The Courier-Journal reports that the Jefferson County Public School District may not be meeting federal and state requirements for turning around its Persistently Low-Achieving Schools, which are among the state’s very worst performing schools.
As a consequence, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday indicates he may withhold millions of federal school turn-around dollars for Jefferson County and might even push the district completely aside to manage the overhaul process himself.
The Courier also writes:
“Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Sheldon Berman said he believes the district is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.”
That comment makes me think Commissioner Holliday has yet to break through a deeply ingrown denial syndrome that seems to infect this school district.
Certainly, despite Berman’s comments, the district has been most unimaginative about the turn-around process. Over the past year Jefferson County has consistently selected only one of four turn around options available for its persistent low-achievers. That one option requires the district to replace 50 percent of the staff and the principal. The district wouldn’t even try another option, probably because that option intelligently ties teacher evaluations to student performance. It’s an intelligent approach, but the union, which has a lock on Jefferson County schools, hates it.
In any event, part of the reason the Kentucky Commissioner of Education is upset is because the massive teacher shuffling wound up including only a few math and reading teachers. The commissioner says you can’t turn these schools around if you ignore the people teaching the two subjects that got the schools identified as poor performers in the first place.
Per the Courier, Jefferson County Board of Education members Carol Haddad and Debbie Westlund apparently agree with Holliday. Haddad is not happy about teacher shuffling that just moves problems around.
There is another issue hanging out there that the Courier failed to fully cover. The article mentions a recently approved Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA) report on collective bargaining agreements in local school districts in Kentucky.
However, the Courier fails to mention that the report says the school district and the Jefferson County Teachers Association improperly negotiated a Memorandum of Agreement to the union contract which allowed the union to have considerable control over the restaffing process. Per the OEA, that directly violated a provision in House Bill 176 from the 2010 Regular Legislative Session which stipulated that union contracts would not have influence on restaffing decisions (See that for yourself under the “Teacher Distribution” comments on page 40 of the OEA report).
The report also says on page 37 that some of the restaffed schools in Jefferson County wound up with high numbers of zero experience teachers, which is clearly not the intent of HB-176.
JCTA president Brent McKim carefully sidestepped this legal issue, which I know Commissioner Holliday is aware of even if the Courier ducked it.
So, stay tuned on this one.
The Courier also writes that Dr. Berman says his Persistently Low-Achieving Schools “are going to post ‘phenomenal gains’ in test scores.”
Well, Dr. Berman probably has access to “formative assessment” results that have not been released to the public, but a few days ago I posted the table of score results shown below for the first group of 10 Kentucky schools to be identified as Persistently Low-Achieving Schools. The table shows the changes in scores on tests from the ACT, Incorporated, that are now given to all eighth and tenth grade students in the state.
As you can see, most of the first group of six schools from Jefferson County saw DECLINES between last year and the fall testing with the EXPLORE and PLAN this year.
This testing was conducted early in the school year, but this most recent publicly available data shows that as of the testing time for EXPLORE and PLAN, “phenomenal gains” had yet to appear.
We shall see, but I suspect Commissioner Holliday has access to at least some of the same score data that Berman is looking at, and it certainly doesn’t sound like the commissioner is happy.
One more point: Berman knows he will be gone before more test data gets released. He won’t have to live with the consequences of comments and decisions he makes now. But, the Jefferson County Board of Education will still be around. They would be wise to keep in mind that Berman is making promises that they may not be able to keep.