During this week of school choice, we want to point out one area where Kentucky’s parents generally do not choose to participate in the state’s traditional public school (TPS) system. And, it isn’t supposed to be this way.
The area of interest (Should we say “disinterest?”) is voting for the parent members of the School Based Decision Making (SBDM) councils.
Putting it simply, parents choose to not show up for this crucial SBDM activity.
Furthermore, new data just received from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) indicates the situation is getting worse, not better.
We first explored the deplorable level of parent interest in SBDM elections in our report about “School Based Decision Making Policy, A Closer Look,” which was issued in January 2018. The report compared the number of parents that KDE reported had voted in each school’s SBDM election in the 2016-17 school year to the student membership (or enrollment) in each school, computing the number of parent voters divided by the school’s student membership as a percentage figure. We found that in the vast majority of schools, those percentages were dismally low.
The voting and membership data used for our “Closer Look” report came from the old Kentucky School Report Cards web site. That site is being replaced by a new one and will eventually contain lots of data for the 2017-18 school year. However, the new site hasn’t been loaded with all files at this time (You can explore what is available here, but we recommend viewing an introduction video, first).
One file still to be loaded in the new Kentucky School Report Cards site contains the 2017-18 SBDM parent voting information. So, we contacted KDE and they sent us the current working file. We merged that voting data file with data from another Excel file for 2017-18 called “STUDENT_DEMOGRAPHIC_RACE_GENDER” that is already online. This Excel file shows the end-of-year school membership (often called enrollment) in each school for 2017-18.
The tables below tell some of the dramatic story of parent (non)interest in SBDM elections.
Table 1 above shows that in the vast majority of our schools, the proportion of parents voting in the SBDM elections is far lower than the school’s membership.
For example, in the 2016-17 school year, out of the 1,124 schools that had both enrollment and parent voting data available, 818 schools, or 72.8 percent of all the 1,124 schools, had very low, single-digit percentages of parent voting.
Still worse, the proportion of schools with such very low, single-digit, parent voting percentages actually grew between 2016-17 and the 2017-18 school term.
Table 2 shows more evidence that in a notable number of schools, there is virtually no parent participation in perhaps the most important parent-related SBDM activity.
Table 2 examines only those schools where the number of parents voting in SBDM elections in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years amounted to less than one percent of the school’s student membership. As you can see, such extraordinarily low interest most recently was found in more than 1 in 10 schools in the state that have school councils. The proportion of schools showing parent disinterest at this very low level also grew between 2016-17 and 2017-18, as well.
Tables 1 and 2 make it clear that if school councils were supposed to increase parent involvement in schools, that goal has not come anywhere close to being achieved.
Finally, looking at the other end of the spectrum, Table 3 shows data on schools where the number of parents voting in the SBDM election at their school exceeded 50 percent of the school’s student membership.
Clearly, the number of schools that enjoy high parent interest in school councils is extraordinarily low. In general, you have to search very hard all across Kentucky to find any schools with this level of parent interest. It can happen; but it is extremely rare.
By the way, an SBDM member from the Glendover Elementary School testified to the Kentucky Senate’s Education Committee on January 10, 2019 about school councils, protesting proposals to alter the current power division between the councils and the local school superintendent. So, I thought it would be interesting to see how that school looked in 2017-18.
I first looked at the school’s KPREP results. In general, the school strongly outperforms the statewide averages with only a few exceptions. So, you can argue the school is working and you can see how a parent on the council might not want changes.
Never-the-less, parent participation in SBDM elections at Glendover is still a major problem. According to the KDE, Glendover’s membership at the end of the 2017-18 school year was 580 students. The file on SBDM voting that the KDE sent me shows 97 parents/guardians voted in the SBDM parent elections during that school term. That works out to a 16.7 percent voter participation in relation to membership. Even at Glendover, parent involvement with the SBDM seems dubious.
More importantly, Glendover is not typical. Even a 16.7 percent voter turnout for SBDM elections is a far larger participation rate in SBDM voting than we see at the average Kentucky school.
Our legislators might want to keep all of this in mind as they ponder what to do about the power distribution between school councils and the locally elected school boards and their chief executive, the district superintendent. A big argument in support of school councils – that they increase parent participation – just doesn’t seem to hold up. The councils are one choice a vast majority of Kentucky parents choose not to make.