In an op-ed piece printed in the Wichita Eagle (“Barb Fuller: Feds should facilitate, not dictate, on education,” February 20, 2009 Wichita Eagle, no longer available online), Wichita school board vice president Barb Fuller makes, indirectly, the case that the U.S. Federal government should fund education, but keep its nose out of how local school boards spend the money.
Her piece explains that USD 259, the Wichita public school district, like most school districts, are chafing under the “unfunded mandates” that the No Child Left Behind law calls for. She concludes that “Consequently, it makes sense for immediate suspension of the current NCLB sanctions.”
The fact is that the Wichita school district has tremendous funds at its disposal, some $13,000 per pupil per year. Board members don’t like to talk about that, as evidenced by board member Lanora Nolan‘s answer to a question at a recent Wichita Pachyderm meeting. She denied the numbers and the simple arithmetic behind a question.
Fuller writes “The federal government should be involved in helping make measures consistent throughout the states.” This is something that she may someday wish she hadn’t asked for. Here’s what education writer Diane Ravitch wrote in The Obama Education Agenda “Despite White House press claims to the contrary, NCLB has been a huge disappointment, and its failure is not due to lack of funding. Although states are reporting impressive test-score gains, most of these ‘gains’ are inflated by home-grown, low standards. The gains on the highly respected federal National Assessment of Educational Progress have been meager since 2002. In fact, the gains on the federal test have been smaller since 2002 than in the years preceding NCLB.”
It would definitely be useful to know whether the rising test scores in Kansas are genuine. In particular, the Wichita school district claims 11 years of rising test scores. I don’t think that people who have to deal with Wichita high school graduates year after year would think these gains are reliable and valid measures of the quality of the product produced by the district.
In her piece, Fuller also makes the case to “not deny accountability.” This is quite an irony, as Fuller’s previous role of president of the teachers union was to do just that: avoid accountability. Furthermore, the Wichita school district’s opposition to meaningful school choice means it dodges the only accountability that will really make a difference: the ability of parents, particularly poor parents, to escape the Wichita school district.