Category Archives: Uncategorized

This site is mostly dark

While this site has been around for a while, its season for being frequently updated has passed. While there may be some updates from time to time, I’m offering no guarantees.

If you’re interested in education in Kansas and would like to contribute material to this site, please leave a comment and I might get back with you.

For more related to education in Kansas, see the Kansas Policy Institute.

(Bumped to the top of the page)

Take a lesson from Wisconsin

So it looks like Gov. Scott Walker won’t be thrown out of office for getting the state out of business of collecting dues for the teachers union. Good.

Now that the political season is over (for a month or so!), the rest of the nation, including Kansas, ought to see what lessons it can draw. Here’s one: changing the rules concerning contracts and the business affairs of schools can keep teachers in the classroom. For example, districts have saved money by being able to shop for health insurance plans, rather than be the captive of the plans offered by the teachers union. As a result of the savings, they may in some cases not have to lay off teachers, which of course would mean larger classes–something that unions typically rail against. Here’s one story, admittedly from a pro-Walker source, that gives examples of cost savings.

Kansas, for its part, is enduring yet another legal challenge from school districts that want more money. Of course, who can blame them? If your boss offers you a raise, would you say, “Nah, I don’t need the money. You keep it?”

District administrators and teachers both face mandates from other people (the state school board, the Legislature, Congress). If they fail to comply with the requirements of No Child Left Behind–and compliance is at least partially out of their hands–they will be subject to disruptions to their business and professional lives. So of course, they’d like more money — from taxpayers. The Legislature hasn’t been as forthcoming as they’d like, so they turn to the courts.

But this move is all predicted on the assumption that there’s no room for cost-cutting or efficiencies–a heroic assumption, I believe.

Ending last in, first out (LIFO) employment practices, tenure, or the union scale may be all good things, and could save money. So could cutting through the red tape that entangles principals and teachers alike. But it won’t guarantee that all students will end up as “proficient” as defined by a standardized test. It’s foolish to think that any amount of money will guarantee any academic result. The best we can do is to make sure we spent money on education in the least bureaucratic way possible. Having the courts resolve a dispute between the Legislature and the education establishment won’t get us there.


Report nicks Kansas for lack of AP opportunities

If you’re a child in a poor family, where would you rather live–Kansas or Florida?

Historically, Kansas has had a good reputation for its education system, and Florida hasn’t. But the Sunshine State has caught up to and has surpassed Kansas in some measures.

Here’s what the online newspaper ProPublica had to say:

“Our analysis identifies several states that, like Florida, have leveled the field and now offer rich and poor students roughly equal access to high-level courses.

In Kansas, Maryland and Oklahoma, by contrast, such opportunities are far less available in districts with poorer families.”

The article focuses on student access to and enrollment in AP classes. Of all the states, Kansas gets an especially negative treatment. Officials at KSDE suggest in response that some children are simply not interested in a liberal-arts education–a fair point as far as it goes.

The article quotes Alan Rupe (of Montoy lawsuit fame), who calls for even more funding for schools that enroll a large number of poor students. I propose something different: How about letting those students take their public support to the school of their choice?

The article contains one clunker, claiming that Florida scores below the national average on standardized tests. It points to grade 12 tests. But it scores above the national average on fourth-grade math and reading and eighth-grade reading. I’m not sure, though, whether those differences are statistically significant–but it’s clear that Florida is not “below” the national average anymore.

Selecting members of the Kansas Supreme Court

One fallout of the Montoy decision has focused attention on the fact that the selection of members to the Kansas Supreme Court is a secret process without any public input. Dr. Stephen J. Ware of the University of Kansas talks about the judicial selection process in this short video.

Stop “Waiting for Superman,” Act Now

Earlier this week, the Daily Caller published an op-ed I wrote about the movie Waiting for Superman. You can read the op-ed here. It’s much too short to give the movie its due. Go see it if you can. Check out the movie’s website for options, though beware that the site seems to be out of date in its listings.  TODAY is the last day it is running at the Warren East theater in Wichita.

