Bold new evidence: Kentucky does not lead the nation for education improvement

Claim especially misleading for state’s black students

Truth supports need for charter schools in Kentucky

As arguments swirled the past few months over charter schools, Kentuckians have been hearing claims that their state already leads the nation for the most educational improvement since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA). As a consequence, that argument goes, this means Kentucky doesn’t need charters.

The latest example of this “leads the nation” claim is found in a March 10, 2017 Herald-Leader Op-Ed by David Hornbeck, one of the major architects of KERA. Hornbeck asserts:

“Kentucky children have made more progress than any other state in the nation.”

It’s a bold statement, but is it true?

And, is it true for all Kentucky’s children?

To explore these questions, we fired up the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ Main NAEP Data Explorer web tool. We used data from the NAEP Data Explorer to assemble the two tables below, which show how Kentucky’s eighth-grade blacks stack up against other states that also had scores for these children of color reported for both the earliest and latest years of NAEP state testing.

Table 1 shows the NAEP Grade 8 math results black students in the listed states received back in 1990, the year KERA was enacted, and 2015 scores – the latest available. The table is sorted by the change in the NAEP Scale Score for math in each state across the 1990 to 2015 period.

Table 1

Grade 8 Math Improvement for Blacks for 1990 and 2015 Ranked

As you can see, Hornbeck’s assertion isn’t just wrong, it’s very wrong when we talk about improvements for Kentucky’s largest racial minority group compared to other states with usable NAEP data for black students.

Kentucky lands nearly at the bottom of the stack when we rank each state’s increase in NAEP Grade 8 Math Scale Scores for black students over time. Only four of the 28 states with data available progressed even less than Kentucky.

If we only consider southern states listed in Table 1, we find that North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia and Arkansas all matched or exceeded the national average increase in black students’ math scores between 1990 and 2015. Kentucky never came close to any of them.

By the way, all of those five Southern states have charter schools. At present, aside from Kentucky, only Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia don’t have charters. Thus, except for West Virginia, all the states listed above Kentucky in Table 1 have charter school laws. That is something to think about.

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KY State of Education shows serious grading discrepancies by race

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt delivered his second annual “The State of P-12 Public Education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky” report today, making extensive and very candid comments about the serious achievement gap situation in the state.

I’ll be spending some time in this report, but I think many at the press conference were particularly struck by results of a new analysis of course grade awards versus performance on Kentucky’s various mathematics assessments. So, I am going to delve into that new research now.

To put it mildly, this new research was a major eye-opener. Aside from showing some very disturbing trends regarding differential course grading by race, the data undermines a long-held notion that course grades are likely to be the best predictor of college performance.

Let’s look at two of the eye-watering graphs in the new report.

Figure 1

Grade 8 Course Grades Vs. KPREP by Race

The graph in Figure 1 is based on a study of Grade 8 math course letter grades and KPREP math scores from 2012 to 2016, and is found on Page 6 in the report. It shows some pretty disappointing things are happening in Kentucky’s public school system.

Looking vertically up from the “A” grade point on the right side of the horizontal axis, we see an example of why the report says:

“For African American students whose average letter grade in their middle school math courses was an A, the chance of scoring proficient on state math tests was 25 percentage points lower than that of white students who also earned an A average.”

Clearly, less is being demanded of Kentucky’s blacks to earn an “A” grade in math class. Across Kentucky, teachers are setting a lower standard for these children of color to earn an “A.” Examination of the graph for other letter grades shows blacks are held to lower standards for every other grade from “B” even down to a “D” score, though the amount of performance difference for whites versus blacks does decline a bit as we move down the grading scale.

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Legal Experts: Strong Kentucky Charter School Bill Meets Constitutional Muster

It seems some legal questions have been raised about Kentucky’s currently leading charter school bill, House Bill 103.

Now, the Center for Education Reform reports a top legal team has examined these questions. According to:

CER Says Strong KY Charter Bill is Constitutional

You can read the full news release here, and the legal report is available here.

So, Kentucky should press forward with HB 103. Our students deserve the option of strong and vibrant charter schools.

Does all that busing in Jefferson County schools work?

Last week Governor Bevin touched on one of the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) self-inflicted education problems when he discussed the excessive and hugely expensive school busing situation in the school district, saying:

“Are we really helping these children by taking them from one community, putting them on a bus … to another community where arguably they should be getting a better education but frankly they may or may not be?”

