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“Education commissioner: State ‘up a creek’ if charters don’t get funded”

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Bluegrass Beacon: Councils just another failed fad of KERA

BluegrassBeaconLogoEditor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

Former House Speaker Jody Richards recently announced he would not seek re-election this year.

Richards, D-Bowling Green, who went to Frankfort the year Jimmy Carter was elected president, pounded the gavel in the House for 14 years, making him the longest-serving Speaker in Kentucky’s history.

His legacy involves playing a key role as longtime House Education Committee chairman in shaping the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) of 1990, which was accompanied by a $1.3 billion tax increase – the largest since Daniel Boone wandered through the Cumberland Gap and first laid eyes on what would become America’s 15th state.

Among the many fads KERA forced on schools were School Based Decision Making (SBDM) councils, which gave teachers control of their school’s most important funding, personnel and curriculum decisions.

Thankfully, the legislature stands poised to make progress toward significantly reducing SBDM authority and returning it to superintendents and elected school boards, where it belongs and will make it possible for parents and citizens to demand accountability for the way schools operate and educate.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, has introduced sound SDBM-reform legislation which includes returning the hiring of principals to superintendents with councils playing a more-appropriate advisory role.

It also requires councils to report their activities annually to – and align their policies with – their school boards.

It also allows board members to “overturn a decision, policy, or action of a school council” they determine to be “inconsistent with local board policy” or a “hindrance to the efficient operation of the district as a whole.”

Also, it provides a mechanism and process whereby SBDM authority can be removed from clearly failing schools.

KERA also promised that this experimental and highly controversial approach to managing schools would get parents more involved in their children’s schools, even though parents would be relegated to a minority vote on the councils.

So, how’s that working out?

An analysis of state data reveals that nearly 73 percent of Kentucky’s 1,124 schools during the 2016-17 school year had only single-digit ratios of parents compared to total student enrollment even bothering to show up to vote in SBDM elections for their council representatives.

While 15 schools did have SBDM voter-to-student ratios of at least 50 percent, such a response was by far the exception.

Nearly three out of four Kentucky schools had only single-digit ratios with 101 schools having even less than 1 percent turnout in last school year’s SBDM elections.

There are limitations to such an analysis of enrollees because it doesn’t include the total number of parents in a school since some students come from two-parent homes – both of whom can vote in SBDM elections – or have siblings enrolled in the same schools.

Still, when only about one in 10 students is likely represented in the vast majority of council elections, it’s reasonable to conclude that parent interest in SBDM activities in most Kentucky schools is sparse.

While Schickel’s bill doesn’t give parents an equal or majority vote on the councils, it does provide a process whereby parents can appeal to school-board members, who, in turn, can make their case to the state Board of Education regarding why SBDM authority should be removed from failing schools.

So, while Richards and his fellow politicians reaped the political benefits of KERA, many of its experimental fads – including the SBDM approach to governing schools – were flops and failures.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

Why Kentucky should not delay charter schools – Evidence from New York City schools

As I wrote yesterday, there are comments floating about that Kentucky should delay funding charter schools due to the state’s general financial pinch. But, if the goal is better education, I don’t think that is a very good idea.

Yesterday I pointed to evidence from the National Assessment of Educational Progress that charter schools do a much better job for black students in eighth grade math, a racial group and academic subject where Kentucky has particularly severe problems.

Today, we look at some evidence from the October 2017 study of New York City’s charter schools by the CREDO research group at Stanford University.

In particular, this figure from that report shows the Big Apple’s charter school students do dramatically better as they spend more years in the charter school environment.

CREDO 2017 NYC Report Figure 7 Effects by Years of Enrollment in Charters

For example, by the time a NYC charter student has spent four years in that school of choice, he is ahead by about “68 days of additional learning in reading and 97 more days in math.”

What is particularly surprising is that while reading performance is actually lower compared to the traditional schools for first-year charter students, even math performance moves ahead notably in the first year by the equivalent of about two extra months of learning. That is hard to do because students generally bring a lot of problems to charter schools and other CREDO reports generally show it takes more than one year for students to adjust to charters and better learning opportunities.

In any event, given Kentucky’s major problems with math, this new CREDO study adds more evidence that delaying charters in Kentucky is really just denying students an opportunity to get a better education.

Why Kentucky should not delay charter schools

We are hearing a lot lately from some quarters that Kentucky needs to delay funding charter schools.

I think that is a mistake, especially for the kids who could benefit, and recent test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) in eighth grade math backs me up.

I focused on eighth grade math because this is Kentucky’s real Achilles’ heel in NAEP. We score lowest on this NAEP area by far. And, results are far worse still for the state’s black students.

