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:

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King’s legacy remains unrealized in too many Kentucky classrooms

page-0 (2)As Kentuckians have homage today to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at many events throughout the commonwealth on what would have been the 89th birthday of the civil rights pioneer, it’s important to remember what’s been accomplished as well as that which remains undone and, perhaps most importantly, what’s possible when it comes to ensuring that every Kentuckian — no matter race, socioeconomic background or zip code — has the opportunity to strive for the individual liberty and pursuit of happiness enshrined in our nation’s founding.

I recently had the opportunity to stop by Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta where Dr. King co-pastored with his father “Daddy” King for many years and where his son was eulogized following his assassination in 1968 and reflect not only on the challenges that remain in our nation to achieving Dr. King’s dream but also on the significant progress made toward achieving true equality of opportunity.

It would be difficult for even the most-hardened race baiters to deny that Dr. King’s dream that “one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls” is more a reality now than ever before. There was a time, after all, when the President of the United States had to send in federal troops to ensure our public schools would no longer be segregated. That, fortunately, is no longer the case.

Now just as unfortunately, a different kind of segregation exists in our public-school classrooms.

Tragically, the situation continues to worsen rather than improve.

Some say Kentucky’s schools can’t overcome these types of achievement gaps. However, we have examples of schools with very low gaps in the white minus black math proficiency rates despite poverty rates well above state average. For example, Wilt and Crofton elementary schools in Jefferson and Christian counties, respectively, have math proficiency rate gaps of less than one percentage point and school lunch eligibility rates nearly eight points above the state average.

Yet while these schools demonstrate it’s possible to close or even eliminate achievement gaps, that isn’t the trend in Kentucky:

  • In KPREP Algebra II End-of-Course testing, the white minus black proficiency rate gap jumped up notably from 16.8 percentage points in 2016 to 23 percentage points in 2017.
  • In KPREP middle school reading, the white minus black proficiency rate gap of 28.3 percentage points in 2017 was the largest gap ever posted for this subject and school level since KPREP started in 2012.
  • The gap picture for KPREP elementary school reading mirrored the middle school results. Kentucky’s elementary school white minus black reading achievement gap in 2017 was the largest ever recorded for KPREP.
  • In Kentucky’s 11th grade ACT testing, the math score gap between white and blacks in 2017 is exactly the same as it was in every previous year from 2013 on except for 2015. The gap isn’t getting better.

Sadly, many individuals and organizations who claim to carry King’s mantle in the civil rights movement either ignore or dismiss the story of educational inequality told by these numbers.

One of the primary reasons the Bluegrass Institute continues to advocate giving parents choices concerning where their children receive are educated is because no child should be trapped in a failing school simply because their family is poor or can’t write a big tuition check. Too much evidence now exists showing that while school-choice programs, including charter schools, scholarship tax credits and Education Savings Accounts, may not save every poor black child, it’s creating life-changing opportunities for millions of American children who otherwise would fall through the cracks and wind up on welfare, the street corner, prison or the morgue.

We’ll continue to promote school-choice policies built on the idea that parents, not bureaucrats, politicians or administrators, know what’s best for their children, and that families deserve options so Kentucky’s kids — especially those that already have two strikes against them in life — have a chance.

Don’t tell me Dr. King wouldn’t have agreed.

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

…and so do we…

Bluegrass Beacon – Education’s holy grail: Achievement, not racial quotas

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.

“All I want for Christmas is for Republicans to act like Republicans,” I recently wrote on Facebook.

Responders aren’t optimistic.

“LOL Jim Waters … I’ll bet you still believe in Santa too!” wrote one friend who’s obviously frustrated with the current state of our political environment.

To avoid a completely empty stocking in case Republicans can’t stop the erosion of “Grand,” leaving them simply with an “Old Party,” I wonder if Santa could find me a major media organization without ideological bias and, worse, intellectual laziness when it comes to reporting on charter schools.

This request comes following publication of a recent Associated Press hit piece on charter schools dressed up as “analysis,” blaming these schools of choice for resegregating America’s public-education system simply because their student populations frequently reflect the high-minority, low-income makeup of the communities in which they’re located.

Nothing in the AP article reports how these schools offer solid evidence-based hope for closing achievement gaps between whites and blacks.

Not even a nod is given to how 95 percent of the 5,821 students attending Success Academy Charter Schools in New York were proficient in math and 84 percent were proficient in English during the 2016-17 school year even though 73 percent of those scholars came from poor homes.

There was no mention about these charter schools’ English Learner (ELL) and learning-disabled students not only surpassing other ELL and special-needs students across New York but also outperforming native English speakers and students without disabilities, respectively, across the Empire State.

Wouldn’t unbiased reporting note the growing academic-achievement gap between whites and blacks in the Jefferson County Public Schools – one of America’s largest districts – as a stark example of the reality that racial parity in the classroom doesn’t guarantee academic equality?

