Saturday, September 20, 2014

Tentative K-12 Commission recommendations, September 18-19

The K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission made a series of recommendations over its two-day meeting on September 18-19. The commission worked from a memo of suggestions proposed by Chairman Sam Williams. Most of those items had been previously recommended by Governor Brownback’s School Efficiency Task Force or in testimony before the commission by KASB and other organizations. Here is a list of the commission’s decisions to approve, reject or defer action on these proposals. In most cases, the decisions were made by consensus. Actual votes are also noted.

Decisions Thursday:

Rose Standards
  • Agreed to ask the Kansas State Board of Education to establish measurable standards for determining whether districts are meeting the goal of providing students with the capacities adopted by the Supreme Court, Legislature and Governor, called the Rose Capacities. Requested that such measures be established by the beginning of the 2016 Legislative Session (in 15 months). Asked that a broad range of stakeholders, including employers, be included. Recommended by KASB.
  • Agreed to request the Legislature continue to fully fund district incentives for student completion of high demand technical education programs, and suggested the State Board consider other incentives for attainment of important state goals. Recommended by KASB.

School District Capital Expense Funding
  • Agreed to request a study of the “open-ended” obligation for bond and interest aid. It was stressed this recommendation would not eliminate equalization aid, but could require districts seeking state aid to receive state approval of projects based on demonstrated need. This demonstration of need would not apply to districts that do not receive state aid.
  • Determined the state had already broadened the definition of allowable capital outlay fund uses.
  • Agreed to recommend, but not require, that districts have long-term plans for operating and capital costs. This is expected to be included in a new accreditation system under development by the State Board.

Decisions Friday:

School District Cash Balances
  • Consensus to support the current two-year funding cycle for all state agencies, including school district state aid; but not a “rolling” cycle under which school budgets would always be approved two years in advance.
  • Consensus to support placing priority on timely state aid payments.
  • Consensus to support changing school district budget law to collapse most operating funds into the general fund and allow districts to carry cash balances in the general fund. This would eliminate most separate funds and their individual balances. Capital outlay and bond and interest funds would remain separate funds. (Presumably so would certain other funds such as federal aid.) School districts would continue to track expenditures by function or program, such as at-risk funding. The commission recognized this might require changes to school districts accounting procedures or requirements, which is also under study (see below).
  • On a 4-4 vote, the commission rejected a proposal to develop standards for how much cash carryover should be allowed in the general fund.

Professional Negotiations Act
  • Agreed that no review of teacher tenure is necessary as the due process law for school districts teachers was repealed by 2014 HB 2506.
  • No consensus on issue of replacing the teacher salary schedule with a salary range based on various criteria; determined this is a local issue under the Professional Negotiations Act.
  • Endorsed efforts underway by KASB, Kansas National Education Association, United School Administrators and Kansas School Superintendents Association to reach agreement by all parties on potential changes in professional negotiations. Commission expressed hope for successful results. Recommended by KASB.

Consolidation/Cooperation Initiatives
  • Recommended a study of district-level administrative personnel to investigate regionalization of administrative structures, such as already being done to some extent by regional services centers and other interlocal agreements. The definition of administration would include business functions and such areas as transportation, food service and maintenance. The commission specifically agreed by consensus to oppose mandatory district consolidation or boundary changes.
  • As part of that study, continue and consider enhancing incentives for district cooperation and consolidation. Recommended by KASB if incentives, not mandates.

School Management Expertise
  • Determined that the State Board already requires university level finance, accounting, and budget management course for district leadership license. Supports efforts by KSDE, KASB and others to provide assistance to district leaders.
  • Consensus to encourage and expect local school boards to have training in appropriate financial management and other board responsibilities. Recommended by KASB to be addressed by local board development plans as part of new accreditation system.

Spending on “Instruction”
  • Rejected idea of attempting to redefine spending on instruction under the current 65 percent policy goal because Kansas must use the federal definition of instruction.
  • Voted 6-3 to recommend repeal of the state policy goal of spending 65 percent of funds on instruction. Recommended by KASB.

Efficiency Assurance
  • Consensus to recommend creation of a task force to develop guidelines that would be used in district efficiency audits conducted by Legislative Post Audit. Such guidelines would be based on best practices to provide information to districts, but would not be mandatory for school districts to implement.
  • Recommend that the Legislative Post Audit Committee authorize an efficiency audit of the Kansas State Department of Education, primary to focus on state requirements for local districts.

Cost/Benefit Analysis
  • Consensus to recommend an analysis of the actual additional costs of new requirements and evidence of actual expected benefits before new state school laws or regulations take effect. Recommended by KASB.
  • Consensus to request school districts submit to KSDE suggestions of K-12 mandates that may be unproven or disconnected to performance.

Coalition of Innovative Districts
  • Consensus to encourage support of new innovative districts law.  Suggested that ideas for improving the law or providing more incentives for districts to participate should come from the Coalition of Innovative Districts Board. Recommended by KASB.

Transfer Due to School Closure
  • Decided a “cooling off” period when districts close a building before families can transfer to other districts or receive transportation services was unnecessary because of the commission’s actions in opposition to mandatory consolidation. Recommended by KASB.

Kansas Use Law
  • No support for making participation in the state use law for purchasing goods from organizations supporting the disabled permissive rather than mandatory.

