Opponents of the Common Core standards in reading and math haven't given up on their last-minute push to get something through the Kansas Legislature this year.
According to a story earlier today by Scott Rothschild, the Tea Party-affiliated group FreedomWorks sent out a call to its members, urging them to pressure the Legislature into cutting off funds to implement the Common Core.
This comes on the heels of a big anti-Common Core turnout at the Kansas State Board of Education last week where people urged the board to do an about-face on those standards, which are known locally as the Kansas College and Career Ready Standards.
And that came on the heels of a Statehouse rally the week before, just as lawmakers were returning for the wrap-up session.
According to Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker, similar campaigns are being waged in at least 16 other states as well:
In Alabama, at least four anti-Common Core bills have been introduced in the Legislature. At least one bill has been introduced in Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.
Meanwhile, anti-Common Core rallies and forums have been staged in Colorado, Florida and Tennessee.
And in Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire, New York and Ohio, education officials are reporting other kinds of active anti-Common Core rumblings.
Based on comments made at the state board meeting last week, much of the opposition is based not on the content of the standards, but on a shared perception that the standards represent a form of federal intrusion into state matters.
But when I asked DeBacker about it last week, she said the latest criticism was all a bit frustrating.
On the one hand, she noted, the State Department of Education is constantly targeted for criticism by Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, which uses data based on the old, pre-Common Core standards to show that Kansas has low academic standards compared with other states, never mentioning that the standards have been changed since then to address those very concerns.
And then, when Kansas collaborates with other states to come up with higher educational standards designed to prepare students for college and the workforce in a global marketplace, DeBacker said, they get criticized by other groups who say such collaboration represents "federal intrusion" into state matters.
Last week, Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis posed a riddle to the State Board of Education.
A couple of years ago, he said, Fort Hays State University graduated two new physics teachers. He asked the board to guess which school district hired them.
The answer: None. They went to work for Sprint Corp.
Dennis said that was an indicator of how low average teacher salaries are in Kansas, compared to what people can earn in other professions.
According to the website TeacherPortal.com, which used data from the National Education Association, the average teacher salary in Kansas in 2011 was $46,598, ranking 41st in the country, just ahead of Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida.
The average starting salary was $32,964, ranking 33rd in the country.
It's often suggested that's because Kansas is a low-wage state generally, and that relatively low wages here are offset by a similarly low cost of living.
So another way of measuring teacher pay which takes that into account is what many people call the "teacher penalty" - the amount of salary a person gives up by going into teaching, as opposed to other comparable professions which generally require a bachelor's degree or better: accounting, architecture, the clergy, journalism, registered nursing and insurance underwriting, to name a few.
Editorial Projects in Education, the non-profit group that publishes Education Week, measures that differential every few years, most recently in 2012. Its conclusion was that a Kansas teacher earns only 88.8 cents on the dollar compared to comparable professions, ranking the Sunflower State 16th from the bottom.
You can download the entire 2013 Quality Counts report from the group's website.
The worst salary market for teachers by far is the District of Columbia, where college-educated adults obviously earn a lot more money working for, or lobbying, the federal government. There, teachers earn just 65.3 cents on the dollar.
Wyoming ranked highest in the latest survey, with teachers there earning 31.4 percent more than comparable professions. Rhode Island, Michigan, Vermont and Ohio rounded out the top five.
There are only 13 states where teachers have achieved "parity," meaning they earn at least as much as their counterparts in other professions.
According to Dennis, that explains why it's so easy to recruit Kansas teachers away from the teaching profession, especially if they're certified in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and math.
"It's not uncommon for math, science, chemistry and physics teachers to be recruited by the private sector," Dennis said. "They have good communication skills, they work well and collaborate well with others. They may not know everything about a phone system, but the companies can train them on that."
The conservative think tank Kansas Policy Institute has been running ads the past couple of weeks asserting that the state has low academic standards in reading and math, an assertion that state officials have repeatedly dismissed.
