Friday, April 14, 2017

The NFL Draft is Right Around the Corner...

My wife is a wonderful person who tolerates most all of my idiosyncrasies. One thing she doesn’t tolerate well is my penchant for watching the NFL Draft in all its 30 hours of glory.Its got drama, its got action, its got intrigue. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, that whole deal. Tune in April 27 at 8:00 Eastern, 7:00 Central! What's not to love?

As a Chief’s fan, it is always about next year, and the combine and the draft feed my false hope beginning in February. Part of the drama is the NFL Combine. An event that brings in all of the great college players and runs them through a series of tests to determine if they will be successful in the NFL. They run, lift, jump, drill, interview, and take intelligence tests. Players are poked and prodded by doctors and trainers, leaving nothing to chance. Except of course, there is still a lot left to chance.

Who can forget Matt Jones? Wait, Matt who? Star of the 2005 combine, Jones was fast, strong, and could jump over the goalpost. He earned the nickname “Freak” for his scores. Picked 21st because of his test results, he washed out of the league after three years.

Then there is this guy who was almost laughed out of the draft in 2000. In fact, check out this video and draw your own conclusions: The Patriots wasted the 199th pick on him and what has he done since?

What can we learn from this little football lesson? Well, one thing is that test scores are inputs. Inputs can predict outcomes, but usually not with 100% certainty. Football fans have learned that combine scores are not the best measures of success in the NFL. The best measure of success in the NFL is, well, performance in the NFL.

This week, the Kansas Commissioner (of education, not football) shared preliminary results of a method for measuring student success that is not based upon test scores. The commissioner and state board want school districts to look at what students are doing one and two years after leaving high school. Are they performing in college or technical schools? Have they earned licenses or certificates that qualify them for entry to the workforce?

Another way of saying this could be, do they have the social/emotional skills, a plan for moving forward, a quality K-12 experience (starting with Kindergarten readiness and ending with high school graduation) that enables them to attend and complete a post-secondary experience?

This is a leap for some. How can we influence what students do after they leave our systems? Back to sports for an example- have you ever heard a college coach tout the success of the program’s players in the big leagues? For that matter, who hasn’t bragged about the percentage of their students that go on to post-secondary institutions after graduation. If we want to take credit for success, we need to take responsibility as well.

For football players, the measure of success is a mustard-colored hall of fame jacket. For our students, the measure of success is whether they have lived a good life. Neither of those outcomes is measurable in advance, but the state board is taking a step in the right direction by asking us to look out two years after our students leave us, instead of relying on a test.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A voice from the past envisioning our future

Volume 1, Number 1, of the KSBJ was published in October 1930. We keep a framed copy of the first edition outside Scott Rothschild’s office. This is the third edition of our newly revived monthly edition, so I thought it might be interesting to revisit that 1930 edition.

The journal features State Superintendent of Public Instruction George Allen, Jr, who extends his greetings and identifies the major issues of the time. He starts by establishing the importance of Kansas education for the entire state and shares some data. I was surprised at some of the numbers:

Students 500,000
Board Members30,000

Who knew there were that many students, that few teachers, and wasn’t simply amazed at the number of board members. Those who think we have too many districts now would be shocked at the number we had 85 years ago for about the same number of students. I was surprised at the number of teachers, until I considered the curriculum was severely limited and there were no special programs for special needs students.


Now we know some numbers, what else was happening in 1930?

Superintendent Allen considered the preeminent issue to be funding equalization. He was concerned wealth disparity in the state caused some districts to be able to educate their students for less than one mill a year, while others had levies of over 60 mills.

He was also concerned about efficiency. He explained, “…in some cases where attendance is very small, or where other unfair conditions may exist it may be possible to transport to other schools.”

Superintendent Allen worried about equitable revenue sources as well. At the time, there was no Kansas income tax and he advocated for an amendment to allow it.

Over-reliance on property tax was of great concern to the superintendent of public instruction in 1930. He gave several examples of people who paid no tax because they didn’t own property, but had significant income. He said these people considered it unfair and wanted to pay their “fair share” for using public services.

In response to the issues identified, the superintendent offered a solution. Citing a group called the Tax Code Commission, he explained a proposed Act for Allocating New Revenue for Schools. Today we might call this a school finance formula.

Mr. Allen recognized and explained the different challenges in different districts and the impossibility of a simple allocation, as did the Commission. Its solution was complex and includes an equalization formula to share between districts, counties, and the state; a formula that controls for school size by allocating units of instruction based upon enrollment; assistance for districts with transporting students; and a mechanism to go above the base state funded instructional units.

Yogi Berra might say this is deja vu all over again. Our court has told us we must abide by the constitutional requirements for equity and adequacy. We are all concerned about efficiency, and we have people who aren’t paying their “fair share” testifying their taxes should be increased.

As we proceed, we should heed the advice of the editors of the 1930 Journal who said:
“While most problems of teaching must be worked out by educators, the financial problems of the schools should be worked out by those who are entrusted with the business management of school affairs. The school board members should be the best informed and their opinions should have the greatest weighting deciding any changes in the method of raising school revenue and in the distribution of that revenue.”

The 2017 Legislature has been responsive to the work of school leaders who have participated in KASB and KSSA’s processes to identify key characteristics of a school finance formula. As this is being written, legislators are working hard to develop a plan that will work for all members of the state.

School finance is not a new issue, and it is more important than ever as our students compete and live in a more complex environment than ever. It is not an issue that will ever be solved, because our constitution calls for an ever-improving system. The kids of 1930 deserved it, and so do the kids of 2030, who will be starting Kindergarten next year.