Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mom Likes Me Best

Mary Heim's sainthood is well established among those who know her. This is especially so for those who she didn't just tolerate, but facilitated and managed with great skill; that would be her family, a high maintenance crew of misfits that includes husband Max (Dr. Heim the greater), daughter Diana, and sons David and John (Dr. Heim the lesser). For purposes of this blog, I will focus on her ability to manage family equity.

These were the days before PL94142, more commonly known as Special Education, and any kid that needed help was considered lazy or stupid. My siblings were in fact much smarter and hard-working than their middle sibling; they just needed additional help because they were born with learning disabilities. This was before LD was formally recognized, but my mom saw it and she pursued solutions like, well, like a mother.

Mom took my brother and sister to special tutors, read lessons to them every night, tried things that didn't work, and tried things that did.  Because of her efforts, both my brother and sister graduated from college and have led productive lives.  Me? I didn’t have to work very hard in school and didn't need a lot of help from mom, but when I did, she was there.

As we struggle with a providing equity and adequacy in a Kansas school funding formula we would do well to get my mom involved.  Equity doesn’t look the same in every district.  Equity doesn’t forget districts with special needs, but neither does it forget districts without them.  

Kansans recognize that districts have different needs.  Kansans know that we have to think about how to provide the best education to all of our children.  My mom instilled in her family the understanding that helping my brother and sister was different from helping me, but it was just what we all needed. My brother and sister never did a happy dance 
because “mom likes us better.” 

Kansans are family.  School leaders, board members and superintendents through the years have helped the current generation understand that we can fight and bicker about who gets more, or we can fight to make sure all students get what they need.

Many legislators recognize that it is not necessary to play a zero sum game, just like my mom did.  We need to support them in their efforts to build a strong system of public education in Kansas. Oh, and don't get me wrong on the family dynamics- mom ALWAYS liked me better.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Don't Buy The Hype

The two or three (Mom, Dad…) of you who enjoy what Mark Tallman calls my “folksy” style are going to be disappointed in this blog.  There are no cute analogies or stories. In fact, I am a little disappointed in myself because I am violating my own contention that we need to focus on a new vision for Kansas and stop dropping to the level of our detractors.  But this is ridiculous!

Several board of education members have already pointed out a claim that has been making the rounds.  The misleading factlet says that superintendents and principals have received larger pay increases over the last few years than teachers.  From that, the conclusion is that school boards don’t care about teachers or kids.  If I could award a prize for bunkum, this would be a grand champion.

Upon hearing the claim, our crack research director, Ted Carter, went to work.  He crunched the numbers and found – gulp - that if you take the total amount of dollars dedicated to teachers and divide by the total number of teachers - holy cow - the percentage increase over the past few years is indeed less than superintendents and principals.  I went full on Steven Colbert on Ted and told him my gut said this cannot be right.  Of course, Ted said “the numbers are the numbers.”  And being Ted – who often mutters “correlation does not imply causation” when talking to me - went back to work on the data to provide further analysis.

What Ted found is that over the past 20 years in Kansas, total spending on teachers has increased from $1.12 billion to $1.9 billion.  If Kansas had not added any teachers during that time, the percentage increase in SALARIES for teachers would have been 69.6%.  Of course, nothing is that simple.

 Why then does it appear administrators are doing better than teachers when it comes to percentage increases?  This is a little bit complicated, but any board member who has ever served on the negotiations team knows that the percentage increase agreed to in negotiations is figured on current staff.  Most districts settle in the spring or summer, and the negotiations settlement is determined by a percentage for returning staff. 

Why does this matter? There are two wild cards in this deck: retirees and new teachers.  During the time period from 1998 to 2015, teachers retired at high salaries and new teachers were added at lower starting salaries.  Kansas public schools added 3,999 new teachers during that time.  That is 3, 999 new teachers who started on the low end of the salary schedule. The retirees were on the high end.  When considered in the aggregate, the new teachers make the average look lower. This is where simple math and a surface look data make for eye catching infographics  but fail to tell the true story. In fact, boards of education provided salary increases to their returning staff to the best of their ability, and those increases were higher than what is reflected in the simple division problem of taking total salary divided by number of teachers. 

Furthermore, Ted found that boards of education reduced class sizes statewide during the same time period, even though student enrollment was increasing.  The number of principals and superintendents during the same period decreased.  The chart below shows the net effect of changes in staffing and they are exactly what one would expect:

Boards of education focused on the classroom, adding teachers and reducing class sizes in spite of budgets that did not keep up with inflation and growing numbers of students. Principals and superintendents supervised more staff and students.  More importantly, student achievement increased during the same time.

So, can we knock off with the catchy sound bites?  Board members get elected because they care about kids.  The outlandish claims to the contrary didn’t make sense to me, and I know they didn’t make sense to you either.  Upon further review, they were correct, but misleading. They were a sound bite, designed to discredit school boards.  Don’t buy the hype.

Here's a link to the full report: Teachers, Principal and Superintendent Salaries and Positions (March 2016)