Category Archives: School Achievement

Not so great after all

Kansans often think that their public schools do well on national tests. And they do–but only if we’re grading on a curve.

For more, see a recent press release from the Kansas Policy Institute.

Money alone isn’t the answer: newspaper appearances

The Kansas Policy Institute is making its voice known on school-funding matters. For example, the Wichita Eagle published a letter to the editor about school funding:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Money alone isn’t answer for schools

Kansas taxpayers increased their support of K-12 education from $4.3 billion to $5.7 billion between the 2004-05 and 2008-09 school years, but the majority of students still are not proficient on fourth- and eighth- grade national reading and math tests. State assessment results show that only about 61 percent of students have “full comprehension” of grade-appropriate reading material, and even fewer are “likely to perform accurately at all cognitive levels” in math.

Money alone clearly isn’t the answer, and other states are using proven alternatives. Reforms in Florida gave families more options, and skyrocketing national test scores followed. Florida’s fourth-grade reading scores trailed Kansas’ by 15 percentage points in 1998, but Florida’s fourth-graders now lead by 2 points and have dramatically closed racial achievement gaps.

As many Kansas school districts prepare to sue taxpayers once again, it’s important to remember that simply spending more hasn’t meant better outcomes for kids. If we spend more wisely and give kids the opportunities they deserve, the next generation will be able achieve its own piece of the American dream.


Kansas Policy Institute


And here’s a short item that ran in the Dodge City Globe on September 27, 2010

Spending more money on schools isn’t the answer


Suppose you are an investor in an organization that said it needed more resources to achieve a desired outcome. Over the next four years, you and other investors pump $1.4 billion more into the organization but find that the goal still isn’t being achieved.  Would you continue along the same course and hope for better results or try something different?

Unfortunately, this is a real situation and as a Kansas taxpayer, you are an investor. Kansas taxpayers increased their support of K-12 education from $4.3 billion to $5.7 billion between the 2004-05 and 2008-2009 school years, but the majority of students are still not proficient on fourth- and eighth-grade national reading and math tests.  Even state assessment results show that only about 61 percent of students have “full comprehension” of grade-appropriate reading material, and even fewer are “…likely to perform accurately at all cognitive levels…” in math.

Money alone clearly isn’t the answer, and other states are using proven alternatives. Reforms in Florida gave families more options, and skyrocketing national test scores followed. Florida fourth-grade reading scores trailed Kansas’ students by 15 points in 1998, but they now lead by two points and have dramatically closed racial achievement gaps.

As many school districts prepare to sue taxpayers once again, it’s important to remember that simply spending more hasn’t meant better outcomes for Kansas kids. If we spend smarter and give kids the opportunities they deserve, the next generation will be able to achieve the American dream.

Finally, a recent report on spending and achievement was noticed by the National Center for Policy Analysis in its September 29, 2010 Daily Policy Digest:

Kansas has been following the same theory for a long time in hope of improving public education: pumping more money into the same approach to achieve proficiency. Over the last 10 years corresponding to the state’s participation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Kansans have increased per pupil spending by 79 percent, but the results have been dismal: modest improvements in mathematics, little improvement in reading ability and the majority of students still failing to perform at proficient levels. That is a failing grade by any measurement, says John R. LaPlante, an education policy fellow with the Kansas Policy Institute.

It’s also important to examine how mathematics and reading scores have changed since 2005 — the year before the state began pumping hundreds of millions more into schools as a result of the last school lawsuit.

Total aid to schools jumped $1.4 billion between the 2005 and the 2009 school years ($925 million of which came from the state) but test scores are essentially flat.

The education lobby contends that higher spending causes achievement to rise, but a 30 percent per pupil spending hike over a four year period clearly made little difference in proficiency scores.

Continuing to follow the “more money = greater proficiency” theory would only validate Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. “Just spend more” is not the answer but there are many options that have proved successful, including charter schools and tax credits for private schools, says LaPlante.

Source: John R. LaPlante, “Kansas K-12 Spending and Achievement Comparison,” Kansas Policy Institute, September 2010.

For text:

For more on Education Issues:

Obviously, schools need money to operate. But if we want to improve student achievement, we’ve got to do more than just spend more. Unfortunately, that seems to be the easiest path.

Poor student motivation: What can be done?

We’ve got a problem with schools. Now what are we going to do about it? First, just how stagnant is American education? Robert Samuelson lays down some numbers:

  • In 1971,  the average score on the NAEP for high school students taking the reading test was, on a scale of 0-500, 285. In 2008, it was … 286.
  • In 1973, the average math score was 304. In 2008, it was … 306.

Not much “progress” was evident in the National Assessment of Educational Progress. What have we done to improve education?

Between 1970 and 2008, the number of students nationwide increased 8 percent. The number of teachers increased 61 percent. So much for simply adding more employees to school systems.

Samuelson then adds, “The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If the students aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail.”

