The Kansas National Education Association’s slogan is “Making public schools great for every child.” It may be a coincidence that their slogan seems to emphasize institutions over students, but many of their actions quite deliberately put institutional interests first. My belief has nothing to do with individual teachers. Kansas is blessed with thousands of dedicated teachers who get up every morning thinking of ways to help students and they deserve citizens’ gratitude and support for everything they do. My comments are not directed at teachers, but at the institution of the KNEA.
The most recent example of this teacher union (the organization) putting institutional interests ahead of student needs was in an email blast they sent last week about hearings held by the Special Committee on Education. It began with their usual vitriolic put-downs of people with whom they disagree and concluded by saying, “…that everything we know from student assessment – … Kansas continues to improve and that Kansas continues to perform in the top tier of states….”
KNEA knows that that is a deliberately misleading statement. In fact, they wrote it following a detailed presentation for the Committee showing that, while many Kansas students do quite well and likely are very competitive internationally, roughly half of Kansas students (those who qualify for Free & Reduced Lunch) are two to three years’ worth of learning behind. Even more disheartening is the fact that those achievement gaps are getting wider.
The National Center for Education Statistics says that 10 points on NAEP is the equivalent of a year’s worth of learning. The gap was 24 points (roughly 2.4 years) in 1998 when Kansas first participated in NAEP. It was 22 points in 2005 before funding was dramatically increased. But now, after nearly $3 billion in targeted At Risk spending, the gap is wider than ever at 28 points. The gap for 8th grade students in Reading is 24 points…three points wider than it was in 2005. The gaps for 4th grade and 8th grade Math are 18 points and 24 points, respectively. FYI, the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) is on record saying that NAEP is the “gold standard.”
Similar patterns exist on the state assessment. the gaps between 2006 and 2012 for Reading and Math both grew slightly. Unfortunately, performance for low income students declined in 2013. (We've submitted a request for the 2013 data on students who are not eligible for Free & Reduced Lunch.)
These performance statistics reflect students who are at Exceeds Standard and above. You see, KSDE doesn’t require students to be able to read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension (as defined by KSDE) to Meet the Kansas Reading standard. Students are not required to usually be accurate on all grade-level Math tasks to be Proficient and Meet the Kansas Math standard. KSDE and the State Board of Education reduced performance standards to the point where the U.S. Department of Education says Kansas has some of the lowest performance standards in the nation.
By the way, if you’re disturbed by the alarmingly low
achievement levels of All Students who are low income, you’ll be appalled by
the results for 11th grade students.
One year away from entering the workforce or going on the post-secondary
work, only 37 percent of low income 11th grade students can read
grade appropriate material with full comprehension. Math drops off to 29 percent.
As is often the case with institutional interests, it’s all about the money. This little gem was included in the KNEA email.
“Spalding's [Friedman Foundation] conclusion to his presentation comparing school finance formulas from our regional states is that there is no way to compare effectiveness of the various formulas except by looking at their results. So that begs the question, since Kansas' results are among the highest in the nation, doesn't that mean we have an effective school finance formula? What would happen if we actually funded our system?!”
Yep…it’s all about the money with this teacher union.
As for the claim that “…Kansas' results are among the highest in the nation,” KNEA also knows that to be falsely driven by demographics. Simply put, there are two-to-three-year achievement gaps between White students and those of color...and Kansas is Whiter than many states. Here are the actual 2013 national rankings and scores showing that Kansas is actually just slightly above average overall (although White and Black students are slightly below average).
Pretending to have high achievement based on low performance standards and demographic skews is harmful to students, and ignoring that tens of thousands of students are falling farther behind is downright shameful. But that’s what happens when institutional interests prevail over student needs.
P.S. I shared this information and our school staffing data with KNEA leadership and offered to get together in a public or private setting to discuss the facts. I thought they would at least be interested to explore the fact that regular classroom teachers have only increased 7 percent over the last twenty years, while students increased 6 percent and non-teachers increased 40 percent. So far…crickets.