Will Kentucky’s education system be standards driven or test driven?

When the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics (CCSS) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) came to the Bluegrass State, Kentuckians were told their state’s education system would be built around those standards.

Well, perhaps not.

There was a presentation about the pending revision to the state’s science assessments during today’s meeting the Kentucky School Curriculum and Assessment Committee (SCAAC). The presenter was asked if all science areas would be covered in the assessments for elementary, middle and high schools. The answer, to my considerable surprise, was “Yes.”

Not certain I heard this correctly, I questioned the presenter during a break and confirmed that all science areas would be fair game in the new science assessments at all school levels. That included chemistry and physics for high schools.

The reason this surprised me, and the reason this is a problem, is because the generally vague NGSS essentially cut off completely after high school biology. Topics from high school chemistry and physics are basically absent even though some at the Kentucky Department of Education don’t seem to understand that.

Furthermore, a well-established legal principal known as “Notice or “Fair Notice” says you can’t give tests that have consequences if you don’t provide advance notice of what is fair game on the tests. The way you provide notice is with the state’s education standards. NGSS can’t give adequate notice for things it doesn’t include.

So, is Kentucky sailing into really troubled waters with its new science assessments? Unless some changes are made, I think so.

[Read more…]

BIPPS in Lexington Herald-Leader: Challenging KERA’s ‘success’

Some defenders of the education status quo contend that the existence of the Kentucky Education Reform Act renders charter schools useless in the Bluegrass State.

But staff education analyst Richard Innes challenges the claim, taking issue with KERA architect David Hornbeck’s recent assertions that “Kentucky children have made more progress than any other state in the union.”

Innes responds: The commonwealth’s chronic achievement gap makes it clear that KERA’s promise of all kids receiving a quality education remains sorely unfulfilled — most of all for the Bluegrass State’s largest racial minority group.

“The commonwealth’s chronic achievement gap makes it clear that KERA’s promise of all kids receiving a quality education remains sorely unfulfilled — most of all for the Bluegrass State’s largest racial minority group. The truth is, given their record of success with minorities, charters could help in Kentucky.

The truth is, given their record of success with minorities, charters could help in Kentucky.

KERA, despite Hornbeck’s claims, hasn’t.”

Read Richard’s entire op-ed here.

Bluegrass Institute statement on passage of charter-school legislation

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The Bluegrass Institute has led the fight to empower Kentucky’s parents to have the option of choosing to enroll their children in public charter schools since the day it opened its doors in 2003.

Tonight, the General Assembly completed passage of House Bill 520 allowing the creation of charter schools across the commonwealth beginning in the 2017-18 school year.

“We hope to see Kentucky children, especially those being left behind by a one-size-fits-all system – many of whom are disadvantaged and from lower-income homes – have the opportunity for the kind of charter-school education that will give them a chance to participate in the American dream of prosperity and a successful life,” Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters said.

Passage of HB 520 makes Kentucky the 44th state with a charter school law. Currently, nearly 7,000 charter schools serve 3 million students nationwide.

“While the Bluegrass Institute will continue to work to encourage more innovation and options in our education system, passage of this bill does open the door to charter schools throughout the commonwealth,” Waters said. “By heeding the institute’s call to add authorizers – as the legislation does by including the mayors of Kentucky’s two largest cities as authorizers – lawmakers improved the chances of applicants opening high-performing charter schools where they are urgently needed the most.”

The Bluegrass Institute will work diligently to see that charter-school applications are fairly and seriously considered by local boards of education, which HB 520 designates as the lone authorizers in most school districts, he added.

For more information, please contact Jim Waters at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com, 859.444.5630 ext. 102 (office) or 270.320.4376 (cell).

 

 

 

Charter School bill clears Kentucky Senate

The Kentucky Senate has voted 23 to 15 in favor of House Bill 520, with amendments, which will allow Kentuckians to create charter schools. The bill now returns to the House for a concurrence vote.

Bluegrass Institute — Charter-school bill: Will kids win?

BluegrassBeaconLogoThe Bevin administration and House Republican leadership – despite hard pushes for other platform priorities such as right-to-work and prevailing-wage repeal – may settle for a mediocre charter-school bill.

This is a testament to the stronghold the public-education complex has on our commonwealth and to its willingness to put money and control before students’ best interests.

