Do parents really care about Kentucky’s school councils?

A major goal of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA) was getting parents more involved in their children’s schools. Towards that end, KERA required that virtually all regular schools in Kentucky had to install School-Based Decision-Making Councils (often referred to as SBDMs) no later than December 1996. These councils would take on major responsibilities for such things as curriculum development, staff selection and final allocation of finances that formerly were local school board prerogatives. Parents, elected by parents in the school, would fill some SBDM positions.

Kentucky’s SBDM governance scheme certainly created a major shift in power, but there was a catch – while parents would have a voice on the SBDMs, teachers alone would have the controlling votes. KERA stipulated that each SBDM would have a membership ratio of three teachers to two parents. Because a majority vote rules in SBDMs, this ensured real control over the schools would be in the hands of teachers, not parents. Still, it was hoped that parents would like the idea of having some voice on the SBDMs and get more involved.

In any event, as is true with many education fad ideas, the goal with SBDMs was noble, but after more than two decades of school council operations in Kentucky, reality is catching up. For a lot of reasons, questions about the efficacy of Kentucky’s SBDM system have bubbled up recently (you can read about some of those issues here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Given the original goal of increasing parent involvement in schools, I thought it would be interesting to examine some data in the Kentucky School Report Cards “Data Sets” section to get a feel for how well parents really participate in one of the SBDMs’ most important activities – the election of the parent representatives.

What I found is disturbing.

When I looked at the Kentucky Department of Education’s data for the 2016-17 school year, I found a total of 1,124 schools had data listed for both school student membership (often called enrollment by the general public) and the number of parents who voted for the SBDM parent representatives. If parents are participating enthusiastically, you would expect those numbers to agree fairly well.

To investigate that the level of agreement, I calculated the number of parent voters as a percentage of student enrollment in each school.

For example, the department’s data shows in the Hazel Green Elementary School the student membership in 2016-17 was 314 and the number of parents voting in the SBDM election was 280. That works out to a voter to student membership figure of 89.2 percent, which is really good.

However, there weren’t many cases like Hazel Green. Only 15 schools out of the 1,124 schools with data had an SBDM voter to student membership ratio of at least 50 percent. Still worse, 818 schools – 72.8 percent of all the schools – had only single-digit ratios of parents voting in the SBDM election compared to the total student enrollment – that’s all (You can check out this Excel spreadsheet covering all the schools to see more)!

This little study provides disturbing evidence that in the typical school in Kentucky the vast majority of parents don’t get involved with SBDMs very much. When almost three out of four schools have single-digit ratios of parent SBDM voting numbers compared to student enrollment, I submit that if a key purpose of SBDMs is to generate parent interest, then this school management model has failed very badly to attain that goal.

To be fair, there are limitations to this simple analysis.

For one thing, student enrollment is not equal to the total number of parents in the school. Some students still come from two-parent families (both parents can vote for the SBDM representatives in this case) and in some cases a family may have more than one child registered in a school. So, it would be unreasonable to expect really high agreement in the SBDM voter and student membership numbers.

There are also concerns about the general accuracy of the Kentucky Department of Education’s data. The numbers are self-reported by the schools. While I would expect the membership data to be fairly accurate, the parent vote data isn’t being audited and could have notable errors for some schools.

Still, the numbers in my spreadsheet look highly problematic. Simply put, the numbers in most schools are just way too low. When only about one in ten students or even less is represented in the vast majority of SBDM parent member elections, parent interest in SBDM activities in the vast majority of Kentucky’s schools is obviously problematic.

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Kentucky’s new charter schools head sounds off

The Kentucky Department of Education’s new director of charter schools, Earl Simms, talks to WDRB in Louisville about his new role and what is coming with charter schools in Kentucky.

Check the video interview here:

WDRB 41 Louisville News

Kentucky’s charter school regulations have been approved by the Kentucky Board of Education and are now moving through the legislative review process. Very likely, this process will be completed in time for a chartering organization to get a new school up and running as early as the 2018-19 school term.

