“I regard minimum wages as disgraceful. They disgracefully strip low-skilled workers of a valuable bargaining chip — namely, the ability to compete for jobs by offering to work at wages below an arbitrarily set minimum. As a means of increasing some workers’ difficulty of finding employment, minimum wages are simply less sanguinary than would be a government policy of, say, chopping off all low-skilled workers’ left hands or poking out their right eyes. Unless you believe that such overt violence against low-skilled workers would not worsen their prospects of finding employment, you should see that the veiled violence against these workers that is so sweetly called ‘the minimum wage’ disgracefully worsens their prospects for finding employment.” –Don Boudreaux on CafeHayek.com
Yesterday, we took a look at how the latest high school graduation rates in Kentucky’s school districts match up, or don’t match up, to proficiency rates on the state’s Algebra II End-of-Course Exam. We learned that there are notable discrepancies for most school districts when common sense would indicate there should be fairly close agreement in those statistics and that this is problematic because content covered in Algebra II is required for graduation in Kentucky.
Today, in the spirit of examining a problem in more than one way, we compare Kentucky’s on-time high school graduation rates (formally, the Four-Year Adjusted Cohort High School Graduation Rate, or ACGR) to the percentages of students who are leaving the state’s high schools able to meet at least one of the state’s official criteria for college and/or career readiness (CCR). Once again, we are going to show you some very problematic evidence that high school diplomas need some serious quality control in Kentucky.
The table below shows comparisons between the percentages of diplomas being handed out and the percentages of students who really get an effective education – at least using the state’s official college and/or career ready criteria – in several Kentucky school districts.
As we did with the Algebra II evidence yesterday, this table shows only those school systems at the top and bottom of the performance range. Those districts with the worst performance are at the top of the table, above the red line. The best performers are at the bottom of the listing.
Let’s discuss this table in more detail.
The first column shows each district’s officially reported 4-Year ACGR for 2015 graduates.
The next column shows the officially reported CCR rate for the district at the end of the same school term (2014-15). This is the percentage of those graduates who were able to meet at least one of the readiness criteria.
As a side note, there is evidence from the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability that these official CCR rates are too optimistic, but that just makes our case even stronger.
For example, the top listed district, Covington Independent, posted an on-time graduation rate of 81.9 percent in 2015. That means that out of every 100 entering ninth graders in 2011-12, 81.9 students graduated on time. Now, of those 81.9 students, just 30.2 percent, or about 24.7 students, actually graduated after four years of school with an effective education – namely, a good enough education to meet at least one readiness criterion. So, out of the original 100 ninth graders, 24.7 got an effective education. This leads us to say the Effective High School Graduation Rate for Covington in 2015 was only 24.7 percent. In other words, just 24.7 percent of the entering cohort of ninth graders who should have graduated on time in 2015 actually got a diploma and an effective education, too. The rest just got socially promoted to Hollow Diplomas.
Continuing across our table, the difference between Covington’s official AFGR and its Effective High School Graduation Rate is 52.7 percentage points.
Note: Recall again our earlier comment that OEA research indicates the actual CCR rates are too high. That makes it likely that Covington’s true Effective High School Graduation Rate would be even lower if more accurate criteria were available. However, our case for concern obviously is well-established even by applying just the official data.
We ranked all the districts on the numbers in the difference column, and Covington came out ranking number one with the worst gap of all. However, Covington is far from alone.
Take a look at the bottom of the table. We don’t move very far up from the bottom of the list (where we find the best performance for our CCR analysis) before we encounter a double-digit difference between the official graduation rate for districts and the Effective High School Graduation Rate. This indicates that if readiness really is supposed to be the goal behind high school graduation, then almost all districts are handing out an excessive number of Hollow Diplomas that don’t indicate such readiness at all.
Taken together with our earlier Algebra II analysis, it is clear that Kentucky has some very serious quality control problems with what it really takes to get a high school diploma in the Bluegrass State.
