Archives for May 2010

Virginia knows its education standards already excel

Will turn down federal Race to the Top money to keep what they have

The Virginia Pilot reports that the State of Virginia will turn down federal Race to the Top (RTTT) money so it isn’t forced to drop its superior Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL).

Back in 2004 the Bluegrass Institute featured a comparison of what the SOLs require versus what our now defunct CATS tests required.

Except, there really was no comparison.

They have some smart folks in Virginia’s education system.

Looking on the bright side, this probably increases Kentucky’s chance to win some RTTT money.

Looking on the dark side, we are going to get saddled with standards that won’t hold up to those in top states like Virginia.

Good government, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder

Undoing the failure of past irresponsible spending decisions in Washington may feel like starving to the entitlement-addicted crowd. But selling our nation’s soul for a bowl of socialism would be fatal for freedom.

Click here to read the latest Bluegrass Beacon.

Why the FairTax will benefit Kentuckians

The FairTax is a proposed change to federal tax laws that would repeal all federal income taxes, including personal, corporate, capital gains and estate taxes, and replace them with a national retail sales tax. The proposed legislation would apply a sales tax rate of 23 percent on the transaction value of any new purchase or service.

A 23 percent rate may seem high – especially to low-income earners for whom consumption accounts for the largest portion of their take-home wages. However, it’s low-income and middle-income families who will benefit the most, thanks to the “prebate” system, which would eliminate the taxation of household necessities and make a fair tax plan more progressive.

Families would pay taxes on goods and services only if they spend above the poverty level. The amount that families would be able to spend tax free would depend on their size. For example, a family of four would be able to spend up to approximately $24,240 annually tax free.

The rebates would have the greatest effect at low spending levels, where they could lower a household’s effective rate to zero or below; at higher spending levels, the rebate has less impact.

*the effective tax rate is the rate of taxes paid post-prebate to expenditures (i.e. $6,803/$50,000)

The FairTax would see many Kentuckians benefit because of the low-income nature of the state. Kentucky currently has the fourth lowest median income in the U.S. with a median income of $41,458.

This means that many Kentuckians would see a reduction in the amount of taxes that they pay and thereby allowing them to keep more of their paycheck. With more discretionary income available, citizens across the commonwealth will be free to spend, invest and save at their choosing.

Not all teachers’ unions are created alike

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) just stepped up to the plate to help Colorado pass an important new law on teacher tenure rules. Part of the provisions link student performance to the right of teachers to continue on tenure.

And, agreement was recently reached in New York to pass a law that allows schools to link student test scores to teacher evaluations.

Linking performance to employee ratings a common-sense approach that has long been the standard in virtually every other area of society except teaching. The AFT is the dominant union in New York City, making it of major importance in statewide politics, as well.

Writes the Washington Post, “With the Colorado bill hanging in the balance, the American Federation of Teachers, led by president Randi Weingarten, broke with the National Education Association to endorse it as ‘for the good of kids.’”

How refreshing! A union finally setting aside some of its self-interests to meet the larger need of its members’ ultimate client, the children. That is the way professional organizations operate.

How sad that Kentucky’s dominant teachers’ union is the National Education Association (NEA). Except for a few local chapters in other states, the NEA so far has failed to see the light of enlightenment that is shining bright at the AFT.

So far, nowhere is that light more dimmed than here in Kentucky. Can you ever recall Kentucky’s teachers’ union putting aside self-interests to do something for the good of kids?

This selfish mode of operation could cost Kentucky dearly in the current Race to the Top (RTTT) competition. Those new laws in Colorado and New York are aimed directly at winning some of that money. Both of those states now can point to not only a dramatic improvement in their education policies, but also to a remarkable shift in local union support that certainly will make their bids much more attractive in Washington.

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s teachers’ union just trounced any chance of getting charter schools added to our RTTT reform proposal, in the process providing dramatic evidence that in Kentucky the union remains standing in the way of real education reforms.

Washington just might notice that, too, when RTTT judging starts.

NYC charter schools now outperform in science and social studies as well as math and reading

The New York Post reports Charter Schools Soar!

The Post says new data from the New York City Department of Education shows the city’s eighth grade charter school students outscore regular public school students by 19 percentage points in social studies and by nearly 18 percentage points in science. In fourth grade last year, the city’s charter kids bested regular public school kids by nearly 10 percentage points in science, as well.

This adds to previously announced information that NYC charter school kids bested regular public school kids by about 9 points in math and reading.

Naturally, the local teachers union tried to discredit these findings, saying the kids in charter schools are better off than the regular public school students in the city.

However, most New York City charters are so popular that admission is by random lottery, which raises questions about the union’s allegations.

Further damaging the union’s allegations is the fact that not one, but two recent reports on New York City charters both concluded that the students in these schools definitely outperform their peers in the regular public school system. You can read about those two reports here and here.

Sadly, while NYC kids are getting fantastic results in their charter schools, Kentucky children are left totally out in the cold because charter schools are still unauthorized in the Bluegrass State. When will our legislature finally wake up to their responsibility as the final “buck stops here” agent for education in Kentucky and start a decent charter school program for our students?

Not a whole lot of stimulating goin’ on

Stimulus dollars were supposed to get people back to work on ”shovel ready” projects in 60 days. Louisville is only a year behind schedule.

Click here to listen to the 90-second audio commentary.

Another example of why Kentucky needs charter schools

This inner city DC charter school boards its students

Try that with a regular public school.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

The school takes in kids by lottery from inner city Washington, DC. Eighty percent of SEED’s students enter below grade level.