Charter-school legislation has passed the state Senate for years, including Sen. Mike Wilson’s bill last year that sailed through with a 28-9 vote but ran aground before reaching the other end of the Capitol – a pattern we’ve seen for years.

Then came Election Night 2016 when the GOP took control of the Kentucky House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a century.

Voters handed Republicans supermajority status in the historic November election and seemed to say – as they had to then-candidate Matt Bevin during the previous year’s gubernatorial campaign: “Go to Frankfort, make the tough decisions and don’t worry about your re-election.”

Legislators led by a new and energized majority leadership responded by passing seven bills in the session’s historic first week concluding with an equally momentous Saturday session despite threats from protesting union bosses in the halls of the Capitol to defeat them in the next election.

Then came the charter-school bills.

Rep. Phil Moffett’s House Bill 103 would have allowed mayors in Kentucky’s largest cities, the Council on Postsecondary Education as well as colleges and universities with accredited education colleges to serve as charter-school authorizers – a best practice working well in other states.

Then superintendents, teachers-union bosses and the public-education complex in general threatened to make this the last term in Frankfort for anyone supporting a strong charter-school bill.

Along came Rep. John “Bam” Carney’s House Bill 520, limiting authorizers to local school boards except for mayors in Metro Louisville and Lexington, albeit with an appeals process to the Kentucky Board of Education. That bill passed the Kentucky House and now sits in the Senate Education Committee.

So, education-complex threats may be strong enough to force Kentucky policymakers to settle for a bill, the mediocrity of which mirrors this state’s education system in which, as Moffett notes, only 51 percent of high-schoolers can read at grade level and just 38 percent are proficient in math.

The Bevin administration sees Carney’s bill as an opportunity to get the door opened for charter schools in one of only seven remaining states without charters.

But even Bevin conceded he “would have liked to have seen more than is in this bill” while insisting “we have to factor in what is possible.”

Another possibility, of course, is to wait until a stronger bill can be passed – not the first time we’ve mentioned in this column that route for serious consideration.

At the very least, facts should drive the debate that will take place in the coming days in Frankfort, including this one: charter-school creation is much-more robust in states with multiple authorizing agencies.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reports there were 6,723 charter schools in the United States during 2015, of which 93 percent – or 6,241 – were in states with multiple authorizers. Only 482 – or 7 percent – exist in states that limit authorizers to local school boards.

For sure, the angst and debate regarding charter-school policy will test the political mettle of those sent to Frankfort by constituents assuming they would be in favor of strong reforms to our education system, which consumes 60 cents of every taxpayer dollar.

Will they stand up to the teachers unions’ uninformed and angry zealotry?

Will they fight for poor and at-risk children who stand to gain the most from great charter schools and who have no other voice but ours?

Will the best interests of thousands of young Kentuckians stuck in hundreds of mediocre and failing schools find a seat at the legislative table and a place in that debate?

Stay tuned.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read his weekly Bluegrass Beacon column at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

Bold new evidence: Kentucky does not lead the nation for education improvement

Claim especially misleading for state’s black students

Truth supports need for charter schools in Kentucky

As arguments swirled the past few months over charter schools, Kentuckians have been hearing claims that their state already leads the nation for the most educational improvement since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA). As a consequence, that argument goes, this means Kentucky doesn’t need charters.

The latest example of this “leads the nation” claim is found in a March 10, 2017 Herald-Leader Op-Ed by David Hornbeck, one of the major architects of KERA. Hornbeck asserts:

“Kentucky children have made more progress than any other state in the nation.”

It’s a bold statement, but is it true?

And, is it true for all Kentucky’s children?

To explore these questions, we fired up the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ Main NAEP Data Explorer web tool. We used data from the NAEP Data Explorer to assemble the two tables below, which show how Kentucky’s eighth-grade blacks stack up against other states that also had scores for these children of color reported for both the earliest and latest years of NAEP state testing.

Table 1 shows the NAEP Grade 8 math results black students in the listed states received back in 1990, the year KERA was enacted, and 2015 scores – the latest available. The table is sorted by the change in the NAEP Scale Score for math in each state across the 1990 to 2015 period.

Table 1

Grade 8 Math Improvement for Blacks for 1990 and 2015 Ranked

As you can see, Hornbeck’s assertion isn’t just wrong, it’s very wrong when we talk about improvements for Kentucky’s largest racial minority group compared to other states with usable NAEP data for black students.

