Where does California’s STEM workforce come from? Not US schools

California is the land of high tech innovation, but according to the San Francisco area based Mercury News, “Immigrants are 42 percent of California’s STEM workforce.”

If you have not kept up with education fad acronyms, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in other words, all the “stuff” that high tech comes from. And, the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area is the techiest place in the country.

This has some very disturbing implications for K to 12 education in the US. How come such a high percentage of our nation’s STEM innovators don’t come from our own school systems? Why do our colleges and high tech industries have to search overseas to find employees with the math and science skills needed to get the work done?

And, when our current education system says it is all about increasing STEM preparedness and then goes and adopts less than world class standards like Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards (which don’t even teach kids about electric circuits, for goodness sakes!), is it likely the low numbers of US native born citizens in STEM careers is likely to improve soon?

Electrocution Cartoon

By the way, in Singapore they start teaching electric circuits as early as preschool! Here, our education science folks don’t think electric circuits are worth coverage at any school level.

No wonder so many STEM folks in the US don’t come from here.

Commissioner Pruitt: What happens now that Unbridled Learning is ending?

During yesterday’s meeting of the Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt made it very clear that Unbridled Learning, Kentucky’s Common Core era assessment and accountability program, has been ended by Senate Bill 1 from the 2017 Regular Legislative Session.

So, what comes next? The new assessment and accountability program won’t be online until the 2018-19 school term.

Pruitt indicated that for the coming school term, school test scores will still be reported, but schools won’t get accountability “labels” like Distinguished or Proficient. There won’t be any additions to the Priority Schools roster, either.

Hear exactly what the commissioner said in this recording.

Of particular note, the demise of Unbridled Learning marks the third time since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 was passed that attempts to create a vibrant and credible school assessment and accountability program has foundered in Kentucky.

The big question: Will the attempt under way now to come up with a fourth program work much better?

Don’t forget, while Kentucky’s educators have continually been unable to create a lasting system, thousands of our students have continued to be left behind. We don’t need more experiments – we need a real, working program.

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.

[Read more…]

Common Core: Costs versus education performance in Kentucky

Thanks to a presentation on Common Core State Standards I did on Thursday, I’ve been looking at some financial information that relates to the cost changes for public education in the Common Core era in Kentucky.

I have further expanded this analysis, now comparing education revenue during the last five years before Kentucky adopted Common Core to the revenue figures during the first five year of the state’s implementation of Common Core. I also added some interesting test result information covering the same period.

The results don’t look encouraging.

As you look at the information below, keep in mind that Kentucky adopted the Common Core State Standards – sight unseen – in February 2010.

Table 1 below compares how public school per pupil revenue changed in Kentucky during the 5-year period prior to Common Core and the initial 5-year period when the state transitioned to the new standards.

Table 1

Per Pupil Costs Before and During CCSS Era in KY

The blue shaded area shows total per pupil spending figures covering the last five school years before Kentucky adopted the Common Core (2004-2005 to 2009-2010) and the first five school years of Common Core transition (2009-2010 to 2014-2015).

The first column of spending data in the blue shaded part of Table 1 shows total per pupil revenue in Kentucky for the listed school years without any adjustment for inflation. The last column shows spending converted to inflation adjusted, constant 2005 dollars.

Below the rows listing the revenue figures I show the changes in revenue for each 5-year period, shaded in yellow.

As you can see, spending in the five years preceding Kentucky’s adoption of Common Core increased notably more slowly than in the early Common Core transition years. From 2005 to 2010, spending in unadjusted dollars only increased by $1,951, an increase of 23.9 percent. Meanwhile, during the first five years of the state’s Common Core era, spending rose by $2,815, or 27.9%.

The real spending increase is much more dramatic. From 2005 to 2010 the spending increase in real dollars was only $739, just a 9.1 percent rise. In the Common Core transition period from 2010 to 2015, the rise was $1,650, an increase of 18.6 percent, more than double the rise in the pre-Common Core period.

So, spending rates on public education in Kentucky notably accelerated in the Common Core era.

But, how did educational performance trend? For the answer to that, click the “Read more” link.

[Read more…]

Kentucky’s ‘Academic Standards Review and Revision Process’ gets under way

But, there are problems

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) recently held a press conference to announce the plan of attack related to the new Senate Bill 1’s requirements to review and revise the state’s academic education standards. There is going to be a lot of action in this area over the next few years for subjects like science and social studies, but the process of review for the state’s English language arts (ELA) and math standards has already started. The first step involves a public comment period that will run until September 15.

