Read the report here.
We wrote back in August about disturbing findings from a new report by the Kentucky Office of Educational Accountability (OEA) concerning “School Attendance in Kentucky.”
Now, the Herald-Leader just released a nice report with maps and tables that provides more information about this mess. It is well worth your read.
While no consequential research on Site-Based Decision Making (SBDM) councils has been conducted since former University of Kentucky professor Jane Clark Lindle’s analysis 16 years ago, evidence abounds that this abnormal approach toward governing public schools is doing little to fulfill its mission, which is, according to state statute, “to improve student achievement.”
Academic improvement across Kentucky isn’t nearly rapid enough to prepare students for the future global marketplace.
Given the missing research, even the progress that’s been made cannot reliably be attributed to this school-governance model.
The SBDM concept was the brainchild of Kentucky Education Reform Act geniuses who seemed mostly concerned about minimizing the influence of parents, administrators and locally elected school-board members regarding curriculum, finances and personnel.
Their success, however, has offered little in the way of positive results.
After more than 20 years of these councils – where teachers always have the majority vote and parents just as often sit in the minority – federal tests indicate fewer than three in 10 Kentucky eighth-graders do mathematics at a proficient level.
Since teachers are in firm control, one must ask if they’re adequately trained for such additional duties as making the complex and sophisticated decisions required to properly handle local, state and federal dollars.
Is it reasonable to expect that each of the commonwealth’s 1,253 public schools has the personnel required to manage curriculum and the hiring of staff effectively?
Do teachers really have adequate time to satisfy all SBDM demands and responsibilities while teaching a full class load?
As the Common Core wars have demonstrated, curriculum decisions are crucial to properly preparing students for their future.
Does a high school without anyone qualified to teach physics – as is the case with several Kentucky high schools – have the staff expertise required to develop an adequate science program?
Can a school without a qualified art teacher develop good artistic programs?
The six hours of training required for new SBDM members hardly seem adequate to prepare them to make informed decisions regarding finances, much less guide complex curriculum options which are becoming more intense as digital-learning programs replace traditional classroom approaches.
Consider recent sanctions handed down by the Office of Education Accountability against former Superintendent of the Year Randy Poe – a longtime Kentucky educator who now leads the high-performing Boone County school district – and two of the county’s middle-school principals related to the troubled adoption of a new digital-learning program.
After more than two decades of SBDM governance, chaos and confusion continues – even in high-performing schools with award-winning leaders – about where the authority exists.
While serious issues linger regarding how Poe’s team implemented the program, lowering the hammer on an accomplished educator and administrator like Poe confirms: this weird approach toward running schools is off-target but its supporters will go to the mat to keep it.
SBDM defenders won’t like my idea of weakening SBDM councils’ authority by relegating them to an advisory role.
But the dustup with Poe confirms and reinforces past calls in this column and elsewhere for a clearer chain of command in school districts.
I’m told repeatedly by SBDM defenders wanting to lower the volume on calls for reform that councils really don’t have much flexibility regarding the spending of dollars or hiring of personnel.
Perhaps so for salaries and staff.
However, it’s obvious SBDM defenders want to retain the capacity to lower the hammer on any administrator getting in the way of their curriculum choices.
Since curriculum is where the education rubber meets the road for our kids, we must end the SBDM-created chaos and return the authority in – and accountability for – our school systems to superintendents and the elected board members to whom they answer.
Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at email@example.com and @bipps on Twitter.
More about that report later, but first the good news. Two articles and one editorial published late this week identify local agencies that are moving in the right direction toward open and accountable government.
The State Journal reports that a “work group” formed by — and consisting of — Frankfort and Franklin County officials for the purpose of selecting “a consultant to assist with redevelopment of land beneath the Frankfort Convention Center and Fountain Place shopping center” will comply with the Open Meetings Law in conducting it meetings.
That work group, rechristened the Frankfort/Franklin County Planning and Advisory Committee for Redevelopment of the Capital Plaza and Associated Areas, had been meeting behind closed doors in spite of vigorous objection.
Insider Louisville reports that the Louisville Metro Police Department has reversed its previous denial of an open records request for weekly “Compstat” crime reports, containing detailed crime statistics, and will publish the reports on its transparency page.
LMPD’s initial denial was based on its characterization of the Compstat reports as “preliminary data” and “an internal working document/draft that is fluid an everchanging.”
And in an editorial that should be mandatory reading for every law enforcement agency in the state, the Kentucky New Era commended the City of Hopkinsville and it’s police department for its “immediacy and transparency” during and after an internal affairs investigation of a police officer that led to the officer’s resignation.
Such investigations are regularly shrouded in secrecy while they are proceeding and after they are concluded. Law enforcement agencies erect every conceivable barrier to access.
“It’s never easy for a police department to investigate one of its own,” the New Era opined, “but ultimately, protecting citizens and their rights is part of their duty as law enforcement officers.”
Regardless of whether these actions were prompted by public pressure or a sincere commitment to open government, this good news is reassuring to access advocates in this state who read with concern a September 19 Associated Press article. That article identifies a new and menacing tactic in public agencies’ assault on open government.
The article’s title tells the story: “Governments turn table by suing public records requesters.”
It identifies several cases across the country in which public agencies – resisting disclosure of “embarrassing or legally sensitive” records – have gone on the offensive and filed lawsuits against open records requester rather than granting or denying their requests as state laws require. The requesters, often private citizens with limited incomes, are forced to absorb the cost of litigation, rather than the nominal cost of reproduction, to obtain public records.