Unfortunately, the NAEP TUDA doesn’t provide really good research information for charter school evaluation. The 2015 TUDA generally didn’t sample enough charter school students to develop credible scores for racial minorities. Also, due to the small student samples, even when NAEP did report scores for minorities in charter schools, the sampling errors were quite large, so it takes a big score difference to show a statistically significant difference.

Despite this, three city school systems that took NAEP Grade 8 Math TUDA in 2015 had enough black students tested to report scores for both those in charter schools and in schools that are not charters. The table, which I developed using the new NAEP Data Explorer, tells the tale.

Atlanta - Baltimore City - Chicago G8 NAEP TUDA Math for charters and not Charters 2015

As you can see, blacks in both Atlanta’s and Chicago’s charter schools outscored blacks in the not charter schools in both cities by a statistically significant amount.

Blacks in Baltimore City charters also appear to outperform, but the sampling error is so large that even the 8-point difference in scores is not large enough to be statistically significant.

An 8-point difference on NAEP is actually a fairly notable difference, by the way. If we look at white scores for Grade 8 Math for all the states in 2015, if Kentucky’s NAEP scale score were raised by 8 points, its relative ranking would increase from 47th place to 32nd place. That is a notable change!

There is another interesting thing with these NAEP examples. The NAEP TUDA doesn’t consider how long a student has been in a charter school. Kids in their first year get tested as part of the sample. That works against charters getting a fair evaluation because, as we have discussed before, research from multiple sources shows students generally need to spend more than just one year in charters for the benefits to show. Thus, NAEP’s sampling process actually creates a bias against accurate portrayal of true charter school performance.

Still, even though the NAEP really isn’t a very precise and accurate tool for charter school research, the available data for 2015 for large cities indicates that where data is available, it looks like charters are getting the job done for black students.

And, that’s why continuing to delay implementing charters in Kentucky just isn’t the right thing to do if you really care about students.

How is Kentucky’s education system really performing?

Kentuckians hear it all the time. The state supposedly has made dramatic improvement on things like “National Tests” since KERA began. For example, the Prichard Committee proclaims that Kentucky ranks “8th in fourth-grade reading,” which is actually where the state ranks if you only look at overall 2015 scores for fourth grade reading from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). A Prichard representative made similar claims on the February 5, 2018 Kentucky Tonight show.

But, is this an accurate picture? As the late Paul Harvey used to put it, there is a “Rest of the Story” here, and the rest of Kentucky’s education performance picture is important.

Want to see “Page 2” in this story? Just click the “Read more” link.

[Read more…]

Surprise! Kentucky’s average teacher salary ranks a lot higher than you probably thought

It was probably a surprise statement for many during last night’s Kentucky Tonight show on KET, which included Bluegrass Institute president and CEO Jim Waters.

At 37 minutes and 40 seconds into the online version of the show, Brigit Ramsey, who now heads the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, stated that Kentucky’s teacher salaries now rank 26th in the nation among the 50 states. That’s right – right in the middle of the pack.

Because there will be a lot of disbelievers, we checked this one out. We pulled up the National Education Association’s (NEA) latest edition of their annual statistical bible, the “Rankings & Estimates, Rankings of the States 2016 and Estimates of School Statistics 2017” report. We cruised to Table I-12 in that document, which covers “AVERAGE SALARY OF TEACHERS AND INSTRUCTIONAL STAFF ($) (2017).” We even found a nifty hot link in the PDF report that allowed us to download an Excel spreadsheet with the entire set of tables from Section I. That made it super easy to rank the column holding the “All Teachers” salary information.

Sure enough, the Ramsey surprise was confirmed. According to the NEA itself, Kentucky’s 2017 teacher salaries rank right at the median – in 26th place – among the 50 states.

You sure haven’t been hearing that from Kentucky educators who are complaining they need more money.

By the way, I also took a look at the 2016 median household income in all 50 states as tabulated in the US Census Bureau’s web site. Kentucky only ranks just four places up from the bottom of the 50 states for its median household income level.

Got that: Kentucky’s teacher income ranks 26th, Kentucky’s taxpayer ability to fund that only ranks 47th.

So, while the Kentucky taxpayer is paying teachers at a level that ranks right in the middle of the nation, the taxpayers’ ability to do that is being very sorely strained.

Now, how is that again about raising taxes even more so our teachers can grab even more from our state’s very financially strained families? Could there be a gratitude problem here let alone a lack of touch with reality? Or, do teachers think tax dollars come out of thin air?

Kentucky’s student poverty – not as much as you think

We hear a lot of excuses from some of our educators that one reason Kentucky’s education system fares rather poorly is because we have a lot of students in poverty, far more than most other states.

Really?

