Wichita School District’s Claims Must be Questioned

At a Wichita school bond issue debate on October 14, 2008, I challenged USD 259, the Wichita school district, to give evidence of their claim that smaller class sizes lead to better student achievement. That’s because I’ve been waiting a week for both USD 259 and the “Yes for Kids” group to respond to my request for references to the research they presumably relied on when formulating these claims.

The next day, while speaking to the Wichita Downtown Lions Club, Wichita school board president Lynn Rogers said “If you just put in the words ‘class size reduction’ to Google, you’ll get 609,000 entries. There’s plenty of research.”

I think it says a lot about the credibility of the arguments advanced by the Wichita school district when the district’s communications office and the citizens group that supports the bond issue can’t quickly produce references to evidence that supports their claims. It seems likely that the school district has no such evidence. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they produce it when citizens ask for it? Why wouldn’t they provide links to it on their informational websites?

Has no one asked the district for such evidence? Hasn’t a single news reporter bothered to fact check some of the district’s claims?

Back to Mr. Rogers and the Google search. I wonder if he actually read any of the articles that appear in the results of this search.

For example, the fourth article that appeared when I performed the Google search recommended by Mr. Rogers is from the Heartland Institute. It’s titled “Class-Size Reduction Brings Mixed Results” and starts with this passage:

Two recent studies of student achievement for students enrolled in class-size reduction programs in Wisconsin and California offer mixed results and call into question the cost effectiveness of large-scale programs with mandatory class-size caps.

The seventh article is from Education Week, and it’s titled “Class-Size Reductions Seen of Limited Help on Achievement Gap.”

Some of the search results do support smaller class sizes. One result was from the National Education Association, the teachers union. That union, as you might expect, supports anything that makes teachers’ jobs easier, no matter how much it costs and without consideration to whether it does students any good.

This is not the only evidence the school district has had difficulty producing. A request for evidence of how arts and athletics improve student achievement took from September 29 to October 8 to fulfill. Shouldn’t this be easy to produce, given that the district uses it as an argument for the need for the bond issue?

Until the Wichita school district and its supporting campaign groups — or the Wichita Eagle Editorial Board, for that matter — can produce references to the evidence they rely on when making their claims, Wichitans should rightly be skeptical of their claims. Saying “it’s all about the kids” doesn’t cut it.

13 Comments

  • Mr. Weeks,

    After reading this article I am now questioning your ethics. I send a list of questions to you on Oct 1st – at first anonymously, then revealed my name at your request in order to have my questions answered. At this point it have been 17 days and you have not responded. Are you saying that as a member of WEE – you do not need to be held accountable for statements that you or other opposing groups have made?

    How are you even calling yourselves Wichitan’s for Effective Education? If you havent been in the schools and you havent actually taken the time to answer questions that have been asked to you – how is that effective? How is this helping the students?

  • Here are the questions again…..

    1. What do you believe the #1 priority of the district is? You have listed that should be academic achievement, but didn’t state what it actually is.

    2. You have suggested that the district use the YMCA/Newman/Etc. to meet some of athletic needs proposed by the bond issue. Have you looked at the possibility of doing this and the scheduling piece in relationship to it?

    3. The district reported that enrollment was up over 400 students – which would fill or nearly fill another elementary school. What is your response to this need?

    4. Your research studies that are listed on your website are not sited. What research was considered and did you find any positive correlation to increased funding for schools and student achievement? This would also include increased funding for athletics, etc.

    5. What has the district “thrown money away” on?

    6. How much would the renovation of building cost vs. cost of a new facility?

    7. How do you conclude that “there is no correlation to student spending and academic achievement?” What percentage of Wichita students take SAT and how are those results?

    8. Are the underground shelters dual purpose as the FEMA shelters would be?

    I appreciate your time in answering these questions to educate me in this decision.

  • You're kidding, right -

    A person’s “ethics” has nothing to do with whether they choose to respond to or ignore questions, and it especially has nothing to do with the timetable they’re on.

    Angry and way out of line accusations like this degrade the quality of the discussion about the bond.

  • Choosing not to answer questions that have to do with the bond, and then calling out someone else that is getting information out, but slower than you want is unethical.

    It is also unethical that you say that their is no need for the bond when you havent answered questions about whether or not you’ve spent time in the schools. If you are able to take so much of your time to champion your cause – shouldnt part of that time be spent in the schools so that you are informing voters on what you actually have seen for yourself.

    Also, how do those questions mess your “timetable?” I’d like to know the answers to the questions as well.

    Is it “ethical” to say that you are for effective education, when you have done nothing for education at all? What are you doing to help?

  • Bob Weeks -

    Personally, I think the person who makes the first claim should back it up. That would be USD 259. They, after all, are the experts in education.

