Archives for April 2009

Beshear’s $37.4 million housing shuffle

Gov. Steve Beshear kicked off his big cardboard check tour today in Richmond with $1,268,933 for the city to buy up dilapidated houses and sell or rent them to low income families. In all, he will deliver $37.4 million in federal Neighborhood Stabilization Fund grants to local governments to manipulate housing markets.

Beshear said the money will “benefit communities by returning vacant lots to productive use while providing new opportunities for homeownership to deserving families.”

A press release from the Governor’s Office said: “Once the city has purchased and made any necessary repairs to foreclosed homes, families with a household income not exceeding 120 percent of the area median income may buy or, in some cases, rent the home at a reduced rate.”

Good thing we’re using that money to make politicians look good and to expand government functions rather than paying down any of our massive debt.

Getting a Better Picture from the NAEP

– Why you can’t ignore racial demographics

Over at the Prichard Committee’s Blog they have been busy posting all sorts of test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Unfortunately, there is a consistent flaw in that effort – Prichard never tells its readers about the cautions in recent NAEP documents outlining how different exclusion rates, testing accommodation rates, and racial demographics can impact comparisons between Kentucky and the nation and other states.

You can find information about that in the “Pitfalls in Interpreting NAEP Scores” section of our discussion of the NAEP, but here is a brief example of how the strong demographic advantages that Kentucky enjoys in NAEP can inflate impressions of how our public school system really performs. We use data from Kentucky’s top NAEP performance area – science.

The officially published NAEP Grade 8 Science average scores for Kentucky and the nation for all students in 2005, shown by the blue bars, were 153 and 147 respectively. That indicates Kentucky is doing a good job teaching science compared to the national norm.

However, once we start to consider the very strong differences in the demographic makeup of the student group in Kentucky and across the nation, that impression flip-flops in a hurry. After adjusting the national scores to the same racial demographics that we have in Kentucky, all of a sudden Kentucky winds up three points behind rather than six points ahead of the national average, as shown by the dark red bars.

So, is Kentucky’s science performance really all that great, or is this just a case of us getting an unfair advantage on NAEP because our state simply does not have the racial makeup that exists elsewhere?

And, is it fair to not even mention that possibility when even the latest NAEP reports say you have to consider demographic factors?

If you want to learn how I corrected the scores for racial differences, read on.

Scratching the lottery financing scheme itch

California’s next big idea is to borrow $5 billion from future state lottery revenues and spend it all as fast as possible. The Los Angeles Times is on board.

Not only is this similar to Kentucky’s big ideas of cleaning out the Rainy Day Fund this year and next year and raiding the Health Fund, it is probably something Frankfort’s spend-happy crowd will try whether or not our western friends pull off their scheme by passing Prop. 1C in the May 19 election.

Given the way government keeps growing all over, the scrounging for new revenues to spend in Kentucky won’t slow down any time soon. Getting our legislators to turn away from this type of madness will only happen if active, aware taxpayers stay plugged in and continue to grow their numbers and amplify their voice.

Cranking the tax talk up a notch

A left-wing group in Tennessee that has been hot on the idea of raising state taxes and implementing a long-avoided state income tax is back in the news with an op-ed in Sunday’s Nashville paper.

Tennessee has turned back their efforts repeatedly and seems very likely to do so again. And with Missouri and Ohio talking up plans to go the no-income-tax route also, Kentucky’s head-in-sand days hiding from real tax reform are surely numbered.

Department of Education Claims Kids Learning at Higher Levels Than Ever Before

– I guess eighth grade reading does not count

A tip of the hat to Richard Day for reminding me that it had been a while since I last looked at one of the more inflated sets of claims about education progress in Kentucky – the Kentucky Department of Education Web site’s so-called “Proof of Progress” section.

Here is the opening claim.

And, here is a graph I assembled using the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Data Explorer and state CATS reports several months ago. This graph shows middle school reading proficiency rates from the now disbanded CATS test and from the more credible (though still somewhat inflated) NAEP.

That six-point decline you see in this graph in Kentucky’s eighth grade NAEP reading proficiency rate from 2003 to 2007 wasn’t just statistically significant, it lead the nation for the biggest drop of any state.

As the yellow arrow points out, there also was a statistically significant decline in reading proficiency rates between 2002 and 2007, as well.

Clearly, if NAEP eighth grade reading has any validity, the Kentucky Department of Education’s over-blown claim does not hold up.