I’d say that’s certainly not unmentionable. Go to any article about school performance published on the Internet by a major newspaper and you’ll find lots of people claiming that it’s all the kids’ fault.

When does this become “blaming the victim?”

Now, I don’t want to let students off the hook. There are certainly societal trends at work that don’t favor student performance: Minority students who apply themselves in school are sometimes derided for “acting white,” some parents don’t care enough about their children’s education, the rights revolution has undermined the authority of teachers in the classroom, and so on.

But if some kids don’t apply themselves in school, might in some cases the reason be that there’s something wrong in the classroom?

Grade inflation for 2008-09 school year

While there are many good people who toil away in Kansas public schools, the record of those schools is greatly overstated.

I’ve put up a new page that compares the record of Kansas’ schools on state assessments with their record on the Nation’s Report Card.

A Report Card for Kansas and the USA

How is Kansas doing on education? There’s good news and bad news, according to the Report Card on American Education, published by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The report measures states against this question: How well do children (without a special-education plan) who are from poor families doing on the NAEP, or the “Nation’s Report Card?”

Here’s the good news: (Numbers in parenthesis refer to pages in the report)

  • Kansas ranks 7 overall on the performance of low-income, non-special-ed students. (40, 112)
  • Kansas is ranks 4 for 4th grade math, 7  for 8th grade math, and 8 for 4th-grade reading. (113)
  • Kansas ranks 11 on improvements to 4th-grade reading. (114)
  • Kansas ranks 7 in a measure that combines NAEP overall scores and gains for 8th grade reading and math. (117)
  • Kansas gets a “B” for its regulation on homeschooling, which makes homeschooling freely available to families. (40)

And here’s the not-so-good news:

  • Only one-third of grade-four students (36 percent, specifically) are “proficient” in reading. (40)
  • Kansas gets a D+ on education reform, putting it in the same category as 9 other states. (112)
  • Kansas ranks 16 for 8th-grade reading. (113)
  • Kansas ranks 26 for improvement in 4th-grade math scores. (114)
  • Kansas ranks 26 in a measure that combines NAEP overall scores and gains for 4th grade reading and math. (117)
  • Kansas ranks 28 for improvement in 8th-grade math scores and 32 for improvement in 8th-grade reading scores. (115)
  • Kansas got a C- on its academic standards (compared with the NAEP); its proficiency standards have been lowered, not raised. (40)
  • Kansas has no private school choice plans that might give students more options, and its charter school law gets an “F” for retarding the development of charter schools. (40, 119)
  • Kansas does not have mandatory intra and inter-district enrollment (as do 10 other states), again, limiting student options. (40)
  • Kansas gets poor grades for its policies governing teachers: A C- for retaining effective teachers, a D- for identifying high-quality teachers, and a D_ for removing ineffective ones. In addition it does not have alternative routes for certifying teachers, as do 21 states.  (120)

I will add in two other facts not included in the report card:

  • One-fourth (28 percent) of grade-four students are illiterate (scoring “below basic”) on the NAEP. (State profile page, US Department of Education).
  • If you calculate drop-outs by determining how many students who enter ninth grade graduate with a regular diploma four years later, the Kansas dropout late was 26 percent, as calculated by the America’s Promise Alliance. (See a report I wrote about drop-outs in Kansas, drawing on the alliance’s work.)

So Kansas does fairly well by some measures, but not by others. It scores high compared with other states, but not necessarily against countries around the world. The large number of drop-outs and illiterate children is itself a scandal. Finally, the policy environment restricts student options.

Teachers make the difference–so why treat them the same?

It should be intuitively obvious that it’s better to have a good teacher than a bad one. The Los Angeles Times recently put some data analysis into that observation. Comparing two classes in what might be called a “disadvantaged neighborhood,” it said:

Yet year after year, one fifth-grade class learns far more than the other down the hall. The difference has almost nothing to do with the size of the class, the students or their parents.

It’s their teachers.

As the Times points out, districts usually treat teachers alike. And it’s not accidental. District policies and state laws–and we’re not talking just about LA or California here–ensure that it happens. Those policies, in turn, are driven by the demands of teacher unions and a mindset within the education industry that teacher effectiveness can’t be measured. Besides, goes the thinking, every teacher is excellent. Would that it were so, but there’s no reason to think that teaching is unique among all professions in having a uniformly high quality of performance among its practitioners.

The article in the Times is the first of several that will come out over time, as its researchers pour over district data. (Indeed, one of the saddest parts of this story is that the district could have done the analysis years ago, but has not.)

Compare students who had one of the top 10 percent of teachers for two years in a row with students who had one in the bottom 10 percent for two years in a row, the Times says. The first group of students had English scores that were 17 percentile points higher, and math scores that were 25 percentile points higher.

The best and the worst teachers were scattered throughout the district, and not limited to the wealthiest or the poorest schools.

And here’s the most damning fact regarding personnel policies: “Although teachers are paid more for experience, education and training, none of this had much bearing on whether they improved their students’ performance.”