Wouldn’t fairness demand reporting about how assigning and then busing low-income minorities to schools in suburbia in the blessed name of “diversity” doesn’t work?

Bluegrass Institute research indicates that 14 of the district’s 19 elementary schools with white-black proficiency gaps of 30 points or more are in the suburbs east of Interstate 65.

Such exclusions don’t escape the attention of New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait, who responded to the AP’s analysis with an article entitled: “Charters Didn’t Cause Segregation. They’re a Solution for Its Victims.”

Chait may be over-the-top in claiming that the “deep cause of segregation is residential living patterns driven by decades of racist housing policy.”

What cannot be disputed, however, is his assertion that charter schools fill with poor, minority students because they most often open in urban-area neighborhoods reflecting those same demographics.

Also indisputable is Chait’s observation that without the opportunity for charter schools, “the schools those children would otherwise be attending are also segregated.”

His conclusion offers a much-needed reality check for anti-school choice ideologues who would sacrifice important opportunities for this generation on the holy grail of some future generation’s altar of desegregation.

Minority children living in low-income zip codes shouldn’t be relegated to a poor education just because nobody’s “formulated a plan to achieve large-scale school integration that stands any practical chance of success during the lifetime of today’s students,” he writes.

While working for desegregation is always noble and necessary, Chait urges “it cannot be the only mechanism to allay the appalling lack of educational opportunity given to children in segregated neighborhoods.”

As charter schools become available in Kentucky, parents should ignore the insidiousness of the AP’s shoddy “analysis” and instead snatch today’s opportunity to give their children for whom the clock is ticking the best education possible.

What better way to break chains of segregation and poverty than by giving children trapped in them the kind of education that allows them to build or buy a house in whatever neighborhood they choose?

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.

Bluegrass Beacon: The soft bigotry of Blaine’s expectations

BluegrassBeaconLogoThe Supreme Court’s recent ruling that Missouri wrongly used its constitution’s Blaine Amendment to deny a publicly funded grant to a church-run preschool won’t directly affect growing efforts to add Kentucky to the list of states offering private school-choice programs in the form of tuition assistance via tax credits.

Tax-credit proposals like ones introduced in the Kentucky legislature in recent years have a perfect record in courts because they involve using voluntary private donations to create scholarships giving families the means to provide children with the best education possible.

Vouchers are more controversial because they allow families access to tax dollars for private, often religious, education.

Still, the high court’s ruling in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer signals a distinct weakening of support nationwide for school-choice opponents who would deny families a voucher simply because they might use funds to send their children to a religious school.

Trinity Lutheran Preschool of Columbia, Missouri, was denied access to a state grant for nonprofits to take advantage of a program recycling old tires as new playground surfaces.

Show-Me jurists pointed to their state constitution’s “Blaine Amendment,” which includes a prohibition that “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.”

Kentucky’s constitution contains similar but even stronger language in Section 189: “No portion of any fund or tax now existing, or that may hereafter be raised or levied for educational purposes, shall be appropriated to, or used by, or in aid of, any church, sectarian or denominational school.”

Such language first found its way into state constitutions after Sen. James G. Blaine of Maine failed to get a similar federal constitutional amendment through Congress nearly 150 years ago.

On the surface, these amendments were billed as solidifying the wall of separation between church and state.

Underneath, however, anti-Catholic sentiments boiled over.

Catholics began seeking public funding for their own schools because they didn’t want to send their children to the public schools of that day because, while they were called “nondenominational,” really were Protestant-oriented schools – complete with hymn singing and King James Bible readings.

Powerful politicians would not hear of it.

Civil War hero and President Ulysses S. Grant gave a highly publicized speech urging Congress to adopt a constitutional amendment to prohibit funding of so-called “sectarian schools.”

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas more recently wrote for the majority in the Mitchell v. Helms decision in 2000 allowing religious schools access to federal loans that it was an “open secret” that “sectarian” in the language of Blaine was code for “Catholic.”

Ironically, the very amendment favored by Protestants long ago is now used against them by school-choice opponents who loathe religious institutions, especially private Christian schools.

Hiding behind the cloak of wanting to strengthen that separating wall, most school-choice enemies – led by teachers’ unions – insist they employ Blaine to protect minorities and individual rights.

Yet they continue to use this ancient amendment, which Thomas in the Mitchell ruling claimed was “born of bigotry,” to deny students living in the wrong zip code with two strikes already against them in life the opportunity to rise above “the soft bigotry of low expectations” – as one of Grant’s White House successors stated.

Kentucky’s policymakers and jurists must rise above primitive attempts to use Blaine as a weapon against giving families in this commonwealth the opportunity to provide their children the best education possible – regardless of the size of their paychecks or whether they choose a public, private or parochial school.

Trinity and other soon-to-be-decided rulings are opening the door for more school choice wider than it’s been in more than a century.

It’s time for Kentucky to step through it.

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

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.

