Archives for May 2009

Open School Checkbook Registers

– Former School Board Member Calls for Transparency

It’s an area where Kentucky has a long way to go. Do you know how much your school district spends on your own child’s bus route compared to other routes? How about the cost to heat your child’s school versus that of other schools in the district? Elsewhere in Kentucky?

These are the sorts of questions asked in “Democratize School Budget Data” (subscription may be required) in this week’s Education Week newspaper.

What makes this interesting is that Ed Week is a national newspaper. People all around the country are starting to ask the same questions that we’ve been asking at the Bluegrass Institute for some time – what is really being spent by our school systems, and why can’t the public have a better view of that information?

Graduation Rates – Who Ya Gonna Trust?

Kentuckians and their policy makers have been inundated over the past few years with all sorts of figures about how many kids actually graduate in Kentucky.

Unfortunately, because Kentucky doesn’t have high quality graduation rate data – and won’t get that until 2015 or so under current plans – a bunch of different formulas are being used here to estimate the proportion of kids who graduate within reasonable amounts of time from our high schools.

Bluntly put, those formulas don’t produce the same numbers, as this graph, which comes from a new item at the Wiki site shows.

Sadly, the most inflated rates of all come from the formula officially being used by the Kentucky Department of Education. The department has announced changes to that formula, but I think they need to make them faster than currently programmed. With the confusion from all the rates shown above, a little more rational approach to calculating graduation rates won’t come a moment too soon.

Tastes like a game of chicken

California voters decided Wednesday to force state lawmakers to cut spending rather than vote in massive tax increases on themselves.

State officials responded by “threatening” to cut spending.

The feds are very likely to respond with a huge California bailout, which is a shame. After listening to all the big government caterwauling about inevitable disaster if spending is cut, we really need to see a state drive straight into fiscal responsibility just to prove that it can be done.

But who knows? Maybe Kentucky will do it.

Aspiring Teachers Fall Short on Math

– Almost 75 percent fail licensing test in Massachusetts

– And, Massachusetts has one of the best education programs in the country!

The Boston Globe reports that nearly three out of four aspiring elementary school teachers failed the new math section of the Massachusetts teacher licensing examination.

Says the Globe, “Education leaders said the high failure rate reflects what they feared, that too many elementary classroom and special education teachers do not have a strong background in math and are in many ways responsible for poor student achievement in the subject, even in middle and high schools.”

Well, if Massachusetts is worried, we should be petrified. Look at how our kids’ math performance stacks up to the Bay State’s kids on the latest federal math tests.

In Kentucky it is possible for elementary school teachers to be certified after taking only one college math course, something called “elementary math,” which is taught below the level of college algebra. I doubt that is adequate preparation, and the results in the graph above seem to verify that.


This new report from Greg Forster and Christian D’Andrea analyzes responses to an annual survey run by the US Department of Education. Some of the findings are remarkable.

For example:

“Private school teachers are much more likely to say they will continue teaching as long as they are able (62 percent v. 44 percent), while public school teachers are much more likely to say they’ll leave teaching as soon as they are eligible for retirement (33 percent v. 12 percent) and that they would immediately leave teaching if a higher paying job were available (20 percent v. 12 percent).”

This seems to indicate that, despite often lower salaries and fringe benefits, that private school teacher morale is much higher than that for their public school counterparts. That is further supported by this finding.

“Although salaries are higher in public schools, private school teachers are more likely to be satisfied with their salaries (51 percent v. 46 percent).”

Another morale-related finding says this.

“Public school teachers are twice as likely as private school teachers to agree that the stress and disappointments they experience at their schools are so great that teaching there isn’t really worth it (13 percent v. 6 percent).”

“Public school teachers are much more likely to report that student misbehavior (37 percent v. 21 percent) or tardiness and class cutting (33 percent v. 17 percent) disrupt their classes, and are four times more likely to say student violence is a problem on at least a monthly basis (48 percent v. 12 percent).”

These issues obviously impact the learning experience for all students.

“Private school teachers are much more likely to strongly agree that they have all the textbooks and supplies they need (67 percent v. 41 percent).”

Given the huge amount of money we spend on public schools, this is really unacceptable.

“Private school teachers are more likely to agree that they get all the support they need to teach special needs students (72 percent v. 64 percent).”