“Teachers put emphasis on the basics,” and it works. SEED graduates over 90 percent of its students and sends nearly every graduate on to college.

Just watch the excitement when kids win the lottery to enter this school.

Says one parent, “It’s called opportunity. We’ve never had that before.”

This school model isn’t for everyone, but it is saving kids lives in DC. Sadly, thanks to closed minded attitudes from adult-oriented education special interests in Kentucky, our kids still don’t have anything like the sort of opportunity that only a really flexible charter public school model can provide.

Hat tip to Education Commissioner Terry Holliday via Kentucky School News and Commentary

Why we need teacher incentive pay

Especially in Jefferson County

If you don’t pay them, they won’t come.

That’s the problem highlighted by this Courier-Journal article.

Teachers in Jefferson County don’t want to go to some of the school district’s six troubled schools that were recently identified among Kentucky’s 10 Persistently Low-Achieving Schools.

After all, given the school district’s highly restrictive union contract and lack of real incentive pay for teachers who take on more demanding assignments, how can you blame teachers for turning thumbs down on a tough assignment that mostly just offers risks?

However, if you paid them more, they would come.

Some of the Jefferson County’s Persistently Low-Achieving Schools are getting far fewer requests to transfer than they need.

For example, while the very troubled Robert Frost Middle School will lose 19 teachers under SIG process, only three teachers volunteered to transfer in. Things are scarcely better at the Western Middle School, where 21 openings only attracted 8 applications for transfer.

Even more incredible, thanks to the low level of teacher volunteers in certain needed skill areas, Bill Eckels, the Jefferson County Public Schools director of human resources told the newspaper that some of the teachers who were asked to leave the six low-performing schools may wind up in another one of those six struggling schools.

Eckels dubiously claims that isn’t necessarily bad, asserting some of those removed teachers supposedly are experienced and have a track record of doing a good job. Somehow, if that were really true, how is it that those teachers, and not some other teachers, are being removed from their SIG school?

Keep in mind, the audit teams were allowed to choose from a number of different recommendations. It was not necessary to select the option that requires teacher removals. One thus has to conclude that the teachers in the schools where the audits did call for transfers are not generally high performers.

It seems inevitable that teacher shuffling will create disruptions in Louisville’s schools, both in the SIG schools and those other schools where the removed SIG teachers wind up (no one is automatically getting fired, you see) and where transfers into the SIG schools originate.

However, it remains to be seen if this activity will produce the kind of highly experienced staff that the SIG schools will need to be successful.

By the way, there is also an issue of getting teachers with the right skills into the right schools. Bill Eckels says, “We are still very concerned that we will not have enough of the right kind of teachers we need for these schools.”

In other words, even for schools that had more applicants than open positions, there is no guarantee at this point that applicants with the right skills have applied. For example, it won’t help to have a lot of English teachers apply for transfer to a high school if the need is for mathematics and science teachers.

By the way, this isn’t the first time Louisville’s schools failed to get enough experienced and skilled teachers into the district’s most troubled schools. Back in 2008 the Iroquois Middle School and the Southern Leadership Academy performed so poorly that they lost their School Based Decision Making Council authority. The schools were reformed as the Frederick Law Olmstead North and Frederick Law Olmstead South Middle Schools. However, as was disclosed in rather dramatic testimony during the October 2009 meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education, the district could not get enough experienced staff for these reformed schools, either.

So, here’s the bottom line: Without merit pay for teachers, all of the staff shuffling going on in the SIG schools in Louisville isn’t likely to accomplish much for students. Conceivably, it might just make things worse. So long as union contracts with strict seniority rules trump the much more intelligent idea of paying teachers more when they do more in more demanding situations, Louisville and the rest of Kentucky are unlikely to ever see real education change where it counts, in student performance.

2010 open records project: open season!

We just kicked off our 2010 Open Records Project!  In order to provide readers with a way to track the process and results of our project we have set up a portal on  This will allow anyone to see what requests have been sent, their status, the results, and an evaluation of how responsive the state or local agency was to the request.

These requests will be targeting fraud, waste, and inefficiency in state government.

Take a moment and stop by to see what we have found already! If you have suggestions or thoughts on what you would like to see uncovered, let us know in the comment section below or email us.  An email address is provided in the comment section where your thoughts can be sent!

Overstating Jefferson County performance on federal reading tests

We go through the same cycle every time results from the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are released.

Individuals who don’t know a great deal about this test, sometimes aided and abetted by education professionals with obvious agendas, blindly jump on a simplistic score analysis and declare success for Kentucky.

One major problem with such simplistic analyses, as I recently pointed out, is that Kentucky’s student demographics are far less diverse than the rest of the county.

This even holds true when we try to compare our largest city school system in Jefferson County to other large city school systems in the nation, as this graph shows.

Jefferson County has a far higher percentage of whites than any other true ‘urban’ school district that participated in the 2009 NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment in Reading.

It has a far lower minority population, a much lower proportion of students still learning English, and even a notably lower poverty rate (based on enrollment in the federal free and reduced cost school lunch program).

All of those differences give Jefferson County a huge, unearned advantage in any simplistic comparison of scores to other, true ‘urban’ city school systems.

But, that doesn’t stop those simplistic comparisons from coming.

It didn’t stop Jefferson County spokesperson Bob Rodosky from telling the Courier-Journal, “I think we’re very competitive.”

Well, that’s a bit like sending a college basketball team off to play a junior high school team and then declaring that college team is competitive against other colleges.

(Graph Updated 3Jun10)