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

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Why Kentucky should not delay charter schools – Evidence from New York City schools

As I wrote yesterday, there are comments floating about that Kentucky should delay funding charter schools due to the state’s general financial pinch. But, if the goal is better education, I don’t think that is a very good idea.

Yesterday I pointed to evidence from the National Assessment of Educational Progress that charter schools do a much better job for black students in eighth grade math, a racial group and academic subject where Kentucky has particularly severe problems.

Today, we look at some evidence from the October 2017 study of New York City’s charter schools by the CREDO research group at Stanford University.

In particular, this figure from that report shows the Big Apple’s charter school students do dramatically better as they spend more years in the charter school environment.

CREDO 2017 NYC Report Figure 7 Effects by Years of Enrollment in Charters

For example, by the time a NYC charter student has spent four years in that school of choice, he is ahead by about “68 days of additional learning in reading and 97 more days in math.”

What is particularly surprising is that while reading performance is actually lower compared to the traditional schools for first-year charter students, even math performance moves ahead notably in the first year by the equivalent of about two extra months of learning. That is hard to do because students generally bring a lot of problems to charter schools and other CREDO reports generally show it takes more than one year for students to adjust to charters and better learning opportunities.

In any event, given Kentucky’s major problems with math, this new CREDO study adds more evidence that delaying charters in Kentucky is really just denying students an opportunity to get a better education.

Why Kentucky should not delay charter schools

We are hearing a lot lately from some quarters that Kentucky needs to delay funding charter schools.

I think that is a mistake, especially for the kids who could benefit, and recent test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) in eighth grade math backs me up.

I focused on eighth grade math because this is Kentucky’s real Achilles’ heel in NAEP. We score lowest on this NAEP area by far. And, results are far worse still for the state’s black students.

Unfortunately, the NAEP TUDA doesn’t provide really good research information for charter school evaluation. The 2015 TUDA generally didn’t sample enough charter school students to develop credible scores for racial minorities. Also, due to the small student samples, even when NAEP did report scores for minorities in charter schools, the sampling errors were quite large, so it takes a big score difference to show a statistically significant difference.

Despite this, three city school systems that took NAEP Grade 8 Math TUDA in 2015 had enough black students tested to report scores for both those in charter schools and in schools that are not charters. The table, which I developed using the new NAEP Data Explorer, tells the tale.

Atlanta - Baltimore City - Chicago G8 NAEP TUDA Math for charters and not Charters 2015

As you can see, blacks in both Atlanta’s and Chicago’s charter schools outscored blacks in the not charter schools in both cities by a statistically significant amount.

Blacks in Baltimore City charters also appear to outperform, but the sampling error is so large that even the 8-point difference in scores is not large enough to be statistically significant.

An 8-point difference on NAEP is actually a fairly notable difference, by the way. If we look at white scores for Grade 8 Math for all the states in 2015, if Kentucky’s NAEP scale score were raised by 8 points, its relative ranking would increase from 47th place to 32nd place. That is a notable change!

There is another interesting thing with these NAEP examples. The NAEP TUDA doesn’t consider how long a student has been in a charter school. Kids in their first year get tested as part of the sample. That works against charters getting a fair evaluation because, as we have discussed before, research from multiple sources shows students generally need to spend more than just one year in charters for the benefits to show. Thus, NAEP’s sampling process actually creates a bias against accurate portrayal of true charter school performance.

Still, even though the NAEP really isn’t a very precise and accurate tool for charter school research, the available data for 2015 for large cities indicates that where data is available, it looks like charters are getting the job done for black students.

And, that’s why continuing to delay implementing charters in Kentucky just isn’t the right thing to do if you really care about students.

How is Kentucky’s education system really performing?