Of course, if you mostly trusted the now defunct CATS test…………

Time to engage on real tax reform

As Frankfort’s attention turns next week to tax reform, Kentucky’s neighboring states continue to talk more about getting out of the business of taxing incomes.

More about Ohio’s effort here.

This would go a long way toward reducing government’s power by removing one major weapon for determining winners and losers. Taxing purchases of goods and services and leaving income production alone will spur business growth in ways that the same old policy of keeping taxes too high and then selectively reducing them for some can’t beat.

Again, if our neighbors are going to figure this out, we better not wait too long.

Which NAEP Achievement Level Is an Appropriate Target for No Child Left Behind?

A great deal has been written lately about whether the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) achievement level score of “Basic” is a better target of comparison for state definitions of NCLB “Proficiency” than the NAEP’s own “Proficient” score. In fact, one of our anonymous readers has been asserting that “Basic” represents a better target for states to shoot at with their No Child Left Behind testing.

This graph examines the percentage of eighth grade students in Kentucky who scored at or above NAEP “Basic,” at or above NAEP “Proficient” and at or above the Benchmark scores from the ACT, Inc.’s EXPLORE readiness test, now given to all eighth graders in Kentucky.

The ACT designed the EXPLORE benchmark scores to indicate students are on track to have at least a 75 percent chance of earning a “C” and a 50 percent chance of a “B” in the first related college courses at a typical US university. They are based on an empirical study conducted by the ACT several years ago (More on Benchmarks Here).

The data examined in the graph above is primarily from Kentucky’s NAEP and EXPLORE results from the 2006-07 school year. The same cohort of eighth grade students took both the math and reading portions of both assessments in that school year. NAEP last tested science in 2005, so that data is cross-cohort, but it is still of interest.


If a primary goal of our education system is to prepare students for follow-on education (and with more than half of each graduating high school class in Kentucky now going on for more education, this is a suitable goal), then the NAEP “Proficient” score is clearly a much more appropriate gauge of such readiness. In all cases, the NAEP score of “At or Above Basic” indicates far greater accomplishment than the EXPLORE indicates was actually present in Kentucky in the 2006-07 eighth grade cohort.

In fact, even the NAEP science score of “Proficient” notably over-represents real levels of adequate preparation in the subject for follow-on study.

A spreadsheet with more data, including some caveats, is available here.

Technical Glitches On Other Sites?

– Some other Education Sites not posting my comments

I’ve noticed of late that several of my comments have not been posted in either the Prichard Committee’s Blog or the Kentucky School News and Commentary Blog.

I don’t know if there is a technical problem with those sites or not.

I both agree and disagree with what gets written in those sites, and both sites filter all comments before posting, so that also could be an issue.

Anyway, for now I’m assuming there is just a technical problem. I am trying to contact the site owners to figure out what is going on, including making this post, as well.

And, so long as your comments don’t get overly abusive, foul, or just way out of line, they are welcome here regardless of whether you want to put your name on them or not, regardless of whether you agree with us or not. We cannot have a transparent site any other way.

So, if we drop your comments, please let us know. In our case, I can just about guarantee it will be a technical problem – one we need to know about.

A talking point for state employees

On Tuesday, we mentioned legislators talking about cutting back on public employee benefits again rather than keeping the focus on properly funding future liabilities.

Now that former legislator Gov. Steve Beshear is earning pension credits on a governor’s salary and House Speaker Greg Stumbo is earning pension credits on his former Attorney General’s salary and Senate President David Williams is considering trading up to higher office, possibly in the Executive Branch, now might be a good time to discuss why we allow pension credits to transfer between the various branches of government and pay out based on the higher-paying job.

If our lawmakers really want to save money, they might consider looking there.

Pitchforks and torches for Big Ed

One of the surest ways to strike at big, wasteful state government in Kentucky is by building grass roots support for school choice.

When the local public school district isn’t properly serving the needs of students and parents, the consumer is currently stuck unless he decides to home school or can afford private school. School choice would create options to empower the consumer.

The choice could be a public charter school or could involve a publicly funded voucher for a private school. Neither option is now legal in Kentucky.

Legislation to allow charter schools or special education vouchers or even non-profit scholarship programs have met with bureaucratic hostility.

A public reaction similar to that in opposition to federal spending and nationalization policies seems both in order and quite doable if we give it a little push.

At the very least, raising awareness about how expensive some of the waste has become in our schools should wake people up.