It’s a fair question, one people in Louisville seem unwilling to really explore. So, let’s do that for them here.

In February 2016 the Bluegrass Institute released a new edition in our Blacks Falling Through Gaps series on JCPS. In “Blacks Continue Falling Through Gaps in Louisville’s Schools, The 2016 Update,” we found white minus black achievement gaps on eighth and tenth grade college readiness assessments were generally increasing. We also found dramatic evidence of very poor quality control over high school diploma awards and that blacks were far more likely than whites in JCPS to be socially promoted to a rather hollow diploma.

And, we found evidence that extreme busing in JCPS doesn’t reliably improve performance for black students.

Figure 1 below shows the location of the 19 JCPS elementary schools which posted very large KPREP math white minus black achievement gaps in 2015 of 30 percentage points or more.

It’s easy to see that these biggest gap schools predominantly are found in the upper scale areas of Jefferson County, generally located east of I-65.

Elementary School Map

This map doesn’t seem to tell a very satisfying story about the success of busing in JCPS. It appears that students can be bused way across town and still not get an improved education in supposedly upper scale schools.

But, in some cases the story actually is even more dramatic.

For example, the Dunn Elementary school ranks in first place for the largest elementary school white minus black math achievement gap in JCPS in 2015. That gap was an astonishingly high 50.5 percentage points!

Even more objectionable, Dunn Elementary’s black students actually had a much lower 2015 math proficiency rate (24.0%) than blacks achieved in much higher poverty and higher minority elementary schools in West End Louisville such as Kennedy (45.5%) and Carter (61.5%).

Note: Kennedy and Carter don’t have huge achievement gaps and therefore are not shown on the map.

Even the Portland Elementary School – a “Needs Improvement” school in 2015 with a long history of educational challenges – posted a much higher black math proficiency rate (39.3%) than Dunn’s in 2015.

Incredibly, if a black student were to live near Portland but went to Dunn instead, that student would ride a bus to a school that might, on average, offer less chance of academic success.

By the way, in the latest 2016 KPREP math testing, Dunn’s black student proficiency rate sank even more. While Dunn’s black math proficiency rate was only 24.0 percent in 2015, it plummeted to only 14.6 percent in 2016! The already really bad got much worse.

Dunn isn’t the only problem, either. The number three gap school in 2015, Hawthorne Elementary, had an even lower black proficiency rate than Dunn that year, with only 19.6 percent of its black students meeting the proficiency mark. Hawthorne’s black math proficiency slid even more to just 18.4 percent in 2016.

So, our gap map indicates that busing black kids to the east side of the school district provides no guarantees those students of color will actually do better there. Perhaps the many millions spent on bus operations and diesel fuel each year could be far more productively used if more kids attended their neighborhood school and the massive money saved was used to enhance the teaching corps and repair facilities, instead.

And, just maybe, a lot of discipline issues and traffic issues would go away, as well.

Even local newspaper isn’t buying school board’s anti-charter stance

We just got an interesting “vote” for charter schools. It will come as a shock to the Elizabethtown Independent School Board.

Even the local newspaper’s editors in Elizabethtown are not buying their local school board’s bias against charter schools.

In “Time to charter a different course,” the News-Enterprise newspaper in Elizabethtown clearly says it’s time to start bringing school choice to at least some areas of Kentucky.

The newspaper’s editorial stands in sharp contrast to the opinion of the local school board. Jim Waters wrote several weeks ago about the publicly expressed hostility of the Elizabethtown Independent Board of Education to bringing any charter schools to Kentucky. The board’s formal vote against charter schools raised some eyebrows at the time.

Now, it looks like the E’Town board didn’t even convince its local newspaper.

Great primer on school choice at the School Leader Blog

Western Kentucky University professor, Kentucky Board of Education member and Bluegrass Institute Board of Scholars member Gary Houchens has started a very interesting and readable series on school choice in Kentucky. He is talking about what choice in education looks like and why Kentucky needs it.

You will find some great, readable information starting with Gary’s first blog, “A School Choice Primer, Part I.”

It is well worth your time.

Rep. Phil Moffett discusses his charter school bill

There was a charter school conference at the Midwest Church of Christ in Louisville this week, and we captured video of some of the speakers, including the comments by Kentucky Representative Phil Moffett about his bill to bring charter schools to Kentucky.

We’ll let Rep. Moffett tell you about his bill, which is House Bill 103. Just click on the You Tube link below.

