains: “Put simply, Simpson’s Paradox reveals that aggregated data can appear to reverse important trends in the numbers being combined.”

The Wikipedia article explains: “A paradox in which a trend that appears in different groups of data disappears when these groups are combined, and the reverse trend appears for the aggregate data.”

In this case, the confounding factor (“lurking” variable) is that the two states differ greatly in the proportion of white students. In Kansas, 69 percent of students are white. In Texas it’s 33 percent. This large difference in the composition of students is what makes it look like Kansas students perform better on the NAEP than Texas students.

But looking at the scores for ethnic subgroups, which state would you say has the most desirable set of NAEP scores?

Kansas progressives and those who support more spending on schools say we don’t want to be like Texas. I wonder if they are aware of Simpson’s Paradox.

Electing Kansas legislators: Education issues

By Dr. Walt Chappell
Member, Kansas State Board of Education

Before Kansas voters can decide who should represent them in the state Legislature, we must have accurate information. This is especially important when it comes to which candidates will make responsible decisions about how to improve our schools.

Some campaign mailers and editorials claim that student achievement has improved and funding for Kansas schools has been drastically cut. Neither is true.

To give the impression that more students are “proficient” in reading and math, the State Department of Education lowered cut scores in 2005. Since then, high school students only have to answer 50 percent of the state math questions correct to be labeled “proficient.” They also claim that any student who gets 40 percent on the state science test “Meets Standard.”

As anyone who has gone to school knows, getting 40 or 50 percent on a test is failing. Yet, by lowering the bar so low that nearly all students appear to be “proficient,” the state education staff have mislead the legislature, voters, and parents into thinking that our students are learning what they need to know to compete for jobs in the global economy.

But, this spring’s results on the ACT test show that only 29 percent of Kansas students are ready for college. On the national NAEP test, less than 40 percent are proficient. Even though Kansas scores on these national tests have stayed low for 15 years, state bureaucrats claim 86 percent of our K-12 students are now “proficient.” Education lobbyists then repeat just the inflated state test scores to demand more funding for schools.

Due to the economic recession, the base state aid for schools was cut some under governors Sebelius and Parkinson but federal stimulus money made up the difference in most districts. Under Governor Brownback, the Legislature added money back into school budgets.

However, over the past 10 years, school districts have spent $2.7 billion more to teach the same number of students. That is an increase of 56 percent. They also held back $874 million in their bank accounts last year. With more of our tax dollars being spent and kept each year to educate Kansas students while test scores remain flat, why are lobbyists claiming that schools need more money?

Significant changes must be made to prepare our students for 21st century jobs. But using taxpayer money to sue the state to increase funding and repeating false claims about student achievement will not get Kansans where we need to be.

So, it is up to the voters to elect responsible legislators, judges and school board members who will ask tough questions, demand honest answers and make the hard decisions needed to improve our public schools.

At Kansas Board of Education, some questions aren’t allowed

At a meeting of the Kansas State Board of Education, it became clear that there are certain topics and questions that aren’t to be discussed in public.

At September’s meeting (video here), BOE chair David Dennis interrupted questioning by board member Walt Chappell and proceeded to the next member’s questions. Chappell was asking whether “cut scores” had declined and whether definitions of “meets standard” and “proficiency” had changed. Dennis would not allow these questions to be answered.

It’s clear that Dennis — and the entire Kansas public school bureaucracy — doesn’t want to talk about these questions. Here’s why.

Until this year, scores on Kansas-administered and controlled assessments have been rising — “jumping,” in the recent words of Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker. But scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for Kansas students don’t reflect the same trend. Scores on this test, which is given every two years, haven’t been rising as they have on the Kansas-controlled test scores. Sometimes they decline.

We now know why the Kansas-controlled test scores have risen: The Kansas State Department of Education has lowered standards. Kansas Policy Institute has done the research.

In Removing Barriers to Better Public Education, updated in June with new data, KPI concludes: “In 2000 and 2001 a student needed at least 87% correct answers in Reading to be Proficient (the second-highest performance level), but from 2002 through 2005 they only needed 80% correct answers to be Proficient (the third highest level) on the same test; Proficiency in Math required only 48% correct answers, down from 60%.”

It’s not only KPI that has noticed that Kansas schools have low standards. Data from U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reveals that Kansas has low standards for its schools, compared to other states.

These are the types of things the Kansas school public school establishment doesn’t want Kansans to know. Board of Education chair David Dennis uses his authority to silence those who might mention these facts.

While Dennis squelches those who ask inconvenient questions about Kansas public schools, he floated a proposal to increase regulation of homeschooling in Kansas. It’s simply incredible that someone presiding over a failing system — and proud to be part of that system — would want to extend his influence and control over people who have taken great effort to escape the public schools.

Related: Test scores decline; educators quick to blame funding cuts