Items Deferred to Next Meeting, October 8:

Student Data Management and Accounting System
  • Tentatively agreed to support a study on the costs and benefits of developing a statewide accounting and fiscal management system that would apply to both school districts and post-secondary educational institutions. It was not determined exactly what kind of data would be included. On Oct. 8, the commission is expected to hear from the two major vendors of district accounting software programs on the possibility of adjusting these programs and other systems used by the state’s largest districts to improve data management without building a new state system. In addition, two major school district auditors will discuss issues in uniform coding of district expenditures.

Efficiency Assurance
  • Tabled until next meeting a discussion of requiring all districts to have an efficiency or compliance audit over some period of time. At the next meeting, the committee will have discussion with school auditors on the costs of including more items in annual audits.

Special Education Hearings
  • Agreed to defer the issue of seeking to place limits on the duration of special education due process hearings to allow for a legal review of issues by commission staff.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Kansas get high achievement marks on new U.S. Chamber Education Report Card

A new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called “Leaders & Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on K-12 Educational Effectiveness” gives Kansas average grades overall, but Kansas ranks much higher on actual educational outcomes. A closer look at the data finds that higher grades on the “policy” areas have no impact on performance, but states with higher funding per pupil tend to have better results. In addition, Kansas outcomes are better than expected based on both spending and percentage of low income students.

The report grades states on 11 areas, listed below. KASB assigned each area to a category based on either a performance measure or a policy measure. The letter that follows indicates Kansas' grade assigned by the new report. (Note: In most cases, all states are “graded on a curve” so the top 10 received an A, the next 10 a B, etc.)

Academic Achievement: Student performance on NAEP, including gains from 2005 to 2013. Performance. Kansas grade: B.

Academic Achievement for Low-Income and Minority Students: Student performance on NAEP, including gains from 2005 to 2013; disaggregated for African-American, Hispanic, and low-income students. Performance. Kansas grade: B.

Return on Investment: NAEP scores divided by state education expenditures, adjusted for cost of living. Performance. Kansas grade: B.

Truth in Advertising: Student Proficiency: State-reported proficiency rates compared with NAEP proficiency rates. Policy. Kansas grade: D.

Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness: Advanced Placement (AP) exams passed by the class of 2013, high school graduation rates, and chance for college at age 19. Performance. Kansas grade: B.

21st Century Teacher Force: Preparing, recruiting, and evaluating the teacher workforce. Policy. Kansas grade: D.

Parental Options: The market share of students in schools of choice, and two rankings of how hospitable state policy is to greater choice options. Policy. Kansas grade: F.

Data Quality: Collection and use of high-quality and actionable student and teacher performance data. Policy. Kansas grade: B.

Technology: Student access to high-quality computer-based instruction. Policy. Kansas grade: C-.

International Competitiveness: State scores on NAEP compared with international benchmarks, and AP exams passed by the class of 2013 on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and foreign language exams. Performance. Kansas grade: B.

Fiscal Responsibility: State pension funding. Policy. Kansas grade: F.

KASB converted the grades for every state into a number (A=4, B=3, etc.) to provide a traditional grade point average. Across all 11 measures, Kansas was just below a C (1.97) and ranked 26th of the 50 states. However, when considering just the five performance measures - in other words, looking only at actual student outcomes - Kansas’ G.P.A. jumped to 3.0, tied with two other states at 11th in the nation. The Kansas “policy” G.P.A. was just 1.12, or 46th in the nation.

That raised a question: why does Kansas do so well on student performance and so poorly on policy if those policy areas are important to educational effectiveness? It turns out those six policy indicators really have no relationship to performance. The “correlation coefficient” between state “performance” grade point average and “policy” grade point average is -0.027, meaning there is no statistically significant relationship between the two. (Remember, a 1.0 correlation is perfect one-to-one positive relationship; and a -1.0 is a perfect opposition relationship.)

In other words, states that received high marks in things like “truth in advertising student proficiency,” teacher evaluation systems, parental choice options, and well funded pensions were no more likely to have high student performance than low graded states.

On the other hand, funding DID make a difference. The correlation coefficient between a state’s performance grade point average and the total revenue per pupil (adjusted for regional cost differences) was a modest but positive 0.313. States that spend more per pupil are more likely to have high achievement than lower spending states. Moreover, higher spending per pupil has a significantly greater correlation with higher achievement than the policies graded by the Chamber report. (0.313 for funding vs -0.027 for policies.)

As is true in other reports, an even more significant impact on state achievement is the percentage of low income students. There is a -0.779 correlation coefficient between performance and the percentage of students on free and reduced price meals. That means it is highly likely that the more low income students a state educates, the lower its performance grade will be.

As the K-12 Performance and Efficiency Commission continues its work, it is noteworthy to compare Kansas performance on this particular scorecard with the money it spends per pupil and the characteristics of students in Kansas. Tied at 11th in performance, Kansas’ adjusted spending ranks 27th (meaning 26 states spend more) and the percentage of free and reduced lunch students ranks 23rd (meaning 22 states have more low income students and 27 states have fewer).

In fact, as the table below shows, only two states (Colorado and Washington) have the same or better performance G.P.A. and no state with more low income students has the same or better performance.