Where does Kansas rank when it comes to the quality of schools, teachers, and the education provided? It all depends on who does the survey, what they measure, and how they interpret the results.
If you follow US News and World Report, Kansas ranks #47 (fourth from the bottom with Washington DC as a 51st “state”) based on a mix of reading and math scores, advancing the performance of poor kids, and levels of AP/IB students.
But based on parents, students and teachers submitting 1-5 scales to the national online “School Digger” site, Kansas ranks #4 from the top!
Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst uses a report card that finds many states, including Kansas, essentially failing. Her group assigns scores for states allowing private school vouchers, charter schools, and a “parent trigger” that permits parents to take charge of failing schools. Kansas requires charter schools to be recommended by the local USD and that dooms Kansas on any ranking system sponsored by political groups that favor charter schools. A.F.T.’s Randi Weingarten points out that Rhee’s group gave “...the top-ranked state of Maryland a D-plus for failing to embrace the StudentsFirst agenda of testing, sanctioning teachers and divesting from public schools.”
WalletHub, a financial social media company, recently came out ranking Kansas as fifth highest in the nation as a “top-performing state in terms of education.” This is apparently the ranking that Gov. Brownback touts in his campaign for re-election. WalletHub’s 12 “key metrics” include: student-teacher ratios, dropout rates, bullying incidents, etc. Their criteria of “lowest percentage of children who repeated one or more grades” failed to realize that some states such as Utah automatically promote all students and therefore would have no repeats by law, not educational quality.
Education Week, the K-12 newspaper of record, issues many annual rankings on criteria that vary year-by-year and involve ever-changing fads. Because the nature of Kansas educational governance does not allow for rapid turnover in leadership, and with our relatively unconsolidated rural school autonomy, Kansas does not see the rapid adoption of educational cure-alls that whipsaw teachers in other states. As a result, Education Week surveys often rank Kansas in the middle of the pack, often as low as #37.
The January 2014 report by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ ) has its own agenda, giving Kansas various D’s for not expanding the teacher pool or identifying effective teachers, and an F for not “exiting” (firing) ineffective teachers. In a separate earlier report, NCTQ did praise Kansas for depth of training science teachers along with ten other states, while 39 states and Washington DC received low scores for training shallow science teachers.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) gave Kansas a B+ and A- for academic standards in Language Arts and Mathematics, respectively. But ALEC has the same agenda as NCTQ on school choice and “expanding the teaching pool” (letting more folks teach without training), and gave very similar grades as NCTQ for teacher training and firing. On cost per student, Kansas was ranked 26th and on students scoring “proficient” or higher, Kansas ranked 19th.
What about a reliable long-term national “standard”? The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was first administered in 1969. Managed by more test-savvy experts at the U.S. Department of Education, the NAEP for 2013 has Kansas with 9 states significantly higher, 20 significantly lower, and 22 in the same range with insignificant differences. Thus Kansas is somewhat average.
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” wrote Mark Twain (attributing the phrase to Disraeli). The above cases select criteria that are at best arbitrary and incomplete. At worst, they are irrelevant, political, and used to assign meaningless scores to make unjustified policy.
Harvard Professor Daniel Koretz has written a simple book Measuring Up to describe “what educational testing really tells us” that will help a parent understand why test scores and other numbers are not adequate criteria for deciding where to move to provide your child with a good education.
We should focus on having good teachers in our classrooms just as we should be concerned with having good surgeons in our hospitals—period. “State report card” rankings give voice to non-professionals who usually have political agendas.
N.E.A. data show Kansas is #1 among all 50 states in having the most males in classrooms (33.1%). Whether that is good or bad, I do not know. But it is about the only bit of education data that I trust.