Kentuckians hear it all the time. The state supposedly has made dramatic improvement on things like “National Tests” since KERA began. For example, the Prichard Committee proclaims that Kentucky ranks “8th in fourth-grade reading,” which is actually where the state ranks if you only look at overall 2015 scores for fourth grade reading from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). A Prichard representative made similar claims on the February 5, 2018 Kentucky Tonight show.

But, is this an accurate picture? As the late Paul Harvey used to put it, there is a “Rest of the Story” here, and the rest of Kentucky’s education performance picture is important.

Want to see “Page 2” in this story? Just click the “Read more” link.

[Read more…]

Prescription reimbursement policies: Use scalpels, not sledgehammers

Each legislative session brings its own attempts – usually born out of frustration – to address real problems in ways that just wind up growing government’s size, scope and cost.

It’s indicative of sledgehammer-to-ant syndrome. Rather than kill ants and address the specific problem, this approach knocks down the entire house.

Obamacare an example

Perhaps no large-scale policy change in America better describes such an approach than the so-called Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which provided neither protection nor more affordable coverage or care for patients.

It’s not that there weren’t some problems that needed attention. Rather, the solutions Obamacare offered went way beyond the pest control needed to address the ants on the floor and instead tore the whole house down.

Obamacare not only didn’t fix the health care and coverage problems but exacerbated them. It’s as if it knocked our whole health-care house down only to discover the ants survived the demolition and grew in number.

[Read more…]

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 state secret or a secret from the state: technology as an obstacle to the public’s right to know

COG LOGOEvents have rapidly unfolded since we first commented on a serious threat to open government in the state of Missouri. The threat is a notable one for Kentuckians because it could play out in our own backyard.

The Kansas City Star reported on December 7 that  Missouri’s governor – and his staff – had downloaded the app Confide to their personal cellphones. The app “deletes messages and prevents recipients from saving, forwarding, printing or taking screenshots of messages.” The app was likened to the Mission Impossible tape recorder that instantly burst into flames after delivering instructions to the agents during the opening of the sixties’ television series.

Within days of the report, there were calls for an investigation by the Missouri attorney general into possible violations of the state’s sunshine law and records management laws.

Subsequent  requests to the Missouri governor for records relating to the use of Confide in his office met with delay and evasion. When at last the governor’s office responded, his staff indirectly acknowledged use of the app but denied a request for documents showing the date on which the governor or his staff downloaded it or a similar app.

In support, the Missouri governor cited that state’s equivalent of Kentucky’s open records homeland security exception, prompting critics to declare that the requested information – namely, the date or dates on which the app was installed — “is not a state secret, [i]t’s a secret from the state.”

Under either states’ law, and on these facts, the invocation of statutes aimed a thwarting terrorism to support nondisclosure strains credulity.

The issue is now in the courts in a case alleging violation of the Missouri sunshine law.

Opponents of the governor’s use of Confide argue that the “use of automatic communications destroying software by elected officials and government employees is illegal and constitutes an ongoing conspiracy to violate” the state sunshine and records management laws, “not to mention a significant affront to the open government and democratic traditions of Missouri and the United States.”

Meanwhile, criticism has emerged concerning the governor’s use of his “personal” Facebook and Twitter accounts  to, for example, conduct a meeting from his office in the Capitol to discuss his tax cut plan with constituents.

In an about-face, the Missouri attorney general determined that the practice does not violate the state’s Sunshine Law absent evidence indicating that the account is being used to transact public business. This begs the question: just how narrowly does the attorney general define the term “public business?”

To his credit,  the Missouri attorney general has proposed changes to the state’s laws aimed at, among other things, assigning penalties for violation of records management and retention laws of up to a year in prison, up to a $2,000 fine or both.

His efforts coincide with a bill introduced in the current Missouri legislative session that prohibits the use of software like Confide that is designed to automatically delete messages and a bill that amends the definition of public record to include social media pages so that the information contained in such pages is subject to sunshine law requests and clarifies that electronic mail, text messaging, direct or private messaging through social media accounts or other applications or platforms are, under certain circumstances, public records and must be preserved for the purpose of sunshine law requests.