The Bluegrass Institute has heard for some time that the idea that private schools don’t serve kids with disabilities is wrong. This seems to support that.

“Seven out of ten private school teachers report that student racial tension never happens at their schools, compared to fewer than half of public school teachers (72 percent v. 43 percent).”

This undermines the belief of some that snobs at private schools act out against minorities.

There are a number of other findings, but I’ll let you read the report for those. Certainly, this report provides some surprises about what does, and does not go on in private versus public schools in the eyes of the teachers. It is interesting reading.

Will Illinois import Kentucky’s pension idiocy?

Kentucky has spent much of the last three decades blowing up our public employee benefits plan, creating a $30 billion-and-growing unfunded liability. Illinois’s Gov. Pat Quinn wants to spend the next three decades doing the same in the name of saving money.

Quinn’s move is really just a much bigger bite of the apple Kentucky has nibbled at twice in the last twelve months.

I can hear the Obama Magic Bailout Machine getting revved up for this trainwreck already.

What those new Averaged Freshman Graduation Rates Look Like

I blogged yesterday on the new formula the Kentucky Department of Education is going to use to calculate high school graduation rates. It is similar to a formula called the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate which was developed some time ago by the US Department of Education.

There are actually data available to calculate the AFGR for Kentucky for 2008 and several previous years, and I have done that as shown in this graph.

Note that the 2008 AFGR rate is nearly six points lower than the official 2008 rate from the Kentucky Department of Education of 84.52 percent. That amounts to about 3,000 students that the department officially says graduated when they really didn’t.

The good news here is that we have made a little progress, but we still are losing too many kids each year, and we are losing a lot more of them than the department wants to officially admit.

The data to compute these more accurate graduation rates are available now, and I don’t see any reason why we cannot start to use this more accurate formula for official reporting next year.

If I am missing something, please let me know. Also, for more on the AFGR calculations, see our new Wiki item, “Averaged Freshman Graduation Rates.”

Do you know about school vouchers?

Jay P. Greene points out strong editorial support for the Washington D.C. school voucher program, which really is surprising.

The rest of his post is here.

At least until Kentucky taxpayers can get some evidence their tax dollars are being spent efficiently in schools, students and parents here would do well to learn more about school choice options. The success of the D.C. school voucher program — and President Barack Obama’s eagerness to shut it down — should provide food for thought.

We’ve Been Heard!

– Kentucky to Get Better High School Graduation Rates

The Kentucky Department of Education just released the public school Nonacademic Report for 1993 to 2008, and there is a surprise in Appendix B where it talks about planned improvements in the way the state reports graduation rates.

At present, as discussed in Appendix B, the department uses a formula called the “NCES Leaver Graduation Rate.” This rate is regarded as notoriously inflated among researchers who have looked at the reporting of high school graduation rates. States like Kentucky that use it are considered to be publishing misleadingly high graduation rate figures.

There is a far better way to compute graduation rates, one that former Kentucky governor Fletcher actually committed us to in 2005, but this method requires a highly accurate student tracking system. Because of missteps and extensive start up delays in the Kentucky Department of Education’s student tracking system, Kentucky won’t get its first really accurate graduation rate data until the 2013-14 school year even though such systems are already up and running in other states.

There was concern that Kentucky might continue to use the inflated NCES Leaver Rate until the final, high accuracy system became fully operational. However, the new Nonacademic Data Report says the state will now transition to a more accurate estimation formula for the Class of 2009-10 and later classes pending receipt of the first high accuracy data from our student tracking system.

Improving our graduation rate reporting is something the Bluegrass Institute has been pushing for years, and while the transition to the intermediate formula could be speeded up (and even start next year), the fact that there will at least be some intervening attempt to improve data on Kentucky’s high school performance is good news.

Like we need another hole in our heads

Congressional Democrats have been talking about a federal guarantee for state and local government bonded debt for a while now.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, that plan just isn’t moving along fast enough.

Given that borrowing in the municipal market is Kentucky’s preferred method of overspending, our politicians will surely be on board with this fiscally irresponsible plan to federalize state and local obligations. And, of course, California’s big spenders will breathe easier. But this is the worst idea — so far — in a growing string of bad ideas for Americans.