Digital Learning: Care needed

My own experience indicates that, properly conducted, digital learning can be beneficial. Essentially similar machine-based instruction certainly proved to be an improvement nearly half a century ago when I was an Air Force Instructor Pilot programming the first generation of automated teaching technology to go operational in that service’s pilot training program. Student pilots picked up a number of skills more quickly and instructors could move immediately to more advanced discussions in their pre- and post-flight briefings because the students were getting basic introduction to new material in the learning center setting.

When I retired and went to work for a major US airline, that company’s annual recurrent and initial pilot training programs came to increasingly rely on significant amounts of digital learning approaches, as well. Again, this suited me and a lot of other pilots well.

But, technology isn’t always a magic silver bullet. If the instructional materials are not high quality and are not employed with skill, the old computer term “Garbage in, garbage out” can take hold quickly.

Obviously, if kids are playing video games instead of looking at the day’s instructional modules or listening to the classroom lecture, learning isn’t happening.

Thus, it wasn’t a real surprise when I heard about a new study about digital learning from the West Point Military Academy. Researchers split over 700 cadets into three separate sample groups to explore how varying amounts of technology impacted performance in a lecture-based sophomore level economics course.

As Rick Hess summarizes:

“On the three-and-a-half-hour final exam—which included multiple-choice, short-answer, and essay questions—students in the technology-free group fared best.”

On the other hand, students who were allowed to use technology in or out of the classroom as they desired scored lower by “a statically significant and pretty meaningful difference” according to Hess.

There are some important limitations to the West Point study. It appears that no lessons were designed to be taught on the computer, so the technology was only being used as an aid in traditionally taught classes.

Thus, the jury is still out on the real impacts of using digital devices in the instructional setting. However, the West Point study shows that caution is advised when digital learning is involved and more research is badly needed.

Along those lines, I have been looking at the first year’s test results for a very extensive digital learning effort that started in several Boone County schools in the 2016-17 school term. This one encompassed massive use of digitally based instruction as well as the use of digital devices as support elements. I’ll have more to say about that Boone County effort soon, so stay tuned.

KPREP achievement gaps for whites minus blacks – High Schools

Over the past few days I’ve blogged about the problems with white minus black reading and math achievement gaps in Kentucky’s elementary and middle schools since KPREP testing started in 2011-12. Today, let’s look at the high school gaps.

Figure 1 shows you the white minus black proficiency rate gaps over time from the KPREP English II End-of-Course exams used in Kentucky’s high schools. The English II End-of-Course exam scores are also used for reading accountability in Kentucky’s high schools.

As we saw in the lower grades, things don’t look very good during the time these tests, which are part of the ACT’s Quality Core series, have been in use.

Figure 1

High School KPREP EOC Reading for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

As you can see, the white reading proficiency rate has been jumping up and down slightly since 2014. The new 2017 white reading proficiency rate of 59.6 percent is actually lower than previously posted rates for 2015 and 2016 and really isn’t much different from the 2014 rate, either.

For all intents and purposes, the white high school level reading performance in Kentucky hasn’t really changed in half a decade.

The rate of progress for black reading performance looks just about the same, except that the scores are much lower. With the 2013 and 2015 black reading scores both higher than the latest 2017 results, about the best you can say is black high school reading performance in Kentucky has also been flat for half a decade.

The achievement gaps are also problematic. While the 2017 white minus black high school reading proficiency rate gap is smaller than in 2015 and 2016, it is larger than the gaps for 2012, 2013 and 2014. That isn’t progress.

Basically, after six years of Unbridled Learning testing, the English II End-of-Course exams indicate there has been scant progress in reading in Kentucky’s high schools since the Common Core State Standards came along either for whites or blacks.

Figure 2 shows the high school math situation.

Figure 2

High School KPREP EOC Math for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

This math picture is far more sobering than the flat reading situation.

For starters, the white math proficiency rate in 2017 is not only lower than it was last year, but it is more than a percentage point lower than it was back in 2012. That is a bit less than just flat performance.