Among other things, this makes recent claims from Johns Hopkins University that Kentucky leads the nation for graduation rates for low-income students highly debatable. In fact, what Hopkins’ report’s data really might show is that Kentucky is a national leader for handing out Hollow Diplomas. That is a reasonable alternate interpretation of the data that apparently never crossed the minds of the Hopkins research team.
One last note: the Bluegrass Institute is far from alone with our concerns in this area. At the Kentucky Board of Education’s retreat meeting on August 3, 2016, some of these problems were pointed out by Kentucky Department of Education Associate Commissioner Rhonda Simms and board member Gary Houchens. A bit later in the meeting, board chair Roger Marcum, said:
“I’m concerned with what Gary raised earlier and that is the consistency with our graduation rate and the CCR, and even more than that, about students receiving a diploma and whether or not there is any value.”
The room acoustics were not great, but a recording of the meeting is now available. You can hear what Marcum said beginning at 2 hours, 13 minutes and 27 seconds into the recording.
Marcum is right to be concerned, and all Kentuckians should share those concerns with him. Handing out Hollow Diplomas does no one much good except for school people who want to hide low performance. For parents, business and industry, and most importantly the students, a Hollow Diploma arguably does more harm than good. Having a piece of paper no one trusts is one problem. But, in this economy lacking the education that paper is supposed to represent is deadly.
(Updated September 25, 2016 to add this grad-rate-to-eff-grad-rate-standards-gap-districts-2014-15-clean-final)
We posted a press release yesterday about disturbing evidence the Bluegrass Institute has collected that the quality control for Kentucky’s high school diploma is very inconsistent across the state’s school districts. Today, we dig deeper into a portion of the data in one of the Excel spreadsheets included with that press release.
We are going to discuss the top 10 and bottom 10 districts in our listing of the discrepancies between each district’s reported Four-Year Adjusted Cohort High School Graduation Rate for 2015 (ACGR) for all students and the district’s proficiency rate for all students during Algebra II End-of-Course Exams (EOC) in the 2013-14 school year. We look at Algebra II performance because Kentucky regulations stipulate competency in that subject is a graduation requirement.
We use the Algebra results from 2013-14, one school year earlier, for our comparison because Kentucky Department of Education staff indicate that most of our students take Algebra II in the 11th grade.
Now, check out the table below. If you are a parent or an employer, you want your local school system to rank low on this table, below the red shaded bar. School districts listed near the top raise the most questions about diploma quality.
For example, the top-listed district, Washington County, had a reported on time graduation rate, a 4-Year ACGR, of 98.6 percent. That looks really great until you check our estimate for the Algebra II proficiency rate in the district, which is only 6.7 percent. That creates a huge credibility gap between the reported graduation rate and a very strong indicator of what the real proficiency rate in a required graduation subject, Algebra II, actually is.
While a case might be made that not every student needs to pass the final exam to qualify as competent, the fact is that other districts, those shown in the bottom half of the table, clearly get the graduation rate to Algebra II proficiency rate a lot better, so this does raise quality concerns.
For example, in Caverna Independent, the match is nearly identical, and Caverna also shows it is possible for a large proportion of students to qualify as proficient on the Algebra II exam. Just above Caverna, the Hazard Independent School District also shows close agreement between its rather high, above state average graduation rate and Algebra II proficiency.
Unfortunately, just above Hazard, the disagreement between graduation rates and Algebra II proficiency rates starts to increase quickly. Murray Independent posts a very high graduation rate, but its Algebra II proficiency does not match pace. The discrepancies continue to climb as we work our way further up in the table.
So, if Algebra II really is supposed to be a graduation requirement, why do we find very high graduation rates in most Kentucky school districts when their Algebra II EOC proficiency rates are so much lower?
How could this not raise strong concerns that there needs to be a lot more quality control over the state’s high school diploma awards?
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Even as some cheer about a recent Johns Hopkins University report that claims Kentucky leads the nation for low-income students’ high school graduation rates, new research from the Bluegrass Institute raises very serious questions about the quality control behind those impressive looking numbers.