However, there may be some challenges with getting this public comment period right.

In fact, it appears things might be getting stacked to preserve the status quo as much as possible. That might not be in the best interests of our kids.

[Read more…]

Common Core bait and switch in Kentucky???

The final version of Senate Bill 1 from the 2017 Kentucky Regular Legislative Session (SB-1/2017) is now awaiting the governor’s signature, and a very interesting statement from the original version of the act remains in the final.

On Page 99 of the Engrossed Version of the act (which goes to the governor), it says:

“Section 18. In adopting the amendments to KRS 158.6453 contained in Section 3 of this Act, the General Assembly intends, among other actions, to repeal the common core standards.”

Assuming Governor Bevin signs SB-1/2017 as is with no line item veto, it would seem that the Common Core State Standards are officially on the way out in Kentucky.

But, looks might be deceiving.

You see, SB-1/2017 also outlines in considerable detail a process to review all of Kentucky’s academic standards beginning in 2017-18. In fact, the core teams that will actually write the standards are called “Standards and Assessments Review and Development Committees.” However, nowhere in the discussion of how the many committees and panels are to operate does it clearly direct those panels to start with a clean slate – a slate without a Common Core State Standards basis.

In fact, including the term “Review” in the base groups’ titles clearly does not mandate either revision or replacement. A “Review” could leave the standards EXACTLY as they are, for example. If these teams were clearly charged with replacing Common Core, they would be called something like “Standards and Assessments Development Committees.”

Because teacher members predominate on the major committees and panels that will actually write the new standards, it is highly likely that the Common Core will be the basis for whatever comes next.

It seems likely that this new standards process will result in some changes from the current Common Core based standards used in Kentucky today, but will those changes be very substantial? Will those changes incorporate some rather recent research that shows some basic ideas in Common Core are not optimal for real classrooms? Will the changes actually amount to something most would call a “repeal?”

Only time will tell.

[Read more…]

Will Kentucky’s education system be standards driven or test driven?

When the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics (CCSS) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) came to the Bluegrass State, Kentuckians were told their state’s education system would be built around those standards.

Well, perhaps not.

There was a presentation about the pending revision to the state’s science assessments during today’s meeting the Kentucky School Curriculum and Assessment Committee (SCAAC). The presenter was asked if all science areas would be covered in the assessments for elementary, middle and high schools. The answer, to my considerable surprise, was “Yes.”

Not certain I heard this correctly, I questioned the presenter during a break and confirmed that all science areas would be fair game in the new science assessments at all school levels. That included chemistry and physics for high schools.

The reason this surprised me, and the reason this is a problem, is because the generally vague NGSS essentially cut off completely after high school biology. Topics from high school chemistry and physics are basically absent even though some at the Kentucky Department of Education don’t seem to understand that.

Furthermore, a well-established legal principal known as “Notice or “Fair Notice” says you can’t give tests that have consequences if you don’t provide advance notice of what is fair game on the tests. The way you provide notice is with the state’s education standards. NGSS can’t give adequate notice for things it doesn’t include.

So, is Kentucky sailing into really troubled waters with its new science assessments? Unless some changes are made, I think so.

[Read more…]

Senate Bill 1: Reservations and recommendations

The media is exploding with coverage of the passage of Senate Bill 1 out of the Kentucky Senate. But the coverage, including some of the headlines, leaves important questions unanswered.

For example, the Herald-Leader reports: “Kentucky Senate approves repeal of Common Core standards in schools.” That might not be true.

SB 1 does vaguely state, “In adopting the amendments to KRS 158.6453 contained in Section 3 of this Act, the General Assembly intends, among other actions, to repeal the common core standards.” But there’s no clear and outright mandate for such a repeal.

The bill does require a new process to review all standards and make recommendations for changes as deemed necessary. However, there’s nothing in the bill that directly repeals Common Core.

There also is no guarantee that the standards-review teams established by the bill will recommend any substantial changes to the existing cut-and-paste adoptions of Common Core in Kentucky’s current public school standards. The review process might lead to materially changed standards, or it might not.

Explicit, outright repeal and replacement with other existing, high quality standards – such as being contemplated in West Virginia – is not a feature of SB-1.

Whatever is being said about SB 1, it’s clear from this segment of Scott Sloan’s talk show about Common Core-based math instruction on Cincinnati’s 700 WLW-AM, which aired Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, that the war over Common Core continues.

