As the Huffington Post just reported, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which often is billed as the “gold standard” for education testing, is making a major transition from its former paper-and-pencil testing format to a new, digital administration. However, the NAEP’s transition to digital testing has many thoughtful observers holding their breath. Click the “Read more” link to see why.
In “UNCLEAR, Charter law likely, but what then?” (Subscription), the editors at the Paducah Sun show they understand that when charter school legislation comes to Kentucky, it will be important for the state to have more than one type of authorizer (such as a college) allowed to authorize charters.
If only local school boards are allowed to authorize charters, it is likely that these important schools of choice will never open where they are especially needed like, as the editorial points out, “metro Louisville, where Democrats beholden to teachers’ unions remain entrenched as the political majority.”
As the Sun points out, charter schools “are long past due in Kentucky, but hopefully that is about to change.” However, this won’t really happen if legislators accept a watered down, poison pill bill, such as this red herring from Democrat Sen. Gerald Neal, which will allow the teachers unions to continue to trump the best interests of Kentucky’s many under-served minority students.
Paducah Sun executive editor Steve Wilson’s recent missive in favor of raising Kentucky’s cigarette tax by a Cuban cigar-sized 40 percent was in response to my recent column calling on policymakers to leave “any and all” tobacco-tax increases out of Frankfort’s tax-reform conversation altogether and instead focus on pro-growth opportunities.
Wilson offers arguments filled with policy schizophrenia that endorses unfair and unproductive policies of raising taxes on the backs of poorer Kentuckians – who are disproportionately impacted by cigarette taxes – while cloaking such passion for giving government more of taxpayers’ hard-earned money to spend within claims that it’s all about making our smoking-crazy state healthier.
Wilson may sincerely believe that raising cigarette taxes will create a healthier citizenry but fails to offer sufficient evidence showing when, where and how tax increases have brought about such changes.
In fact, smoking rates among Kentucky’s teens were already dropping dramatically even before the commonwealth last raised cigarette taxes, revealing that education and cessation campaigns are much-more-effective approaches to help address this unhealthy habit among our state’s young people.
While Wilson does offer a nod toward cessation funding, he totally ignores the effectiveness of hard-hitting education campaigns that display demonstrable success in preventing young people from lighting up in the first place.
He further confuses the issue with his contradictory same-sentence claim that a higher cigarette tax would both “generate more revenue for the state” while also causing a “decline in smoking that would follow higher prices.”
Logic alert: If we raise taxes and fewer people buy cigarettes, how does that generate “more revenue” for the state?
Instead, raising cigarette taxes results in deviant incentives whereby such tax hikes initially bring in some additional dollars resulting in new government programs staffed with new bureaucracies that must then find a way to financially survive when smoking rates and revenues decline.
Apparently, though, supporters of Wilson’s position believe they can get by with calling for tax increases that disproportionately affect the poorest citizens if it involves an activity for which society largely disapproves.
Not only does such a position directly contradict the most basic principles of liberty, which require the protection of minority groups’ rights to engage in legal activities, it’s just poor tax policy that genuine conservatives will reject out of hand.
“The reality is that most states support cigarette tax increases because they want more revenue,” the Tax Foundation states in a 2012 publication identifying trends in taxation.
The foundation’s report – released in the same year that former Gov. Steve Beshear’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform met and recommended raising the state’s cigarette tax rate, which Wilson points to in support of his position – concludes such taxes are ineffective because they result in “allowing the majority to shift the costs of government programs onto the minority,” which “can result in instability as citizens demand more government than they are willing to pay for.”
While Wilson also demands smokers be taxed more to cover smoking-related health costs, the foundation points to a series of studies to show that’s already happening, arguing that “nearly all the costs of smoking – health care, higher insurance premiums, lower productivity at work – are borne by smokers themselves.”
Smoking isn’t even close to the No. 1 problem in the eyes of most Kentuckians, which indicates there isn’t exactly a groundswell for big-government policies like higher cigarette taxes and forced smoking bans.
A January 2015 study in Northern Kentucky revealed that likely voters thought the heroin problem, for example, was a much-higher priority than a smoking ban by an 87 percent to 7 percent margin.
Again, a reminder for legislators preparing to address Kentucky’s tax code: that survey was taken of “likely voters.”
Education Week reports that “Alabama Officials Admit to Lying About Graduation Rate.”
In an apology announcement the Alabama Department of Education says:
“The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) is involved in a review of recent graduation rates by the Office of Inspector General, which resides within the United States Department of Education (USDE). The ALSDE has determined, after completing an initial audit, that the graduation rate was misstated to the people of Alabama – policymakers, educators, parents, students, all citizens – and to the USDE.”