The janitor with a Ph.D.

There are 5,057 janitors with a doctorate or professional degree, according to Richard Vedder, who writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Personally, I’m suspicious that the number inflated, though I agree with Vedder’ larger point, which is that we have a mismatch between public needs and our public approach to higher education.

“All told, some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree.” These jobs include parking lot attendant, wait staff, and bartenders.

For more fun, take a look at this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Vedder concedes that the experience of going to college has value, but then asks whether that justifies the public investment. Good question.

By the way, be sure to read the comments attached to the article. Some make valuable points. Some, like the one below, border on parody:

Just imagine what our democracy might be like if truck drivers read Sartre, or if restaurant servers studied astronomy, or if garbage collectors debated the newest trends in evolutionary biology, or if housewives and machine operators read and discussed New Historicist literary theory.

I’m as interested in New Historicist literary theory (whatever that is) as the next person, and there’s no problem with mechanics holding advanced degrees in philosophy–as long as said people have paid for the costs of their education. But higher education involves a variety of subsidies, meaning that it’s entirely valid to question how tax dollars are being spent.

An alternative to universal, standardized testing

Many people in the education industry scoff at the idea of using standardized tests. They say:

  • Schools overuse standardized, multiple-choice tests.
  • Teaching to the test provides children a student education, limited to what’s on the test.
  • Teachers prepare students for standardized tests in ways that short-circuit the development of their critical-thinking abilities.
  • We should use other assessments such as long-form answers, research projects, and work portfolios.
  • Nobody outside the classroom teacher knows how to assess children.
  • George W. Bush, who gave us No Child Left Behind, is an idiot (seriously, I’ve seen comments on “Education Week” that more or less offer this up as a reason to oppose standardized tests).

How about we make a deal? It’s a four-part offer:

  1. Channel all funding away from districts and to individual families.
  2. Let public schools charge tuition, along with private schools.
  3. Each school then develops whatever assessment system it thinks appropriate. Parents and teachers choose schools that offer the kinds of assessments they think is appropriate.
  4. The state gathers information about every school, including its assessment policies, and disseminates that to the public at large, but especially to parents of school-age children.

What “Jersey Shore” tells us about teacher pay

Popular attitudes towards public education suffer from an ignorance of some basic principles of education, such as the law of supply and demand.

Recently a friend of mine said something along these lines: “Isn’t it disgusting that the cast of ‘Jersey Shore’ gets paid $45,000 per episode when teachers in this country don’t get paid that much for a whole year?”

What I know about  “Jersey Shore” is very little. I suspect (I have not bothered to do a Google search) that it is a  “reality show” on some TV network, about people who spend their time baking in the sun at a beach on the Atlantic Ocean.

As you might surmise, I don’t see any need to watch that show. But millions of people, or at least hundreds of thousands, find the show compelling, entertaining, or otherwise worth their time. That fact means that advertisers hand over money to the producers of the show, who in turn pay the “actors” of  the show. That’s no “God’s-eye-view” judgment that “Jersey Shore” is more important to the health of the health of the country than education, but it does illustrate the economic principle of scarcity: That which is scarce, relative to the demand, fetches more than that which is not.

Nationally, the “average” teacher earned about $54,000 per year, which isn’t wealthy, but not exactly a starvation wage, either. (I suspect, though don’t know with certainty, that this number does not include health or retirement benefits.) The number in Kansas is lower ($49,000), but then again, Kansas has a lower cost of living than, say, the east-coast urbanized zone from Washington, DC to Boston, or the sprawling settlement that is Southern California. There’s another factor about teacher pay that must be kept in mind, too: Teaching offers job security that is not present in many jobs. Getting fired for non-performance almost never happens, thanks to the power of tenure and contracts. Even getting let go for economic reasons is not as likely as in some other industries (witness the recent, massive “edujobs” bailout from Congress.)