In fact, it looks like thousands of the Bluegrass State’s 2015 high school graduates couldn’t qualify as either college or career ready, a publicly stated education goal. Furthermore, many didn’t successfully perform on Algebra II testing even though regulations list this course as a high school graduation requirement. Worse yet, quality control in diploma awards apparently varies widely across Kentucky’s school districts.
The institute’s new research examines Kentucky’s high school diploma credibility on a district-by-district basis using two different approaches.
State regulations specify that graduates must demonstrate competency in the material covered by Algebra II. So, in its first analysis the institute compared each Kentucky public school district’s official on-time high school graduation rate for 2015 to the Algebra II End-of-Course Exam (EOC) proficiency rate posted one year earlier in the district. This is a reasonable comparison because the Kentucky Department of Education advises that most students take this course as 11th graders.
The findings from the Algebra II analysis are shocking.
For example, the Washington County School District’s lone standard high school posted an on-time high school graduation rate, technically known as the Four-Year Adjusted Cohort High School Graduation Rate – or ACGR, of 98.2 percent in 2015. However, the school’s Algebra II EOC proficiency rate in the 2013-14 school term was only 6.7 percent.
Clearly, the performance that passes as “competent” in Algebra II in Washington County is far lower than what the creators of the state’s Algebra II EOC expect. Since the Algebra II EOC comes from the same organization that creates the ACT college entrance test, it seems pretty likely that the test, not the district, provides a clearer view of the real picture.
At the other end of the graduation-versus-algebra spectrum is the Caverna Independent School District, which only graduated 76.7 percent of its students on time in 2015, but its proficiency rate on the Algebra II test one year earlier was a virtually identical 77.8 percent. This not only shows that a district can get its diploma award criteria right, but the Algebra II hurdle isn’t as insurmountable as folks in Washington County might think, either.
Sadly, only one other district, the Hazard Independent School District, has fairly close grad rate and Algebra II figures like Caverna’s.
Among Kentucky’s 168 districts that have high schools, 166 have a disparity between their on-time graduation rates and their Algebra II proficiency rates of 20 points or more. Clearly, if real Algebra competency is a graduation requirement, it looks like hollow diplomas are being handed out in massive quantities all across Kentucky.
The picture also looks very unsatisfactory in the second Bluegrass Institute analysis, which compares official graduation rates to the proportion of entering ninth-grade students who are leaving school four years later with enough education to qualify as college or career ready under at least one of the number of official ways the state determines readiness.
In this second analysis, the Covington Independent School District offers the most diploma quality concerns.
Officially, 81.9 percent of Covington’s students graduated on time in 2015. However, when the official college and/or career ready rate is applied to this graduation figure, it turns out that only 24.7 out of every 100 entering ninth-graders in Covington’s high school Class of 2015 were able to meet muster under any college and/or career ready criterion. That works out to a proportion of students that got an effective education, an “Effective High School Graduation Rate,” of only 24.7 percent. The gap between Covington’s official and effective graduation rate is an enormous 57.2 points.
The Covington situation is also widespread. It turns out that credibility of diplomas in the vast majority of Kentucky’s school districts fade away once the readiness picture is examined. Only four districts in the state have a single-digit gap between their official and effective high school graduation rates. In 146 districts, the gap exceeds 20 points.
Lots of kids are getting a piece of paper, but they are not getting the education that paper should represent.
The disparity between what it takes to get a diploma in Kentucky versus the skills business and industry need is not going unnoticed. The institute’s research was discussed by Kentucky Department of Education personnel at the August 3, 2016 meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education, and comments from the board chair make it clear that we can and should expect a lot more interest and investigation of this situation going forward.
To be sure, everyone in Kentucky would be better served by a credible high school diploma that is really backed by a solid education. It’s simply wrong that students are being led to believe they received an adequate education when, in reality, they were failed by the system responsible for preparing them for the rigors of a highly competitive 21st century global marketplace.
