Questions for Wichita school district

At a luncheon event today, leaders of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, made short presentations and took questions from the audience. I didn’t get a chance to ask a question, but here are the questions I prepared.

Both President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have advocated differential teacher pay and charter schools. What plans does the Wichita school district have to incorporate these programs?

Across the country it’s starting to become apparent that the characteristics of individual teachers is by far the most important factor in student success, far more important than class size, teacher experience, or teacher credentials earned. Yet the Wichita school district has made a large and expensive commitment to smaller class sizes. And while I’ve not read the new teachers’ contract, the previous contract made experience and credentials the only way to advance in salary. What are your thoughts on these matters?

The Wichita school district last year claimed “11 years of rising test scores.” My research shows that Wichita test scores closely follow the trend of test scores for the entire state. But on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, Kansas scores are flat or rising very slowly. What is the reason for this difference? How can we be sure that Wichita and Kansas test scores are reliable and valid measures of student achievement?

Two years ago The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the study “School Choice by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006.” They found that “Every existing school choice program is at least fiscally neutral, and most produce a substantial savings.” Why doesn’t the Wichita school district, in cooperation with the state, implement the proven strategy of school choice to save money?

In May of this year, The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released a study that compared the attitudes of public school and private school teachers towards their jobs and working conditions. Public school teachers rated their jobs and working conditions much lower. The study said: “These are eye-opening data for the teaching profession. They show that public school teachers are currently working in a school system that doesn’t provide the best environment for teaching. Teachers are victims of the dysfunctional government school system right alongside their students.” Do you think that Wichita public school teachers feel the same way as did this national sample? What can the district do to improve working conditions for teachers?

Last year Interim Superintendent Martin Libhart sent an email message to district employees in which he criticized bond issue opponents because, in his own words, they “openly refer to public education as ‘government schools.'” What’s wrong with using the term “government schools?”

What is the Wichita school district’s position on the possible revival of the school funding lawsuit?

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