If you were a loan officer and Kentucky wanted to borrow money, what would you say?
Click here to listen to the 90-second audio commentary.
It was one of the major surprises in last week’s meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education.
The Robert Frost Middle School is upset that it is losing its School Based Decision Making (SBDM) authority. Frost appealed that decision from education commissioner Terry Holliday to the state board, which rendered its verdict (Frost will lose SBDM control) on June 9, 2010.
During the board’s deliberation, astonishing information from the Frost appeal was revealed.
I was so surprised that I obtained a copy of the appeal package from Kentucky Department of Education Chief Legal Council Kevin Brown after the meeting to be sure I heard correctly.
After looking at this material, it was quite clear: whatever Jefferson County Public Schools looks at when it does its own evaluation of SBDM performance, it isn’t looking at some really important “stuff” that kids need to learn.
And, Jefferson County’s SBDM inspections help set up schools to get into trouble with better conducted audits.
Click the “Read More” link below to see more details.
The Frost appeal package contained this letter from the Jefferson County Public Schools Office of SBDM.
Well, a lot of evidence says that just isn’t so. It starts with the fact that after looking at three years of test data for reading and mathematics for every school in Kentucky, Frost wound up at the very bottom of the list for student performance.
That triggered a “School Leadership Assessment” by a Kentucky Department of Education audit team in March 2010 (one month previous to the Jefferson County evaluation shown above, by the way).
Overall, the state audit concluded:
• The school leadership assessment team has determined that the council does not have sufficient capacity to manage the recovery of the school and recommends the council’s authority be transferred to the Superintendent.
More detailed discussion found in several areas of the audit says [with my added comments in brackets]:
• The school council’s policy, program, and resource discussions are sometimes focused on academic performance. [Only sometimes]
• The council’s minutes sometimes reflect an attention to data but do not reveal a consistent vision for school transformation and the resulting increase in student services and student success.
• Monthly meetings do not indicate a consistent focus on gaps and gains in student achievement and a systemic plan of intervention for at-risk students.
• The school council policy addresses the social and personal transition between schools (e.g., elementary to middle, middle to high), but regular or systematic discussions among and between schools to ensure the proper sequence of standards across all levels and to eliminate gaps and overlaps in the curriculum are not addressed in the policy nor are these discussions being initiated and facilitated by the district.
• The council submits plans to district leadership for review. These plans are primarily developed by the principal. [Like SBDMs or not, their efforts are supposed to be collaborative among all members, not just the principal]
• Most teachers are unable to use technology as an instructional approach because either the technology does not work or the principal and school council have not ensured that adequate technology is available (e.g., smart boards, Classroom Performance Systems) to have a meaningful impact on instruction. Many of the computers in the labs do not function, and the bulbs in some projectors have not been replaced, rendering projectors useless. [With such widespread outages, as overall management agency in the school, the SBDM should have taken notice, but apparently didn’t]
This is just a partial listing of audit findings.
Perhaps the most compelling findings are in the first four bullets, which relate to performance of students. Certainly, these findings are not consistent with top-level performance.
So, to reiterate, here’s my first point: What is Jefferson County looking at in their SBDM evaluations? Whatever that is, it isn’t looking at the most important “stuff,” which is what the Kentucky Department of Education says kids need.
I have another point.
During the state board’s discussions, several members noted that not one person from the Robert Frost Middle School took the time to come to the meeting. While such attendance wasn’t mandatory, if you were an educator involved in an action that was going to take power away from your school and you had filed an appeal, don’t you think you’d have sent at least one representative to the board meeting?
Robert Frost’s last day of school was June 2, 2010. Mr. Brown of the KDE informed me that the school was sent a fax with the state board’s agenda to hear their appeal at least two days before the meeting. The board meeting and the agenda item to hear appeals was posted in the Kentucky Department of Education’s web site even earlier.
Still, no-one showed up from Frost.
Somehow, after looking at the audit report, this absence fits. “Suspension” for the Frost SBDM seems highly warranted.
However, the responsibility for the Frost SBDM now shifts to the Jefferson County superintendent. Given the issues with his SBDM Office, I’m not sure if this will work much better for the students.
Tighter standards are coming
I commented earlier on the grim reality for recent Kentucky high school graduates who go on to our postsecondary system with inadequate preparation. Chances are low that they will ever win a coveted degree, especially for students entering two-year degree programs.
Because of the low odds, some stark realities are about to hit kids who just graduated from our high schools and will start college in the fall. About 1,595 more of them than last year will need remedial courses in math. That increases the already high remediation rate of 29 percent to 37 percent for this subject.
Furthermore, almost 2,000 more freshmen will have to get reading help before they can start credit-bearing college work. That will increase the reading remedial rate from 17 percent from last year to 28 percent.
The trigger for these sharp rises are new college standards for 2010 that determine who requires remediation. Tougher standards will better identify the students who need to repair their inadequate preparation in Kentucky’s public high schools.
