All kids in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) have a right to high quality, experienced teachers, but JCPS dad Sayheed Ashanti points out that it isn’t happening.
Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.
Those who’ve convinced themselves that teachers’ union contracts don’t affect how flexible, innovative and ultimately successful school districts are in educating future generations also likely believe Russia colluded with Donald Trump’s campaign to keep Hillary Clinton from becoming president.
Not that we couldn’t use some more – and more recent – research regarding how collective bargaining agreements tie administrators’ hands and affect education outcomes.
Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis and the new state Board of Education should put a high priority on releasing results when an examination now underway by the Kentucky Department of Education on the impact of Jefferson County Public Schools’ (JCPS) contract with its union, the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA), is complete.
Such information likely would add to the support for state intervention in JCPS – one of the nation’s largest school districts – where, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a 28-point gap between white and black students in 2011 became 38 points in 2017 and a 23-point gap in fourth-grade reading in 2015 grew to a 35-point gap in just two years.
Based on that miserable performance and available, if dated, data regarding the impact of labor agreements on work and personnel policies, there should, at the very least, be widespread agreement that the squeeze applied by most teachers’ union contracts aren’t producing a stellar education performance – especially for our most at-risk children.
A report released by the Office of Education Accountability (OEA) in 2010 concluded the JCPS-JCTA contract was the commonwealth’s “most comprehensive and cumbersome.”
Considering only a handful of Kentucky school districts have labor agreements, that conclusion in and of itself wasn’t exactly earth-shattering.
However, it’s why OEA researchers chose “comprehensive and cumbersome” that’s undeniably relevant to the district’s academic performance for decades.
“Comprehensive and cumbersome” addresses how the union’s contract ties decision-makers’ hands, particularly when it comes to implementing policies that get the best, most-experienced teachers in the lowest-performing schools.
Union leaders have repeatedly claimed since that report was issued that JCTA no longer stands in the way of placing teachers with seniority in failing schools.
Technically, they’re right.
But the ruse is that while the union doesn’t overtly demand that “great teachers aren’t allowed to be placed where they’re most needed,” it chafes against offering financial incentives in the form of cash bonuses or raises to entice proven instructors to accept more demanding assignments.
“Lower-performing schools have more inexperienced teachers and higher turnover rates than higher-performing schools,” the OEA report said.
The report added that “a large percentage of teachers being hired were teacher interns with less than 1 year of experience” in the district’s lowest-performing schools.
Did you catch that? “Teacher interns.”
A Thomas B. Fordham Institute report in 2008 looked at labor agreements in America’s 50 largest school districts and deemed the JCPS-JCTA contract “highly restrictive” overall.
It also gave the agreement a “D-minus” for both its harmful impact on work rules and personnel policies, including impeding superintendents’ ability to place great teachers – who play the leading role in students’ education – in classrooms where they can make the biggest difference.
Those who genuinely care about students cringe at such results, knowing it’s usually the poor and disadvantaged who bear the brunt of union contracts that reward – and thus encourage – failed policies and their inevitable results.
The Fordham report’s observation that “hardly any contracts enshrine a high degree of flexibility” and its research showing that only three of the labor agreements had a more negative impact on personnel policies means the JCPS-JCTA ruse was one of the nation’s worst.
Those involved in the upcoming negotiation of a new agreement have a golden opportunity to prove that conclusions reached by Fordham and the OEA are, indeed, old news.
Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at email@example.com and @bipps on Twitter.
Or, what’s wrong with education research?
Here at BIPPS we have written on many occasions about the poor quality of much of education research and how the smoke screen from this bad research renders the best performing education programs virtually unknown to most educators. Among other reports on the education research quality issue, we’ve pointed many times such as here, here, here and here, to name just a few examples, to the telling reports on “Educating School Teachers” and “Educating Researchers” from Arthur Levine.
Levine, a past president at Columbia Teachers College, makes it clear that some of this research problem is far from accidental. In his “Educating Researchers” Levine writes about his interviews with education school personnel responsible for training the research community, stating:
“It quickly became apparent that in today’s highly charged environment, those interviewed for this study had less interest in ‘truth telling’ than in defending their positions.” (Page 6)
That’s just not an environment from which high-quality research will come.
