Opinion: Exploring education options
According to the U.S. Department of Education, only a third of Kansas students are proficient in reading and roughly one out of four are functionally illiterate. You might expect that education officials would welcome an opportunity to examine what other states are doing to address these unacceptably low achievement levels, but sadly they refuse to even have a discussion.
Some are even deliberately mischaracterizing efforts to do so. A recent editorial by Kansas National Education Association president Blake West falsely described the premise of Kansas Policy Institute proposing public forums as: “Since we can't afford great schools in tight budget times, what would you be most willing to cut from public education?”
Mr. West and the KNEA know that's not true. Earlier this year KPI asked KNEA, the Department of Education, State Board of Education and the Kansas Association of School Boards if they “... would be willing to participate in some type of open, public discussion of all the issues.” The invitation was prompted by their public ridicule of public forums KPI held to share Florida’s remarkable progress on raising achievement levels, which many attribute to a broad array of reforms.
This group met but KPI couldn’t agree to their insistence on excluding education experts from outside the state, so we moved forward with our own event and invited them all to participate. The “Why Not Kansas” Education Summit is on Sept. 15 in Overland Park. National experts on charter schools, vouchers and tax credit scholarships for the underprivileged and special needs students, expanding online learning and retaining and rewarding effective teachers will talk about how many states are using these learning opportunities to raise achievement levels. Kansas education officials are invited to participate in a panel discussion about these opportunities; most have declined, but the discussion will still take place with legislators.
The KNEA solution is essentially “just spend more.” Mr. West writes, “The most important question is: ‘What educational opportunities for our children do we believe are so important that we WANT to pay taxes to fund our schools?’”
And there you have it. KPI wants to talk about expanding learning opportunities. KNEA wants to raise taxes.
We’ve already tried the “just spend more” solution but it’s been a miserable failure. Proficiency levels are relatively unchanged since 1998 while total funding for Kansas public schools increased by $2.5 billion. Thank goodness spending isn’t the answer, because if $2.5 billion barely moves the needle, we’d never have enough money to provide students with the effective education they deserve.
This isn’t about hating kids, attempting to destroy public education or the other false accusations thrown at those who dare to question the status quo. We have to acknowledge the disappointing truth about student achievement levels and find new approaches. Some students certainly get a good education, but pretending most students have high achievement levels only hurts them in the long run.
States all around the country are stepping up to the challenge and adopting a combination of student-focused reforms. We hope education officials reconsider our invitation and join us to discuss how new approaches can help more students reach their full potential.
— Dave Trabert is president of the Kansas Policy Institute