As dawn broke on the 2016 legislative session, a joint statement was released by the Kansas education establishment. The Kansas Association of School Boards, the United School Administrators, KNEA and the Kansas School Superintendents Association published this communication in Under the Dome. The underlying message is about as subtle as a rooster announcing the new day with “we’re doing the best we can with what little money we have. We can only get better if you give us more.”
Here are several more “crows” included in their statement, along with reality checks.
- “Kansas schools rank in the top ten nationally on every measure on reading and math tests, high school completion and college preparation.” Evidently, they didn’t see the results of Education Week’s annual Quality Counts, a report that grades the quality of education across the nation. As I wrote in this recent blog, Kansas ranks 41st nationally in overall K-12 achievement. Quality Counts uses 18 outcome metrics to establish their rankings. Not exactly a top-ten ranking.
- “While the focus is often on how we can spend less on our children, we answer by redoubling our efforts.” Who, exactly, is focused on spending “less on our children?” The governor? The legislature? Hardly. Year after year, Kansas continues to set records for overall education spending and per-pupil spending. Maybe I’m misinterpreting that statement. Perhaps what they mean is that it’s the education establishment that focuses on spending less on students through inefficiencies and bloated administrations (more on that below), and they redouble their efforts by increasing spending outside the classroom each year despite student needs. Yeah, that’s probably it.
- “Teachers spend their own money to buy supplies, while telling their own families to tighten their budgets thanks to pay freezes or the rising cost of our health insurance plans. School districts and board members work hard to preserve programs aimed at student success while reducing administrative costs to the absolute bare minimum.” Are they serious? “Reducing administrative costs to the absolute bare minimum”? In the last ten years the rate of increase of school management personnel has nearly doubled the increase in the number of classroom teachers. Not even Common Core math logic could consider that a reduction. It’s true, teachers have to spend their own money on supplies (I know, I’ve been there). And they do it while watching superintendent and principal salary increases outpace their own raises.
- We ask legislators and Gov. Sam Brownback to choose partnership, not partisanship; compromise, not conflict…Let us all return to the Statehouse with the commitment to work together…” How disingenuous their plea of working together is. Their partnership/partisanship dichotomy is emblematic. In other words, if you don’t give us what we want, it’s because of partisan politics. Since when is education partisan? How insulting to students, parents and teachers that educating our youth has digressed into a partisan struggle.
And “compromise, not conflict,” “commitment to work together”? What the education establishment really means is like this song lyric: I can learn to compromise, anything but my desires.
While their message is meant to sound like extending an olive branch, it reverberates like throwing down a gauntlet.