The ads, which have been running in the Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita media markets, refer back to the KPI website, where viewers can see longer videos spelling out the group's case that Kansas has low standards.
KPI spokesman James Franko said the group's policy aim "is to give parents and student more freedom to achieve their individual educational goals - i.e. school choice in all of its forms - and make sure Kansas is spending its K-12 resources effectively and efficiently."
The phrase "school choice" generally refers to programs that offer students and parents a publicly funded alternative to the regular public schools in their area, either through vouchers to offset the cost of a private or parochial school, or "charter schools," which are usually public schools operated by outside groups or private companies that can be exempted from many rules and regulations that apply to public schools.
So far this year, Kansas lawmakers have turned back one such bill: Senate Bill 22, which would have established a scholarship program for certain lower-income students to attend private schools. That bill failed to advance to final action in the House, but was then sent back to the House Education Committee, where it remains available to be advanced again.
Franko said the ads began running about two weeks ago and are scheduled to continue through "the next couple of days." That would take them right up to the start of the Kansas Legislature's wrap-up session.
In a nutshell, KPI asserts that Kansas schools are not preparing students for college or careers because it has low academic standards. For evidence, the group points to actions by the Kansas State Board of Education in 2002 and 2006 when, KPI says, the state "lowered" academic standards.
State officials counter that they did not "lower" their standards - that the level of performance needed to score in the "meets standards" category did not change - but the method of classifying scores was simply re-calibrated in 2002 to align with the new No Child Left Behind law. The standards were revised in 2006, and new assessments were written to go along with them.
But what the ads do not mention that the standards were revised again in 2010 when Kansas adopted the new Common Core state standards in reading and math, which are specifically designed for "college and career readiness."
"We did not lower our standards – not in '02 and not in '06," said Kathy Toelkes, spokeswoman for the Kansas State Department of Education.
Although she had not personally seen the ads, she said, "we're focused on where we're going. We adopted new standards in 2010 that raised the bar for students in terms of ensuring students will be college- and career-ready upon graduating from high school."
The ads point to a series of studies by the National Center for Education Statistics that attempt to compare state assessments from all 50 states with a uniform benchmark, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, exams.
State officials argue there are major differences between the NAEP test and the state assessments, the most important of which is that NAEP is not aligned to any specific set of educational standards. Further, it's a test that is only administered to a random sample of students in each state, and therefore any comparison of scores between the tests requires a great deal of estimation.
Nevertheless, the reports do indicate that a student who scores at the "meets standards" level on a Kansas reading or math test, at either the 4th or 8th grade level, would only score at or below the "basic" level on the NAEP exam.
That, however, is also true for many states. In fact, according to the most recent (2009) study, no state has a proficiency standard equal to or greater than the NAEP standard in either 4th or 8th grade reading. Massachusetts is the only state in the union where proficiency standards in math exceed the NAEP standards.
Teachers and staff in the Lawrence school district will not be allowed to carry firearms on school property, even if they have a concealed permit.
That was the word from school board president Vanessa Sanburn who said the district would not change its weapons policy, despite passage of a new state law that would allow teachers and other employees with permits to carry firearms.
On April 16, Gov. Sam Brownback signed HB 2052 which, among other things, requires municipal governments to allow people with permits to carry concealed weapons into public buildings, unless those buildings have metal detectors or other security measures to prevent anyone from bringing weapons inside.
The law is mandatory for city, county and state buildings (except the Statehouse itself). Public schools are not required to allow concealed carry, but school districts may allow licensed employees to carry concealed handguns if they choose to do so.
After four years, the law will also apply to university buildings.
Sanburn said during Monday's board meeting that she had received several phone calls and emails from people asking whether teachers in Lawrence would be allowed to carry concealed weapons.
