Is there a backlash growing over Kentucky’s proposed school accountability system?

Unbridled Learning, Kentucky’s current public-school assessment and accountability system, is on the way out, and Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt and the Kentucky Department of Education have been working on an as-yet unnamed replacement accountability system for some time. Pruitt and his team have held two sets of public hearings seeking Kentuckians’ input into the new program and he formed several advisory committees to further develop ideas for the new system.

Now, a proposed system is starting to take form. The Kentucky Board of Education took its first formal look at the proposal in June, and a follow-up discussion is expected during the board’s August meeting.

Surprisingly, amid this movement toward finalizing Kentucky’s new accountability program – which, by law, must be submitted to Washington, DC for approval by mid-September – a curious letter appeared last week, co-signed by leaders of several organizations including the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, who were members of one of Pruitt’s key advisory committees.

It almost seems like the letter is, to use technical lingo, a minority dissenting report.

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So, Common Core was supposed to increase student desire for tech?

As Kentucky begins the debate about how to change its current Common Core State Standards based Kentucky Education Standards into something better, I came across a very interesting report from the ACT, Inc. concerning Kentucky student interest in careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – the so-called “STEM Careers.”

ACT’s “The Condition of STEM Careers 2016, Kentucky” report contains a lot of interesting information about interest in STEM careers among the state’s recent high school graduates. This data is collected during ACT testing, and since Kentucky tests 100 percent of its graduates with the ACT, the data is particularly important.

To be sure, this first table extract from the report, shown in Figure 1, shows some bothersome things.

Figure 1
(From: “The Condition of STEM Careers 2016, Kentucky”)

ACT STEM Report 2016 Kentucky - Percent of Students Interested in STEM

While interest in STEM careers has slipped in Kentucky since 2012, the first year Common Core testing was conducted in the state, nationally STEM interest hasn’t changed much and is still the same as it was back in 2012.

There is more bad news, which you can access by clicking the “Read more” link.

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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

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.