Is the situation any different in Kansas? If you’re aware of a district that financially rewards teachers whose students excel, please leave a comment and tell me. Not “rewards teachers who acquire a new credential,” but teachers who, more than the average teacher, help students learn.

Another lesson from the Times’ article is that we should not assume that the “best” teachers get that way by luck of having the “right” students:  “Other studies of the district have found that students’ race, wealth, English proficiency or previous achievement level played little role in whether their teacher was effective.”

Will including statistical measures in a teacher’s evaluation lead to automatons, teachers who are act alike? Hardly. “On visits to the classrooms of more than 50 elementary school teachers in Los Angeles, Times reporters found that the most effective instructors differed widely in style and personality.”

On the other hand, a teacher widely heralded for being an effective teacher isn’t, at least according to the value-added analysis used by the Times.

There’s much more in the article that I have mentioned here. It’s definitely a must-read item for anyone with even a passing interest in education.


Newsweek offers another take on this topic, which includes this remarkable statement: “local laws prevent some school districts from publicly identifying their most ineffective teachers by name.” How’s that for recognizing excellent teachers?

“Virtually None” of Kansas Black 8th-grade boys read at advanced level

The Schott Foundation for Public Education has good news for Kansas, of sorts, when it comes to educating black children:

Black Male and White Male, non-Latino, students in Kansas in 2007/8 graduated at higher rates than the national averages for each, as they had in 2005/6. The racial gap is narrower in Kansas than the national average.

That’s the good news.

And then there’s some not-so-good news. By the foundation’s reckoning, the graduation rate for black boys in the state is only 60 percent, while for white boys it’s 85 percent.

Academic performance is another area of concern: “Virtually none of the state’s Black Male students read at the Advanced level in Grade 8.”

Understating the high-school dropout rate

One basic measure of school and student performance is the drop-out rate. While being awarded a high-school diploma is no guarantee of having received an excellent education (whatever that means), it’s a statistically valid fact that drop-outs are at a substantially higher risk for all sorts of trouble, including criminal activity and welfare dependency.

Can the drop-out rates cited by state and district officials be trusted? Some people in Texas are asking questions about the statistics in the Lone Star state. From

A report about Texas school dropouts from the Texas Education Agency paints a rosy but distorted picture of the real problem, says the leader of an organization that has been studying the issue for 25 years.

School dropout experts at two Texas universities agree.

The TEA last week touted a dropout rate of 9.4 percent for the high school graduating class of 2009. But the agency’s own report shows that class, which started with 392,051 ninth-graders, had dwindled to 280,044 students by the time it graduated three years later, creating a combined dropout and attrition rate of nearly 29 percent.

The San Antonio-based Intercultural Development and Research Association [IDRA-ed.]  put the statewide dropout/attrition rate of the class of 2009 at 31 percent, and said it’s much higher for Hispanic and African American students and for large urban school districts.

There’s a large difference between 9.4 percent and 31 percent: The latter represents three times the number of drop-outs as the former, with all the attendant social ills.

Naturally, when the drop-out numbers are high, that doesn’t look good for schools, which has lead to some shenanigans:

“Students who are home-schooled are not included in dropout/attrition rates, and Robledo Montecel said many parents tell her group that school officials urge them to report they are home schooling their children — even if they are not.

Montecel is with the IDRA.

As for Kansas, the most recent report card on graduation rates from EducationWeek, which surveys each state, said that the class of 2007 had a graduation rate of 75.1 percent.

By contrast, the Kansas Building Report Card for 2007-08 shows (PDF) a graduation rate of 89.7 percent in 2007, which could give Kansans a much more optimistic view of Kansas schools than is warranted.

1 out of 3; 2 out of 5

How many Kansas schoolchildren are proficient in reading and mathematics, as measured by the Nation’s Report Card? Not nearly enough, as you can see from this page I’ve assembled from data at the U.S. Department of Education.

By the way, what’s happened to school spending during the time period measured there? It’s gone up.

Governor creates drop-out commission

Fresh on the heels of a new report from Education Week on high-school droputs (mentioned here yesterday), Gov. Mark Parkinson has created a commission to study the issue. Kansas Reporter has more.

Dropouts in Kansas

So how did Kansas do in the Diplomas Count 2010 report? Better than average, perhaps, but that’s only because demography is in its favor. Its graduation rate for the class of 2007 was 75.1, besting the national average of 68.8. That puts Kansas as the 17th-best state among the 50 states, though significantly behind Iowa (80.2 percent, rank: 5).

But a few cautions are in order. First, that still means 3 out of 4 students drop out. Perhaps some of them will go on to have lives filled with good work prospects and knowledge and skills required to navigate life. But I suspect most will not. And when you consider all the money and effort expended by the public school system, and to some extent, social services, it’s clear that there’s some failure even on the terms of the public schools.

