Friday, April 14, 2017

The NFL Draft is Right Around the Corner...

My wife is a wonderful person who tolerates most all of my idiosyncrasies. One thing she doesn’t tolerate well is my penchant for watching the NFL Draft in all its 30 hours of glory.Its got drama, its got action, its got intrigue. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, that whole deal. Tune in April 27 at 8:00 Eastern, 7:00 Central! What's not to love?

As a Chief’s fan, it is always about next year, and the combine and the draft feed my false hope beginning in February. Part of the drama is the NFL Combine. An event that brings in all of the great college players and runs them through a series of tests to determine if they will be successful in the NFL. They run, lift, jump, drill, interview, and take intelligence tests. Players are poked and prodded by doctors and trainers, leaving nothing to chance. Except of course, there is still a lot left to chance.

Who can forget Matt Jones? Wait, Matt who? Star of the 2005 combine, Jones was fast, strong, and could jump over the goalpost. He earned the nickname “Freak” for his scores. Picked 21st because of his test results, he washed out of the league after three years.

Then there is this guy who was almost laughed out of the draft in 2000. In fact, check out this video and draw your own conclusions: The Patriots wasted the 199th pick on him and what has he done since?

What can we learn from this little football lesson? Well, one thing is that test scores are inputs. Inputs can predict outcomes, but usually not with 100% certainty. Football fans have learned that combine scores are not the best measures of success in the NFL. The best measure of success in the NFL is, well, performance in the NFL.

This week, the Kansas Commissioner (of education, not football) shared preliminary results of a method for measuring student success that is not based upon test scores. The commissioner and state board want school districts to look at what students are doing one and two years after leaving high school. Are they performing in college or technical schools? Have they earned licenses or certificates that qualify them for entry to the workforce?

Another way of saying this could be, do they have the social/emotional skills, a plan for moving forward, a quality K-12 experience (starting with Kindergarten readiness and ending with high school graduation) that enables them to attend and complete a post-secondary experience?

This is a leap for some. How can we influence what students do after they leave our systems? Back to sports for an example- have you ever heard a college coach tout the success of the program’s players in the big leagues? For that matter, who hasn’t bragged about the percentage of their students that go on to post-secondary institutions after graduation. If we want to take credit for success, we need to take responsibility as well.

For football players, the measure of success is a mustard-colored hall of fame jacket. For our students, the measure of success is whether they have lived a good life. Neither of those outcomes is measurable in advance, but the state board is taking a step in the right direction by asking us to look out two years after our students leave us, instead of relying on a test.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A voice from the past envisioning our future

Volume 1, Number 1, of the KSBJ was published in October 1930. We keep a framed copy of the first edition outside Scott Rothschild’s office. This is the third edition of our newly revived monthly edition, so I thought it might be interesting to revisit that 1930 edition.

The journal features State Superintendent of Public Instruction George Allen, Jr, who extends his greetings and identifies the major issues of the time. He starts by establishing the importance of Kansas education for the entire state and shares some data. I was surprised at some of the numbers:

Students 500,000
Board Members30,000

Who knew there were that many students, that few teachers, and wasn’t simply amazed at the number of board members. Those who think we have too many districts now would be shocked at the number we had 85 years ago for about the same number of students. I was surprised at the number of teachers, until I considered the curriculum was severely limited and there were no special programs for special needs students.


Now we know some numbers, what else was happening in 1930?

Superintendent Allen considered the preeminent issue to be funding equalization. He was concerned wealth disparity in the state caused some districts to be able to educate their students for less than one mill a year, while others had levies of over 60 mills.

He was also concerned about efficiency. He explained, “…in some cases where attendance is very small, or where other unfair conditions may exist it may be possible to transport to other schools.”

Superintendent Allen worried about equitable revenue sources as well. At the time, there was no Kansas income tax and he advocated for an amendment to allow it.

Over-reliance on property tax was of great concern to the superintendent of public instruction in 1930. He gave several examples of people who paid no tax because they didn’t own property, but had significant income. He said these people considered it unfair and wanted to pay their “fair share” for using public services.

In response to the issues identified, the superintendent offered a solution. Citing a group called the Tax Code Commission, he explained a proposed Act for Allocating New Revenue for Schools. Today we might call this a school finance formula.

Mr. Allen recognized and explained the different challenges in different districts and the impossibility of a simple allocation, as did the Commission. Its solution was complex and includes an equalization formula to share between districts, counties, and the state; a formula that controls for school size by allocating units of instruction based upon enrollment; assistance for districts with transporting students; and a mechanism to go above the base state funded instructional units.

Yogi Berra might say this is deja vu all over again. Our court has told us we must abide by the constitutional requirements for equity and adequacy. We are all concerned about efficiency, and we have people who aren’t paying their “fair share” testifying their taxes should be increased.

As we proceed, we should heed the advice of the editors of the 1930 Journal who said:
“While most problems of teaching must be worked out by educators, the financial problems of the schools should be worked out by those who are entrusted with the business management of school affairs. The school board members should be the best informed and their opinions should have the greatest weighting deciding any changes in the method of raising school revenue and in the distribution of that revenue.”

