Thursday, March 9, 2017

School Accountability, DJT, and Kim...

What do Donald Trump’s tweets, Kim Kardashian’s closet, and Kansas school finance have in common? All three must be on a list of most scrutinized subjects of the past five years! I don’t follow our President on Twitter, and I am not connected to Kim’s Instagram account, but I do pay some attention to Kansas school finance and the subject du jour seems to be the juxtaposition of funding and accountability.

When the Kansas Legislature took over a majority of the funding responsibility from most local districts in 1992, they also gained a larger interest in the performance of the students in those schools. The Kansas Constitution clearly gives the legislature an interest in financing an ever-improving system, so the legislature is well within their rights to ask how the system of public schools are performing.

The courts have consistently recognized that funding and student performance are inextricably intertwined, and the wisdom of Kansas citizens prevailed when the Kansas State Board of Education was created and given “self-executing powers.” The creation of the State Board gave the legislature an equal partner in accountability for student performance in Kansas schools. In 1992, legislators formally recognized they had a larger interest in student achievement, and that the state board of education is the best elected body to take responsibility for maintaining high standards and accountability at the state level. The 1992 School District Finance and Quality Performance Accreditation Act, by its title, demonstrated trust in the Kansas State Board of Education’s ability to hold schools accountable through the then system of accreditation called Quality Performance Accreditation (QPA).

In Kansas, accountability is a function of accreditation. Accreditation is a duty of the Kansas State Board of Education. QPA has morphed over the years, changing from a system based upon improvement and process in its early stages, to one modeled after No Child Left Behind with its over-reliance on standardized testing, to a brand-new system of accreditation/accountability called Kansas Education Systems Accreditation (KESA). KESA is far more rigorous and robust than the NCLB/QPA system it replaces. KESA requires school districts to take a hard look at results but through a broader lens of student success and not just student achievement.

I recall well the first time I used the term “student achievement” in a discussion with Commissioner Randy Watson. The Commissioner sternly admonished me, explaining that achievement implies a test score, and that we are concerned with “student performance and success” which implies a far more broad and complete look at what we want for our children.

What has worked well in Kansas is a system designed and monitored by the Kansas State Board of Education that sets clear standards for success, allows local boards of education to implement programs to meet those standards, and monitors the performance of how well districts meet those standards. This system places responsibility for accountability for student success in the hands of parents and patrons, locally elected school boards, the state board of education, and the legislature.

The results of a 25-year cooperative relationship between the Kansas Legislature, Kansas State Board of Education, and local boards of education:
1990 2014 24
% Change
Average Per Yr over Pop. Growth

Percent Number Percent Number

Population 25 years
and over

1,881,521 20.2%
Less than 9th Grade Education 7.7% 120,577 3.9% 73,379 -39.1%
9th to 12th Grade,
no diploma
11.0% 172,253 5.8% 109,128 -36.6%
High school graduate only (includes equivalency) 32.5% 508,929 26.5% 498,603 -2.0%
Some college,
no degree
21.9% 342,940 24.1% 453,447 32.2% 0.5%
>Associate's degree 5.4 84,561 8.1% 152,403 80.2% 2.5%
Bachelor's degree 14.1% 220,797 20.3% 381,949 73.0% 2.2%
Graduate or
professional degree
7.0% 109,616 11.3% 212,612 94.0% 3.1%

The 2017 Kansas Legislature would be wise to reflect on history and delegate school accountability to the Kansas State Board of Education as was done 25 years ago. The partnership between KSDE and the legislature has created a school system that consistently ranks in the top 10 in the country on a host of measures. This is not to say that the legislature should not ask questions and demand evidence of continuing improvement, although it does mean that there should be a partnership of responsibility for accountability for student success in Kansas.

Now, that we have solved that problem, anyone want to talk about what Kim wore to the Oscars?

Monday, February 20, 2017

KASB embarks on next 100 years

This year KASB is celebrating 100 years of service. There was a lot going on in 1917. Most importantly, America had just entered the War to End All Wars, which had been going on for four years. My grandfather was a soldier in France and the only story he would tell was how foolish he felt guarding a warehouse full of cabbages. Not surprisingly, the top song on the charts, such as they were, was “Over There.” The Livery Stable Blues” was recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, which one might argue was an early precursor of Rock and Roll. Besides the war, women’s suffrage was the political topic of the times. Montana led the way by electing the first female to the House of Representatives. My personal favorite invention of 1917 was marshmallow creme. Think of a world without this delicacy!

School board members in 1917 were part of a different system with different expectations. Only about 20 percent of 13- 19-year-olds were enrolled in High School. Graduation rates ran about 15 percent and the median education attainment at the time was 8th grade, exactly that of my grandfather. Only about 60 percent of 5- 19-year-olds were enrolled in school and that rate was only 40 percent for minority children. Thirty percent of African Americans were illiterate. These were not proud days for American public education.

One wonders whether board members were concerned about the low graduation rates and the poor treatment of minorities by the education system.Fifty years later, in 1967, those issues had reached the forefront for boards of education and American society. 

