Is public education worth the investment?
I often have the opportunity to talk with citizens, parents, students and business leaders about this question. My response is emphatically yes!
Three essential elements stand out.
First, investment in the Wichita public schools allows for remarkable parental choice. Much has been discussed recently about the choice we must give families in order to meet the needs of their children. In Wichita, we are proud that for more than 20 years, families have been offered choice through our district’s magnet school program.
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Nearly 30 percent of our schools have a unique magnet focus, enabling students from across our community to consider robust options ranging from science to art, public service to environmental stewardship. Thousands of parents make the decision every year to become part of this rich magnet school tradition, which has helped the Wichita public schools remain a vibrant and diverse school district that has grown by more than 1,500 students in the last 10 years.
Second, investment in the Wichita public schools supports tremendous student accomplishments. Already for 2013, Wichita State University’s top freshman scholarships are going to students in our district. And in the spring of 2012, scholarships earned by Wichita public schools students exceeded $26 million.
Wichita students have repeatedly been recognized nationally for their scholarship; their business acumen; their ability in the fields of music performance, forensics, debate, science and photography; their commitment to community service; their athleticism, and the capabilities they exhibit to become our community’s leaders of tomorrow.
Third, investment in the Wichita public schools is essential to support the academic growth for all of Wichita’s children. We focus on the essential foundation of literacy – the ability to read and understand words – beginning in the early years. Research has shown that children raised in homes of poverty are exposed to 30 million fewer words than their peers by age four. The impact of that gap on instruction is profound.
Our reforms in kindergarten and first grade reading instruction are essential first steps. In addition, positive behavior supports, focused interventions at all grade levels and accelerated options for students who are ahead of their grade-level peers are all critical elements of the reform efforts under way in the Wichita public schools.
And results show that Wichita’s children are moving in the right direction. In the past five years, reading proficiency has increased by 4.3 percentage points. It is noteworthy that the greatest gains are being made by Wichita’s African-American students – an increase of 6.7 percentage points over five years.
From early literacy initiatives to interventions and opportunities designed to keep students engaged and challenged through high school, targeted investments are producing significant returns. The graduation rate for Wichita students has increased by 11 percentage points in just three years, with the greatest gains coming from the district’s African-American students (females increased by 18.6 percentage points, and males 12.3 percent).
Positive change is occurring across Wichita, and the entire community stands to gain from the success of our students.
As our district continues the core focus on literacy, consider how you can make a difference in the life of our community’s children. Volunteer at your neighborhood school to read. Step forward as a mentor. Encourage your employer to adopt a school and provide books or supplies to deserving children. If you are interested in becoming more involved, call 316-973-4515.
Our work can’t be done in isolation. The success of our children today impacts our leaders, workers, policy makers and teachers of the future.
Is public education worth the investment we make? If you care about the health and vitality of our city and our state, the answer is emphatically yes!