Quote of the Day

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

Insider Louisville

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?

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.”

Even Democrat Polling Firm Finds Strong Support for School Choice

National School Choice Week 2018
Wow! The American Federation for Children recently hired Beck Research, which they identify as a Democratic polling firm, to survey the public about school choice. And, the results strongly show Americans like school choice.

Some highlights from the press release:

  • 63% of Likely 2018 Voters Support School Choice, including 41% who strongly support it. 72% of Latinos, 66% of African Americans, 61% of whites, 75% of Republicans, 62% of Independents, and 54% of Democrats support school choice.
  • 86% of voters believe that publicly-funded vouchers, tax credit scholarships, and education savings accounts should be available in some form.
  • 67% support a potential K-12 education tax credit proposal, despite the polarization of the electorate. The federal tax credit scholarship earns bipartisan support with 55% of Democrats, 69% of Independents, and fully 80% of Republicans favoring the possible measure.
  • 77% of Americans support giving the children of active military members the ability to access the school of their choice.
  • 70% of Democrats, 78% of Independents, and 81% of Republicans support Education Savings Accounts.
  • 72% support charter schools, and 83% support choice programs tailored to special needs students.
    That last bullet is particularly interesting as there is a misguided attempt in Kentucky to repeal last year’s charter school legislation. Responsible legislators need to know that special interest effort isn’t what most want.

Learn more about this new poll by clicking here.

School choice research

National School Choice Week 2018
Does choice work?

EdChoice just issued a nice summary of research on the impacts of school choice programs, and I think you will find their comments easy to understand and interesting.

Some points from EdChoice:

  1. “Given enough time, school choice programs create small, positive test score gains for participating students.”
  2. “School choice programs appear to increase graduation rates for participating students.”
  3. “There is virtually no evidence that school choice harms neighboring public schools.”
  4. Ed Choice sees “no evidence that students who participate in school choice programs are alienated from their communities or show less public-spiritedness than their public school-educated peers.”
  5. “Of the 10 studies that have examined school choice’s effect on integration in schools, nine found positive effects. One was unable to detect any effects, and none found negative effects.

EdChoice has been very candid about some of the limitations to their study, and you can find that in the web link above. Still, the study is built around mostly higher quality randomized control trials, which generally are more reliable for education research due to the incredible amount of unknown variables that impact such research.

You can access the slideshow here:

Kentucky Can’t Wait 100+ Years to Improve Our Schools

A new Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions report released last week questions the lack of research and effectiveness of School Based Decision Making (SBDM) councils put in place over 25 years ago by the Kentucky Education Reform Act.

Kentucky Can’t Wait 100+ Years for Our Schools to Improve provides top line data from the report:

Bluegrass Institute_School Based Decision Making One Pager_01.22.18


How much reform is too much? Teachers weigh in

The January 17, 2018 edition of Education Week includes an update to an electronic article titled “Majority of Teachers Say Reforms Have Been ‘Too Much‘” that was posted on December 19, 2017.

It’s an interesting “read.”

And, it appears teachers generally are unsettled by all the changes that have been going on recently thanks to things like Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, big changes in digital learning, and so forth.

For example:

  • Asked how they would describe the amount of change/reform teachers have experienced in the past two years, 58 percent said it was “Way too much” or “Too much.” Only 34 percent said it was “Just about right.”

  • Concerning which changes in the past two years had the most impact:

    • 62 percent of teachers surveyed by EdWeek said that changes to teacher evaluation headed the list.
    • 58 percent cited curriculum changes
    • 53 percent brought up changes to professional development (OJT for teachers)
    • 52 percent mentioned changes to state assessments

  • Regarding how reforms in the past two years had impacted instruction, only 39 percent said the impact was either “Generally positive” or “Very positive.”

That last bullet may be the real key. Certainly, the last school term’s KPREP test results were nothing to cheer about in Kentucky. Even the Kentucky Department of Education’s usually self-congratulatory news release about the 2017 results candidly admitted:

“Overall, achievement increased slightly at the elementary and middle school levels, but was down somewhat at the high school levels. Achievement gaps between different groups of students persisted in many areas and will be a major focus of KDE, schools and districts under the new accountability system.”

With scarcely more than half of the elementary and middle school students scoring proficient or more and fewer than one in two students in both school levels scoring proficient or above in math, slight progress clearly isn’t what the state needs.

And, with high school reading proficiency at only 55.8 percent and math proficiency a dismal 38.1 percent, decay at this school level was definitely not what Kentucky needs to see.

The percentage of high school graduates who met college and/or career ready criteria also dropped from 68.5 percent in 2016 to 65.1 percent in 2017.

So, it looks like EdWeek’s survey, which was taken nationwide, also applies to Kentucky, too.

There’s a problem here. And, it appears teachers know it.

Kentucky publisher praises Medicaid waiver

The Trump administration’s decision to make Kentucky the first step to receive approval for its 1115 Medicaid waiver request, which includes Gov. Bevin’s requirement that able-bodied adults added to the Medicaid rolls as part of the Obamacare-induced expansion work or volunteer in order to receive benefits, receives praise in a recent column by Jobe Publishing’s president and CEO Jeff Jobe.

Jobe calls Bevin’s leadership related to reforming Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion an act of “compassion but yet good honest government stewardship” and says that it will “lead not only Kentucky, but soon the nation, on a path of changing lives, showing we are indeed a compassionate people and getting back to honoring the hard-working tax payers by making sure our programs are indeed going to those in need.”

Jobe also offers a relevant personal story.

Read his commentary here.




What Bill Gates understands about technology that every parent needs to consider

One of the true maestros of technology doesn’t allow his own children to have unlimited access, as this interesting article from Business Insider points out.

Other parents would be wise to pay attention.