She said the board had no intention of changing its current policy, which prohibits anyone other than a law enforcement officer to possess a weapon, "in or on any school property, school grounds, or any district building or structure used for student instruction or attendance or extracurricular activities of pupils, or at any regularly scheduled school sponsored activity or event."
That prohibition includes concealed weapons, even if the person has a legal permit.
More Education News
I can remember thinking as a kid that there must be some divine order to the way school calendars are constructed — the way Easter comes on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox ... or Election Day coming on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
It never occurred to me then that someone actually has to decide when the first and last days of school will be, how many days they'll have for winter break, and when to schedule those all-important (to somebody) "professional development" days.
Judging by Tuesday night's school board meeting, I now realize the process is only slightly less delicate than negotiating peace in the Middle East. It's almost mind boggling how many rules have to be followed and how many competing interests have to be served.
Of course, by the time the issue got to the school board's agenda, all of the heavy lifting had already been done behind the scenes. Still, it was interesting to hear Woodlawn School principal Jeanne Fridell and Kennedy School teacher Jill Anderson, co-chairs of the "calendar committee" (yes, that's who does it), explain how it all falls into place and how district officials do, in fact, listen to feedback from parents.
Fridell and Anderson were there to present suggested changes to the calendar for the next two academic years - changes the board approved.
For the upcoming 2013-14 school year, the new calendar makes two changes from what had been planned originally:
• Winter break: Typically, schools are out a total of eight days during the winter break. The first day of the break is usually the day before Christmas Eve. Then classes resume a day or two after New Year's Day. The problem this year is that Christmas Day and New Years Day both fall on Wednesdays, which meant classes were scheduled to resume on Friday, Jan. 3.
That apparently didn't sit well with people trying to schedule holiday travel. So the revised schedule calls for moving a staff development day from Sept. 3 to Jan. 3. The up side is that students will get a full two weeks off for winter break. But they will only get a three-day weekend for Labor Day instead of a four-day weekend.
• Sixth- and ninth-grade orientation: In the past, Lawrence schools have set aside a half-day before the regular first day of school as an orientation day for students moving up from elementary to middle school, or from middle school to high school. But that will change next year.
Instead, sixth- and ninth-grade students will have orientation for the first two hours on the first day of class, which is Wednesday, Aug. 14. Students in the upper grades at the middle and high schools will start their day two hours later. Elementary schools will have a regular day of class that day.
For the 2014-15 school year, the revised schedule calls for continuing that staggered day schedule for the first day of class, which will be Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014.
The new calendar calls for the regular two days of parent-teacher conferences in the fall semester, but only one day of conferences in the spring semester. Fridell and Anderson said participation is typically lower in the spring, so there is less need for two full days of conferences.
The 2014-15 calendar also allows for two make-up days for snow: April 17 and May 1. It was noted that April 17 is also the day of the Kansas University Relays, so if there is no need to make up a snow day, students and staff can attend the track meet.
Finally - and perhaps most controversially - the last day of class for the 2014-15 school year is scheduled for Thursday, May 28. That means students and staff will have to be at school the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday after Memorial Day.
More Education News
On Wednesday, I reported about a number of school districts other than Lawrence where voters decided on bond issues this week. Late in the day, we received an even longer list from the Kansas State Department of Education.
From that list - which includes only those districts that had to seek permission from the state in order to exceed the legal debt limit of 14 percent of the district's assessed valuation - at least four more school districts successfully passed bond issues on Tuesday:
• Seaman school district (Shawnee County), $57.485 million, passed with 66 percent of the vote.
• Goodland school district (Sherman County), $14.995 million, passed with 53 percent of the vote.
• Osawatomie school district (Miami County), $3.2 million, passed with 69 percent of the vote.
• Oswego school district (Labette County), $3.25 million, passed with 65 percent of the vote.
One thing notable about the above list: Unlike Lawrence and a few other districts, they receive substantial subsidies from the state to pay off their bonds. The state calls it "equalization aid," a formula that holds down property tax mill levies for debt service payments in districts that have relatively low valuations.
