Which Test? And How to Pay?

The Pratt Tribune noted that USD 382 has received little new money from the recent Montoy-required spending increases that the legislature has doled out.

State aid is based on enrollment, which is declining in the Pratt school district (a loss of 238 students over a 10-year period), and inflation has taken a toll. Fuel and food costs have risen significantly, Davis said. In addition, the Legislature “tinkered with” the low enrollment weighting formula, giving fewer of those dollars to USD 382 and districts smaller than it. Some of the new funds were earmarked for districts that have a high concentration of low income families, and Pratt didn’t qualify, he said.

Fewer students mean fewer responsibilities for the district–or at least a challenge to redirect existing spending. Perhaps a better way of funding education is not to give extra money to schools for students of low income families, but give the money to families directly, and let the schools that are best at responding to those families reap the rewards.

Meanwhile, the statement that the district hasn’t gotten a large increase of late shouldn’t make us forget that the district has increased its efforts a lot over the last 10 years:

Pratt’s total expenditures have increased from $7.7 million in 1996-97 to $12.1 million in 2006-07, according to figures at the Kansas State Department of Education website. The per pupil expenditure rose from $5470 to $10,254.

The story then turns to performance, referencing our recent report (PDF) on the subject:

The Flint Hills Center for Public Policy points to a 93 percent increase in per-pupil funding statewide since 1993 ($5987 to $11,558), but notes that translates to a 33 percent increase after adjusting for inflation. The non-profit think tank contends that student learning has not progressed satisfactorily, based on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, which indicate that roughly 50 percent of fourth grade students are not proficient in mathematics and that reading scores have stagnated.

That certainly looks like a problem, don’t you think? (For more on the NAEP, see the U.S. Department of Education.)

Then there’s some question about the utility of the NAEP, commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card:

NAEP scores were chosen as a measure because Kansas has participated in the program since 1998, according to John R. LaPlante, education policy fellow with the Flint Hills Center.

NAEP is not a used as a general test in Kansas, however some pilot studies have been done, [Superintendent Glen] Davis said.

We’re not sure what is meant by “not used as a general test.” Certainly Kansas does participate in the NAEP, and has since 1998. (Select “Kansas” from the drop-down box on this page from the US DoEd). Representative samples are used from each state in the country.

On the state assessments, schools look much better:

On the Kansas State Assessments, which are normed to national standards, students do show progress. The Kansas State Department of Education reports strong performance in reading, mathematics and writing for all students and decreasing gaps for disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.

 
 

A class-by-class analysis shows that 79 to 99.9 percent of Pratt students scored proficient or better on state reading assessment tests in 2007 and 72.3 to 89.4 percent on math tests. In the majority of cases, percentages were higher than for previous years.

NAEP is based on a national standard, too.  So there’s certainly a discrepancy there–or else students in USD 382 are doing much, much better than those in the rest of Kansas.

We also learn that teacher pay is a big issue for the next year:

The biggest focus of Kansas Association of School Boards and administrators’ groups in 2008 will be to ask the Legislature for an increase on the base state aid to support pay increases for teachers, Davis said. Kansas ranks 39th among the states for salaries and the goal is to reach the middle.

 
 

“I could support targeted funding for teacher salaries,” Davis said. “I think that’s an area where we have to make improvement or we’re going to have a major crisis as far as getting young people to enter the teaching field.”

Four words would address the problem: Merit pay. Differential pay.

Source: Carol Bronson, “Trickle Down,” Pratt Tribune, 1/7/08

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