Finally, the pay of teachers has been affected by the trend towards “smaller class sizes.” Simply put, you can have few teachers earning a lot, or more teachers not earning as much. The path the nation has taken in recent decades is to increase the number of teachers. As any student of Econ 101 can (if he’s paying attention) tell you, when the supply of people supply a service goes up, that puts downward pressure on wages.

2 Million Minutes

The documentary “2 million minutes” compares the lives of six high-achieving high school students: two in the U.S. (Indiana), two in China, and two in India. The title refers to the time that a student spends during the four years of high school.

One obvious contrast between the students is that the American students spend much more time in social activities than the Indian or Chinese students.

Part 1

Part 2

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this comparison; given their size, it’s almost inevitable that over time, India and China will turn out more engineers and scientists than the U.S. On the other hand, much of the time that students spend in U.S. high schools is wasted. This isn’t to say that we should desire every student to qualify for, say, MIT. But  the flat lines we’ve seen in time over the NAEP at the high school level (math, reading) are not encouraging, to say the least.

Are we “waiting for Superman?”

There’s a powerful new documentary about American education. Unfortunately, it’s about the dismal education that many children receive.

Here’s the trailer:

The director, Davis Guggenheim, talks about why he created the movie:

The Nation pans the film. The Boston Globe offers a more positive review.

Here’s the official website (turn down the volume on your computer).

The film is playing in only a few cities–and for Kansans, that means driving to Denver, Dallas, or St. Louis–making its relevance for Kansans, at least for now, not great.

And yet … Kansans are also federal taxpayers and citizens of the United States, which means that what happens in New York City and Washington (where the film appears to be focused) is in fact relevant for Kansans. And you don’t have to leave Kansas to find schools with poor academic records or high drop-out rates.

If I’m able to get a viewing of the film, I’ll report back with more comments.

How do we learn?

For all the work that’s been done in the world of education, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the process of learning. One professor of psychology, quoted by the New York Times, says, “we walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works [in learning] that are mistaken.”

All the more reason to decentralize learning. The more centralized education is–national standards, statewide curricula, large districts with thousands of administrative employees–the more likely it is that invalid assumptions will be solidified into conventional wisdom and practice.

Even some of the most basic “tips” are of questionable value: “psychologists have discovered that some of the most hallowed advice on study habits is flat wrong. For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite. ”

Read the article and you’ll get a bonus: Why making students take tests can be useful for their education.

Gubernatorial candidates on K-12 schools

What do the two major party candidates for the office of Kansas governor say about education and K-12 schools?

Sam Brownback, Republican speaks about his views in this video:

Some points from his speech:

1. The Legislature, not the courts, should have primacy.
2. “We’ve got to engage the funding formula,” which is “a major political issue.”
3. “We’ve got to address the reform agenda.”

Tom Holland, the Democratic candidate, has a page on education on his website, which you can see here. He says, in part, “Entrepreneurs will not invest in a community that lacks an educated workforce. That’s why I voted for the three-year $466 million school finance plan increase during the 2006 legislative session.”

Click on each link to learn more. If you have suggestions for other Internet resources that describe the views of each candidate, please leave a comment and I will include them in a new post.

TV, music, and “words” publishing are changing–what about schools?

Are changes in the way we use media–iTunes, TiVO, podcasts, online newspapers, etc.–making the traditional ways of conducting school obsolete?

It appears that listenership on radio is changing dramatically. First of all, satellite radio allowes individuals to listen to their favorite radio station whenever and wherever they are. Secondly, iPods allow individuals to listen to exactly the music that they enjoy most. In fact, iTunes with the use of Genius even helps you find new music aligned with your personal taste. And thirdly, some of the most popular radio is talk radio. So what does all this mean? In society today individuals want to listen to what they like, when they like it, and in many cases they want to interact, not just be passive listeners.

I think students in classrooms feel the same. It is just no longer acceptable, just because somebody is an adult, to stand in front of the room and spew information and expect the student to eagerly soak it up. Students want more say in what the content is, and more interaction.

Can schools change? Perhaps. The the possibilities for change are hindered to the extent that schooling is a top-down enterprise “managed” by the President of the United State the U.S. Congress, a state board of education, or even local school boards.

