Editor’s Note: In the following story, Gardner News reported that the Kansas Policy Institute called Kansas schools “ineffective.” That is not the case. KPI officials said many kids get a good public education, but an honest examination of all the data shows that isn’t the case for many other Kansas students. The Gardner News regrets the error.
The Kansas Policy Institute (KPI) isn’t backing off its claims about the ineffectiveness of Kansas public schools. The debate is playing out in newspapers across the state after KPI, a think tank, ran a series of ads that opponents say attack the public education system.
“It’s unfortunate it’s created a firestorm,” Dave Trabert, president of KPI, said of the ads. “All we’re doing is giving parents facts that the education community does not seem to want them to have.”
Mark Desetti, director of governmental affairs for the Kansas National Education Association, said the ads left out part of the story.
“I would classify it as there’s nothing false in what they said except they left stuff out,” Desetti said. “It’s what you might call lying by omission.”
The ads totaled up the percentage of 11th grade students across the state that tested as “exceed standards” and those that tested as “exemplary” in reading. The totals did not include those that tested as “meets standard/proficient.”
But Trabert said as defined by the state, the “proficient” standard is a low one. “Full comprehension” and “proficient” are two different things, he said. A student can be considered “proficient” with “satisfactory” but less than “full” grade-level comprehension.
The ads, he explained, show the percentage of students who have “full comprehension” at grade level, but parents may not understand the difference when they hear reports about local districts.
According to preliminary Kansas Assessment testing results, 96 percent of USD 231 students are proficient in reading, and therefore meet state standards.
The State’s definition of “proficient” give parents, educators and students a false sense of achievement, according to Trabert. He likened the situation to going to the doctor’s office and hearing everything is fine, when in reality, there are underlying health issues. Parents would rather be told the truth about their children’s health, he explained, and it’s the same with their children’s education.
“You only want to hear good news, but if there is a problem and you don’t get all the facts, you can not help that child get better,” Trabert said.
In addition to running newspaper ads, KPI officials have traveled around Kansas presenting the information.
“Over the last year, parents and even some educators have been shocked to learn Kansas has such low standards.
However, Desetti said, people do not have absolute comprehension of everything they read.
“I could take their boy Dave Trabert – he has a college degree – and I could put in front of him text that he will not have full comprehension of,” Desetti said. “…I also have a college degree. I can take physics text, and I will not have full comprehension. I will have to ask questions because I’m not a physicist. The question is do you have satisfactory comprehension? The question is do you have enough to perform well for the grade level you are in?”
The advertisements also link finances to student achievement, asking: “Will spending more money on current practices quickly move student achievement to acceptable levels?”
According to Desetti, the schools are already there. He quoted a study in which Kansas ranks seventh out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in the quality of its educational system.
“We’re an outstanding school system,” Desetti said. “Our kids are doing great work. Our teachers are doing great work. Our schools are performing well.”
Trabert said Kansas’ high rankings don’t truly take into Think, from page 1
account the differences in demographics between Kansas citizens and those in other states.
“What would you think if someone tried to do a story comparing the scores of Blue Valley with Kansas City, Kansas?” Trabert asked. “You’d hear pretty quickly that wasn’t a fair study. The same thing applies to the state. A lot of the reasons that Kansas seems to be better than most is that Kansas is a lot like Blue Valley when compared to other states. And we’re barely above the national average. That’s just reality.”
Desetti said given extra resources, Kansas schools could do even better.
He wouldn’t say how much should be spent per student to increase the state’s ranking to within the top 5, but he said he’d start by restoring cuts the Legislature has made to school spending since the recession started.
He noted, however, that despite the cuts, student scores continue to rise.
The ads weren’t a criticism, according to Trabert.
“This is not about blame,” he said. “No one is to blame, but everyone is responsible.”