Heat for school choice up in Frankfort despite freezing, snowy weather

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Despite the snowy weather (check the video below), the heat for school choice in Kentucky was turned way up today at the state’s first School Choice Week Rally.

Here are comments from one of the event’s speakers, Professor Gary Houchens, who is a member of the Kentucky Board of Education and also a member of our Bluegrass Institute Board of Scholars. With an extra introduction from the Bluegrass Institute’s president, Jim Waters, here’s the video.

ACT results show Kentucky’s achievement gaps continue all through school

Provides more evidence that blacks get left behind/Need other options
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Since the founding days of the Bluegrass Institute about 14 years ago, we have pushed the need for more school choice in Kentucky. That evidence includes our extensive discussions of the chronic achievement gaps for whites and blacks in Kentucky’s public school system in many past blogs and reports. However, today we take a quick look at some different scores – those from Kentucky’s statewide administration of the ACT college entrance test to all the public school 11th grade students.

This table shows what we found after examining the proportions of white and black Kentucky students who scored at or above the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s (CPE) “Benchmark Scores” from the ACT. These score levels allow students to enter the state’s postsecondary education system without having to take remedial courses.

Kentucky White and Black G11 ACT CPE Benchmark Performance in 2012 and 2016 with gaps

We look at data from 2012, the first year that Kentucky used Common Core aligned testing in English language arts areas and math, and the latest results from 2016.

The top part of the table shows data for the 2016 ACT administration and the bottom section covers the results from 2012 testing. The gaps by subject are also listed for each year.

As you can see, the gaps for all three subjects are substantial for both years.

Even more troubling, during the entire time that Kentucky has been heavily invested in Common Core to the point of actually testing these standards, the English white minus black achievement gap remained unchanged and the math gap actually increased from 22.8 in 2012 to 23.6 in 2016, a rise of 0.8 percentage point.

The reading gap did decline a smidgeon, but only by a rather trivial 0.3 of a percentage point. Even as of 2016, the percentage of whites reaching the CPE’s reading benchmark is about double the black percentage.

This ACT information isn’t a surprise, of course. It is consistent with other testing results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, ACT’s recently cancelled EXPLORE and PLAN tests (both victims of Common Core, by the way), and even the state’s still to be fully proven KPREP tests.

No matter what testing series is examined, the Bluegrass State always shows serious achievement gap problems.

Clearly, it is time to adopt an education policy – charter schools – that is showing especial progress with minority students, the very same students that continue to founder under Kentucky’s current, one-size-must-fit-all education system.

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Charter school value – they CAN help/work with public schools, too

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There hasn’t been a lot of coverage of examples of charter schools working together with traditional schools to boost the performance of both, but examples are out there.

For example, in 2010 Education Week reported, “Charters and Public Schools Team Up in Texas” (subscription?). Aside from the collaboration in the Rio Grande area of Texas, the article talks about other charter-traditional collaborations in New Haven, Connecticut and Washington, DC.

Several years later, EdWeek reported on another collaboration effort starting in Florida.

More recently, there was a report about “In Denver, Charters and District Team Up on Special Education.”

Education Week isn’t the only place collaboration is being reported, either. The Washington Post just ran “District’s charter and traditional school principals to work together to solve problems.” Here the Post discusses another, rather unusual cooperative effort getting under way at Georgetown University where principals from both charter and traditional public schools will work together in a Masters’ Degree program designed to help each learn from the other. The Post says, “The principals will learn how to better develop teacher talent, change school culture and respond to crisis situations,” adding, “Participants will take 14 courses at Georgetown and will spend time in their peers’ schools, observing and brainstorming ideas for dealing with challenges.”

The Center for Reinventing Public Education is actually studying such collaborations.

The center lists some of the potential benefits as:

For Charter Schools

• Improved access to facilities, funding, and student enrollment
• Reduced political tensions
• Greater exposure to district expertise
• Expanded reach and impact beyond school walls

For School Districts:

• Partnering in the work of ensuring high-quality schools in all neighborhoods
• Sharing costs, including recruitment and transportation
• Gaining access to innovative professional development and curriculum

For the Community:

• More high-quality school options available for students
• Better services for English language learners and special education students
• Streamlined school information and enrollment systems

So, while proponents and opponents of charter schools for Kentucky argue vigorously about bringing these innovative schools of choice to Kentucky, the reality is that once charters have been introduced elsewhere, the fighting hasn’t always continued. In fact, it looks like even the traditional public schools are starting to benefit, too.