Do public schools respond to competitive pressures?

Arizona has one of the most vigorous school choice environments in the country, with several tax-credit programs and a strong charter-school sector.

The Arizona Republic reports on school districts in the East Valley (Phoenix area) that have seen enrollment fall off in recent years. The growth of independent charter schools is one factor. Others include the collapse of the housing bubble and illegal immigrants leaving town.

One district is spending $38,000 to advertise itself via moving billboards (school buses), ads in movie theaters, and other means. Is that a waste of money? If that’s all the district is doing, yes. But if the district is creating new programs or new options for parents who don’t know about the innovations, advertising can be useful, both for the district and the parents who learn of new options.

Unfortunately, advertising is one of the easiest things for a district to do. If the district hires an outside agency, it’s easier yet: Turn it over to somebody else. Advertising is easy, as it does not require the heavy lifting required to make more fundamental changes that might attract new parents:  Get a new curriculum, hire a new set of teachers, cut the red tape and put more money into the classroom rather than administration. After all, traditional public schools are bureaucracies, with all the strengths–and weaknesses–that implies.

Still, some districts are, to their credit, may be responding. One is continuing all-day kindergarten, though state funding has been discontinued. The Republic mentions another district that “has tried to distinguish itself with specialized programs, called magnet schools,” though if you read carefully, you’ll find it’s not clear whether the schools were in fact created as a response to declining enrollment–which may yet be proof that districts still haven’t been able to respond appropriately to competitive pressures.

Trouble for a boy named Sue

Does giving your son a name commonly thought of as a girl’s name increase the likelihood that he will get into trouble in school? There’s some evidence for that, published in the journal Education Finance and Policy. The abstract is quite readable, especially for a journal.

Kansas Votes

If you’re looking for information on recent legislative developments, check out Kansas Votes. It’s a great resource. Here’s a link to all the current items on education.

Here’s some of the interesting and potentially significant legislation that was introduced. Most never made it out of committee.

Local spending authority

  • 2010 House Bill 2748 (Increase USD flexibility in spending certain funds)
  • 2010 House Bill 2742 (Allow increased USD local option budgets)

At-risk funding

  • 2009 House Bill 2357 (Verify accurate at-risk student enrollment)
  • 2009 House Bill 2307 (Check family income for “at risk” school funding status)
  • 2009 House Bill 2181 (Earmark at-risk school funds for at-risk student teachers)

School district consolidation

  • 2010 House Bill 2728 (Mandate minimum USD size, uniform accounting)
  • 2010 House Bill 2704 (Reduce low enrollment state aid for some USDs)
  • 2010 House Bill 2627 (Allow USDs to consolidate from three down to two)

Personnel policy

  • 2010 House Bill 2699 (Increase time for teacher job rights to vest)
  • 2010 Senate Bill 355 (Issuing contracts to public school teachers)
  • 2009 Senate Bill 259 (Suspend certain payments into state pension plan)
  • 2009 Senate Bill 209 (Allow licensure program for nontraditional teachers)
  • 2009 Senate Bill 196 (Allow third-party education employers to hire retired KPERS teachers)


  • 2010 Senate Bill 539 (Creation of the Relevant Efficient Academic Learning (REAL) Education Act)

Reporting and accounting

  • 2009 Senate Bill 226 (Publish legislative votes, USD budget data on state website)
  • 2009 House Bill 2239 (Implement statewide USD accounting system)

Lawsuits over school funding

  • 2010 House Concurrent Resolution 5031 (Oppose court-ordered appropriations, taxes for lawsuits)

Funding formulas

  • Several bills would have changed the funding formula for state aid.

Scholarships and tax credits

  • 2010 Senate Bill 404 (Creating an early high school graduation scholarship program)
  • 2009 House Bill 2227 (Initiate autism scholarship program)
  • 2009 Senate Bill 150 (Create college scholarships for government employees, children)
  • 2009 House Bill 2108 (Create state education tax credit tied to federal tax credit)

Is kindergarten mandatory in Kansas?