    But anyway, here are a few answers to Dave’s questions:

    The district’s priorities: David, I don’t know what the number one priority of the district is. They say it is academic achievement. Do you know what their top priority is? Do you know any USD 259 employees that you can ask?

    The 400 students were spread across the entire district, not in a single school, so I think the premise of your question is misleading. By the way, the school that was used to highlight overcrowding is still, by official USD 259 documents, not at its capacity. Either the school is not overcrowded, or the information USD 259 supplies is incorrect.

    If you’re talking about the Voice For Liberty in Wichita, I think I usually cite sources. (The word you want to use, David, is “cited,” not “sited.”) If there are any missing citations that I overlooked, please let me know. By the way, USD 259 and CARE cite no sources. Except, as we now know, the school board president has said to use Google.

    When you look, you’ll find studies on both sides of this issue.

    Regarding increased funding for athletics: when I asked USD 259 for information about this, it took them over one week to respond. Several messages told me the district was waiting for a response from someone. Does it sound like USD 259 had the research ready, or did they have to go find it, only after someone asked?

    Regarding renovation costs vs. cost of new: How am I in a position to answer that? As a citizen looking in from the outside, and given a school district that guards its information carefully, it’s very difficult for outsiders to learn about things like this. Do you know any USD 259 employees that you can ask about this?

  • Bob Weeks -

    John and Dave,

    You two have a peculiar definition of the word “ethics.”

    I haven’t spent a lot of time in the Wichita public schools. It’s not necessary to. I, for one, don’t dispute that some schools are overcrowded. So what good does it do for me to go to a school and view overcrowding?

    Whether I’ve been in the schools a lot has nothing to do with the facts of the situation.

    Further, I’d submit that what I’m doing is working towards effective education. It’s just not what you think should be done.

    Still, don’t you think that when a school district says we need a bond issue because of “A,” that they should have evidence of “A” in hand? I don’t think that’s what’s happened here.

    Dave and John, you guys seem to be taking this personally. Are you USD 259 employees?

  • I do take this personally. I’ve been in the schools and I’ve seen what an incredible task the staff’s at the schools are undertaking. I am a citizen that wants the best for the community, not an employee for 259.

    If it is effective education, how are you looking at the problem and proposing a solution. I honestly feel that if you say that it is unnecessary you should go to the schools and see why it is that way. If you are there and still feel that way, then by all means tell the public how you feel.

    The message that you send is incomplete, especially if you havent spent time in the schools. The specific needs at each school are different.

    What is a change that you feel would be a way that we could move toward effective education in Wichita – that we, as citizens, are able to help. If you have ideas, I’d like to hear them. The only thing that I’ve read about is charter schools – which we dont have control over. What else do you have?

    I’ll ask a principal in my area about the questions listed above and get answers for you.

  • Bob Weeks -

    There could be charter schools in Wichita next year if USD 259 would change its attitude.

    The fact that it so hard to start a charter school in Kansas is convenient for USD 259. If this school district, by far the largest in Kansas, lobbied for a better charter school law, it would probably happen. But they don’t want it.

    As it is now, organizations that USD 259 supports like KASB lobby against charter schools. They are opposed to any meaningful reform.

    If the parents of Wichita schoolchildren went to Topeka and said we want charter schools, we want school choice, we want meaningful reform, that would have impact.

    But as it is now, nothing meaningful happens.

    What happened with the district proposed paying a small amount extra to teachers teaching in certain schools? Slapped down.

    What happens when it’s proposed to pay teachers in certain subjects more, based on market conditions? Slapped down.

    Union reforms like the ones implemented by the Green Dot schools could never be accomplished here, not with this board and this union.

  • This sounds so much like a documentary film producer who shows up at someone’s door unannounced, shouts out a lot of questions and when they’re not answered, says “Liar, liar!”

    As for “not having control” over charter schools, under Kansas law, charter schools are legal and financial subsidiaries of the local district. That’s unfortunate, because it robs Kansas of innovators such as Green Dot, as Bob mentioned, and others.

  • Union’s have both positive and negative effects on public schools. Something that I believe is fortunate about most of our teachers is that they go above and beyond the contract.

    I have not heard about the Green Dot – can you provide information please?

    As far as the Liar, Liar comment – I just want to know. I am not opposed to new learning. I am trying to do what is right for the students by being involved and knowing as much as I possibly can. I believe involvement is key – that is the part that I cant understand. If you havent spent time in the schools how do you “know” what’s best for them?

  • Mr. Weeks
    I don’t know why you waste your time engaging with angry Dave. It should be the district’s case to prove not your’s or any other citizen’s. This district is in big trouble if they think people belive there are %370M worth of critical needs. If there truly are then every administrator associated with building oversite should be canned, unless of course other administrators diverted maintenance budgets for who knows what. Altho I was originally for the bond I am now voting no as the district cannot answer specific questions when pressed.

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