What happens if we break out the rates by racial groups? Among white students, Kansas dips slightly, to 20 out of 49 states (there was insufficient data for Arkansas). Among blacks, the rate was only 56.6 percent, putting the state at 18 among the 43 states that reported sufficient information to calculate a graduation rate.

I suspect, echoing something I noted in a post on the NAEP, that Kansas’s above-average performance on graduation rates is at least in part a function of its above-white enrollment, given that, for whatever reason, white students as a group score higher academically.

Dropouts in America, 2010

For another day or so you can get free access to Education Week, which is normally gated beyond a subscription-only requirement. The reason for the freebie, presumably, is to entice people to review its  report, Diplomas Count 2010.

As the existence of remedial education classes at colleges across the country prove, having a diploma doesn’t guarantee competence at the college level. But not having one is, statistically speaking a setback.

So how are we doing?

The executive summary isn’t encouraging: The graduation rate for the class of 2007 (the latest year with comprehensive, national data) was under 70 percent, or 68.8. This means that 3 of ever 10 children who entered high school left without a diploma. Imagine if 3 in 10 airplanes never reached their destination!

There are significant racial gaps. Roughly three-quarters of white students graduate, while only half of Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans do. (That said, three-quarters is not terribly encouraging, either.)

The article data in action describes how various school districts use data systems to track student attendance and achievement. The goal is to get information that can be used to intervene in the lives of students at risk of dropping out. But here are two that caught my eye. In Cincinnati, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helped support a “small schools” initiative. The school system also implemented a school-choice [within the district, I think] program.

Rather than being assigned to the nearest high school, Cincinnati students choose from a list of schools based on their career interests.

The process, managed electronically, places about 90 percent of students in one of their top two choices.

Perhaps as a result of these two reforms, the graduation rate has risen from 51 percent in 2000 to 91 percent in 2009. Mary Ronan, the superintendent, said ““If you were assigned to the high school down the street and it didn’t offer things you were interested in, there was no hope to keep you in school.”

The National Trends in School Spending and Student Achievement

The world has seen an amazing increase in productivity in some areas of life. Computers and cars come to mind as two products that are cheaper and better now than they were years ago, if you adjust for inflation and purchasing power.

But what about public schools? They haven’t seen much of a productivity boom, to say the least. The following graph from the Cato Institute makes the point dramatically.

Spending and performance for U.S. schools

Changes in the cost and performance of public schools

Consider the moral case for school choice

From the New York Times, one advocate of school choice has this to say about a new evaluation (PDF) of the nation’s largest school-voucher program for poor children, which found that schools who use the vouchers at private schools “tend to perform at levels roughly comparable to similarly income-disadvantaged students” in public schools.

As an advocate of school choice, all I can say is thank heavens for the Milwaukee results. Here’s why: If my fellow supporters of charter schools and vouchers can finally be pushed off their obsession with test scores, maybe we can focus on the real reason that school choice is a good idea. Schools differ in what they teach and how they teach it, and parents care deeply about both, regardless of whether test scores rise.

He’s right, of course: Parents do have different ideas of what their children should receive in an education. Some parents favor a traditional curriculum while others focus a more “progressive” one, for example. Non-poor parents have some leverage to select the schools they prefer–they can attempt to influence the administration, they can move, and in some cases, they can afford private school tuition. Poor families generally get ignored by public officials, and they usually don’t have the means to move or pay for private school. They should, as a matter of moral right, be able to exercise the same measure of choice as non-poor families do, or at the least, have more choice than they do. So yes, the moral component of school choice should not be undersold.

But back to performance for a minute. I notice the rest of the sentence from the report, which suggests that school choice is better for more than the children who attend the private schools. “We have displayed a rough and limited snapshot of the average performance of Choice students in certain grades that suggests they tend to perform at levels roughly comparable to similarly income-disadvantaged students in MPS and better than low-income students in urban areas across the U.S.” Just perhaps the theory of competition works, and as a result of competition, students in the Milwaukee Public Schools score as well as those in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, and both groups score higher than the national average.

Kansas on the Nation’s Report Card Summarized

How do Kansas schools stack up against schools across the country? In order to answer that question, we need to use a measurement that is applied across the country.

Kansas scores compared with score for the USA

The following table suggests that Kansas schools are doing better than those in the rest of the country. It shows the percentage of students who score “at or above proficient” on four key tests on the “Nation’s Report Card.” Numbers in parentheses–(4) or (8)–indicated the grade level at which the test was given.

Reading (4) Reading (8) Math (4) Math (8)
USA 32 30 38 33
Kansas 35 33* 46 40

In three of the four tests, Kansas outperformed the nation.The asterisk (*) in the fourth means that the difference between the USA and Kansas is not statistically different. That is, it could have happened by chance. (Think of it as the “margin of error” that you hear of in public opinion surveys and you’ve got roughly the same idea.)

While having less than half of the students at proficient isn’t great, at least Kansas is above the national average. Or is it?

