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A student achievement crisis

By A Contributor

There are those who believe Kansas has a school funding crisis — even though spending exceeds $13,000 per student and continues to set records — but low student achievement continues to be the real crisis. It’s a shame that so much attention is paid to money and so little focus is on actual learning.

• Only 31 percent of students who took the ACT are considered college-ready in English, reading, math and science.

• On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), just 20 percent of low-income fourth-graders are proficient in reading and 27 percent are proficient in math. A mere half of the students who are not low income are proficient in reading and math. Among eighth-graders, less than a quarter of low-income kids are proficient in reading and math while fewer than half of the students who are not low income are proficient.

• As alarming as the proficiency numbers are, incomebased achievement gaps are even more troubling. Since 2005, the achievement gaps between low-income and notlow- income students have actually increased despite hundreds of millions of dollars in annual at-risk funding being targeted to reduce those gaps. It will take centuries to close some of these achievement gaps and others would never close at the current 10-year pace.

2016 marked the second year of the new state assessment that presents a more honest achievement picture than the old No Child Left Behind testing. There’s still a measure of deceptiveness in the state assessment, though, as students can be at grade level but still need remedial training.

So here is the uncomfortable truth: Statewide, just 11 percent of low-income 10thgraders and just 34 percent of other 10th-graders statewide are on track to be collegeand career-ready. In the Manhattan-Ogden School District, 16 percent of low-income 10th-graders and 51 percent of other 10th-graders are on track to be college- and career-ready.

Here are some questions every local school board member should publicly answer: 1. Do you find these outcomes to be acceptable, and if not, what is acceptable?

2. If you believe schools are underfunded, what is the right number, how do you justify it, and does that account for efficient use of taxpayer money?

3. If schools get that amount, when will outcomes be acceptable?

The right funding number, by the way, cannot be identified by resurrecting the old finance formula and simply “fully funding” it. That idea doesn’t fit the Kansas Supreme Court’s 2014 standards- based financing decision, and funding wasn’t “reasonably calculated” to meet those standards.

And if you’ve been told that more spending is correlated with better outcomes, know this: Kansas Legislative Research says correlation cannot be proven, and even researchers who find correlation admit that simply spending more money does not cause outcomes to improve. Public education will always cost a lot of money, but it’s how the money is spent that makes a difference rather than how much.

Kansas can have great public education for all, but not until current outcomes are acknowledged and student focused corrective measures are taken.

David Dorsey , who taught in Kansas public schools for 17 years, is a senior education policy fellow at Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank.









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