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?

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