Well, this is another case where our educators might not be very up to date with their statistics.

[Read more…]

BIPPS on ‘Ky Tonight’: Is Bevin’s proposed budget anti-education?

Is Gov. Matt Bevin’s two-year budget proposal with its 70 suggested program cuts, including slashing funding for a teachers’ professional-development project, really anti-education or could some of these programs be provided in a more efficient and effective manner? And how much do these programs affect the education of children in the classroom?

These questions and more will be debated Monday night on Kentucky Educational Television’s “Kentucky Tonight,” an award-winning statewide public affairs program hosted by Renee Shaw at 8 p.m. ET.

Watch the hour-long show live on KET and at www.ket.org/live.

Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky will join Bluegrass Institute president and CEO Jim Waters in promoting choice and innovation in Kentucky’s education system.

Read recent posts about what’s happening in Kentucky’s public education system, including this post containing comments from an obviously sharp young freshman in the Jefferson County Public Schools, and the need for reforming Kentucky’s School Based Decision Making policy here.

Other panelists include Tom Shelton, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, and Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

Viewers with questions and comments may send e-mail to kytonight@ket.org or use the message form at www.ket.org/kytonight. Viewers may also submit questions and comments on Twitter @ket, #kytonight or on KET’s Facebook page. All messages should include first and last name and town or county.

Plan to call in during the program with your comments and questions at 1-800-494-7605.

Kentucky Tonight programs are archived online, made available via podcast, and rebroadcast on KET, KET KY, and radio.

Help the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions continue to advance freedom and prosperity by promoting free‐market capitalism, smaller government, and the defense of personal liberties. Join us!

A possible clue about big achievement gaps in some Jefferson County schools?

Over the years the Bluegrass Institute has issued several reports on the white minus black achievement gaps in the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS) (Click here for the latest edition). We found a number of surprises in this report series, including the fact that the largest white minus black math achievement gaps in JCPS are predominantly found in schools in the upper-scale East side of the district. In our latest report, the Dunn Elementary school stands out for its enormous 50.5 percentage point white minus black achievement gap in 2015 KPREP math testing and some other JCPS schools don’t do much better. These gaps are particularly surprising given the massive busing for equity program in JCPS.

So, the test results indicate there is a problem in Jefferson County. Why this is happening is beyond our ability to investigate.

Nevertheless, we had suspicions. For one thing, just because the ratios of whites and blacks look good at the school level doesn’t mean those ratios hold at the classroom level. It certainly seemed possible that kids of color were being shuttled into less demanding classes. No one in authority seemed to be looking at that.

There the matter sat until yesterday, when the Courier-Journal published a rather amazing Op-Ed, “Black students feel voiceless at Manual High School, so I staged a sit-in.” It was authored by Quintez Brown, a clearly very sharp young man from duPont Manual High School, a highly competitive magnet school in JCPS.

Writes Brown:

“I had the opportunity to go to elementary schools such as Fern Creek and Norton (which was very far from my home), where not only was the majority of the school white, but I was usually one of the few black students in my advanced classes. Despite being integrated into a suburban school in a predominantly white neighborhood, there were still signs of segregation inside classrooms (emphasis added).


  • Note: In the research for our latest gap report we found that Norton Elementary School had a math achievement gap of 43.8 percentage points in 2015, the seventh worst white minus black math achievement gap among the 89 JCPS elementary schools with data. Fern Creek also ranked rather low with the 27th worst gap of 27.0 percentage points.

Brown continues:

“Black students are placed in lower-level classes, have higher suspension rates, and are viewed as ‘troublemakers’ within the school system. Black students who do get placed in advanced courses with a majority of white students now face the challenges of microaggressions, implicit biases and other verbal and nonverbal behaviors that enforce their marginalization in the educational system.”

So, here is possible insight into what we found in our reports about JCPS achievement gaps. And, this raises VERY serious questions about the real impact of massive busing in Louisville, too.

People leading the JCPS and the Kentucky Department of Education need to investigate this situation. At the very least, if busing really isn’t working, we can save a ton of money and diesel in Louisville.

But, most importantly, as Brown so nicely sums this up:

“Diversity in education is extremely important. But it is not enough. Diversity without equity leads to exclusion.”

Madison County School Board gets it – Kentucky needs changes to awkward SBDM rules

The Richmond Register reports that the Madison County Board of Education has adopted a resolution in favor of Senate Bill 55.

Senate Bill 55 would bring more rationality to the way Kentucky’s schools are governed under the current School Based Decision-Making laws (SBDM).

For more about why such a change is needed, check our new report, “KENTUCKY’S SCHOOL BASEDDECISION MAKING POLICY, A Closer Look.”