Recently, a number of people have across this site by using the search terms “Is kindergarten mandatory in Kansas?”, or some variation thereof.

The short answer: No, and children are not required to attend school until age 7.

Now for the longer answer

According to the Education Commission of the States, kindergarten attendance in Kansas is “not mandatory.” I’m not sure how current their information is; the link bears a 2010 copyright, but may contain information from earlier years.

In February 2007, Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, and Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita proposed lowering the mandatory school-entrance age from 7 to 6, and requiring at least half-day attendance at kindergarten.

Later in August, the Wichita Eagle supported the implementation of mandatory kindergarten. It justified that by citing “academic success.” As in, the schools that we have now aren’t succeeding according to our definitions, so let’s give them even more time in a child’s life, regardless of parental wishes. The Eagle would make an exception for religious purposes, at least for Mennonites. (What about Baptists, Catholics, agnostics or atheists?)

The effort to institute mandatory kindergarten was taken up again in  2008, with the Kansas Senate overwhelmingly passing a bill in March 2009. (Interestingly, a teacher left a comment on my blog post on the subject, saying that in her experience, “our half day test scores and behavior of the children far exceed the full day programs.”)

According to Kansas Statute 72-1107, a child is eligible to attend school if on or before August 31 of a  school year, he is 6 years old. That doesn’t, however, mean that he must attend. When the statute specifically addresses kindergarten, it says that a child is eligible if he is 5 years old on or before August 31.

According to Kansas Statute 72-77, compulsory attendance doesn’t kick in until the child reaches age 7. (Actually, compulsory attendance does kick in earlier in one case: If your child enrolls at age 5 or 6, he has to regularly show up to class.)

During this year’s session, SB 539 would have upped state funding for kindergarten from a half-time enrollment to a full-time one. According to the Kansas Division of Budget, that would require an extra $72 million in state general funding per year (PDF letter). I believe that the fiscal crisis of the state–rather than questions about the wisdom of expanding the scope of the school system–has stopped the move towards mandatory, all-day kindergarten.

A look at all states

In its review, the ECS concludes that for most states, kindergarten is mandatory in 12 states, though that means a lot of different things:

Children in Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, and West Virginia who don’t attend kindergarten must pass a first-grade qualification test before being enrolled in first grade.

Parents in Connecticut and Oklahoma may opt out, but must notify the school district in which they live. Parents in Virginia may do the same, but only if the child has not reached the age of 6 on or before September 30.

Tennessee says that “No child shall be eligible to enter 1st grade. . .without having attended an approved kindergarten program.”

Maryland has the most intrusive regulations, requiring all children who don’t attend kindergarten be enrolled in state-qualified institutional care or receiving instruction at home as specified by state statute.

New Mexico makes the question the subject of parents and the district superintendent, suggesting that the district can require attendance.

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.

Your public school as a federal cafeteria

Politicians keep piling non-academic demands on public schools. U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) wants to greatly expand the federal school lunch program. Michael G. Franc comments.

What not to do, Wisconsin version

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an interesting piece, describing how the state superintendent of instruction has a degree of power that none of his counterparts in 49 states do.

The individual who holds the office may or may not be doing a good job, but concentrating power in one office strikes me as profoundly unwise.

Kansas standards “clearly inferior,” says CC Booster

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a backer of the common core curriculum project, has evaluated the math and English standards of the states and compared them against the proposed core curriculum. You read its report, The State of State Standards–and the Common Core–in 2010, on the institute’s website.

In English language arts, it gives the common core a B+, and Kansas standards a C. The difference is more dramatic in math: The institute gives the common core an A-, and Kansas standards an F. It says of the math standards, “Kansas’s standards are poorly organized and completely overwhelming. (The K-12 standards document is 348 pages long.) There are serious problems with both elementary and high school.”

The institute did Kansas a service by reviewing the standards. But Kansans ought to be wary of adopting the standards, since doing so would run the risk of increasingly federalizing education.

Should the president be the teacher-in-chief?

