A few days ago someone sent me a message on Twitter, regarding something I wrote about Kansas schools.
— Devin Wilson (@ksucats96) August 10, 2013
As Tweets are too brief to discuss the issues, I do so here.
It’s true that state education spending — that portion of total school funding provided by the State of Kansas — has fallen. But total school spending per student is different. It has fallen too, but by much less. That’s because at the same time state spending was falling, local spending remained steady, and federal spending rose.
The nearby chart (click on it for a larger version) shows the totality of Kansas school spending, according to Kansas State Department of Education. Overall school spending per student, adjusted for inflation, fell for two years. It rose a small amount last year. Spending from all sources, individually and collectively, is much higher than ten years ago. Remember, the figures in the chart are adjusted for inflation.
We’ve increased spending on schools, both in Kansas and across the nation, by huge amounts will little to show in the way of results. This actually ought to give us hope, because if we can eliminate our fixation on spending as the cure for all problems, we can start to seek actual solutions.
On the topic of class size: Pupil-teacher ratio is not the same as class size, but it’s the data we have. Also, the story is not the same in every district. But considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.
The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio to pupils has fallen. This article holds an interactive visualization of this data: Kansas school employment trends are not what you’d expect.
There’s also this to consider about class size. In 2011 the Center for American Progress released a report about class size reduction in schools and the false promise it holds for improving student achievement. While I am normally quite cautious about relying on anything CAP — a prominent left-wing think tank — produces, I’ve read the report, which is titled The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction. It’s accurate.
It’s quite astonishing to see CAP cite evidence from Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution and Caroline Hoxby of Stanford and Hoover. These two researchers are usually condemned by the public education establishment and bureaucracy, including teachers unions. These are some of the key constituents CAP usually caters to.
In a nutshell, class size reduction produces very little benefit for students. It’s also very expensive, and there are other things we should be doing instead if we really want to increase student achievement.
The report summarizes the important studies in class size reduction, and it’s accurate, based on the reading I’ve done over the years. The upshot is that there is only one study showing positive results from class size reduction, and that effect was found only among the early grades. The effect decreased after a few years, even though small class sizes were still used.
The report also notes that class size reduction is very expensive to implement. Because it is, the report says we should look to other ways to increase student achievement, such as policies relating to teacher effectiveness: “The emerging consensus that teacher effectiveness is the single most important in-school determinant of student achievement suggests that teacher recruitment, retention, and compensation policies ought to rank high on the list.”
On teacher quality and teacher effectiveness: When Sandi Jacobs of National Council for Teacher Quality appeared in Kansas a few years ago, we learned that Kansas ranks below average on its policies that promote teacher quality.
In the example she illustrated, third graders who had teachers in the top 20 percent of effectiveness for the next three years went from the 50th percentile in performance to the 90th. For students with teachers in the lowest 20 percent for the same period, their performance dropped from the 50th percentile to the 37th percentile. My reporting of that event and an audio recording is at Kansas ranks low in policies on teacher quality.