State Board of Education member Walt Chappell invited this week’s rebuke from the majority of his fellow board members by joining the Kansas Policy Institute in playing fast and loose with the truth about student achievement and, worse, by accusing the state’s top education official of engaging in a “massive cover-up.”
Chappell, who lives in Wichita, has played the anti-establishment provocateur since being elected to the board in 2008, publicly criticizing districts regarding spending and other issues without making it clear that the board majority doesn’t share his views. He certainly is entitled to his opinions, including those he expressed about student testing and new standards in an April 5 commentary on the Opinion page headlined, “Kansas should put end to testing nonsense.”
Lots of people are critical of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which has risked teaching to the test, diminished local control and unfairly labeled good schools as faltering or failing. Though Chappell was inaccurate in characterizing the state-led “Common Core Standards” initiative as a “new federal mandate,” it’s legitimate to fret about the trade-offs involved in pursuit of high standards consistent across states.
Where Chappell went wrong was in seconding the misleading ads that Wichita-based KPI has run across the state, which selectively use testing and spending data to suggest that large numbers of Kansas schoolchildren in even the highest-achieving districts are wasting away in substandard schools.
As the letter of rebuke from state board chairman David Dennis of Wichita put it: “Chappell ignores improvements on our state assessments in reading and math, where performance at proficient or above has increased more than 14 percent in reading since 2005, and more than 16 percent in math.”
And “the contention our education commissioner is engaged in a cover-up related to student achievement in Kansas is ridiculous.”
In his Eagle commentary, Chappell compounded the offense by continuing to suggest that districts have been sitting on $868 million in unspent cash balances. As many a school superintendent has tried to tell Chappell, the reserves are purposeful and prudent, and no school board would go through the nightmare of cutting teachers and programs and closing schools if it didn’t have to do so.
One KPI ad asked: “Doesn’t every child deserve an effective education?”
Yes, of course. And thousands of professionals across the state are dedicated to helping Kansas schoolchildren learn and succeed, despite state per-pupil base aid having been slashed to 1999 levels.
Meanwhile, Kansas children also deserve a State Board of Education whose members are working for them, not carrying water for an anti-tax think tank.