Should your child’s teacher on the first day of school be the president of the United States? The Cato Institute says no.

On its Facebook page, the institute says, “President Obama has decided to take over children’s first day of school again this year by doing another speech to students across the country. If it’s anything like last year’s address, it’s sure to be laden with government (and Obama) aggrandizing rhetoric.”

SBOE to discuss school funding next week

The Kansas State Board of Education will hold its monthly meeting next week, and it should be no surprise that money (and the desire for more of it) is on the agenda.

The Lawrence Journal World has a short write-up on the topic, but the KansasReporter has more, including details on a few grants the board may make. You can download the materials board members were given to prepare for the meeting (scroll down to the appropriate date). Depending on the abilities of your computer and Internet connection (as well as stamina to endure long meetings), you may be able to listen live on July 13 and 14.

An experiment in KCMO schools

From the Columbia Daily Tribune of Missouri:

Rather than promote children from one grade to the next in a group as they get a year older, Kansas City public schools is trying an eminently sensible alternative long denounced as discriminatory. Children will be grouped by ability and promoted as they master certain skills, regardless of age or theoretical grade level.

The author, Henry J. Waters III, says the experiment will be “interesting to watch.”


Common Core Standards advance

Is the USA inching closer to a national, standardized curriculum? Perhaps. It’s certainly more in that direction than away from it. Two states, for example, have added the Common Core State Standards to their practices, or will soon do so.

Wyoming has added national standards to its expectations for schools. According to,

The Wyoming State Board of Education voted to include the Common Core State Standards in language arts and math in the next round of state standard revisions, according to a memo from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jim McBride.

And according to an AP story published by, Georgia’s top education panel is expected to adopt the national standards soon: “Georgia will join 20 other states that have signed on to the Common Core State Standards that detail what students should learn in each grade and should know when they graduate high school. The state school board will meet Tuesday and Wednesday to take up the matter.”

The chairman of the Georgia state board of education defends the standards against accusations that they amount to a federal takeover of education. For an alternate view, see these comments from a teacher in the state. She opposes the “very rich people” who support the standards, saying the result will be “drill-and-kill testing factories.”

What do the standards look like?

You can see the draft version of the English Language Arts and mathematics at the official site of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Kansas and the Core

Meanwhile, what has the Kansas State Board of Education been up to with regard to the standards?

Concerns and reservations

From the May 2010 minutes, the last month for which minutes are available on the KSDE website [interesting comments put into bold]:

Tom Foster, Director of Standards and Assessments, updated Board members on the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics. Matt Copeland and David Barnes, Department education consultants, reviewed information on the additions the Department felt were necessary to create high quality standards and a purposeful transition for Kansas educators and students. They noted that most of the comments and advice from Kansas had been integrated in succeeding drafts of the standards. Discussion and Board questions Tom Foster, Director of Standards and Assessments, updated Board members on the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics. Matt Copeland and David Barnes, Department education consultants, reviewed information on the additions the Department felt were necessary to create high quality standards and a purposeful transition for Kansas educators and students. They noted that most of the comments and advice from Kansas had been integrated in succeeding drafts of the standards. Discussion and Board questions followed. Board members expressed many concerns and reservations about the standards. In response to comments about the lack of user-friendliness of the standards, different terminology used, and the importance and cost of professional development to train the field to use them, Dr. Foster explained that the Department would be developing bridge documents to link the new standards to the existing standards and training would be a key element in their implementation. The Department would do everything it could to make the transition for the field as easy as possible.

Another area discussed dealt with how the new standards compared with the existing Kansas standards and whether the state would do better to revise those rather than adopt new ones. There were also several Board members who objected that the State Board was not given the opportunity to be included in the standards initiative from the outset. Some questioned why an independent grassroots undertaking begun by the National Governors’ Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) was now being tied to the federal reauthorization of ESEA. The tie‐in to the reauthorization could pose a stumbling block for several members regarding their stand on approval of the standards.

