What education accountability can (and cannot) do, Part II

Once again, Prof. Gary Houchens, a Bluegrass Institute Scholar and Kentucky Board of Education member as well as a professor at Western Kentucky University, has posted a great blog about the goals and limitations of education accountability.

I highly recommend reading Dr. Houchens’ blog.

By the way, at the risk of oversimplification, an education accountability program is somewhat like the speedometer in your car. Without question, a speedometer provides valuable information for the safe operation of the car, but your speedometer won’t make your car go faster or slower. It is only a performance instrument.

Still, it is dangerous to ignore a speedometer and consequences for doing so can be very high.

Thus, the idea that we would want to rip an accountability program out of the education machine is just about as dangerous as the idea of ripping out the speedometer in our vehicles. The key is that we want a speedometer with accurate calibration and easy to read indications. I think our education speedometer needs more work in the accuracy and readability area, but the notion that we could get along without such a performance gauge is not good for our kids.

Mississippi fires testing contractor who made serious mistakes

Kentucky uses same contractor

AP reports that Mississippi has fired NCS Pearson after that testing company made serious grading errors on high school tests that have impacted graduation for as many as 1,000 students.

Some students who actually performed poorly on a high school history test erroneously got high scores while other students who actually did well got inaccurately low scores that might have prevented high school graduation.

The AP article points out that this isn’t the first time Pearson made mistakes on high school exam grading that adversely impacted students. The company also had to pay for a failure of its online testing system in 2015, as well. Pearson reimbursed Mississippi $250,000 for that computer glitch.

Pearson is the prime contractor for Kentucky’s KPREP tests in Grades 3 to 8. So far, problems such as those in Mississippi have not been reported during Kentucky testing.

Florida charter schools outperform

A relatively new report from the Washington Examiner says that charter schools in Florida now significantly outperform the traditional schools in that state.

Just of few of the comments include:


  • On state exams, charter students outperformed their peers in traditional schools in 65 out of 77 comparisons;

  • Charter students learned more from one year to the next in 82 of 96 comparisons that focused on learning gains;

  • In 20 out of 22 comparisons, charters had smaller achievement gaps in math, English and social studies between white students and their black and Hispanic peers.

So, Florida has set the bar high as Kentucky gets ready to launch its first charter schools. We need the same sort of outstanding results from our charters, too.

JCPS collective-bargaining agreement faces warranted scrutiny

CEI Trey KovacsKentucky’s Department of Education is trying to get a handle on problems with labor union contracts negotiated by the state’s largest school district.

Last month, the agency sent out a request for contractors to review the collective bargaining negotiations and agreements between Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) and its union. This is part of a sweeping audit of the school system to find out “whether the contracts were negotiated in good faith, followed best practices and focused only on areas that were permissive subjects of bargaining, among other things,” as reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The planned review has ignited a turf war of sorts. The school board chairman is campaigning for the state Attorney General, Andy Beshear, to conduct the review, instead. But regardless of who does the review, there’s at least one big problem in need of public scrutiny: so-called “association leave.” It may sound benign, but it amounts to a taxpayer-funded subsidy to the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

Association leave grants teachers paid time off from the classroom to perform union business unrelated to their job duties. Instead of educating students, teachers receive a significant amount of paid leave to perform union activities on the taxpayer dime. No one knows how much is money is wasted on association time. Neither the school district nor the union publicize the cost or amount of association leave they receive.

In terms of number of days wasted, the union is supposed to get 275 full days of association leave annually. Apparently, the union has been known to blow past that limit, according to a 2010 analysis of Kentucky District collective bargaining agreements conducted by the Legislative Research Commission Office of Education Accountability. The “OEA discovered that the number of days permitted by JCPS Human Resources staff far exceeded the number of days allowed in the contract.”

Another question is: what exactly are public employees doing while they’re on association leave? The union’s contract states association leave is “for attendance at regional, state or national meetings for the conduct of necessary Association business.” Already, some evidence suggests those limitations don’t garner much respect.

My organization, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, sent public records requests to the school district asking for the activity performed by JCTA members on association leave during fiscal year 2013. Here are some of the activities union members performed instead of serving the students of Jefferson County: attended JCTA board meetings, as well as organizing committee meetings; union staff interviews; National Education Association conferences; and board meetings of Jobs with Justice (a union front group that conducts campaigns against employers).

Clearly, association leave isn’t serving any public purpose or helping to educate children. Tax dollars need to go to the classroom, a sentiment expressed by Andrew Bailey, a JCPS high school teacher and board member during contract negotiations in 2014. Meanwhile, Bailey himself had spent days away from the classroom to perform union activity, according to CEI’s public records request.

Unfortunately, the scope of the problem is bigger than one school district. Numerous city governments and schools districts, like the City of Louisville, needlessly pay public employees to perform union business unrelated to their public duties while paid by the taxpayer.

It’s a good start that the Department of Education is scrutinizing one school district’s union contracts, but now they need to take action to root out the waste in it. Kentucky taxpayers deserve an explanation for how giving away their tax dollars to unions count as a proper use of their money.

Guest columnist Trey Kovacs is a labor policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.

Will digital learning replace teachers with others?

Some sharp-eyed parents just caught my attention with their Facebook post about a very interesting section of the Boone County School District’s application to be one of Kentucky’s Districts of Innovation.

Check out this waiver request (in red type) to the existing statute (in black type) to use teaching assistants (aides) in place of certified teachers to monitor and even instruct students doing digital learning.

Boone Co DOI Application Regarding Subing Aides for Teachers

This will further reduce student interaction with certified teachers.

It will also save the school district a ton of money, of course. If aides are assisting with virtual/digital content, certified teachers are not needed.

Despite the claims in the Boone County waiver, I need to point out that aides may not be very useful in the education system, especially in upper level grades.

