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Morning Sun
  • USD 250, KPI participate in education debate

  • The merits of public education and how it is dispensed and funded were the topics of an impassioned debate Thursday night between Pittsburg USD 250 Superintendent Destry Brown and Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert.

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  • The merits of public education and how it is dispensed and funded were the topics of an impassioned debate Thursday night between Pittsburg USD 250 Superintendent Destry Brown and Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert.
    The debate comes at a time of intense disagreement between public schools and the KPI, a Wichita-based think tank that has taken out a series of newspaper advertisements across Kansas that district officials said use misleading student achievement scores to question the need for additional funding for public education. Kansas public school districts and education associations have disputed the ads, citing errors in the KPI’s reporting of the percentage of students who are “Proficient” in math and reading. The ads reported that 40 percent of PHS juniors read at proficient levels and that only 24 are proficient in math. But those numbers include only the students who scored above the "Meets Standard" level.
    Following the publication of the ads in The Morning Sun, Brown and Trabert held a phone conversation, during which Trabert invited Brown to the public discussion.
    In the debate, Brown and Trabert each gave 15-minute opening remarks, beginning with Trabert. He made the argument that standardized testing does not prepare students for the post high school world; that spending more money on education will not help it improve; that one in four students in Kansas do not graduate; and that the state’s new Common Core curriculum is “No Child Left Behind on steroids.”
    “We’re not facing any issues other states aren’t facing,” Trabert said. “This is about how to get better.”
    In his statement, Brown said he disagreed that students are performing poorly. Between 85 and 95 percent of southeast Kansas students are proficient in reading, he said, and 80 to 90 percent are proficient in math. Acknowledging that “there is still room to improve,” Brown said the big picture is what is important. To that end, he shared the stories of several students who were preparing to graduate, some of whom had advantages and others who had overcome significant obstacles to get to that point.
    “If I just looked at test scores I would arrive at misleading conclusions. It’s what’s in here,” Brown said, indicating an individual’s ambition, “It’s about the drive inside.”
    Brown and Trabert then fielded questions from audience members. In response to a question regarding what advice they would give to schools to improve student achievement, Brown said the district has gotten creative with the ways in which it distributes its resources so it hasn’t had to cut teacher positions or very many of its achievement programs.
    In his rebuttal, Trabert said he agreed that schools need to accept the funding challenges and look for ways to free up resources, and perhaps change some laws to give schools more control.
    Page 2 of 2 - Another question asked Trabert to explain the intent of the newspaper ads. Trabert said it was merely to inform Kansans of how poorly the state’s students are performing.
    “Parents have a right to know,” he said.
    Brown said he had thought long about why the KPI would run misleading ads, and he concluded that the goal was to undermine parents’ confidence in public schools and push an anti-tax and public education agenda.
    “They want to pit us against each other, neighbor to neighbor,” Brown said. “We can’t allow them to divide us.”
    Trabert rebutted that none of Brown’s claim was true, and reasserted his point about parents’ right to know.
    Both men agreed that that time had come to change No Child Left Behind. Trabert likened the new Common Core curriculum to NCLB “on steroids.” Brown said NCLB had served as a useful catalyst to get districts to re-examine their goals and strategies, but that the program had outlived its usefulness.
    Brown and Trabert also debated the impact of cuts to state aid; whether merit pay is effective in improving teacher performance; whether all students should be tested or only college-bound students; and whether parental involvement affects student performance.
    In his closing remarks, Brown restated his opinion that the KPI had belligerently placed the ads.
    “I know the KPI doesn’t know our school,” Brown said. “I question whether they even care.”
    Trabert said he did not agree with much of Brown’s sentiment, and that the KPI does care about Kansas students.
    “We have to prepare every kid to be college- and career-ready,” Trabert said. “The simple truth is we’re not there yet and you have to decide what to do.”

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