Kentucky lands nearly at the bottom of the stack when we rank each state’s increase in NAEP Grade 8 Math Scale Scores for black students over time. Only four of the 28 states with data available progressed even less than Kentucky.

If we only consider southern states listed in Table 1, we find that North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia and Arkansas all matched or exceeded the national average increase in black students’ math scores between 1990 and 2015. Kentucky never came close to any of them.

By the way, all of those five Southern states have charter schools. At present, aside from Kentucky, only Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia don’t have charters. Thus, except for West Virginia, all the states listed above Kentucky in Table 1 have charter school laws. That is something to think about.

[Read more…]

Digital learning: Not always pleasing parents

Before getting into this, I want to stress that I believe digital learning has strong potential to improve K to 12 education. I base that opinion on my own experience when I was an Air Force instructor pilot and an instructional technology program developer for the first generation of automated teaching machines to go operational in the Air Force pilot training program. Good equipment, properly used by well-trained staff, and – perhaps most importantly – loaded with good instructional programs, can enhance learning.

With that said, I also believe that just loading up a school with lots of digital equipment and then rapidly grabbing ahold of a digital learning program can prove problematic.

A case in point seems to be surfacing now in the Boone County Public School District in Kentucky.

In “Facebook program at school causes controversy,” the Kentucky Enquirer points to a growing controversy in the Boone County system over a digital learning program called Summit Learning, which was originally developed in California. Summit is being supported online by Facebook.

For sure, Summit, at least in its Boone County incarnation, is controversial. The Enquirer says the squabble is “so fierce that at least two families have yanked their children from Boone County Schools and other parents are accusing the district of treating students like guinea pigs.”

The Enquirer continues, “There are questions about how classrooms should be structured, how students should be graded and how much homework they should get. And there are questions about privacy – who collects what data and how it is used.”

There have also been questions about implementation. For example, Summit is supposed to be a “Blended Learning” approach where students spend part of the day on computers but are also supposed to still get classical teacher led instruction, as well. However, determining exactly what the computer-to-classical-approach mix should be is a challenge even in well-ordered systems.

In my Air Force days there was still a large amount of instructor-to-student interaction after our instructional technology came along. Having observed some Summit classroom activity, my initial impression is that the Boone County model is more heavily weighted towards computer time. I don’t know if the Boone mix is right or not; I am not sure at this point that anyone else really knows, either.

Without question, parents have been speaking out about their concerns with Summit. Long before the new Enquirer article came out, it was public knowledge that parents were upset.

For example, parents took considerable time to criticize the Summit program – on the record – at the November 10, 2016 meeting of the Boone County Board of Education. Parent Jeremy Storm said his child was supposed to have teacher interaction, but it seemed like the child was only working with teachers about 10 minutes a week, at best. Myrna Eads echoed this 10-minute teacher contact comment concerning her child. She also said that, as of this November school board meeting, some students had already finished the entire year’s program with Summit and were now just playing video games.

Jeremy Storm also said teachers were not really aware of what was in the Summit program because the adoption wasn’t taken slowly. Stacie Storm, his wife, added to the concerns saying her school’s School Based Decision Making Council didn’t handle the Summit adoption correctly and said Summit is not fully aligned to the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. Other parents were upset that no alternative to Summit was offered in some Boone County middle schools. That could be problematic for students who need more direct teacher contact.

Permission Slip Controversy

The Enquire article echoes comments I’ve heard about controversy over a permission slip parents are required to sign before their students can participate in the Summit Learning program. The Enquirer talked to parents and writes, “They said the permission slip for Summit was buried in a mountain of back-to-school paperwork, which was sent home with a threat: sign and return these, or your kid gets detention.” There was no opt-out option available on this permission form.

Parent coercion is just not acceptable.

Furthermore, there are concerns about sharing of private student data with Facebook/Summit, which may or may not prove to be a major problem.

I think more answers on Summit are coming. I am advised that complaints have been raised with the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA), which is the responsible agency to investigate claims regarding SBDM activities and some of the other issues parents have raised. The OEA is usually detailed and thorough in its investigations, so I don’t know how soon their findings will be made public.

However, multiple sources confirm that several parents were so upset that they have pulled their children completely out of the Boone County system. That, by itself, is a major attention grabber.

Kentucky’s Real Progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

On Friday, March 3, 2016 the Kentucky House made history when it voted for the first time in favor of a charter school bill and sent it on for Kentucky Senate approval.

The vote was contentious.