Race riots were in the news in 1967, when KASB held its fiftieth convention. Rioting at home and war in Vietnam were the political issues of the day. As a third grader in Manhattan, Kansas, my biggest worry was whether he Russians were going to drop “the big one” (as my grandmother called the bomb), a concern made worse by being forced to practice for the event by hiding under a particle board desk in Mrs. Sunderman’s class at Marlatt School. The USA and the USSR were in a full-scale arms race and nuclear weapons were tested frequently by both sides this year. The world of science wasn’t all about bombs, as 1967 gave us our first successful human heart transplant. If there was ever something stranger than marshmallow creme, it is that Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees in 1967. Let that swirl around the record player of your brain for a minute. No wonder he set fire to his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival later that year.

In education, I was struggling with accents on syllables along with those nuclear war drills at Marlatt. In the rest of the country, great progress had been made. The enrollment rate for high school aged students was 90 percent, up from 60 percent in 1917. The graduation rate had increased from 15 percent to 70 percent and school enrollment had reached 90 percent for whites and only slightly less for minorities. The median educational attainment had increased from 8.2 years to 12.1 years. Board members had to be happy with the successes of the past 50 years.

And now it’s 2017 and board members still have plenty to worry about. Graduation and attainment rates have continued to increase over the past 50 years, but more recently, those rate increases have included dramatic increases in standards. Students take more classes to graduate and have higher expectations than those of 50 years ago and at least in Kansas, we look at student success instead of achievement or attainment. Much like those board members facing abysmally low graduation rates 100 years ago, board members in 2017 will rally to the challenge of taking responsibility for providing students the necessary tools to be successful citizens. KASB will be here to support Kansas school boards along the way, just as we have for the past 100 years. Understanding our past, Imagining our future.

Monday, December 12, 2016

All Roads Lead to Dighton

Dighton, Kansas  (population 1,023) is the county seat of Lane County, about three-quarters of the way heading west across Kansas on Hwy 96.  The district covers 619 square miles of Lane County. Since it is about 40 miles west of Bazine, where I started teaching, and about 60 miles east of Leoti, my first superintendency, I have been through Dighton many times.  The most memorable time was when I was with a busload of track athletes from Bazine and we stopped for gas at the Dighton Bowl/Quick Shop.  Those young Bazine kids had their tender sensibilities offended when a passing car mooned them.  Until recently, when I thought of Dighton, I thought moonings.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a legislative forum in Johnson County.  Newly-elected Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman introduced several dignitaries in attendance, including Majority Leader Don Hineman and Senator Jim Denning.  The Speaker pointed out that all three have roots in Western Kansas: Meade, Dighton and Great Bend.  From my seat in the back, I spotted District 23 Representative Linda Gallagher, Dighton; former Blue Valley Board Member Tony Thill, Ellinwood; Basehor-Linwood Superintendent David Howard, Fairfield; and Emporia Assistant Superintendent Rob Scheib, Dighton. Western Kansas was pretty well represented, especially Dighton.

I began to think that maybe all roads lead to Western Kansas, and more specifically, to Dighton.  Dighton is home to Majority Leader Don Hineman, a great friend of education.  His sister, Linda Gallagher, represents Johnson County District 23 in the House of Representatives and is also a supporter of public education.  That is pretty good representation for a town of just over 1,000 people.  

But that is just a start. Randy Weseman, longtime superintendent of the Lawrence public schools, current KASB staff member and a former Dighton Hornet himself, got his start as a guitarist with the “famed” band “The Stingers” at age 16.  Mike Cook, executive director of the ESSDACK service center in Hutchinson, is also proud Hornet. As was Mike’s dad Al, a standout member of the KASB Worker’s Compensation board of trustees for many years.  Rob Scheib, Emporia USD 253 assistant superintendent, is a Hornet who traces his roots to Lane County farmland.  And who can forget KSDE superstar CTE Director Jay Scott who once roamed the courts and fields of Hornet-land.  Last but not least, Angela Lawrence hails from Dighton and is now superintendent in Russell.  

Now you might be thinking, ‘well, good for Dighton, but why does this matter to me?’  Bear with me, I am getting there.  The good folks of Dighton, Kansas, have elected school boards, built schools, hired teachers and other staff, and paid the bills for hundreds of kids over the past 100 years or so.  Many of the folks who went through those schools are still in Dighton, contributing to the community. Many more have ventured farther afield. And based on the handful of folks I know, Kansas has benefited from the investment made by Dighton’s residents through the years.

  • Johnson County has benefited from Linda Gallagher’s representation in the House of Representatives.
  • Lawrence has benefited from the leadership of Randy Weseman.
  • Emporia has benefited from the knowledge and skills of Rob Scheib.
  • KASB has benefited from the wisdom and insights of Al Cook.
  • Central Kansas has benefited from the vision of Mike Cook.
  • Russell has benefited from the leadership of Angela Lawrence.
  • Kansas has benefited from the education direction set by Jay Scott.
  • Kansas will benefit from the wisdom, leadership and collaborative spirit of Don Hineman.

There are 286 school districts in Kansas.  Every one of them has similar stories.  Weave them together and you have Kansas, without internal boundaries, all living the American vision of E pluribus unum.  Johnson County educates kids who live all over Kansas.  The rest of Kansas educates kids who move to Johnson County.

Let’s remember this in the months to come.  Parochial interests are a strong pull, but our sense of pride in our state needs to be stronger.  To quote Speaker Ryckman: “The better Meade is, the better Johnson County is.”

Dighton, like all Kansas school districts, has produced contributing members to the whole state.  But the one thing I cannot help but wonder is if any of those Kansas dignitaries were the ones “pressing the ham” in the parking lot of the Dighton Bowl back in 1982?