Kentucky’s ‘Academic Standards Review and Revision Process’ gets under way

But, there are problems

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) recently held a press conference to announce the plan of attack related to the new Senate Bill 1’s requirements to review and revise the state’s academic education standards. There is going to be a lot of action in this area over the next few years for subjects like science and social studies, but the process of review for the state’s English language arts (ELA) and math standards has already started. The first step involves a public comment period that will run until September 15.

However, there may be some challenges with getting this public comment period right.

In fact, it appears things might be getting stacked to preserve the status quo as much as possible. That might not be in the best interests of our kids.

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New Education Week/NPR reporting shows Kentucky’s education spending is low

BUT, school spending in Kentucky doesn’t correlate to better academic performance

Some of the more radical public school supporters in Kentucky are complaining on social media – again – about the state’s relatively low spending per pupil compared to the rest of the nation. This time, they point to a recent article from Education Week with a map that color codes education spending in each school district across the country. Districts shaded in red and orange spend below the national average while those coded in shades of green spend above the norm. Kentucky, of course, is heavily shaded in orange and red.

But, there is a dirty little secret those spend-more-on-education-even-if-we-can’t-afford-it social media folks aren’t telling you – there is no correlation between higher education spending and better school performance.

And, Kentucky’s financial and testing data for the very same year cited by EdWeek and NPR – 2013 – proves that.

The PDF table I created, the Correlation for Spending and Math and Reading P Rates in 2013, shows total per pupil expenditures in each Kentucky school district in 2013. The table also shows the average proficiency rate in math and reading combined for each district in 2013 KPREP testing. I calculated that overall average for each district from the simple average of each district’s elementary, middle and high school math and reading scores. For districts without high schools, the average only was computed across elementary and middle school results.

I then ran a standard statistical calculation called a “correlation” to determine the relationship between those district spending amounts and their combined math and reading proficiency rates.

That correlation was -0.070, which is about as close as it gets to no correlation what so ever.

So, in Kentucky at least, spending more, or less, in 2013 didn’t have any relationship with better school performance.

This means simply throwing more money at education isn’t going to get us what we really want, which is much better performance for our students.

It would be MUCH better if our educators looked at those districts which are getting above average results with modest amounts of funding to try and figure out how to do the job more economically, not more expensively.

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Private school vouchers help level the playing field

An Op-Ed from the Cincinnati Enquirer offers some interesting counters to those who criticize the use of school vouchers that allow former public school students with low family incomes to attend a private school of their choice instead.

The Op-Ed’s author, Aaron Churchill, points to a number of positive impacts from vouchers such as an opportunity for students who are not being well served by their public school to seek an alternative with higher potential. He also takes issue with critics that claim voucher programs don’t really do better with these students, pointing out that 14 of 18 top quality studies do show vouchers improve results.

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State looks for legal help to examine JCPS collective bargaining agreements

The Courier-Journal reports that the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is now advertising for legal help to dig into collective bargaining contracts with Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) as part of the department’s ongoing and massive management audit of this troubled school system.

According to the Courier, the KDE

“…said it wants an analysis as to 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.”

It certainly seems like KDE already smells smoke here and wants to see if there is a real fire behind it.

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Gov. Matt Bevin declares May 8-12 ‘Teacher Appreciation Week’

Governor Bevin’s proclamation says:

“Teachers are responsible for educating and guiding Kentucky’s children and the future of the Commonwealth and use their vast expertise and talents to give our children a solid foundation for their entire lives,” Gov. Bevin said in the proclamation. “Kentucky is grateful for the love and sacrifice our teachers give to make our children and communities flourish.”

We at BIPPS add our salute to the many teachers in Kentucky who do their best for our kids.

More evidence Kentucky’s single salary schedule for teachers is problematic

A news report from the Paducah Sun says something that’s no surprise to us: “Recruiting teachers can be a challenge in some fields” (subscription). The article quotes McCracken County Assistant Superintendent Heath Cartwright saying:

“We’ve been fortunate and have been able to find quality applicants for vacancies within our district. However, we do see there is a very limited number of teacher candidates in the areas of math and science.”

That is in no small measure due to the fact that unlike the situation in most areas of our economy, teaching in Kentucky generally pays the same regardless of how many people have the skills needed to teach in the different academic areas. Thanks to a basically one-size-fits-all salary structure, shortages in specific academic teaching areas like those mentioned by Cartwright are typical across Kentucky.

