Once upon a time. . .

Once upon a time. . .

With our oldest daughter, the nickname “Princess” is more
than a moniker, it’s a way of life. Life with her is a constant reminder of the
story of the Princess and the Pea, as small issues can quickly become big ones.
She is beautiful, bright, graceful, and majestic, but has a flair for the
dramatic.
So when she started texting from Manhattan last week about
water up to her waist and cars floating down the street, her mom and I chuckled
and went to sleep. Manhattanites know the rest of this story: weather reports
about 5 inches of rain in an hour, newspaper pictures of students kayaking to
class, and hilarious tweets from KSU President Kirk Schulz confirmed our
Princess’ story.
The story ends there, because most people would not draw the
conclusion from this story that all of Kansas was underwater because one community
was hit with heavy rain. One would only have to look out their door or window
to confirm or deny that all of Kansas was flooded.
If only it were that easy with education data. One hears a
story about a Kansas district in which half of the employees are
administrators, or that one midsize district increased its administrative
expenses by $60,000, and suddenly all Kansas schools are administratively
top-heavy. To aid in this misleading narrative, a report from the Friedman
Foundation shows that Kansas expenses for “Administrative and Other
Non-teaching” personnel have increased 43 percent over the past 20 years. That
report quickly became the go-to quote for folks who often didn’t remember the
“Other Non-teaching” part or know that paraprofessionals and aides were
included in “Administrative and Non-teaching.”
So what has really happened in Kansas? It’s a question
KASB’s Ted Carter went to work on, and his answer is illuminating.
Comparable staffing and student enrollment data goes back to
1998. Ted started in 1998, and to control for enrollment growth used a ratio of
students to staff by category over that 17-year time period in Kansas. The
graph shows a summary of the data (details are available at kasb.org/data).
During that time period, there was indeed an increase in
total staff. Instructional support staff increased, as did student support, transportation
and instruction. Boards of education added staff exactly where it was needed-closest
to the student. During that same time period, special education inclusion
increased demands for additional staff in the classroom, as did increasing
populations of non-English speakers and at-risk students.
At the same time, there was a significant decrease in
“General Administration” personnel and a small increase in building
administration. Dollars were spent closest to the students, and cut were made
farthest from the student.
This doesn’t tell a dramatic story. By the “man bites dog” criterion,
it isn’t newsworthy that Kansas districts added staff to serve students who
needed the most assistance. So instead we hear anecdotes and let them be the
story. It is time for board members to tell your stories. We have cut
administrative and added instructional staff and been good stewards of taxpayer
dollars.
Don’t take a flood in Manhattan to be a cause for building
an Ark in your backyard. Don’t believe an anecdote without confirming it, and
don’t generalize it to every school in Kansas. Look outside to see what is
happening in your local district.