Levine isn’t alone with his concerns, by the way. For example, a note on related issues from former U of L professor George Cunningham just surfaced, again. Cunningham’s short comments are well worth your time and since those outside Kentucky are likely to ask Bluegrass State residents about it, here’s the link to Cunningham’s short and useful “The Difference Between Qualitative and Quantitative Research.”
Pay attention and you will know why you need to be really, really wary when educators start talking about “The research shows…” when people spout off about things like charter schools not working, about best education programs, about how great Common Core State Standards are, etc.
(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) – The Bluegrass Institute will be watching closely to see whether a new collective bargaining agreement between the Jefferson County Public Schools and its teachers’ union reinforces the failure that’s left thousands of low-income, minority and special-needs children behind for decades, or whether there will be substantive changes in the contract that result in offering the kind of financial incentives that put students first by getting the most-experienced teachers into the classrooms and schools where they’re most needed.
“Business as usual will mean failure as usual in JCPS,” Bluegrass Institute president and CEO Jim Waters said. “For too long, the wishes of manipulative union bosses, overpaid bureaucrats and enabling politicians have taken precedence over the urgent need to close academic achievement gaps and ensure every student in Kentucky’s largest school district is prepared for a successful future.”
Changes also must be made regarding the makeup of the Educator Quality Oversight Committee, the group charged with designing and implementing incentive packages in the contract.
Currently, this committee is comprised of an equal number of union representatives and administrators who are required to reach consensus.
“The makeup of and restrictions on this committee ensure needed incentives never happen,” Waters said. “Just because the union bosses say there ‘can’ be incentives does not mean (a) they want them or (b) they ever will happen in meaningful ways.”
Any contract that fails to get the union out of the day-to-day management of Jefferson County schools and ensure the safety, education and well-being of our children is unacceptable, he said.
“We’re hopeful that chairwoman Diane Porter and her fellow board members will dismiss the pressure felt by the intimidation of the union and finally elevate the needs of JCPS students above the games played by union apologizers for failure,” Waters said. “Thousands of poor minority children in JCPS are depending on these board members not to fail them.”
The Bluegrass Institute is Kentucky’s first and only free-market think tank.
Were Head Start preschoolers the only ones abused?
Residents in Jefferson County would have to be living in a vacuum to not know about the major dispute that has arisen over abuse of children in the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS)-run Head Start preschool program. The abuse findings, the failure to fix those problems and the district’s recent vote to return the federal $15 million grant that funds the program have been covered in the area’s media outlets such as articles here, here and here, to cite only a very few examples.
But, we’ve discovered a puzzling situation.
While the news reports have consistently only mentioned abuse to Head Start children, we recently got a tip that the Jefferson County Head Start students had been getting services in the same classrooms as other preschool students enrolled in the separate, state-funded preschool program. Can it be that only the Head Start preschoolers faced issues in those “blended” classrooms?
“Blending” of Head Start and state-funded preschool children was confirmed when we found the “Jefferson County Public Schools Early Childhood Programs Head Start and Early Head Start 2018-2019 Continuation Application Narrative” document. This is listed under the “Continuation Application Narrative 2018-19” item in the materials from the JCPS Board’s March 27, 2018 meeting.
Page 2 in this application says:
“For the 2018-2019 program year, we will restructure our Head Start and state-funded preschool program classrooms. Previously, we blended these programs and served Head Start and state-funded preschool students in the same classrooms. We propose to separate these programs and return to Head Start-only classrooms.”
Reading this, it seems clear that up through the current 2017-2018 school year, Head Start students and state-funded preschool students were housed together in the same classrooms.
Furthermore, the federal government identified around 40 incidents of abuse and neglect involving JCPS Head Start students in the past year alone according to the latest federal report. That’s a fair number of cases.
Note: find the latest, 2018 federal report by clicking here and then clicking on the “Retrieve Reports” button to reveal a link to the “2018 – Follow Up [PDF, 4.4MB]” link to the report.