Debates in the morning meeting of the House Education Committee and during the eventual deliberation and adoption of the bill by the full Kentucky House sometimes were bitter – even tear filled. And, there were lots of inaccurate statements along the way.

One entirely too prevalent assertion mentioned by many legislators was that Kentucky has made great education progress since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA). Sadly, while the state’s public education system has made some progress in the past quarter of a century, it’s a real stretch to say “great” progress has been made. Let’s examine why inflated claims of great progress are out of order.

Figure 1 shows the NAEP Grades 4 and 8 reading and math proficiency rates for all Kentucky students from the earliest available year of testing and the most recent, 2015 results. There obviously has been progress, more in Grade 4 than Grade 8, but calling this a “great” accomplishment just isn’t right.

For example, only 40 percent of Kentucky’s fourth graders tested at or above NAEP’s Proficient level in 2015 in both fourth grade math and reading. That means that after a quarter of a century of KERA, 60 percent of our fourth graders – well over half – still don’t meet muster in either subject. After a quarter of a century, with so far yet to go, does it seem right to talk about “great progress?”

In the eighth grade NAEP, results were even worse. Only 36 percent of the state’s eighth graders scored at or above the NAEP Proficient level in reading. Far more disturbing, only a truly disappointing 28 percent of Kentucky’s eighth graders met muster in NAEP math. That means 72 percent of the state’s eighth grade students – as of 2015, a full quarter century after the launch of KERA – still don’t perform adequately in math.

Figure 1

Kentucky's NAEP Proficiency Rates on 4th and 8th Grade Reading and Math Assessments, Earliest Year Tested and 2015, All Students

Based on the known rates of progress that can be calculated using the data shown in Figure 1, the Bluegrass Institute projected the number of years following 2015 that remain before Kentucky can anticipate that at least 80 percent of its students will score proficient or above on the NAEP. You can see those projections in the table inserted in the upper right side of Figure 1. Those time estimates to reach 80 percent proficiency rates on the NAEP range from at least 34 more years required in Grade 4 math to an astonishing 126 more years for Grade 8 Reading.

With so much left to do, it is obviously inappropriate to crow about already making “great” progress. A large amount of progress simply hasn’t happened.

By the way, the situation looks MUCH worse when we examine the NAEP performance of Kentucky’s black students. Claiming “great progress” once this actual data is examined is simply unacceptable.

As Figure 2 shows, even as 2015, the NAEP reports only depressingly low percentages of Kentucky’s black students scored proficient or above in both Grade 4 and Grade 8 reading and mathematics.

Figure 2

Kentucky's NAEP Proficiency Rates on 4th and 8th Grade Reading and Math Assessments, Earliest Year Tested and 2015, Black Students Only

In two cases shown in the table insert in Figure 2, the trends on NAEP tell us Kentucky is nearly a century away from seeing a desirable math proficiency rate for its black students. In eighth grade math, the goal is the better part of two centuries away. In the case of Grade 8 Reading, the 80 percent proficiency rate goal is more than 2-1/2 centuries away!

This is simply unacceptable.

Clearly, Kentucky’s actual NAEP performance renders claims of great progress to be greatly exaggerated.

[Read more…]

News release: Bluegrass Institute asks state Senate to make mayors, universities and the CPE authorizers of charter schools

For Immediate Release: Monday, March 6, 2017  BIPPS LOGO

(FRANKFORT, Ky.) – The Kentucky House of Representatives on Friday passed legislation enabling the creation of charter schools in the commonwealth – a school-choice option currently available to families in 43 other states and the District of Columbia.

Legislators voted 56-39 to approve Rep. John “Bam” Carney’s House Bill 520, which allows the creation of charter schools statewide but limits authorization – and much of the control of – charters in most districts to local school boards.

An amendment passed in Friday’s hearing of the bill by the House Education Committee would allow the mayors of Metro Louisville and Lexington to serve as authorizers.

The bill now moves over to the Senate for its consideration.

“We would encourage the Senate to strengthen this bill by allowing mayors in other cities, universities and colleges with accredited schools of education and the Council on Postsecondary Education to also serve as authorizers – or to, at the very least, include mayors of some of the growing cities in the authorization process,” Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters said.

“The fact that there are local superintendents and boards of education that expressed hostility toward the concept of charter schools before this year’s legislative session even began –  and long before Rep. Carney’s bill was even introduced – speaks strongly to the fact that charter-school applicants are unlikely to get a fair hearing or support from these anti-choice zealots,” Waters said.