The new facts of life about who will need remediation are brought home in this slide presented to the Kentucky legislature’s Interim Joint Education Committee on Monday by Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education president Robert L. King.
As a consequence, King projects that there will be notable increases in the percentages and numbers of entering freshmen who must take these non-credit bearing courses.
To avoid ending on an unhappy note, King also noted new programs are coming in response to Senate Bill 1 (2009 Regular Session) to help solve the enduring failure of KERA to prepare kids for college.
New programs include “Bridge Programming” to help with high school to college transitions, alerting kids to their deficiencies so they can get better prepared before they leave high school.
The university system also plans to take those students with lower needs for remediation and give them “Accelerated” opportunity to get up to speed for college in a shorter period of time.
King also plans better student support and intervention systems in our colleges, and more professional development for college faculty, as well. The last item is noteworthy, as college instructors traditionally have not spent much time on improving their teaching techniques.
Still, all of this is in the forecast, but the reality right now is far too many of our kids are not ready for college, and the situation isn’t going to look better in a few months when this year’s high school graduates matriculate. It’s sad that these kids will have to pay for KERA’s failure to come to grips with reality over the past 20 years.
But, it is laudable that Kentucky’s postsecondary system is finally working with our P to 12 educators to try to come to grips with this embarrassing problem in a proactive way. Let’s hope our legislators support this badly needed toughening of standards despite the embarrassment it creates for those who have been KERA’s unquestioning, status-quo supporters.
The statistics are sobering.
Unprepared students entering Kentucky’s four-year postsecondary institutions face poor odds they’ll ever graduate.
That point was made by this graph presented to the Kentucky legislature’s Interim Joint Education Committee yesterday by Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education president Robert L. King.
The orange bars on this graph show the odds of a Not College Ready student graduating in four, five or six years from a four-year college program in Kentucky. Even after six years of study, these students have notably less than a one in two chance they will ever get their degree.
In truth, even those students who are considered “College Ready” upon admission still face serious challenges. Only two of three prepared students get a degree even after six years in what should be a four-year program, as the blue bars show.
Note that this graph only considers recent Kentucky high school graduates, which makes it very pertinent to discussions of supposed success under KERA.
King’s statistics for the situation in the Associates’ Degree programs look much worse, as the next graph shows.
The hopeful news in these slides is that King projects the picture will improve as the impacts of Senate Bill 1 (from the 2009 regular legislative session) start to take hold. But, those are just projections at this point. It’s going to take a lot of changes in Kentucky’s public education classrooms to make those targets become reality.
So I hate to be the messenger but…
Yesterday, I posted a blog about how Grant County Schools decided that it would be a better idea to give the run-around for a simple Open Records Request (that had been filled by 30+ other school districts already) by opting to involve their legal representation rather than just send me the requested information. I posted the letter I received from the nice folks at O’Hara, Ruberg, Taylor, Sloan and Sergent and asked this question:
Is it a good use of taxpayer money to involve a law firm in a simple Freedom of Information request when the request could have just been filled like all the other schools districts that received the same request? Furthermore, is it transparent?
Well, my curiosity got the better of me. Thankfully, last year, we did an open records request to obtain the Grant County Schools check register. And what did we find? In fiscal year 2009, Grant County Schools paid a legal fee of:
Wow. A six-figure expenditure for legal services in a school district with only 5 schools!?!?? Help me understand this.
Comparable school districts, such as Lee County Schools (4 schools), opted to spend money on legal services by individual use rather than a one time expense and spent a mere fraction of what Grant County did.
This is why our education system continues to “need” money.
The Jefferson County plan for busing students hither and yon has now collected a new set of complaints; this time it’s a 34 page report from the NAACP.
• The NAACP is upset that some parents who objected to long bus rides for their children apparently were successful in getting their children reassigned.
• The organization alleges “…certain board members appear to be trying to dismantle the New Plan (sic).”
• In a comment that seems aimed at Jefferson County’s magnet schools, there are also charges that, “…decisions about which students can and cannot attend certain schools in the district are made within the walls of those select schools. The decision is not based on grades or other academic factors, but a unilateral decision made by a principal or assistant principal.”
Aside from complaints about busing, the NAACP report says, “Jefferson County is delivering weaker performance than most other districts in the state at the elementary and middle school levels.” The report then enumerates many comparisons of 2009 Kentucky Core Content Test proficiency rates in Jefferson County compared to the other school districts in the state.
• 87% of the districts delivered better third grade reading performance
• 85% of the districts delivered better third grade math performance
• 94% of the districts did better on fourth grade science
• 81% did better in fifth grade social studies
• 62% did better in fifth grade writing
The report has a long section of recommendations. A very few highlights:
• Jefferson County School Board members should “Put students first”
• Jefferson County’s teachers’ union should “Accept that the most important group in the system is the students.”
• The greater Louisville community should “Demand more of School Board Members (sic) and hold them accountable.”
Find a link to the report in this article from the Louisville Courier-Journal.
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