But, here is the mystery: So far there have been no reports in the media of any problems for kids enrolled in the state-funded preschool program. All the coverage has indicated that somehow the abuse situation only pertained to the Head Start program.
Does it seem likely that somehow Head Start kids faced all these abuse incidents in just one year while not a single child in the same classrooms from the state-funded program had any issues?
Another piece of now public information bears on this puzzle. On May 31, 2018 WDRB’s web site reported “JCPS quietly paying pricey bullying settlements with taxpayer money.” While the article talks about bullying in the K to 12 system only, if the district has been quietly paying out what could be considered “hush money” to K to 12 students, could there be similar goings on with JCPS preschool students, as well?
Furthermore, could it be that some state-funded preschool student abuse cases are included among the 40 cases documented by the federal investigations? With blended classrooms, that also seems possible.
Thus, a lack of public reporting (so far, at least) does not remove concerns that there could also be abuse problems with the state-funded JCPS preschool program.
The issue of possible abuse cases in the JCPS state-funded preschool program gets is important because while JCPS is now out of the Head Start management business, the district remains fully in charge of the separate, state-funded preschool program. If, in fact, there is also abuse in that state-funded preschool program, then more needs to happen.
So, an important, unsolved puzzle remains: How did JCPS serve both Head Start and state-funded preschool students in the same classrooms but somehow we are only hearing about abuse problems with the Head Start kids? And, is anyone in authority checking on this?
Bluegrass Institute supports pastors’ coalition in calling for state Intervention in Jefferson County Public Schools
Too much of the discussion regarding the failure of Kentucky’s public-education system to prepare most of its students to succeed in the 21st century is based on addressing the wishes of the system’s adults rather than the needs of its students.
However, that public education system does not exist for the benefit of the adults.
Rather, it exists to prepare over 650,000 children in that system by giving them the knowledge and the tools needed to live productive and successful lives.
While teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and janitors are important contributors to making Kentucky’s public-education system work, their wants and wishes must be secondary to creating and advancing education policy based on what’s in the best interest of our children.
Case in point: Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis has recommended a state intervention in the day-to-day management of the Jefferson County Public Schools.
The recommendation is based on an extensive 14 month-long management audit ordered by former commissioner Stephen Pruitt and conducted by the Kentucky Department of Education. The audit found more than 20 “significant deficiencies” in the district which include issues related to achievement gaps, restraint, inclusion, funding, facilities and student safety.
In a recent interview on KET “Connections,” Lewis told host Renee Shaw that he believes a KDE takeover is necessitated by the fact that the deficiencies in JCPS are the result of “fundamentally a broken system” and cannot be addressed simply by replacing a superintendent or any other individual or group of individuals.
“State management is essential in order to remedy the deficiencies that have come forward in the audit,” Lewis said. “Nothing short of state management of Jefferson County Public Schools will ensure that the children in that district are protected and served well.”
The next step in the process will be for JCPS leaders to appeal Lewis’ recommendation to the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE), which will make the final decision regarding a takeover.
If the KBE agrees with Lewis’ recommendation:
- Superintendent Marty Pollio would continue to manage the day-to-day affairs of the district but would be required to report weekly to Associate Education Commissioner Kelly Foster on the district’s progress in addressing the many deficiencies included in the audit.
- Lewis could fire and replace Pollio if he deems a lack of sufficient and timely progress is occurring.
- The JCPS Board of Education would perform in an advisory role during the period of time in which the district is under state management.
- Lewis by law could replace members of the JCPS Board of Education.
The Bluegrass Institute has been working with the Kentucky Pastors in Action Coalition, a group of inner-city minority pastors in Louisville and surrounding areas to make the case for a state intervention in JCPS.
Following is a report we released outlining reasons for supporting Lewis’ recommendation.
While other issues have recently come to light – including disturbing revelations about children in the district’s Head Start program being neglected and abused – this report focuses on issues involving widening achievement gaps between the JCPS’ white and black students, the impact of the district’s collective bargaining agreement on the educational environment and the political dollars being spent on school board races.
Click on the image below to download and read the full report.