Clearly, Kentucky needs to rethink the way it pays teachers.

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Charter School Stories: They provide superb educations in Boston

Even though Kentucky’s charter school law is now on the books, we continue to hear vehement but ill-informed attacks from opponents.

For example, about two weeks ago former Jefferson County School Board member, Stephen P. Imhoff, sounded off in the Courier-Journal with some off-target comments about charters.

Said Imhoff, “The entire concept fails.”

Well, parents of some students in Boston’s Brooke Charter Schools clearly know Imhoff is spreading nonsense, as you can hear for yourself in this very short You Tube.

So, which would you prefer, a school like a Brooke Charter School or the recent Jefferson County Schools’ disaster that occurred in Maupin Elementary School?

I think the choice is clear – and that is Kentucky’s students need choices like charter schools.

Strike two it is for Jefferson County Schools’ Chief Academic Officer manning

I wrote on April 26, 2017 about the surprise announcement that the Lisa Herring, Chief Academic Officer (CAO) in the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS), was a finalist to become Birmingham, Alabama’s new school superintendent. The surprise here was that Herring, who has been on the job less than a year in Louisville, was even considering a move.

Well, it’s now clear that Herring can’t exactly be in love with her current position in JCPS. The online news service connected to the Birmingham News just announced that Herring has indeed accepted that top spot in the Birmingham school system.

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Quote of the Day

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“Experience suggests that traditional district schools, on their own, are probably incapable of adopting the structural and practice changes necessary to prepare the majority of students for the challenges of an uncertain future. The state must provide the authority and resources to motivate and help districts adopt successful innovative practices developed by pioneering charter and district schools.”

Ron Wolk, Founding Editor of Education Week, March 1, 2017

Valley High School exits Priority Status????

Last week the media in Louisville trumpeted the announcement that Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt had declared the Valley High School in the Jefferson County Public School District was no longer in Priority School Status (see WDRB’s coverage here).

That sounded interesting, so I decided to take a quick look at the latest performance in this school for math and reading testing. I looked at math and reading because performing in the lowest five percent of all schools for these two subjects was supposed to be the primary cause to enter Priority Status back in 2010 when these low performing schools, which originally were called “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools,” first started to be identified.

Well, my quick look turned up a puzzle.

This first table shows the lowest 20 performing standard (Class A1) high schools on KPREP End-of-Course testing in Algebra II and English II. These two KPREP tests are used to gauge reading and math for federal reporting purposes. The table shows the combined percentage of students who were rated either Proficient or Distinguished in Algebra II in the first data column and then lists the combined percentage of Proficient and Distinguished students in English II in the middle data column. The next column, on which the table is ranked, shows the average of these two percentages.

Table 1

Valley High KPREP Math-Reading Combined Ranking 2016

As you can see, Valley High School ranked in the bottom five percent of all high schools in Kentucky that had data reported, ranking at 218 out of 227 reporting high schools.

But, the original testing that got Valley High in trouble (it was named a Persistently Low-Achieving School in the spring of 2010) was the now defunct CATS Kentucky Core Content Tests. Since those tests don’t even exist in 2016, I decided to give Valley another chance by looking at its performance on math and reading in the 2016 ACT testing of Kentucky’s 11th grade students. Table 2 shows how that turned out.

The first data column in Table 2 shows the percentage of students in each school that reached or exceeded the Benchmark Score set by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) for ACT testing that indicates students will not have to take remedial courses in math. The next column shows the percentage of students that met the CPE’s ACT Benchmark for reading, which also avoids a requirement for college remediation in that area. The two Benchmark percentages are then averaged together in the next column and the table is ranked on this combined average column.

Table 2

Valley High ACT Math-Reading Combined Ranking 2016

Incredibly, if we look at the average of the percentages of students meeting the CPE’s College Readiness Benchmark Scores for the ACT, Valley High ranks even lower than on KPREP!

So, this is a real puzzle. I know the actual method used to determine Priority Status uses a more complex approach than just looking at a single year of data, but when we see Valley High’s latest performance in both Tables 1 and 2, something just doesn’t feel right.

Should Valley High be off the hook?

In any event, based on its latest year’s performances on both KPREP and ACT math and reading, Valley High remains a very low-performing school. I think the public deserves to know that even if our educators are letting Valley off the hook.

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