Wichita-area school superintendents make flawed case

Sunday’s Wichita Eagle contains an op-ed piece by several Wichita-area public school superintendents that calls for the Kansas Legislature to spare K-12 education from budget cuts. (Superintendents: Avoid further cuts to public education, April 26, 2009 Wichita Eagle)

The piece starts with a recognition of the importance of education. I don’t think that anyone will disagree with this assertion. From then on, however, there’s little that I can agree with.

The op-ed states “In the past eight years, student proficiency in math has increased by 30 percent, and reading proficiency has increased by 25 percent.” Numbers similar to these appear in the “Executive Summary” portion of the Kansas Education Summary dated January 2009. (You may read this report by clicking on Kansas Education Summary.)

The problem is that these numbers may not be believable. At the same time Kansas school test scores are steadily rising — the Wichita school district’s scores follow the same trend (see Wichita Test Scores Largely Mirror Kansas) — our state’s performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress is pretty much flat over a similar time period. A few measures have improved, but not by nearly the magnitude measured on the Kansas tests. Other measures have improved only slightly, or not at all.

(To view NAEP results, click on NAEP state profiles and select “Kansas.”)

I’ve recently asked the Kansas State Department of Education how these results can be reconciled.

This op-ed also tells us how public schools are “our area’s largest employer next to our aviation manufacturers.” This is a problem, not a reason or justification for plowing more money into schools. The more that is spent on public schools, the fewer dollars families have to spend on other types of education.

Then, there’s this: “Additional cuts will leave school districts with few options but to increase class sizes and eliminate or reduce crucial services that allow all students to receive a world-class education and be the future economic drivers in our communities.”

Are our students receiving a “world-class” education? Are we measuring based on Kansas test scores or the NAEP test scores reported above?

Then, President Obama certainly doesn’t think our schools are “world-class.” In a March 10, 2009 speech he said: “We have everything we need to be that nation … and yet, despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us.”

There’s also the focus on class size, which was a large reason for the bond issue in the Wichita school district last year. Small class sizes — important to teachers unions and education bureaucrats — turn out to have little or no effect on student achievement. An excerpt from the Report Card on American Education published by the American Legislative Exchange Council and given to me by a newly-elected member of the Kansas State Board of Education states this:

Surprisingly, the data show that academic achievement cannot be accounted for by any of the measures of public investment used in this study (pupil-teacher ratio, per pupil expenditures, teacher salaries, and funds received from the federal government), either singly or as a blend. This conclusion is borne out when variations in average SAT scores per state are tracked over the past two decades alongside changes in these measures of public investment. If anything, this statistical analysis demonstrates a positive, but weak, relationship between student success and percentage of federal funding, and pupil-teacher ratio — yet not in the manner one would anticipate. … The information shows that higher student scores on standardized tests correlate mildly with more pupils per teacher and less federal involvement with public school budgets.”

The course that the Wichita public school district, in particular, is taking doesn’t show much promise for increasing educational outcomes, at least according to current research. When the public schools make their case to be exempted from the sacrifices that other Kansans are being asked to make, these are the things we need to remember.

3 Comments

  • The only way to stop the lobbyist influence is take them out of the game. Pass the Fairtax model and the cries of the unions will reach to high heaven. And term limits and a balanced budget amendment round out the plan to take back Kansas from the leviathan growth we are witnessing under Sebelious.

  • Firing anyone with the title of assistant or deputy assistant would free up a sizeable sum in USD 259 and maybe some actual work could be accomplished without so many bureacratic layers.

  • These superintendents “threatening” the taxpayer with more job losses in a recession by mentioning that the public education system is second only to the aviation industry in employment is just as bad as them selling a bond issue by touting its job creation. K-12 education should never be about full-employment for adults. Unfortunately, today, it’s just as much about that–if not more–than educating our children and grandchildren. The only way for parent’s to control their children’s education–and it should be their right to do so–is with school choice. The other benefits of school choice are: controlling costs through market forces, finally determining what curricula and teaching methods actually provide the best education for your child and choosing the schools that use them, imposing a standard for behavior in the classroom that facilitates learning, and forcing irresponsible parents to finally take responsibility for their children.

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