The Bluegrass Institute is Kentucky’s first and only free-market think tank and is dedicated to advancing sound public-policy solutions based on credible data and its principles of individual liberty, economic prosperity and limited – and transparent – government. For interview information, please contact staff education analyst Richard Innes at 859-466-8198 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Blog update adds new BIPPS phone number)
Only 15 states perform more poorly than Kentucky on CNBC’s annual ranking of business climates based on 10 categories, including workforce, infrastructure and education.
It’s not a coincidence that the two states ranking highest overall among Kentucky’s neighbors – Virginia (No. 13) and Indiana (No. 16) – also rate much higher than the Bluegrass State in “business friendliness.”
Only nine states are more unfriendly toward business.
For years, politicians from both parties have constructed growth policies centered on offering taxpayer-backed goodies – called “incentives” by economic-development bureaucrats – to companies they deem “winners” and able to improve Kentucky’s rankings.
It’s not working.
Kentucky rated in the bottom 13 states in six of the latest CNBC index’s 10 categories. Worse, we’re becoming even more business-unfriendly – sliding from No. 36 in 2014 to No. 41 in 2016.
Instead of more and bigger taxpayer-backed handouts, we must instead eliminate stifling and archaic regulations that discourage entrepreneurial Kentuckians from engaging in start-ups and expanding existing businesses if we’re going to rise in the rankings.
The Bevin administration’s Red Tape Reduction initiative has been created to call out costly, ineffective or outdated rules hiding among the commonwealth’s 4,500 administrative regulations – nearly 700 of which haven’t even been evaluated for close to a half-century to determine whether they actually help, harm or serve any purpose, for that matter.
Getting rid of burdensome and obsolete rules for doing business in the commonwealth likely will do more in a year or two to improve Kentucky’s attractiveness to employers considering expanding or relocating here than overpaid, underperforming bureaucrats accomplish in decades.
Maurice McTigue, a former cabinet member in his native New Zealand, helped dramatically reform that country’s economy by reducing regulation and implementing pro-growth policies to the point the turnaround became known as the “New Zealand miracle.”
“Kentucky’s economy would be stronger if 1,000 local businesses hired an additional person than if the state created a tax handout to bring in 1,000 new jobs,” wrote McTigue, who advises state governments on streamlining their operations as vice president of outreach at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.
Regulations were never intended to discourage employers from growing their businesses by keeping them neck-deep in cesspools of red tape and paperwork.
Instead, they were meant as common-sense measures to protect consumers, create a level playing field and help guide – and provide certainty to – business owners.
Paul Durbin, who’s owned and operated Judy’s Castle, a popular mom-and-pop diner in Bowling Green, for 22 years, says it helps him when the fire-department inspector comes twice a year to check his building and alert him to needed repairs involving wiring or equipment.
“They come in and actually help me,” Durbin said. “For example, they update their computer assessment of the building to make sure they know where the gas-shutoff switch, oven equipment and exits are so that if there’s a fire, they know what they’re getting into before they even get here.”
But he’s concerned about the costly effect some potential regulations – such as menu-labeling requirements – would have on his 13-employee operation.
“Someone would have to break down all the ingredients; I would have to print new menus and all of that would take up more space and it’s going to cost more money,” he said. “I’m either going to have to pass on the cost or eat it myself.”
Indiana, meanwhile, is knocking on the door of the top 10 business climates in the nation because its regulatory policies free employers from heavy-handed rules forcing them to decide between reducing current payroll, raising prices or just eating the cost.
The focus of Hoosier employers has become: “How many workers do we need to hire just to keep up with all of this new business?”
Are there any good reasons why similar results cannot be achieved south of the Hoosier State’s border?
I missed this a couple of weeks ago when Education Week reported that “Publishers Get Poor Marks on Common-Core Math Texts.”
The story covered a new analysis of high school math textbooks from EdReports.org.
Of particular note to Kentucky, Pearson Publishers is among the companies getting low scores for the alignment of their math textbooks to the Common Core State Standards now used in Kentucky. This might be important because Pearson also creates Kentucky’s KPREP math tests for Grades 3 to 8. If Pearson doesn’t get its math textbooks right, could there be problems with the math tests, as well?