Why focus on threats to the public’s right to know in Missouri under that state’s sunshine law?

It is because the same threats confront Kentucky under our open records and records management laws.

These laws were last substantially amended in 1994. In that year, the General Assembly recognized “an essential relationship between the intent of [Chapter 61 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes, dealing with  open records] and [Chapter 171] dealing with the management of public records, . . .  and that to ensure the efficient administration of government and to provide accountability of government activities, public agencies are required to manage and maintain their records according to the requirements of these statutes.”

The Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives – which is responsible for implementing Chapter 171 by establishing retention schedules for records of all public agencies — has been proactive in capturing all records in the schedules, based on content rather than format or location, declaring that public officials and employees “are responsible for maintaining the integrity of records whether those records are stored electronically or in hard copy. Information must be accessible to the appropriate parties until all of the legal, fiscal, and administrative retention periods have been met, regardless of the medium.”

The Kentucky Attorney General has been anything but proactive, issuing open records decision in 2015 and again in 2016 ill-advisedly declaring that communications between public officials and employees concerning public business conducted on private devices are not public records.

In so doing, the Attorney General  “ignored the expansive definition of the term ‘public record’ and years of precedent that had guided the office’s interpretation of the law recognizing that  ‘[i]n the end, it is the nature and purpose of the document, not the place where it is kept, that determines its status as a public record.’” An analysis of those open records decision can be found here.

Given the dated language of our Open Records Law, and the Kentucky attorney general’s past failure to effectively apply the law to emerging technologies or to seize the initiative in proposing legislation to address the widening gap between technology and the law, Kentucky will soon – if it does not already — face similar challenges to those now confronting Missouri.

Unless the Attorney General is prepared to reverse his position on this and similar issues, or an appellate court points out the error in his analysis, legislative action — such as that proposed in the Bluegrass Institute’s report, “Shining the Light on Kentucky’s Sunshine Laws” — represents the best, and perhaps the only, solution.

–Amye Bensenhaver is director of the Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government.

Kentucky’s student poverty – not as much as you think

We hear a lot of excuses from some of our educators that one reason Kentucky’s education system fares rather poorly is because we have a lot of students in poverty, far more than most other states.


Well, this is another case where our educators might not be very up to date with their statistics.

[Read more…]

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.”

Law firm’s investigation of Jurich may remain forever secret.

COG2On January 28, we reported on an increasingly common practice among public agencies that threatens the public’s right of access to investigative reports and analyses for which they, the public, pay. The same practice – we noted — has expanded employment opportunities for the legal community. From an open government perspective, this is unfortunate.

More and more, agencies are contracting with attorneys to conduct investigations into matters of  public interest as diverse as prematurely returning disciplined teachers to the classroom and violations of campaign finance laws.

In some cases, agencies enter into the arrangements for the express purpose of avoiding the requirements of the Open Records Act.  These agencies employ attorneys to investigate — or hire investigators — in order to shield the resulting report and analysis from public inspection based on the attorney-client privilege. Kentucky’s courts recognize the privilege as an exception to public inspection under certain circumstances.

In other cases, the agencies enter into the arrangement with the understanding that the resulting report and analysis will be released to the public when final action is taken or a decision is made to take no action. This, clearly, is the practice that comports with the spirit and letter of the Open Records Act.

On January 29, the Courier-Journal reported that the law firm retained by the  University of Louisville in its breach of contract dispute with former athletic director Tom Jurich has hired a detective agency to “provide additional context, fill in blanks and presumably to dig for dirt on Jurich as he and the university head toward mediation and a potential court battle.”

Given the University’s past track record on open records compliance, we suspect it will not be inclined to waive the attorney-client privilege and release the law firm/investigator’s report at its conclusion. To do so would require a level of respect for the public’s right to know that the University has thus far sadly failed to demonstrate.