There are other features of SB 1 that warrant attention:


  • It mandates a multi-team, multi-tier standards-review process heavily populated by experienced Kentucky public school teachers with appropriate subject matter expertise. This is a good stipulation, one notoriously absent in Common Core, which was totally developed by non-Kentuckians in work groups populated with very few teachers.
  • On the other hand, the required presence of Kentucky postsecondary educators on the review teams seems rather thin, especially so for those with specific subject matter expertise. This review process in SB 1 departs from the general outlines for standards panels that were established by an older Senate Bill 1 from the 2009 Regular Legislative Session.

That older bill required extensive, high-level coordination between the Kentucky Department of Education and the Council on Postsecondary Education to formulate the state’s new standards. Fortunately, the rather thin presence of postsecondary expertise in this year’s SB 1 is easy to fix. Hopefully, the Kentucky House will add more postsecondary subject-matter expertise to the standards-review teams.

  • The House should enhance review-team participation by business and industry experts and possibly other groups, as well. At present, this is only vaguely defined in the bill.
  • The House also should clarify that as legislatively established committees, the standards teams must comply with the state’s open-meetings and open-records laws. The Common Core process was completely opaque and that could have hidden problems that might have been handled better in an open forum.

Concerning the host of other changes contained in SB 1, including significant revisions to the commonwealth’s assessment and accountability program, it will take more time to determine how well this bill addresses key policy provisions.

However, one thing is certain: while some are cheering the current SB 1 as perhaps the greatest piece of education legislation since the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, history shows us it’s premature to make such judgements.

Similar joyous claims were made following the passage of the SB 1 from 2009, but history tells us that act suffered in actual implementation in many ways:


  • The standards-review teams never operated as the law intended. In fact, the law never sanctioned the entire process of adoption of out-of-state standards created in ways not subject to Kentucky’s open-meetings and open-records statutes. This is undoubtedly why the new SB 1 requires a review of the processes actually used to create the new standards by a legislatively appointed team. Clearly, legislators have no intention of being blindsided by another non-transparent Common-Core-like series of events.
  • The standards as well as the assessment and accountability process implemented following SB 1 in 2009 proved disappointing. Thus, the entire process is now undergoing changes, which will be directed in part by the SB 1 passed by the Kentucky Senate on Friday.

While we’re hopeful extra eyes in the Kentucky House will make this bill stronger, it’s way too early to pat ourselves on the back. After all, Kentucky is currently witnessing the demise of its third assessment and accountability program to come down the pike since KERA’s passage in 1990.

Based on the commonwealth’s education history to date, we clearly need to stay eyes open and alert as Kentucky prepares to launch its fourth attempt to get education right.

The time for cheering is several years down the road, at least.

Do Kentucky’s KPREP school assessments do what they are supposed to do?

If so, why is the evidence not available after five years of KPREP testing?

The Bluegrass Institute has discovered a rather extraordinary January 6, 2017 letter from the US Department of Education to Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt.

This letter says evidence provided by the Kentucky Department of Education only shows that the state’s public school assessments just partially meet requirements of federal education legislation.

The letter lists the following general comments:

  • Reading/ language arts (R/LA) and mathematics general assessments in grades 3-8 (Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP)): Partially meets requirements
  • R/LA and mathematics general assessments in high school (ACT QualityCore EOC for R/LA and math): Partially meets requirements
  • R/LA and mathematics alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities in grades 3-8 and high school (Alternate K-PREP for R/LA and math): Partially meets requirements

The letter continues:

“The partially meets requirements designation for a component means that it does not meet a number of the requirements of the statute and regulations, and Kentucky will need to provide substantial additional information to demonstrate it meets the requirements. The Department expects that Kentucky may not be able to submit all of the required information within one year (underlined emphasis added).”

Keeping in mind that the Kentucky KPREP and End-of-Course tests have been in place since the 2011-12 school term, the letter’s expanded details about the missing evidence are very disturbing.

For example, Under Critical Element 1.2, the US Department of Education says Kentucky needs to provide:

“A description of State stakeholders involved in the development and/or adoption process for the R/LA, mathematics, and science content standards that includes detail on subject-matter expertise, individuals representing English learners (ELs) and students with disabilities.”