Breaking it down further

Let’s look closer. The following table offers a summary of the state’s performance by demographic group.

Group of students Do Kansas students test better than those in the country as a whole?
All students Yes–In grade 4 reading, grade 4 math, and grade 8 math
White students No
Black students No
Hispanic students Yes, in grade 4 math
American Indian students No difference for grade 8 reading; data not available for grade 4 reading or math
Asian/Pacific Islander students No difference for reading or grade 4 math; data not available for grade 8 math
English language learners No
Students with disabilities No
Low-income students Yes-In grade 4 reading, grade 4 math, and grade 8 math

You can find this information by consulting  National Center for Education Statistics, using NAEP Reading scores and NAEP mathematic scores. Look at whether the percentage of students within each group in Kansas who scored “at or above proficient” is “significantly different from” the percentage for the same group of students in the nation as a whole.

What explains higher state scores?

So where do the “above average” scores in the first table come from? It’s pretty simple. It provides group-specific percentages of students who score at or above proficient.

Race or ethnicity Reading (4) Reading (8) Math (4) Math (8)
White students 42 41 51 44
Black students 16 14 16 12
Hispanic students 17 17 22 17
Asian/Pacific students 49 45 60 54
American Indian students 20 21 21 18

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2008, 80.3 percent of the Kansas population was “White persons not Hispanic,” while the comparable number for the USA was 65.5 percent. In other words, Kansas is 23 percent whiter than the USA (80.3/65.5). Given that white students score higher on the NAEP than students of other racial or ethnic groups, their preponderant numbers in Kansas guarantee that Kansas will outscore the country on the “Nation’s Report Card.”

We can argue all day long about the quality of Kansas schools, but the state’s performance on a nationally recognized test that is administered to a sample of schools in each state does not prove that Kansas schools are better than those anywhere else.

Demography is not destiny

“Demography is not destiny” is one lesson from a report issued by the Boston-based Pioneer Institute,  which recently looked at schools in Massachusetts.

Here’s part of a press release announcing the report:

A new report released today by Pioneer Institute finds that some school districts are substantially more successful in reducing African-American and Hispanic student achievement gaps than other districts serving students with similar backgrounds. Using U.S. Census data and controlling for family poverty and community education levels, Beyond Demographic Destiny: An Analysis of Massachusetts Minority and White Student Achievement Gaps demonstrates that students’ demographic characteristics are not determinative even within Massachusetts district schools systems.

A year ago, the Patrick Administration established a Board of Elementary and Secondary (BESE) Task Force on proficiency gaps. Pioneer believes there needs to be great urgency on how the administration will address the nearly 100,000 poor and minority students who are not acquiring the academic knowledge they need to succeed in the world.

Beyond Demographic Destiny — authored by Dr. Richard Cross, Theodor Rebarber and Dr. Kathleen Madigan of AccountabilityWorks in Washington, D.C., and Dr. Bruce Bean of Community Partners Initiative in Lawrence, Massachusetts — is the second in a two-part series on student proficiency gaps in the Commonwealth. It follows Pioneer’s “micro” level report last fall entitled Closing Springfield’s Achievement Gap: Innovative Ways to Use MCAS Data to Drive School Reform.

“With school accountability all but suspended and not one in-district school actually ‘turned around’ over the past few years, we’ve missed a real sense of urgency in closing proficiency gaps,” said James Stergios, Executive Director of Pioneer Institute. “Diagnosing which districts are and are not closing the gaps will, we hope, enabled the Task Force to finally move forward.”

Beyond Demographic Destiny focuses on and analyzes the achievement gaps for African-American, Hispanic and White students in selected Massachusetts school districts, examining the gaps in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics achievement on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) between each student group and state White students. It highlights clear differences in how school districts do in addressing academic achievement gaps between poor, minority, and white students; and the unacceptably large achievement gaps persist among historically under-achieving minority groups.

One-third of students are at grade level

State and local education officials tout improved scores on the state’s assessments. The implied message: We’re doing a great job, the only thing that needs to change is that you need to give us more money.

But the numbers aren’t necessarily what they seem.  A report from Education Week suggests that high school graduation rates in the state are overstated. If you compare tests on the NAEP with state assessments, you’ll find reasons to think that the numbers on state assessments are overly rosy as well.

Here  are some comments I recently left at Wichita Liberty about this subject.

The state NAEP results gives a scale score, which is a number . It also gives the percentage of students who are proficient.

Consider a classroom in which the average score is a B, which the teacher gives to students who score 80 to 89 percent correct. In one year, the average raw score is 83, and in the next, it’s 88. In both years, the letter grade is the same: B.

NCES, a unit of the U.S. Department of Education, has historical data for the national test as well as for states. It looks like Ed has made it more difficult than it was in the past to find the information.

1. Go to this link:
2. Click on “Accessible version”
3. From the drop-down menu box labeled “Select a State,” choose Kansas.

Or you can go here ( and download a one-page PDF, which contains the same information.

