“State employee contributions have been the foundation of (Gov. Steve) Beshear’s re-election fundraising since he began it in August 2009.” –report on campaign contributions in Sunday’s (Louisville) Courier-Journal
“Recently, I signed onto a letter opposing bonuses given to Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac executives. It was $12 million worth of bonuses, and these executives are already averaging several million dollars a year in salary. The argument that came back from Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac was, ‘We need to pay people to keep talent.’ My response to that was, ‘How much talent does it take to lose $6 billion a quarter?’ I said, ‘I think I can hire a lot of guys off the street that can lose $6 billion a quarter for you.'” –U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, in this month’s Lane Report. (Read the entire interview here.)
The 17th edition of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual report on education has just been released, and this year this widely read analysis refuses to even rank Kentucky’s fourth and eighth grade reading results from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) in many of its state to state comparison charts.
Why? Kentucky didn’t meet 2011 federal guidelines for inclusion rates for learning disabled and English language learner students. In fact, Kentucky, to use a phrase in the report, “committed violence” against those inclusion standards.
Clearly, the research team at ALEC agrees with my concerns about the trustworthiness of Kentucky’s NAEP reading scores. In fact, on page 31 of the new report the ALEC team uses test scores from Kentucky to make their point about why they are concerned about data for states with high exclusion rates in NAEP.
This continues raises still more very serious questions about whether Kentucky’s NAEP reading scores can be fairly compared to other states. The ALEC report signals a revolt against NAEP data from states that exclude high numbers of students.
As regular readers know, I have been tracking high school graduation rates in 14 states and Washington, DC.
I now have accessed another year of federally computed high school graduation rate data and can extend the study through the high school graduating class of 2009.
Here is my updated graph. It shows the annual rate of change in graduation rates (based on regression analysis of the data) in the 15 education jurisdictions shown from 2001 through 2009 (except for Nebraska, which adopted the age 18 rule several years after the other states).
The graph shows, for example, that the annual improvement in the graduation rate in Wisconsin was 0.85 of a percentage point per year. At the other end of the spectrum, Nebraska’s annual rate of decay in its graduation rate since 2004 is just over a full percentage point for each year since then.
These states were chosen because they have had an age 18 law in place long enough to develop some credible trend lines.
As you can see, only 4 of these states have notably better graduation rate improvement for the years in the study than the overall national average rate of improvement. Six of these age 18 dropout states actually have shown a DECLINE in graduation rate performance since they enacted this policy in law.
In any event, Kentucky House Bill 216, which would raise the minimum age for dropping out of school from 16 to 18 is still in the legislative hopper. This bill has been heavily pushed by Governor Steve Beshear and his wife as a way to stem the bleeding of students from our public high schools. Whether it will even get a hearing in the Kentucky senate remains to be seen.
Whether it will really do much to improve graduation rates – well, it isn’t working very convincingly elsewhere.
On problems with education research, state education rankings and teacher preparation
I have written several blogs over the past few days about an annual rite of passage in the education world. On January 12, 2012 Education Week released its annual report on education across the United States, known as Quality Counts (subscription).
Kentucky’s education boosters jumped on the new state rankings in the report, which showed that Kentucky moved up 20 places in the Quality Counts state rankings in just one year (Really???).
It’s hard to imagine that so much celebration when Kentucky got an unimpressive “C+” score overall in Quality Counts, but the jump in the rankings does sound impressive (assuming you believe a state can change its education system that much so quickly), until you ask some very basic questions:
What qualities really count in education, and does Quality Counts do a good job of identifying and grading them? For that matter, do many involved with education really know the answers about what REALLY makes up a quality education system?
In my first two blogs (here and here), I talked about Quality Counts using a less accurate formula for graduation rates and how that resulted in Kentucky looking better than it does with a more credible graduation rate calculation.
In the most recent blog, I discussed some disturbing evidence that Quality Counts’ very high ranking for “The Teaching Profession” in Kentucky are sharply at odds with brand new rankings from the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Now, let’s discuss all the ways Quality Counts gets in trouble with its extensive but simplistic use of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores.
Very briefly, Quality Counts does just about everything wrong in its state-to-state NAEP comparisons.
• Quality Counts totally ignores Kentucky’s nation-leading exclusion of students with learning disabilities from the NAEP reading assessments. They never even mention it.
• Quality Counts only examines potentially very misleading overall “all student” NAEP scores and never provides a clue that things might, and do, look very different when those scores are disaggregated by race.
• Quality Counts ignores the fact that all NAEP scores are from a statistically sampled test and are only estimates with a lot of sampling error. Thus, it is possible for one state to somewhat outscore another when in reality the second state performs the same as, or even somewhat better than, the first. Instead, Quality Counts simplistically ranks scores listed to the tenth of a point as though such small score differences are meaningful.
All of these NAEP issues are no surprise to our regular readers. The surprise is that a normally very quality news source would be enmeshed in them.
The Courier-Journal reports that the Bullitt County board of education has approved plans for designs to add new learning centers in its three high schools.
The new digitally-based centers would be targeted at helping kids who are not progressing in traditional classrooms and will also be used for other programs ranging from advanced course support to adult education.
We saw a similar environment when we visited the Conner High School in Boone County last August to present our report on Digital Learning Now, Obstacles to Implementation in Kentucky.
Conner recently remodeled its library into a multimedia center with a large number of student carrels equipped with individual computer stations. We watched as a class of students moved into the carrels and immediately got to work, more interested in their computer activity than in us even though we had TV station news teams in the room covering our press conference.
Digital learning won’t be the total answer, but it should play a major role in solving some of Kentucky’s most acute education problems.
Clearly, folks in Bullitt County agree.