Public education in Kansas and student achievement at USD 250 schools will be the topics of an upcoming public debate between USD 250 Superintendent Destry Brown and Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert.

The debate will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 5 inside the Pittsburg High School auditorium. Blake Benson, president of the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, will serve as moderator. Following the formal debate, Brown and Trabert will take questions from the audience.

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 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.

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.

“I accepted the invitation for this forum so that we could share our side of the story, the true story about student achievement in Pittsburg schools,” Brown said. “We have strong disagreements with the KPI and its views on public education, and I look forward to discussing these with Mr. Trabert in a public setting. This is an important conversation to have."

In an advertisement printed in The Morning Sun on March 6, the KPI reported that 40 percent of PHS juniors read at proficient levels and that only 24 are proficient in math. Those numbers are inaccurate and misleading, as they only include the students who scored above the "Meets Standard" level. An accurate figure must also include the percentage of students who scored at the "Meets Standard" level.

According to information from the Kansas Department of Education, 85 percent of PHS students are at or above proficient levels in reading, and 60 percent are at or above proficient levels in math. District-wide, nearly 84 percent of students are proficient or beyond in reading, and 75 percent are proficient or beyond in math.

“When reporting or discussing assessment scores, it is important that all student scores are factored in,” Brown said. “Focusing only on the number of students above the proficient level is misleading because it leaves out of the equation many of the students who are meeting state standards."

Assessment scores at USD 250 have significantly risen during the last decade.  District-wide, reading and math scores have increased more than 20 percentage points since 2004.

“USD 250 and districts across Kansas have made great gains over the past 10 years,” Brown said. “That job has been made more difficult in recent years due to the significant cuts in education funding, but it is our hope that the state legislature will soon stem the tide of cuts to public education and that districts across our state will have the resources they need to ensure the success of all students.”