To summarize:

The percentage of fourth-grade students scoring “proficient” increased a lot from 2000 to 2003, and slightly after that. Eighth-grade scores have showed some improvement, too, though not as much.

Reading scores have barely moved (grade 4) and may have slightly declined (grade 8).

About one-third of students are proficient (grade level) in reading.

About half are proficient in fourth grade, but that drops to only a third in the eighth grade.

Certainly nothing too impressive, overall.

So some skepticism is in order, both on the performance and financial front.

Congratulations to the Blue-Ribbon Winners

The U.S. Department of Education has announced the 2009 Blue Ribbon schools. According to a press release from the department, “The Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private schools based on one of two criteria: 1) Schools whose students, regardless of background, achieve in the top 10 percent of their state on state tests or in the case of private schools in the top 10 percent of the nation on nationally-normed tests; and 2) Schools with at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds that demonstrate dramatic improvement of student performance to high levels on state tests or nationally-normed tests.”

Five schools in Kansas made the list. They are:

Rock Creek Junior/Senior High School (USD 323, St. George), in the category “Schools in the top 10% with less than 40% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

The following schools earned the distinction of being in the top 10% of schools in the state with at least 40% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds:

Broken Arrow Elementary, Lawrence

Oakley Elementary, Oakley

Phillipsburg Elementary, Phillipsburg

Robinson Elementary, Augusta

Are Kansas Schools Overrated?

The results of state versus national assessments would make you wonder.  See also a publication from the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy, “Does Kansas Grade Itself on the Curve?

Research Note: School Choice Boosts Achievement

Here’s a note from my friends at the Texas Public Policy Foundation:

Since the start of the Horizon program nine years ago, Edgewood ISD test scores and graduation rates have increased and more than 90% of program participants have gone on to college. Public and private school students alike have thrived under school choice in San Antonio.

To see a report on the program (PDF file), click here.

Worth Noting: Few States Set World-Class Standards

It’s easy to have “excellent” schools if your standards are low enough. That’s the argument of an article in the Summer 2008 issue of Education Next. Paul E. Peterson and Frederick M. Hess took a look at the standards used by each of the 50 states and compared them with the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Roughly speaking, if the state’s performance on its own standards were roughly similar to its performance on the NAEP, the state scored an A.

Kansas scored a C-, suggesting that it’s suffering from grade inflation. It’s similar to an argument we made in the report “Does Kansas Grade Itself on a Curve?

Who’s Making Progress?

KSDE has released a list of schools and districts not making “Adequate Yearly Progress” as required by No Child Left Behind.

If one of the subgroups of students within a school (race, income, disabled, etc.) does not perform at the specified level of proficiency across the district, that school fails to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP.

If one of the subgroups of students across a district (race, income, disabled, etc.) does not perform at the specified level of proficiency across the district, that district fails to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP.

A total of 63 districts–a full 20 percent of all districts–fell afoul of the requirements one way or the other.

In 19 cases, the district as a whole as well as at least one of its school failed to make AYP.

In 31 cases, at least one school in the district failed, but the district as a whole made AYP.

In 13 cases, the district as a whole failed to make AYP, but each of its schools made AYP.

So as you can see, the difference is whether you look at particular schools or the district as a whole.


