“We need a crusade to save our children — a crusade as powerful and as broad-based as the 1960’s crusade for civil rights.” columnist William Raspberry
Last week’s January 11, 2009, Kentucky Tonight subject on Public Broadcast TV was the state budget. All of the guest participants were connected to groups with interests in education in Kentucky.
I was able to phone in a question. I pointed out, as I have a number of times in this blog, such as here and here and here, that due to major failings discovered in 2006 with the Kentucky Department of Education’s MUNIS financial system, that the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability and other groups have never been able to do detailed “Bang for the Buck” studies that drill down to the efficiency of major education programs like teacher professional development.
In fact, more than three years after the MUNIS problems were identified in the Legislative Research Commission’s Research Report 338, MUNIS remains unrepaired.
I then asked the show’s participants if, after more than three years of failure to fix MUNIS, is it time for the legislature to step in?
Terry Brooks, executive director of the Kentucky Youth Advocates – one of the show’s guests – really surprised me with his candor about the Kentucky Department of Education’s responsibility for the MUNIS problem and program review in general.
Said Brooks, “The lack of accountability – the lack of program evaluation that the department does – is stunning. And, it makes it very difficult to advocate for sustained or increased levels of funding in K to12 when there’s no proof in the pudding.”
To that, I can only say Amen.
It’s time to fix MUNIS. Legislators – you have ultimate responsibility for education, and our tax dollars. Are you listening? You may have to make tough decisions on education programs, but thanks to the department’s failure to provide decently accurate fiscal data, you will have to do that without the benefit of ‘bang for the buck’ information that you asked for three years ago.
By the way, Bluegrass Institute’s director of policy and communications Jim Waters appears on tomorrow night’s January 18, 2009 Kentucky Tonight along with Rev. Jerry Stephenson, chair of the Kentucky Education Restoration Alliance, Sharron Oxendine, president of the Kentucky Education Association and Superintendent Sheldon Berman of Jefferson County Public Schools. This group will discuss charter schools for Kentucky. Given the panel’s wide-ranging viewpoints, the show is certain to provide lively comments that Kentuckians need to hear. Some may come from people you might not expect to make them. So, tune in at 8 PM Eastern Time on KET 1.
The Southern Educational Foundation just issued “A New Diverse Majority,” a report on demographic changes in the public school student body.
It has a surprise.
Kentucky isn’t as “poor” as our educators might like us to believe when they make excuses for performance.
This graphical map from the Southern Educational Foundation shows the percentage of the students in each state that qualify for the federal free and reduced cost school lunch program. The numbers are a commonly used indicator of poverty for school children.
Plenty of states on the map have higher poverty rates than we have. And, because the break point used to color code the map is a 50 percent rate, and because we barely exceed that, several of the states shown in green are actually within a few points of our poverty rate, as well.
So, when white students in every state on this map except Oklahoma (poorer), Tennessee (poorer), Hawaii, Alabama (poorer), Mississippi (MUCH poorer) and West Virginia (equally poor) outscored our whites on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress Grade 8 Math Assessment, and when of that group of six states, Oklahoma (poorer), Tennessee (poorer) and Hawaii actually were able to tie us, we have just cause to worry.
The poverty excuse won’t fly any more in Kentucky. Almost every state in the South plus California and West Virginia have more poverty now than we do, but in most cases their kids now outperform our dominant racial group.
(Note: I ranked the NAEP scores as downloaded from the NAEP Data Explorer web tool)
The Southern Educational Foundation just issued “A New Diverse Majority,” a report on demographic changes in the public school student body. The report helps further a case I’ve been making some time about Kentucky – we don’t have a lot of minority students here.
In fact, as this graphical map from the Southern Educational Foundation shows, we have one of the lowest percentages of minority students in the entire country. We don’t look “Southern” at all.
As the Bluegrass Institute has pointed out before, Kentucky’s heavy white advantage makes it difficult to develop an accurate picture of how we really do in state-to-state education comparisons.
For example, because the other races score notably lower than whites, states with a lot of white students often look better than they really should when overall scores from assessments like the National Assessment of Educational Progress are compared.
You just have to look deeper when the national student demographic chart is as full of different colors as the one the Southern Educational Foundation just published. Simplistic comparisons of overall scores just can’t give an accurate picture.
– Says forget the Race to the Top money, too
Down in Texas they just are not ready to surrender their state’s constitutional rights to govern education to the US Government. Not even for $700 million.
Here in Kentucky, adoption of House Bill 176 means we may have surrendered our rights to the Race to the Top sweepstakes for less than $200 million.
— Dreaming in Jefferson County
In it’s coverage of the passage of House Bill 176, the Louisville Courier-Journal notes several schools in Jefferson County would be identified as “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools” if the bill’s new formulas were applied today.
The article additionally says Jefferson County Superintendent of Schools Sheldon Berman told the newspaper that “district officials have already begun turning around most of those schools.”
Well, see if you can find much “turn-around performance” in the schools the Courier lists.
This table summarizes data found in the individual 2009 No Child Left Behind Report results for each school listed in the Courier’s article.
Only one school, Western MST High, increased both math and reading proficiency rates between 2008 and 2009, but the school still fell short of the required Annual Measureable Objective (AMO) required proficiency rate in both subjects. And, Western’s 2009 math rate only improved because its 2008 rate was truly abysmal. Western’s 2009 rate remains lowest of the group – hardly an achievement worth lauding.
The other five schools experienced DROPS in their already low reading proficiency rates between 2008 and 2009, and three saw DROPS in their very low math proficiency rates, as well. Overall, all six schools sank deeper in NCLB’s failing schools Tier listing, entering a second year as a bottom level Tier 5 school.
It’s not hard to understand some of the reasons why this might be happening in Jefferson County.
The Jefferson County Board of Education’s contract with the Jefferson County Teachers Association has a lot of restrictions that get in the way of reforming schools; so, it’s not likely that much real change can happen. Under the union contract, the district’s poorest performing schools continue to get too many of the least experienced teachers.
In fact, in October Dr. Berman and two of his middle school teachers admitted to the Kentucky Board of Education that the union contract interfered with assigning enough highly experienced teachers to two of the district’s most troubled middle schools.
The Bluegrass Institute has also written a lot (such as here) about an on-going deception using a fabricated “At or Above Grade Level” scoring scheme to fool the people of Jefferson County about the real performance of their taxpayer-supported schools. Jefferson County took it upon itself to redefine and dumb down the old CATS scores, claiming any score above “Novice” was “At or Above Grade Level.” Considering CATS scores were already undemanding, this further decay of rigor was inexcusable.
I’m concerned that HB 176’s final language won’t override that union contract in Jefferson County, especially if some of the turn-around options that leave control in the hands of the school district are applied. If the district’s leadership thinks they are turning these schools around now, I’d like to know what they are looking at.