Tag Archives: Wichita and Kansas schools

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.

Kansas school employment

Kansas school employment rose slightly for the current school year, and ratios of employees to pupils fell, also slightly.

Kansas school employment. Click for larger.
Kansas school employment ratios. Click for larger.
Figures released by the Kansas State Department of Education show the number of certified employees rose slightly for the 2016-2017 school year.

The number of Pre-K through grade 12 teachers rose to 30,431 from 30,413, an increase of 0.06 percent. Certified employees rose to 41,459 from 41,405, or by 0.13 percent.1 These are not the only employees of school districts.2

Enrollment fell from 463,504 to 460,491, or 0.61 percent. As a result, the ratios of teachers to students and certified employees to students fell. The pupil-teacher ratio fell from 15.2 pupils per teacher to 15.1. The certified employee-pupil ratio fell from 11.2 to 11.1.

The relative change in enrollment and employment is not the same in every district. To help Kansas learn about employment trends in individual school districts, I’ve gathered the numbers from the Kansas State Department of Education and present them in an interactive visualization. Click here to use it.

These figures, at least on a state-wide basis, are contrary to the usual narrative, which is that school employment has been slashed, and class sizes are rising rapidly. The pupil-teacher ratios published by KSDE are not the same statistic as class sizes. But if the data shows that the ratio of pupils to teachers is largely unchanged for the past five years and class sizes are rising at the same time, we’re left to wonder what school districts are doing with teachers.


Notes

  1. According to KSDE, certified employees include Superintendent, Assoc./Asst. Superintendents, Administrative Assistants, Principals, Assistant Principals, Directors/Supervisors Spec. Ed., Directors/Supervisors of Health, Directors/Supervisors Career/Tech Ed, Instructional Coordinators/Supervisors, All Other Directors/Supervisors, Other Curriculum Specialists, Practical Arts/Career/Tech Ed Teachers, Special Ed. Teachers, Prekindergarten Teachers, Kindergarten Teachers, All Other Teachers, Library Media Specialists, School Counselors, Clinical or School Psychologists, Nurses (RN or NP only), Speech Pathologists, Audiologists, School Social Work Services, and Reading Specialists/Teachers. Teachers include Practical Arts/Vocational Education Teachers, Special Education Teachers, Pre-Kindergarten Teachers, Kindergarten Teachers, Other Teachers, and Reading Specialists/Teachers. See Kansas State Department of Education. Certified Personnel. http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/reports_and_publications/Personnel/Certified%20Personnel%20Cover_State%20Totals.pdf.
  2. There are also, according to KSDE, non-certified employees, which are Assistant Superintendents, Business Managers, Business Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Other Business Personnel, Maintenance and Operation Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Other Maintenance and Operation Personnel, Food Service Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Other Food Service Personnel, Transportation Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Other Transportation Personnel, Technology Director, Other Technology Personnel, Other Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Attendance Services Staff, Library Media Aides, LPN Nurses, Security Officers, Social Services Staff, Regular Education Teacher Aides, Coaching Assistant, Central Administration Clerical Staff, School Administration Clerical Staff, Student Services Clerical Staff, Special Education Paraprofessionals, Parents as Teachers, School Resource Officer, and Others. See Kansas State Department of Education. Non-Certified Personnel Report. http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/reports_and_publications/Personnel/NonCertPer%20Cov_St%20Totals.pdf.

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.

From Pachyderm: Legislative Agendas for 2017

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: Representatives of local governments presented issues important to them in the upcoming session of the Kansas Legislature. Presenters were:

  • Sheril Logan, board member for Wichita Public Schools. The material she presented to the audience is here.
  • James Clendenin, Wichita City Council. His presentation is here.
  • Jim Howell, Sedgwick County Commission. A link to the county’s legislative agenda is here.

This is an audio presentation recorded on January 6, 2017.

Kansas schools, right in the middle

A national report shows Kansas schools close to the middle of the states in many areas.

Education Week, a widely-read publication focusing on schools, has published the latest edition of the long-running series Quality Counts. The headline for the Kansas summary reads “Kansas Earns a C on State Report Card, Ranks 27th in Nation.”

In the overview for Kansas, the report concludes “This year, Kansas finishes 27th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with an overall score of 72.8 out of 100 points.”

In more detail, the report computes a “Chance-for-Success Index,” said to measure the “role that education plays in promoting positive outcomes across an individual’s lifetime.” In this index, Kansas ranks 19th in early foundations, 22nd in school years, and 19th in adult outcomes.

In school finance spending indicators, Kansas ranks 29th. In school finance equity, 21st.

For school achievement, the report looks at three areas. In current performance, Kansas ranks 28th in the nation. In improvement over time, Kansas posts a D-minus and ranks 50th. In equity, Kansas ranks 36th.

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 state assessments

An experimental presentation of Kansas state school assessment data.

The Kansas State Department of Education supplies student assessment data on its Kansas Report Card website. This is an experimental visualization of the data, still in experimental development stage.

The performance levels one through four are described like this: “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.”

The visualization, so far, has four different views of the data. This visualization is in experimental stage. Please send feedback and suggestions to [email protected]

Click here to access the visualization.

An example screen from the visualization. Click for larger.
An example screen from the visualization. Click for larger.

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.

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.

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/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita and Kansas economics, and government investment

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita sells a hotel, more subsidy for downtown, Kansas newspaper editorialists fall for a lobbyist’s tale, how Kansas can learn from Arizona schools, and government investment. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 131, broadcast October 30, 2016.

Shownotes

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 insisting 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/.

School choice and funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going forward in Kansas

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

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

Remaining students

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

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

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


Notes

  1. Kansas State Department of Education. Total Expenditures by District. Available at www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services/School-Finance/Budget-Information/Total-Expenditures-by-District.
  2. ibid.
  3. Lowry, Brian. Kansas schools will stay open as court OKs funding fix. Wichita Eagle, June 28, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/news/local/education/article86508017.html.
  4. Hanushek and Rivkin. Teacher Quality. Available here.

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.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Joseph Ashby on Kansas judges, schools, and the president

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Radio Show Host Joseph Ashby joins host Bob Weeks to talk about Kansas judges, Kansas schools, and presidential politics. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 128, broadcast September 11, 2016.

Shownotes