For instance, the Elizabethtown Independent Schools Board of Education on Dec. 19 – two full weeks before the legislative session began – passed a resolution unanimously opposing charter schools.

Charter schools are innovative public schools designed by educators, parents or civic leaders, which, in exchange for freedom from many of the stifling regulations and red tape hampering teaching in traditional public schools, pledge in their charters to perform at a higher academic level.

Nationwide, high-performing charter schools are helping close achievement and graduation gaps by offering a real public-education alternative to parents and students who cannot afford to pay private-school tuition or move closer to a better school.

Yet this option likely will not be available in districts like Elizabethtown Independent unless additional authorizers are permitted.

“It’s illogical to believe that a school board so ideologically opposed to the very idea of charter schools in an in-your-face manner is going to acquiesce and not only allow charters but oversee them in a supportive manner that gives them a fair shot of success,” Waters said.

Both Elizabethtown Independent and neighboring Hardin County school districts face serious gaps related to their performance with minorities. Charter schools are helping close such gaps across the nation.

We believe the following information about what’s happening in Hardin County and Elizabethtown Independent school districts bolsters our case for additional authorizers to ensure charter-school applications are fairly considered:

* Despite receiving $16.7 million in funding to educate 2,400 students during the 2014-15 school year – a 44-percent increase in real dollars from the 2006-07 school year – the state’s K-PREP scores indicate less than 12 percent of Elizabethtown’s black elementary school students were proficient in math during the 2015-16 school year.

* The whopping 42-percent gap in math proficiency between black and white elementary school students (incidentally, white students’ 54-percent proficiency rate isn’t anything to send home on the bus, either) is much larger than even the statewide 24-percent gap.

* Considering less than 60 percent of white high schoolers in Elizabethtown Independent and fewer than 50 percent in Hardin County schools are demonstrating proficiency in math, white families need options, too.

* Even with a current nonresident student agreement between the two districts, which allows parents to enroll their children in a neighboring district, there’s not much of a real choice as both districts struggle with large white minus black achievement gaps and dire academic performance by minority students.

Nationwide, charter schools are proving a valuable tool in helping struggling students make often-dramatic progress in not only closing the white minus black achievement gap but also in academically surpassing their peers in traditional public schools.

Opponents of this form of parental school choice often point to the performance only of first-year charter-school students in claiming that charters don’t excel.

However, given that the U.S. Department of Education in its examination of quality charter schools noted that many students enter these schools “performing far below grade level” and “are from neighborhoods and families with scant resources,” it’s not surprising that that students who have only spent a year in charter schools remain notably behind.

The research shows: these new students simply haven’t been in the charter school long enough to benefit.

Carefully gathered data by Stanford University’s Center for Research and Education Outcomes (CREDO) reveals:

* By the time students spend two years in charter schools, they move ahead of their traditional public-school counterparts by an equivalent of several weeks of learning in both reading and math.

* Even more remarkable, nationwide, on average, by the time students spend four or more years in charters, they are out in front of their traditional public-school counterparts. In math, the charter students have about an equivalent of 43 extra days of learning in math and 50 additional days in reading.

* In Louisiana’s above-average charter system, by the time students spend four or five years in a charter school, they generally outperform their traditional public-school peers by about 180 days – the equivalent of a full extra year of schooling – in both reading and math.

* Students who spend four years in New York City’s outstanding charter system received the benefit of an additional 216 extra days of learning in math.

“Considering the remarkable gains being made in charters schools nationwide – particularly with at-risk students – the state Senate should strengthen House Bill 520 by adding at least one other type of authorizer in districts like Elizabethtown, which have been openly hostile to even the concept of charters,” Waters said.

“Adding authorizers will increase the likelihood of more – and better – charter schools by encouraging organizations with proven track records when it comes to creating and operating charter schools to apply while lessening the likelihood that local school districts will be able to stifle the creation and blossoming of these innovative public schools,” he added.

For more information, please contact Jim Waters at jwaters@ freedomkentucky.com, 859.444.5630 ext. 102 (office) or 270.320.4376 (cell).

 

 

Kentucky House approves charter school bill

It’s now officially recorded. The Kentucky House has approved the state’s first charter school bill by a vote of 56 to 39.

Vote Tally on HB 520 During Vote Explanation