In Oswego, a district with only $11 million in assessed valuation and about 500 students, the state of Kansas pays 63 percent of the bond payments.
At Seaman, a middle-class suburban district north of Topeka, the state pays about 27 percent.
The next big round of bond elections will be June 4. That will be after the legislative session ends, and voters will have a better idea of how much of the various kinds of state aid schools will be getting next year. Here's a list of the school districts, the size of the bond issue they are seeking, and the percentage of debt service payments funded with state aid:
• West Franklin school district (Franklin County), $14.32 million - 25 percent state aid.
• Central Heights (Franklin County), $1.75 million - 46 percent state aid.
• Ellis school district (Ellis County), $10 million - No state aid.
• Lyons school district (Lyons County), $13.25 million - 39 percent state aid.
• Galena school district (Cherokee County), $7.5 million - 68 percent state aid.
• Riley County school district (Riley County), $7.5 million - 68 percent state aid.
Lawrence wasn't the only school district in Kansas to pass a bond issue Tuesday night, and the 72 percent margin by which it passed wasn't the widest by any means. In fact, school bond elections appear to have been popular with voters in the last several months.
According to a story posted by the Salina Journal, bond proposals also passed this week in the McPherson and Goessel school districts by wider margins than the one seen in Lawrence.
In the McPherson district, which has about 2,300 full-time-equivalent students, voters approved $13.25 million in new bonds by a margin of 81 percent to 19 percent.
And in the tiny Goessel district, with about 257 FTE students, a $3.3 million bond proposal passed with 92 percent of the vote (337 to 29).
But at least one bond proposal did fail narrowly Tuesday night. In the Ellsworth school district, voters rejected a $4.8 million proposal, 47 percent to 53 percent.
A few theories immediately pop to mind that might explain this. One is that spring municipal elections produce extremely low turnout, so the returns only show the sentiments of the most ardent, committed voters. It may be easier to get people to turn out in droves to vote for something rather than against it.
Another is that school boards include some politically savvy people who only put a bond proposal on the ballot when they are fairly confident it has public support.
But another theory — and one that seemed to be popular among the Yes for Lawrence crowd Tuesday night — is that Kansas voters are much more willing than their elected representatives in Topeka are to invest tax dollars in public schools.
"Sandy and I have had so much fun being involved in this," Davis said, referring to the committee's other co-chair, Republican Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger of Lawrence. "We are dealing with that realm of politics over in Topeka, which is not always uplifting."
In Blue Valley — a rapidly growing district where the school board likes to keep bonding authority in the bank, on the assumption they're going to need it within the next 10 years or so for another new building — voters passed a $271 million bond issue with 62 percent of the vote.
And in Gardner Edgerton, a much smaller district with about 5,000 students, voters OK'd a $72.8 million bond issue with 54 percent of the vote.
Those are noteworthy because those districts also are home to some of the most conservative lawmakers in the Kansas Legislature.
Schwab is a sponsor of a bill mandating certain social studies lessons during Celebrate Freedom Week. Kleeb is the House Commerce Committee chairman who recently agreed to hold off on a bill limiting collective bargaining rights for teachers.
So far, Kansas lawmakers are not talking about making any further cuts to K-12 funding. But neither are they talking much about complying with a district court order in Gannon vs. Kansas to restore funding back to levels agreed to in the Kansas Supreme Court's 2006 Montoy school finance decision, at least not while the Gannon case is still on appeal before the Court.
Still, according to the Salina Journal, concern about the possibility of future cuts in state funding for education generally was a motivation for districts in north-central Kansas to seek bonds that would put more money into their own local schools.
All of which may reinforce the theory that the voters who turn out for off-cycle school bond elections are a different crowd of people from the ones who turn out for legislative elections in November.
Or it could point to another truism about American politics. Like the voters who say they distrust Congress but keep re-electing their own congressman, maybe the lesson here is that Kansas voters strongly support their own school districts, but distrust everyone else's.