Not Making AYP, 2008 Edition
District No Name District fail? School No. School
D0202 Turner-Kansas City Yes 164 Turner Elem
D0202 Turner-Kansas City 167 Turner Middle School
D0204 Bonner Springs Yes 210 Bonner Springs Elementary
D0204 Bonner Springs 216 Edwardsville Elem
D0204 Bonner Springs 221 Robert E Clark Middle
D0207 Ft Leavenworth Yes All schools made AYP
D0210 Hugoton Public No 357 Hugoton Middle
D0213 West Solomon Valley Yes All schools made AYP
D0214 Ulysses Yes 450 Hickok Elem
D0214 Ulysses 444 Sullivan Elem
D0228 Hanston Yes All schools made AYP
D0233 Olathe No 865 Olathe South Sr High
D0243 Lebo-Waverly Yes All schools made AYP
D0246 Northeast No 1194 Northeast Elem
D0247 Cherokee No 1230 South East High
D0253 Emporia No 1406 Turning Point Learning Center
D0253 Emporia 1418 W A White Elem
D0257 Iola Yes 1562 Iola Middle School
D0259 Wichita Yes 1614 Adams Elem
D0259 Wichita 1646 Clark Elem
D0259 Wichita 1808 Curtis Middle School
D0259 Wichita 1660 Enterprise Elem
D0259 Wichita 1814 Hamilton Middle School
D0259 Wichita 1846 Heights High
D0259 Wichita 1628 Jackson Elementary
D0259 Wichita 1704 Kelly Liberal Arts Academy
D0259 Wichita 1718 Linwood Elementary
D0259 Wichita 1824 Mayberry Cultural Magnet Middle
D0259 Wichita 1837 Metro Blvd Alt High
D0259 Wichita 1742 Metro Meridian Alt High
D0259 Wichita 1852 Metro Midtown Alt High
D0259 Wichita 1838 North High
D0259 Wichita 1756 Park Elementary
D0259 Wichita 1840 South High
D0259 Wichita 1842 Southeast High
D0259 Wichita 1693 Spaght Accelerated Magnet
D0259 Wichita 1782 Stanley Elem
D0259 Wichita 1785 Stucky Middle School
D0259 Wichita 1834 Truesdell Middle School
D0259 Wichita 1844 West High
D0259 Wichita 1796 White Elem
D0259 Wichita 1833 Wilbur Middle School
D0260 Derby No 1926 Derby Middle Sch
D0261 Haysville No 1956 Campus High Haysville
D0261 Haysville 1961 Prairie Elementary School
D0265 Goddard No 2027 Goddard Middle School
D0266 Maize No 2050 Maize Sr High
D0287 West Franklin Yes 2559 Appanoose Elementary School
D0290 Ottawa Yes All schools made AYP
D0300 Comanche Co Yes All schools made AYP
D0305 Salina No 3026 Salina High Central
D0308 Hutchinson Yes 3102 Avenue A Elem
D0308 Hutchinson 3130 Hutchinson Middle School
D0308 Hutchinson 3114 Lincoln Elem
D0308 Hutchinson 3116 McCandless Elem
D0308 Hutchinson 3124 Wiley Elem
D0312 Haven Public Sc No 3241 Pleasantview Academy Grade S
D0330 Mission Valley Yes All schools made AYP
D0343 Perry Public Sc No 4029 Perry-Lecompton Middle
D0352 Goodland Yes 4224 Grant Junior High
D0353 Wellington Yes All schools made AYP
D0365 Garnett Yes 4590 Garnett Elem
D0367 Osawatomie No 4665 Osawatomie Middle School
D0369 Burrton No 4734 Burrton Elem
D0373 Newton No 4807 Santa Fe Middle
D0373 Newton 4799 Slate Creek Elementary
D0382 Pratt No 5090 Liberty Middle School
D0383 Manhattan-Ogden No 5130 Theo Roosevelt Elem
D0394 Rose Hill Public No 5374 Rose Hill Intermediate
D0395 LaCrosse No 5396 La Crosse Middle School
D0398 Peabody-Burns Yes All schools made AYP
D0402 Augusta No 5560 Augusta Middle School
D0404 Riverton No 5620 Riverton Elem
D0407 Russell County No 5722 Ruppenthal Middle
D0417 Morris County Yes All schools made AYP
D0418 McPherson No 6038 McPherson Middle School
D0420 Osage City Yes All schools made AYP
D0433 Midway Schools Yes 6428 Doniphan West Middle School
D0435 Abilene No 6475 Abilene Middle School
D0443 Dodge City No 6686 Dodge City High School
D0443 Dodge City 6684 Dodge City Middle School
D0445 Coffeyville Yes 6756 Community Elementary
D0445 Coffeyville 6770 Roosevelt Middle
D0446 Independence No 6828 Independence Middle
D0447 Cherryvale Yes All schools made AYP
D0450 Shawnee Heights No 6945 Shawnee Heights Middle
D0450 Shawnee Heights 6948 Tecumseh South Elem
D0453 Leavenworth Yes 7008 Earl M Lawson Elem
D0453 Leavenworth 7020 Leavenworth Sr High
D0453 Leavenworth 7026 Leavenworth Virtual School
D0453 Leavenworth 7018 Leavenworth West Middle School
D0453 Leavenworth 7022 Muncie Elem
D0453 Leavenworth 7016 Nettie Hartnett/Ben Day Elem
D0453 Leavenworth 7017 Richard W. Warren Middle School
D0457 Garden City Yes 7130 Garden City Sr High
D0457 Garden City 7138 Kenneth Henderson Middle
D0465 Winfield No 7331 Winfield Intermediate School
D0465 Winfield 7333 Winfield Middle School
D0467 Leoti No 7383 Wichita Co Jr High
D0476 Copeland Yes All schools made AYP
D0480 Liberal Yes 7715 Cottonwood Intermediate School
D0480 Liberal 7714 Garfield Elem
D0480 Liberal 7728 Liberal South Middle
D0480 Liberal 7730 Liberal West Middle
D0480 Liberal 7724 Southlawn Elem
D0495 Ft Larned No 8140 Larned Middle School
D0497 Lawrence No 8195 Deerfield Elem
D0497 Lawrence 8198 Hillcrest Elem
D0497 Lawrence 8200 Kennedy Elem
D0497 Lawrence 8214 Lawrence Central Jr Hi
D0497 Lawrence 8224 Lawrence Free State High
D0497 Lawrence 8218 Lawrence High
D0500 Kansas City Yes 8320 Argentine Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8324 Arrowhead Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8280 Central Elementary School
D0500 Kansas City 8316 Central Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8328 Coronado Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8331 D D Eisenhower Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8288 Emerson Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8329 F L Schlagle High
D0500 Kansas City 8294 Fairfax Campus
D0500 Kansas City 8308 Frank Rushton Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8332 Hazel Grove Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8290 John Fiske Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8342 Lindbergh Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8298 Mark Twain Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8303 Noble Prentis Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8305 Quindaro Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8321 Rosedale Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8282 Silver City Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8346 Stony Point South
D0500 Kansas City 8352 Welborn Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8319 West Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8313 Whittier Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8323 Wyandotte High
D0501 Topeka Yes 8442 Avondale East Elem
D0501 Topeka 8552 Capital City
D0501 Topeka 8524 Eisenhower Middle School
D0501 Topeka 8469 Hope St Academy Charter Middle
D0501 Topeka 8532 Landon Middle School
D0501 Topeka 8471 Linn Elem
D0501 Topeka 8474 Lundgren Elem
D0501 Topeka 8494 Quincy Elem
D0501 Topeka 8444 Shaner Elem
D0501 Topeka 8504 State Street Elem
D0501 Topeka 8512 Whitson Elem
D0503 Parsons Yes 8594 Parsons Middle School
D0503 Parsons 8596 Parsons Sr High
D0511 Attica Yes 8764 Attica High
D0512 Shawnee Mission Yes 8784 Bluejacket-Flint
D0512 Shawnee Mission 8793 Comanche Elem
D0512 Shawnee Mission 8880 Indian Woods Middle