Other issues mentioned were the pace of the project and fear it was proceeding too fast for states to keep up with assess the quality of the content of the standards; whether the new standards addressed graduates’ ability to find well‐paying jobs; the possible development of common standards in other content areas; and the standards‐related issue of development of new assessments and the state’s longtime relationship with the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at The University of Kansas. As a follow‐up, the list of Kansas standards review committee members who had been involved with the many drafts of the common core standards was requested.

A Kansas committee to study ESEA and the standards

The board was supposed to talk about the standards at its June meeting, but no minutes are available. The board will meet again on July 13 and 14. The file with background material (PDF–320 pages) for that meeting mentions that the board has directed the creation of a committee, the Kansas Education Commission, to study the issue of the reauthorization of the ESEA, the federal government’s chief law on education.

The commission has, among its other responsibility, this charge:

Kansas was one of 48 states involved in the Common Core Standards (CCS) initiative which resulted in a set of common standards in English language arts and mathematics released on June 2, 2010. While work on the CCS has been underway for over a year, the Kansas Education Commission will be charged with reviewing the standards and assisting KSDE staff in: 1) determining if the standards are appropriate for Kansas K-12 students and, if so, 2) what additional standards, if any, need to be added to fill in any gaps and also give the standards a Kansas flavor; 3) the most appropriate process for seeking adoption of the standards from the State Board of Education; and 4) assisting in determining what professional development will be necessary in order to ensure a smooth transition from the current standards to the CCS.

The materials include a letter, dated 06/24/2010, from Tom Foster to Interim Commissioner Diane DeBacker about the standards. In brief, the memo offers additions that KSDE staff believe should be added to the standards, should Kansas adopt them. The additions don’t address merely what students should know or be able to do, they call for specific approaches to teaching: “We believe in a commonly held approach to English language arts (ELA) instruction that is collaborative, constructive, inferential, process-based, and inclusive of multiple multi-modal texts.” What if you don’t want your child to be taught in such a fashion (assuming you can figure out what that means)? Tough, if that ends up being the official policy. That’s just one example of the problems with top-down standards. While the staff seek to avoid “paradigm wars” such as phonics-versus-whole language, anytime an official agency sets up standards, paradigm wars are possible.

A Debate on the Core

Finally, the Cato Institute offers up a video of a debate over the merits of having a common core. Here’s a link to a commentary by the institute’s Neal McCluskey, which will also lead you to the video, which runs 80 minutes. It features McCluskey, Sandra Boyd (ACHIEVE Inc.), Lindsey Burke (Heritage Foundation), and Michael J. Petrilli (Thomas Fordham Institute). The first 45 minutes are taken up by the four presenters,  while a Q&A session follows.

  1. McCluskey advances that argument that national standards are undesirable. There is no correlation between national standards and performance on international tests. Any standards that exist will end up serving the needs of teacher unions and administrators, not parents and children. The market should let various non-federal and non-government standards develop, to take account the various interests and needs of children.
  2. Boyd says that “national” are not “federal” and that “standards” are not “curriculum.” She further says that schools set the bar for high-school graduation too low, and that the expectations of colleges and employers are common across the states. The common core draft is superior to anything to anything that exists in states today. Standards are key to academic excellence, but they are not enough, if they are not supplemented by professional development, curriculum, assessments, accountability requirements and other factors. Governors are now looking at how to create common assessments–“the market at work.”
  3. Burke says that standards are the latest effort to entrench the federal government in something that should be a state measure. The common core standards is the Clinton standards redux. There’s a mismatch between what we want out of education and the funding incentives that exist today, and national standards do nothing to fix that mismatch. Common standards remove parents’ power over standards and curriculum, which is one of the few powers they have–the power will reside in Washington, DC. She applauds some reforms in Florida, which show that national efforts are not required to advance student achievement. Common standards will bring a regression to the mean and homogenization.
  4. Petrilli likes the draft standards. He makes four arguments. 1. There is evidence for national standards. 2. We don’t have to chose between standards and school choice. 3. Standards won’t be watered down. 4. Standards won’t lead to further federal control of education.