Sunday, February 16, 2014

That's Gold, Jerry, GOLD!

I get a lot of feedback on my blogs, some good, and some bad.  This past week I have heard some concerns about the fact that I have not been “mentioning” Mark Tallman, and by mentioning I think they meant making fun of.  One individual was genuinely concerned about Mark’s health, apparently thinking that even I would give him a break if he were ailing.  Rest assured, advocacy fans Mr. Tallman is alive, well, and more verbose than ever.

In fact, Mark has produced three must read documents for policy wonks and data nerds alike.  The $250,000 Classroom* explains how schools spend their money, and why a number that sounds so big is actually quite reasonable.  Counting All the Money* should be required reading for any student of Kansas School Finance.  It explains the state perspective on school funding. School Funding, At-Risk and All Day Kindergarten* provides great information on what schools have done to meet the needs of at-risk students.

Mark refers to my blog as “your little blog” and mocks me for telling stories.  One of his friends (and a former friend of mine) in Legislative Research was talking about an issue recently and I asked her if she had read my blog on the subject.  She said she tried, but it was some nonsense about wolverines and she liked Mark’s better.  These people stick together.  I think they secretly refer to my musings as Tallman for Dummies.

Be that as it may, I want to take a stab at mining Mark’s latest blog for a gold nugget amongst all of the anthracite.  Those of you who know Mark, know he has never met a word he didn’t like, and therefore, I put myself at significant risk for cave-in and even black lung in trying to access the nugget in question.  Those are the risks I am willing to take on your behalf.

Because this is important, and truth be told, we wouldn’t know it if not for Mark’s extensive work, background, and context.  Here’s the nugget:  At-risk student achievement in Kansas has increased significantly over the past decade, as measured by two different assessments.

A decade ago 55% of at-risk kids in Kansas were at proficient or higher on state assessments.  That increased to 79% in 2010-11, a 43% increase in achievement.  On the NAEP, the percent at proficient or higher increased from 20.6% to 25.3%, a 23% increase. (NAEP defines proficient differently.)  Those are dramatic increases in achievement.

Another key point that Mark discovered is the percentage of children in poverty in Kansas grew more quickly than other states.  A decade ago we had 159,590 students on F/R lunches, last year that number was 224,370, a 40% increase.  The multiplier effect means we have done a better job of educating a significantly larger population of students.  The total number of students at or above proficient on the state assessments improved 35%, while the total number of students at or above proficient on the NAEP increased by 72%.  We have more students at higher achievement levels than ever before.  In spite of a 40% (64,780 students) increase in the number of at-risk students, we had 12,000 fewer students on the state non-proficient list.

That is the good news.  But there is bad news as well.  We still have an achievement gap.  Students from low-income homes do not do as well in school as other students.  Sixty-three thousand Kansas students were not at the proficient level on state assessments last year. We are doing better than most states and for significantly less money, but the gap still exists.

I saved the worst news for last.  Student achievement dropped between 2011 and 2013.   The drop coincided with less money going to classrooms from the state coffers.  Are the effects of spending on KPERS being substituted for spending in classrooms beginning to be felt by our students?  If so, we may have bought fool’s gold.

*The $250,000 Classroom:

*Counting All the Money

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