This might be really hard to do. Kentucky basically just adopted the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics (CCSS) at a high level. State stakeholders really had no say in the final decisions about what went into the CCSS. The adoption was made by the Kentucky Board of Education, the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board and the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. Subject matter experts were not involved in this widely televised, media event joint meeting of these three boards.

In fact, the adoption of Common Core took place about 3-1/2 months before the final version of the Common Core was even published. It is hard for experts to have looked at something that didn’t even exist at the time of adoption. In fact, the public comment draft of the Common Core didn’t even come out until March 2010, weeks after the three Kentucky boards had already adopted the Common Core, sight unseen.

Under Critical Element 1.5, Kentucky still needs to provide:

“Evidence that the State has procedures in place for ensuring that each student is tested and counted in the calculation of participation rates on each required assessment.”

How’s that? Kentucky can’t provide evidence it really is testing all students with KPREP? Not even after the test has been in used for five testing cycles? That is a real problem.

And, the letter doesn’t stop there. To learn still more, click on the “Read more” link.

[Read more…]

Bluegrass Beacon: Liberty boosters, busters and bragging rights

BluegrassBeaconLogoIt’s time for another edition of “Liberty Boosters and Busters.”

Liberty Booster: Federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch, announced as President Trump’s pick to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

It’s one of Trump’s most important decisions as the 49-year-old Gorsuch will have a hand in shaping the court’s – and the nation’s – direction for decades and maybe even a century to come.

Former Kentucky Chief Justice Joseph Lambert called the choice “outstanding.”

“His entire career has been characterized by excellence. If any judge could replace Justice Scalia, this is the person,” Lambert told me.

Trump kept his campaign promise to nominate a Scalia-like jurist – at least per a recent study ranking Gorsuch as No. 2 out of 15 judges considered for their “Scalia-ness.”

Gorsuch wrote in a recent opinion that the Constitution “isn’t some inkblot on which litigants may project their hopes and dreams … but a carefully drafted text judges are charged with applying according to its original public meaning.”

Some of my friends on the political left won’t be big fans of Gorsuch’s belief that judges – as he states in a tribute to Scalia – should be “focusing backward, not forward.”

However, they should appreciate his willingness to restrain police powers and concerns about over-criminalizing America, which could directly impact Kentucky with its rapidly growing incarceration rate.

Gorsuch is a true believer in limited judicial power.

The “black robe,” he writes, “doesn’t make me any smarter” but it does serve “as a reminder of the relatively modest station we’re meant to occupy in a democratic society. In other places, judges wear scarlet and ermine. Here, we’re told to buy our own plain black robes.”

Liberty Busters: Uninformed defenders of Common Core State Standards.

Kimberly Kennedy in an op-ed points to two poor examples as “unbridled proof” that these mandated standards are “working”: a Harvard study, which covers a 20-year period stretching back long before Common Core began in Kentucky and Advanced Placement courses covering material well above the obligatory standards.

Kennedy, who describes herself as “a former educator and freelance writer,” fails to consider credible evidence from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores not fitting her pro-Common Core narrative. Those NAEP results indicate Kentucky eighth-graders’ math and reading performance dropped between 2013 and 2015.

She endorses some nebulous education department “survey” showing 88 percent of the commonwealth’s teachers and other education stakeholders giving Common Core a “thumbs up.”

Yet that survey made it difficult and time-consuming to offer even minor recommendations regarding Common Core.

It’s much easier just to give a “thumbs up” in the online survey monkey, which does little to convince Common-Core agnostics that it’s an accurate or meaningful result.

The most reliable survey occurred in November 2015, when Gov. Matt Bevin prevailed on a platform that included replacing Common Core.

Economic bragging rights: A “thumbs up” also goes to Bevin for his personal engagement in helping land Amazon and its new $1.5 billion shipping hub in Northern Kentucky; it’s the largest capital investment in the region in 30 years.

While companies consider many factors when expanding, coincidence alone cannot be credited for the fact that this decision, which will create 2,700 direct jobs – plus untold thousands of indirect positions – comes on the heels of Kentucky lawmakers passing economic-transformative policies, including right-to-work legislation.

Speaker Jeff Hoover noted in his response to Amazon’s announcement: “This is what happens when you create a business-friendly climate with good policies.”

Leaders in Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich downplays the importance of right-to-work, lament the loss of Amazon’s expansion – for which they vigorously competed – to Kentucky.

Kasich should rethink his approach.

Who knows how many more Amazon-like announcements loom on the horizon?

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.