Lawrence: The Headline Looks Great. The Record?

Some schools in Lawrence made progress in complying with the goals of No Child Left Behind. Unfortunately, neither high school is.

(Source: “District making progress when it comes to No Child Left Behind Act,” LJW, September 9, 2008)

Are Test Scores Inflated?

Though this next story is a few months old, it’s still worth reading. Stateline.Org noted that some states take a rather lax approach to standardized tests while others take a more rigorous approach.

– The reading test in Texas (2006) was multiple choice.

– The reading test in Ohio (2005) had several short-answer questions

– The reading test in Massachusetts (2007) required answering open-response questions.

One reason cited for the multiple-choice questions: It takes a lot less time (and thus money) to grade them.

States complain that the federal government requires them to test students for NCLB, but then doesn’t pay enough money to pay for the testing. Shouldn’t states be interested in measuring the results anyway? Besides, the feds do give states a great amount of leeway in which standards they use, and what counts as making “adequate yearly progress” for a given year.

One interesting fact from the article: Since NCLB was enacted, the amount spent on tests has nearly tripled. One reason for the increase: more students are tested. Another: an additional subject test (science).

Another interesting fact, according to author Pauline Vu, is that NCLB has actually resulted in making it harder to compare states. There’s been a tendency to abandon the use of the Stanford Achievement Test and other tests that have been used by many states, and instead create state-specific states reflecting the various state standards.

This has resulted in “credential creep.” It’s now possible for the same student who be “proficient” in one state and “not proficient” in another–all depending on how states set the curve. (See Grading on the Curve, a commentary from the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy on this phenomenon.) The implications are stark: “to be considered proficient readers in Wisconsin, for example, fourth-graders needed to answer questions about as difficult as one that asked them to note a few differences between cats and dogs. But fourth-graders in Massachusetts faced more difficult questions such as those about a written passage by Russian author Leo Tolstoy.”

How Good is Your Public School?

Richard John Neuhaus writes that school choice is a moral issue, but that many middle-class families, with some justification, fear that vouchers would harm their own children’s schools. We certainly think those fears are misplaced, but the question got us thinking: How good are those schools, anyway?

The Pacific Research Institute asked that question of schools in some of California’s upscale cities. Granted, there are many differences between California and Kansas, but the findings of the Institute’s recent book Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice is illuminating, and suggestive.

First, the authors consist of individuals with deep roots in education. One, who has taught mathematics in high school and middle school, has also served as a principal and district superintendent. Another taught elementary school children for 18 years, and also worked in both talented and gifted as well as Title I programs. A third, who has taught school for two years, is currently a Ph.D. student in American history. A fourth has a Ph.D. in political science, and has taught at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point). The fifth author, who is actually the lead author, has written extensively on education policy and has worked in a number of public offices, such as the governing board of California’s community colleges.

So these folks know research, and they know education.

In their conclusion–not a bad place to start reading the book, by the way–the authors point out that the wealth of the coastal communities such as Orange County and San Francisco do not translate into superior test scores. Neither do conservative social values of the Central Valley and other inland areas of the state.

Part of the blame, they say, goes to an inappropriate model of management and labor relations. Principals lack the ability to assign teachers on the basis of need, and they can’t get rid of inept teachers. Further, wealthy communities are certainly not immune to having school officials who embezzle, commit fraud, and simple manage poorly. Existing reform efforts such as the state accountability system and No Child Left behind are inadequate and subverted.