Enrollment for the Lawrence school district's preschool program at Kennedy School, 1605 Davis Rd., is under way this week.
To be eligible for the program, children must be 4 years old on or before Aug. 31, 2013. The preschool program is free for families who are eligible for the free lunch program, as long as the child is not attending another preschool program. It is also free for families who qualify for reduced-price lunches, as long as they meet at least one of these criteria:
• The custodial parent is not married.
• The family is being referred by the Kansas Department for Children and Families, formerly known as Social and Rehabilitation Services.
• The child was born to a teenage parent.
• The parent lacks a high school diploma or GED.
• The child qualifies for migrant status.
• English is the child's second language.
Kennedy also operates a tuition-based preschool program for children and families who do not qualify for the free program.
The "peer model" program is open to 3- and 4-year-old children who demonstrate age appropriate play, social behavior, speech, language and motor skills. Peer model students model appropriate language and behavior for children with special needs while in a typical classroom.
Tuition for the peer model program is $150 per month, due on the first of each month starting in September.
For more information about the preschool program, contact Kennedy principal Cris Anderson at 832-5760.
Parents of children who will enroll in kindergarten next year can visit the schools and meet teachers and staff during Kindergarten Roundup, which begins this week.
Children who are 5 on or before Aug. 31 are eligible for kindergarten enrollment. Once enrolled, parents need to provide proof of residency, a certified copy of the child's birth certificate, the child's immunization records and a health assessment conducted by a physician or health care provider within one year before entering school.
The schedule for roundup dates is:
• April 3, Pinckney.
• April 4-5, Sunflower.
• April 11-12 Langston Hughes.
• April 12, Deerfield.
• April 17, Kennedy.
• April 18, Prairie Park and Quail Run.
• April 19, Broken Arrow and Sunset Hill.
• April 25, Hillcrest and Woodlawn.
• April 30, New York.
• May 2-3, Schwegler.
• May 3, Cordley.
For anyone who still doubts that Lawrence is nuts about Jayhawk basketball, there is this bit of news: South Middle School has postponed a dance that was scheduled for Friday evening because it conflicts with the Sweet 16 game between Kansas and Michigan.
Julie Rea, the school secretary at South, said they just didn't think the dance would be well attended, considering the Jayhawks will be on TV at the same time. The dance will be rescheduled for another time.
The dance was scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday. The game is scheduled to start around 6:35 p.m. on the TBS channel.
Although candidates and political action committees active in the Lawrence city commission races have filed campaign finance statements, the public will have to wait until December to learn who is contributing to school board candidates and a campaign promoting the district's $92.5 million bond proposal.
Benjamin Lampe, deputy of elections in the Douglas County Clerk's office, said that's because Kansas statutes treat the two kinds of elections differently.
The Kansas Campaign Finance Act only applies to elections for state offices, cities of the first class and school school districts with more than 35,000 students - which is to say, the Wichita school district. That law requires filing periodic reports leading up to an election and 30 days after the election.
But campaigns for board seats and ballot initiatives involving all other school districts fall under a different statute, K.S.A. 25-901, which only requires them to file an annual report on or before Dec. 31 each year.
Furthermore, Lampe said, three of the four candidates running for the school board this year - Kristie Adair, Bob Byers and Vanessa Sanburn - have already filed notices that they'll be exempt from having to file reports because they intend to raise and spend less than $500 on their campaigns. That means Adina Morse is the only candidate who will have to file a year-end report.
Sanburn also is working actively with Yes for Lawrence, which stated publicly that it raised about $600 on the first day the committee organized. Other committee members said the group hopes to raise and spend about $15,000 in support of the $92.5 million bond proposal.
Yes for Lawrence is co-chaired by Rep. Paul Davis, the Kansas House Democratic leader, and Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, a Republican. The committee recently began running a TV commercial supporting the bond proposal.