Don’t Buy The Hype

Don’t Buy The Hype

The two or three (Mom, Dad…) of you who enjoy what Mark
Tallman calls my “folksy” style are going to be disappointed in this blog.  There are no cute analogies or stories. In
fact, I am a little disappointed in myself because I am violating my own
contention that we need to focus on a new vision for Kansas and stop dropping
to the level of our detractors.  But this
is ridiculous!
Several board of education members have already pointed out
a claim that has been making the rounds. 
The misleading factlet says that superintendents and principals have
received larger pay increases over the last few years than teachers.  From that, the conclusion is that school
boards don’t care about teachers or kids. 
If I could award a prize for bunkum, this would be a grand champion.
Upon hearing the claim, our crack research director, Ted
Carter, went to work.  He crunched the numbers
and found – gulp – that if you take the total amount of dollars dedicated to
teachers and divide by the total number of teachers – holy cow – the percentage
increase over the past few years is indeed less than superintendents and
principals.  I went full on Steven
Colbert on Ted and told him my gut said this cannot be right.  Of course, Ted said “the numbers are the
numbers.”  And being Ted – who often mutters
“correlation does not imply causation” when talking to me – went back to work
on the data to provide further analysis.
What Ted found is that over the past 20 years in Kansas,
total spending on teachers has increased from $1.12 billion to $1.9 billion.  If Kansas had not added any teachers during
that time, the percentage increase in SALARIES for teachers would have been
69.6%.  Of course, nothing is that
simple.

 Why then does it appear administrators are doing better than
teachers when it comes to percentage increases? 
This is a little bit complicated, but any board member who has ever
served on the negotiations team knows that the percentage increase agreed to in
negotiations is figured on current staff. 
Most districts settle in the spring or summer, and the negotiations settlement
is determined by a percentage for returning staff. 
Why does this matter? There are two wild cards in this deck:
retirees and new teachers.  During the
time period from 1998 to 2015, teachers retired at high salaries and new
teachers were added at lower starting salaries. 
Kansas public schools added 3,999 new teachers during that time.  That is 3, 999 new teachers who started on
the low end of the salary schedule. The retirees were on the high end.  When considered in the aggregate, the new teachers
make the average look lower. This is where simple math and a surface look data make
for eye catching infographics  but fail
to tell the true story. In fact, boards of education provided salary increases
to their returning staff to the best of their ability, and those increases were
higher than what is reflected in the simple division problem of taking total
salary divided by number of teachers. 
Furthermore, Ted found that boards of education reduced
class sizes statewide during the same time period, even though student
enrollment was increasing.  The number of
principals and superintendents during the same period decreased.  The chart below shows the net effect of
changes in staffing and they are exactly what one would expect:

Boards of education focused on the classroom, adding
teachers and reducing class sizes in spite of budgets that did not keep up with
inflation and growing numbers of students. Principals and superintendents
supervised more staff and students.  More
importantly, student achievement increased during the same time.

So, can we knock off with the catchy sound bites?  Board members get elected because they care
about kids.  The outlandish claims to the
contrary didn’t make sense to me, and I know they didn’t make sense to you
either.  Upon further review, they were
correct, but misleading. They were a sound bite, designed to discredit school
boards.  Don’t buy the hype.

Here’s a link to the full report: Teachers, Principal and Superintendent Salaries and Positions (March 2016)