In 2014 the firm of Picus, Odden & Associates created a report for the Kentucky Council for Better Education that has this interesting comment on Page 84:

“Instructional aides, as they are typically used in schools, do not positively impact student academic achievement (Gerber, Finn, Achilles & Boyd-Zaharias, 2001).”

Other comments on Page 62 in the Picus report discus other research from Tennessee that also indicates aides were not useful in even elementary school classrooms.

In fact, Picus and his group were so unimpressed with the value of aides that they called for no instructional aides and only a very few supervisory aides at any school level (elementary, middle or high school) in a school model they proposed for Kentucky on Page 51 of their report.

So, a very serious question needs to be addressed:

Has digital learning for public school students advanced to the point that most students no longer will require teachers to learn? If so, members of the teaching profession might need to start thinking about other employment options.

At the very least, the District of Innovation experiments in Boone County just got a lot more interesting.

Common Core: Costs versus education performance in Kentucky

Thanks to a presentation on Common Core State Standards I did on Thursday, I’ve been looking at some financial information that relates to the cost changes for public education in the Common Core era in Kentucky.

I have further expanded this analysis, now comparing education revenue during the last five years before Kentucky adopted Common Core to the revenue figures during the first five year of the state’s implementation of Common Core. I also added some interesting test result information covering the same period.

The results don’t look encouraging.

As you look at the information below, keep in mind that Kentucky adopted the Common Core State Standards – sight unseen – in February 2010.

Table 1 below compares how public school per pupil revenue changed in Kentucky during the 5-year period prior to Common Core and the initial 5-year period when the state transitioned to the new standards.

Table 1

Per Pupil Costs Before and During CCSS Era in KY

The blue shaded area shows total per pupil spending figures covering the last five school years before Kentucky adopted the Common Core (2004-2005 to 2009-2010) and the first five school years of Common Core transition (2009-2010 to 2014-2015).

The first column of spending data in the blue shaded part of Table 1 shows total per pupil revenue in Kentucky for the listed school years without any adjustment for inflation. The last column shows spending converted to inflation adjusted, constant 2005 dollars.

Below the rows listing the revenue figures I show the changes in revenue for each 5-year period, shaded in yellow.

As you can see, spending in the five years preceding Kentucky’s adoption of Common Core increased notably more slowly than in the early Common Core transition years. From 2005 to 2010, spending in unadjusted dollars only increased by $1,951, an increase of 23.9 percent. Meanwhile, during the first five years of the state’s Common Core era, spending rose by $2,815, or 27.9%.

The real spending increase is much more dramatic. From 2005 to 2010 the spending increase in real dollars was only $739, just a 9.1 percent rise. In the Common Core transition period from 2010 to 2015, the rise was $1,650, an increase of 18.6 percent, more than double the rise in the pre-Common Core period.

So, spending rates on public education in Kentucky notably accelerated in the Common Core era.

But, how did educational performance trend? For the answer to that, click the “Read more” link.

[Read more…]

KY Board of Ed gets bad news about projected math proficiency to 2030

The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) was heavily engaged in discussions about the state’s new school accountability system today, and one slide, shown in Figure 1, which didn’t make anyone happy, is shown below.

Figure 1

Kentucky Actual and Projected Elementary - Middle School Math Achievement to 2030

This slide shows actual average math scores from Kentucky KPREP testing in 2014 (blue bars) and 2016 (red bars) along with projected scores for 2018 (green bars) and a full school generation of kids out in 2030. Each section of the graph covers a different group of students:

ALL = All Students
W = White Students Only
AA = African-American Students Only
FR = Free or Reduced Cost School Lunch Eligible Students Only
SWD-IEP = Students with Learning Disabilities Who Have an Individual Education Plan

As you can see, even for the highest performing group, the white students, even 13 years from now the Kentucky Department of Education projects only 73 percent will be proficient. That would be an increase of 24 points from the 49 percent that KDE says were actually proficient in 2014. That works out to a proficiency rate growth rate of 1.8 points per year.

For African-American students, fewer that one in two, just 46 percent, will be proficient in 2030. In 2014, 30 percent were proficient, for a growth rate of only 1.2 points per year

Of course, this is based on Kentucky’s somewhat unproved KPREP test results. For an even more disturbing look at the state’s slow rate of progress, click the “Read more” link.

[Read more…]

Thursday night in Bowling Green: Will major changes promised regarding Kentucky’s education standards really happen?

Bluegrass Institute Staff Education Analyst Richard Innes will discuss the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards that are currently in use in Kentucky at a special meeting of the Southern Kentucky Tea Party on Thursday @ 6:30 pm (central) @ the Holiday Inn Express, 165 Three Springs Road in Bowling Green.

Innes will provide insight into whether these standards will really change after passage of new legislation that says the intent of the Kentucky Legislature is to repeal those standards.

The event is free and open to the public.

Please contact Bluegrass Institute president and CEO Jim Waters @ jwaters@freedomkentucky.com or (859) 444-5630.

What happens when your school accountability program misses important problems

This week the Kentucky Board of Education considers ending state assistance to the Robertson County Public School District. The situation provides a good example of how important decisions about education can be seriously hampered when a state school accountability system hides problems.

[Read more…]

Principals indeed should lead, but Kentucky’s SBDM laws interfere with that

WDRB reporter Toni Konz posted a couple of Tweets a few days ago regarding the importance of the principal being a real leader in the school. She’s right about that.

Konz Tweets About Principals Leading

BUT, thanks to Kentucky’s awkward School Based Decision Making laws, which come from the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, principal leadership is seriously hampered in Kentucky.

Instead of supporting strong principals, Kentucky’s schools have a mandatory rule-by-committee system, a governance system that often proves problematic in human organizations.

[Read more…]