The 2017 Legislature has been responsive to the work of school leaders who have participated in KASB and KSSA’s processes to identify key characteristics of a school finance formula. As this is being written, legislators are working hard to develop a plan that will work for all members of the state.

School finance is not a new issue, and it is more important than ever as our students compete and live in a more complex environment than ever. It is not an issue that will ever be solved, because our constitution calls for an ever-improving system. The kids of 1930 deserved it, and so do the kids of 2030, who will be starting Kindergarten next year.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Let's Focus on the Future

In the school finance discussion, some of us old-timers tend to paraphrase Uncle Rico’s “back in ‘82” by saying, “back in ’92.”  So, I am going to go Uncle Rico on you with a memory of one of the discussion items from when the School District Equalization Act was passed.  Back in ’92 there was a concern that districts would not be able to spend responsibly anything over a 10% increase in state funding.  This was not true then and it is not true now.  In fact, our own Mark Tallman has created a list of things that KASB thinks need to be done for the sake of Kansas students.  He outlined it in his testimony on HB 2410.

Our list starts with something we all know both intuitively and empirically- the single most important factor in a student’s education is the quality of the teacher.  To staff schools at 2008 levels in Kansas, we need 1,000 additional teachers.  One. Thousand. Teachers. And in 2008 Kansas had fewer students, many of our districts have seen significant increases in enrollment.  One thousand teachers would allow Kansas to get class sizes back to a level that makes a difference for students and teachers.

If you follow Kansas education, you know that finding 1,000 teachers to fill those jobs will not be easy.  We have a teacher shortage now.  One reason we have a teacher shortage is we have slipped from a bad 37th to an abysmal 41st in national rankings for teacher salaries.  That’s right, we went from "worse to worser," to paraphrase a former student.  We get top ten results while paying our teachers bottom ten wages.  If we want to attract the best and brightest to teach Kansas students, we must be prepared to pay the people who make the most difference for kids.  Mark’s analysis includes inflationary increases for educators.

Another truism in education is that preschool makes a difference, especially for our at-risk students.  KASB suggests that we double the number of PreK teachers in Kansas. The data on the language gap in preschool children from impoverished homes is shocking.  Quality preschool is how we help close the 30-million-word vocabulary gap.

Our Kansas State Board of Education has set new goals for Kansas Education.  We want to be the best in the world.  If Kansas is to be a viable state, we must have the best workforce, and the best people in the world.  The first step is providing counselors and social workers at levels necessary to provide families and students the help they need to know how the want to contribute to society.  An additional 750 positions bring us to the minimum recommended levels.

The Kansas Supreme Court specifically mentioned that 25% of our students are below proficient levels in math and reading.  Targeted assistance for our students must continue and be enhanced.  It is no longer enough just to be proficient.  The Kansas State Board has set a goal for all students to be college and career ready.  At a minimum, interventions for those students will cost what the Governor’s own endorsed programs would.

If Kansas is to “Lead the world in the success of each student,” trying to figure out the minimum we can to get by just won’t do.  It will require keeping the best educators in the world, recruiting the best educators in the world, and giving the best educators in the world the tools and resources they need to succeed. 

Back in 82, Uncle Rico said “if Coach woulda put me in fourth quarter, we would've been state champions. No doubt.” We don’t want to be lamenting coulda, woulda, and shoulda with our most prized resource. In 2017, Kansas students need the resources and support of great educators to be world champions.

How would additional funding be used to help all students meet or exceed the Rose capacities, with a special focus on students not currently at grade level or at-risk of not completing school?
Inflationary adjustment for teacher salaries 2009 to 2016
Average teacher salary in 2009: $52,712 times inflation increase of 11.9% equals
$58,985 minus 2016 actual of $55,454 ($3,531) x 35,882 teachers                     $127 million

Comparable increase for all other district staff                                                         $127 million

Restore certified (mostly teacher) positions reduced since 2009;
1,000 times average teacher salary of $55,454                                                        $55.6 million

Restore non-certified positions reduced since 2009;
1,000 FTE positions times estimated salary of $35,000                                          $35.0 million

Double pre-K teachers to double preschool enrollment;
580 positions times average teacher salary of $55,454                                           $32.2 million

Increase school counselor and social worker positions (currently 1,500)
by 50 percent; 750 positions times average teacher salary of $55,454               $41.6 million

Provide intensive services to students below grade level in reading or math
(such as Reading Roadmap) at average cost of $1,000 per student
to all students below grade level (25% x 462,595 = 115,649)                               $115.7 million

Provide intensive services to students below college ready
at average cost of $1,000 per student (38% x 462,595 = $175.8)                        $175.8 million

Provide Jobs for America’s Grads services (or similar) at av cost of $1,230
for 40 percent of studs grades 9-12 based on income or other risk (56,000)       $68.8 million

Total targeted programs:                                                                                           $778.7 million