One inflationary factor Alabama admits is:
“Low Oversight of Local School Systems’ Awarding of Credits – The ALSDE did not increase oversight as needed of local school systems’ awarding of earned class credits. In some cases, local school systems misstated student records and awarded class credit, resulting in diplomas that were not honestly earned.”
Well, maybe US Ed will be coming to Kentucky, too.
As we have pointed out in several blogs, the Bluegrass State also claims very large high school graduation rates, but many students might not really meet the stated requirements.
In particular, while Kentucky regulations stipulate that students must be proficient in math through Algebra II to graduate, a number of school districts recently reported graduation rates well above 90 percent but only have single-digit proficiency rates on the state’s Algebra II End-of-Course (EOC) Exam.
In fact, as shown at the bottom of the table above, even in the district with the least disparity, there still seems to be a notable gap between the graduation rate and the Algebra II EOC Exam proficiency rate.
See our latest series on high school graduation rate quality control problems for more.
So, don’t be surprised if US Ed comes calling on Kentucky after they finish up in Alabama and in California, which also seems to have some grad rate credibility issues.
One of our long-time, major concerns with public education in Kentucky has always been the very low proportion of teachers compared to the total number of staff members in the state’s public school system (See one old example in our original Bang for the Buck report on school efficiency which I authored a decade ago in 2006).
In fact, I was writing about the staffing issue even before the Bluegrass Institute was on anyone’s “radar screen.” Way back in April 2003, months before I knew anything about the institute, I put out “KERA Update #67” which includes comments about the staffing issue.
The truth is that data adding to our concerns has been available for years in the annually released Digest of Education Statistics stretching back beyond the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA).
Now, Table 213.40 in the new, 2015 edition of the digest updates school staffing information through 2013, and Kentucky continues to have an obviously out of proportion staffing issue in its schools.
Figure 1 shows how Kentucky’s very low teacher to total staff ratio has ranked over time against the other 49 states and the District of Columbia’s school systems.
As you can see, shortly after KERA was enacted, Kentucky’s already low ranking for teachers in schools sank ever more. Ever since, the state’s teacher manning statistic has pretty much hovered around the very bottom of the stack. Very simply, Kentucky has one of the worst staff manning ratios where it counts the most – front line classroom teachers – of any state in the nation.
It is interesting that back in 1989, the year before KERA came along, just over half the staff membership in each Kentucky public school was comprised of teachers. Now, as Figure 2 shows, that ratio has decayed to the most recently reported situation for 2013 where only 42.8 percent of the staff in each school is composed of teachers.
Much of the low teacher staffing ratio in Kentucky’s schools is reported to be due to more teachers’ aides on site. But, research raises questions about the education value of those aides compared to having more teachers around.
A report prepared for the Kentucky Department of Education in 2003 titled, “A State-Of-The-Art Approach To School Finance Adequacy In Kentucky,” discusses the educational contribution of aides on Page 21, saying “research generally shows they do not add value.” The report suggests not using aides in its recommendations for a comprehensive school reform model.
For sure, if we didn’t have so many non-teacher staffers on our school payrolls, we could afford to hire more teachers and pay those teachers more, too.
Because of the economic issues and the potentially adverse impact this is having on actual education in Kentucky’s public education system, it is time for the legislature to ask some pretty sharp questions about why this picture is so different for Kentucky compared to the vast majority of states in this country. We might find answers that could help us make our education system far stronger if legislators do that.
The Prichard Committee is at it again with a new edition of their Top 20 by 2020 report series.
Once more Prichard is improperly ranking National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) white students in Kentucky against lower performing racial minorities in other states, trying to make the Bluegrass State’s educational performance look better than it really is.
Prichard probably won’t ever stop their apples to oranges NAEP rankings, but it does give me a chance to point to better pictures of what is really happening.
In fact, I posted a pretty good blog about this nonsense only about a week and a half ago, so I am not going to waste a lot of time on the new, really same-old, same-old, nonsense that came out today.
But, one area I haven’t really discussed is the eighth grade science picture. I just fired up the NAEP Data Explorer to see how Kentucky’s whites stacked up against their white counterparts in other states in 2015 NAEP science testing.
The answer doesn’t look so good.
There we are, way down in the 41st listing in the table. Only two states with scores reported had science performance for their white students that was statistically significantly worse. Even Mississippi’s whites tied with us once you consider the statistical sampling errors in the NAEP scores. Those pesky folks from Tennessee outclassed us, too.
By the way, even Prichard had to admit Kentucky’s eighth grade NAEP math performance looks “disturbing.” But, after you look at the table above and my blog from a week-and-a-half ago, you will know that’s only part of the “disturbing” picture.