Bluegrass Beacon: KERA architect spreads fake news about education climb

BluegrassBeaconLogoDavid Hornbeck, an architect of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) who describes himself as a “consultant to the Kentucky legislature, 1989-1990,” claims in a recent op-ed opposing charter schools: “Kentucky’s children have made more progress than those of any other state in the nation.”

For such a claim to hold up under scrutiny of the evidence – something Hornbeck fails to provide even in the least amount to support his sunshiny analysis – it must totally disregard what happened to Kentucky’s black students, the commonwealth’s largest racial minority, after KERA came along.

Only four of the 28 states with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) eighth-grade math data needed to compare progress among black students from 1990 – the earliest available – to 2015 improved less than Kentucky’s blacks.

Meanwhile, other southern states like North Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia and Arkansas matched or exceeded the national-average increase in black students’ math scores between 1990 and 2015.

Can it just be coincidence that each of those states has for years allowed primarily minority, low-income parents the opportunity to choose what’s often a better educational alternative for their children: charter schools?

It’s also not likely coincidental that Kentucky by not allowing its parents that same option of enrolling their children in charter schools never came close to any of these states in terms of academic improvement.

The General Assembly has now made that option available with passage of charter-school legislation during the waning days of this year’s legislative session.

Neither is it happenstance that KERA’s most ardent defenders –  including teachers-union representatives and longtime members of the education establishment – provide the most zealous opposition to school choice and feverishly hope the charter-school movement fails in the Bluegrass State.

At the very least, Hornbeck’s claim of “more progress” made by Kentucky’s children than in “any other state” shatters once you realize the commonwealth’s eighth-grade blacks improved by only one paltry point on NAEP reading scores between 1998 and 2015.

Is Hornbeck unaware of the performance of black students in Tennessee, which ranks fourth nationally for its increase in eighth-grade reading scores during that same 17-year period?

Might this be a good place to mention that Volunteer State parents have had the option of charter schools during all but four years of that 17-year period?

Travel further south to Florida, which offers a multitude of school-choice options in addition to charter schools – including vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and open-enrollment choices – and there you will find a state where black students, who trailed their fellow blacks in Kentucky by 10 points in 1998, are now four points ahead of their black peers in the Bluegrass State.

Hornbeck’s claim that Kentucky is a nation-beater doesn’t even hold up among Kentucky’s white students.

Whites comprise 80 percent of the commonwealth’s public-school population but only statistically significantly outscored their fellow whites in just two other states in eighth-grade math scores in 2015.

House Bill 940, which passed in 1990 and is better known as KERA, declares in Section 3: “Schools shall expect a high level of achievement from all students.”

Did Hornbeck, operating in his “consultant” role, get paid to write that sentence?

If so, doesn’t he owe taxpayers a refund considering the lack of progress among our neediest students since KERA became law 27 years ago?

These are the very children who most need charter schools and are the primary reason why House Bill 520 – which finally opens the doors to charters in Kentucky – made it through this year’s legislature.

Disadvantaged kids also are the reason why we must make sure local boards of education, which HB 520 designates as sole authorizers in 171 of Kentucky’s 173 school districts, give charter-school applicants a fair shot – something too many of these students haven’t found in our commonwealth’s KERA-based, one-size-fits-all public education system.

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.

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 — 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.

Event Alert: BIPPS scholar debating charter schools tonight

LSCDicksBluegrass Institute Scholar and Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) member Gary Houchens will participate in a town hall on charter schools at 6 pm today in Room 110 at Madisonville Community College Muhlenberg Campus, 406 W. Everly Brothers Blvd., Central City.

The event is free and open to the public.

Houchens, Ph.D., is associate professor and coordinator of the School Principal Certification program in Western Kentucky University’s Department of Educational Administration, Leadership and Research.

Tonight’s event is hosted by the Muhlenberg County Democratic Party Executive Committee said the event will be nonpartisan and will be held “debate style” according to media liaison Stacie Barton.

Houchens will be joined by fellow KBE member Ben Cundiff, chairman of Jackson Financial Corp.; Gay Adelmann, member of Save Our Schools Kentucky; Ellen Yonts Suetholz, attorney at Kircher, Suetholz & Associates, PSC; and Dr. Susan Edington, assistant professor of early childhood and elementary education at Murray State University and former KBE member.

Each presenter will speak for about 15 minutes, and at the end, those in attendance will have the opportunity to ask questions.

“We are trying to do more outreach in education on topics that are in front of the legislation right now and affect our local area,” Barton said. “It should be an interesting meeting and informative.”

Three charter school bills were filed before this year’s General Assembly deadline for introducing bills.

Find more about the Bluegrass Institute’s analysis of what makes a strong and weak charter school bills here and here.

Houchens is a former social studies teacher, assistant principal and district administrator who has served in both public and private school settings.

He recently led a School Choice Solutions Roundtable for the Bluegrass Institute. Watch his presentation here.

 

1Pager: Kentucky’s kids deserve a strong charter-school law

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