Kentucky figures prominently in the article which spotlights the University of Kentucky’s and Western Kentucky University’s legal actions against student journalists. Although the article conflates these judicial appeals under the Open Records Law with preemptive lawsuits in other states, the message is the same.
This — on top of news of lawmakers across the country “chipping away” at open records laws by carving out new exceptions for particular types of records or creating blanket exemptions for certain public officials or agencies – should set off warning bells for anyone who espouses support for open government but takes the laws supporting that principle for granted.
Add to this news of escalating obstructionism by agencies that exploit loopholes/technicalities in their state’s laws to postpone or deny the public’s right of access and unapologetic editorials by public officials weary of the “inconvenience” these laws create, and open records advocates might reasonably despair.
But the AP article also points out that a New Jersey court dismissed a suit filed by a town against a person who requested police surveillance video, characterizing the lawsuit as the “antithesis” of open records policies aimed at promoting access. And in Michigan, lawmakers enacted legislation making it illegal for agencies to sue records requesters after a county sued a newspaper that had requested the personnel files of two public employees.
Regardless of whether the good news outweighs the bad news, across Kentucky, and across the nation, the struggle for open government continues.
Judge Thomas Wingate clearly understood the importance of the issue.
What was that issue?
Whether a public university can ignore the express language of a statute that authorizes the Kentucky Attorney General to obtain and examine — but maintain the confidentiality of — records relating to allegations of sexual harassment leveled against university employees in order to determine the propriety of the university’s denial of a request for those records?
Under Kentucky’s Open Records Law, the Attorney General is required to review public agency denials of requests for agency records and issue decisions stating whether the agency violated the law in denying the requests. Those decisions — referred to as open records decisions or ORDs — “have the force and effect of law” if not appealed to the appropriate circuit court within 30 days of issuance.
The single most important tool available to the Attorney General in discharging this statutory duty — the tool that enables him to independently verify that an agency’s denial is supported by law — is under assault by three public universities: the University of Kentucky, Western Kentucky University, and Kentucky State University.
Each university received an open records request from the University of Kentucky’s student newspaper, The Kernel, each located records confirming incidents of sexual harassment of students by university employees, and each denied The Kernel access to the records based on a federal law prohibiting disclosure of student “education records.”
When The Kernel appealed those denials to the Attorney General under the statute described above, each university refused to honor the Attorney General’s statutorily authorized request to examine the disputed records so that he could independently verify that the records relating to sexual harassment of students by university employees were or were not, in fact, federally protected “education records.”
Because the Attorney General could not substantiate the universities’ claim of exemption, he ruled against the universities and in favor of The Kernel. The universities responded by suing The Kernel and its student editor.
And, for the first time in the forty plus years since the enactment of the Open Records Law, the Attorney General intervened in the open records dispute between the universities and The Kernel to preserve his office’s statutory right to confidentially review agency records in open records disputes. Until recently, agencies have more or less willingly cooperated with the Attorney General by honoring his requests for the records to ensure proper resolution of the open records issue presented to him on appeal.
The Open Records Law assigns the burden of proving that a denial is proper to the universities in the same section of the same statute that authorizes the Attorney General to obtain disputed records for purposes of substantiating an agency’s denial before rendering an open records decision. Moreover, Kentucky’s courts have declared that an agency “cannot benefit from intentionally frustrating the Attorney General’s review of an open records request; such result would subvert the General Assembly’s intent behind providing review by the Attorney General.”
For these reasons, Judge Wingate repeatedly asked counsel for Kentucky State University why his client objected to providing the disputed records to the Attorney General for statutorily authorized confidential review.
For all the university’s overblown rhetoric concerning the dire consequences of disclosure of sexual harassment records to the Attorney General under an unambiguous statutory mandate, its position is based on a single nonbinding “opinion letter” issued by the federal Department of Education Family Policy Compliance Office to the Texas Attorney General in 2006.
In the University of Kentucky’s case, it is more likely based on the non-disparagement clause in the attractive separation agreement it entered into with its rogue professor.
WKU and KSU followed its highly questionable lead.
In the course of this hearing, Judge Wingate repeatedly emphasized the importance of the open records issue presented and the role of the Attorney General. As the parties concluded their arguments, and the courtroom began to fill for the next hearing, he reminded those who had just arrived what the next hearing was about. “Bourbon,” he derisively declared more than once.
He then directly engaged the reporters who were gathering for the hearing on the Pappy Van Winkle heist. He admonished them for their failure to cover the open records hearing that was concluding and suggested that a bourbon heist should not command the level of media attention that a case involving the media’s lifeblood — the open records law — commands.
We are grateful to the Attorney General for his unflagging commitment to preserving the statutory mechanism so vital to the meaningful discharge of his duty under the open records law. But for his candor and indignation — not to mention his unexpected shout out from the bench — the Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government wishes to express its appreciation to Judge Thomas Wingate.
Definitions from an Ed School prof makes it seem so
A recent Education Week article by Professor Sarah M. Stitzlein from the University of Cincinnati just caught my attention.
Stitzlein talks about “five responsibilities schools must meet to truly be called ‘public’.” Her third criterion is:
“They should be responsive to the public, enabling community members to vote out school officials or change school policies through meaningful and viable avenues like elections, referendums, and open school meetings.” (Note: “Community” is spelled correctly in the print edition of this article but the online version does have a typographical error)
So, community members in a real public school system – at least according to Stitzlein – should be able to vote out school officials and should also have control over school policies through elections and referendums. Citizens should also have free and easy access to school meetings, so those meetings need to be clearly and publicly announced.
Well, Kentucky’s current public school system, which doesn’t have any charter schools at present, flunks Stitzlein’s requirements.