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

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?