The math situation for blacks as of 2017 is far worse. In fact, the drop in the black Algebra II End-of-Course exam proficiency was so severe in 2017 that I double-checked with the Kentucky Department of education to insure there wasn’t a typographical error. There was no typo, unfortunately. That 9.4 point math proficiency rate drop from 2016 to 2017 is apparently real.

Even if we were to consider the 2016 score as abnormally high, the 2017 score is still well below the initial 2012 score of 24.4 percent proficiency and is well below the rate for all other years, as well. When you consider that well under one in five Kentucky black high school students met muster in Algebra II in 2017, this is a very sobering situation indeed.

Arguably, Kentucky’s blacks have gone backwards in math since Common Core came along.

The high school math gap situation is also problematic. The most recent white minus black high school math gap is by far the largest ever since KPREP math testing began in the 2011-12 school term. That for sure isn’t what Common Core and KERA promised, either. What makes the gap growth particularly troubling is that even though the white math proficiency rate dumped by more than three points between 2016 and 2017, the white minus black math gap still managed to increase dramatically.

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Elementary School KPREP achievement gaps for white minus black scores getting worse

The new KPREP results for the 2017 test administration are now loaded in the Kentucky School Report Cards Database, so I took a look at how the latest elementary school level achievement gaps for white minus black proficiency rates in math and reading look.

The simple answer to my question is: very disappointing.

In fact, for elementary school blacks, their reading proficiency rate as of 2017 has now sunk below the level for the state’s students with learning disabilities. That’s just not acceptable.

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Quote of the day

“It is time for Kentucky to end the continued self-congratulations about how much progress we have made educationally since the days of KERA. We must acknowledge that student learning and performance across our state is far from what it needs to be if our children are to have a chance at success in the 21st-century economy, and to compete in future job markets with students from other states.”

Hal Heiner, Secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet
Lexington Herald-Leader Op-Ed

What if Kentucky Raised Its Education Level Just a Little Bit?

KY Ed Sec says even small improvement in education could solve state’s pension, budget problems

Kentucky’s Secretary of Education and Workforce Development, Hal Heiner, made a really interesting presentation to the Kentucky Board of Education today, and we think all Kentuckians should have access to those comments. Heiner says even a small improvement in the state’s educational situation could create on average a boost of 12 percent in family incomes and a whopping $20 billion in extra state revenue, enough to quickly deal with the current pension crisis and budget woes.

Kentucky’s disappointing new test results – other voices – Louisville

WDRB in Louisville has looked at the new public school testing results and declares:

JCPS test scores show small regression in reading and math, but improvements among middle school students.”

However, when you dig past the article’s headline, things appear even less rosy.

A few example comments from the article:

  • Only 44.5 percent of students scored proficient in reading and math, a decrease from last year and well below the state average.
  • College and career readiness also took a hit.
  • The achievement gap continues to widen among minorities.


Saying Jefferson County took a hit for its College and/or Career Readiness Rate is certainly correct. In 2015-16 the Kentucky School Report Card’s DELIVERY_TARGET, CCR tab shows the rate was 63.4 percent. It dropped by more than six points to 57.0 in 2016-17.

Regarding the achievement gap, I took a quick look at the district’s elementary schools’ combined math and reading proficiency rates over the past two school terms. Table 1 shows the results.

Table 1

Combined math and reading P rates Elementary Schools 2017

As you can see, the elementary school level white minus black proficiency rate on KPREP math and reading combined in Jefferson County, already very large, increased by a full additional point between 2015-16 and 2016-17 even though the white proficiency rate dropped by 2.1 points. The gap in 2016-17 of 31.0 points is considerably larger than the statewide average of 26.1 percent, by the way. The black combined proficiency rate is also 1.6 points behind the statewide average.

There is a big problem with gaps here. Currently, scarcely more than one in four black elementary school students in the district is proficient across these two critically important subjects.

At the present time the Kentucky Department of Education is conducting a massive audit of management in Jefferson County and it is clear that the district’s performance is very much on Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt’s mind. Reacting to the new scores, Pruitt told WDRB:

“My hope is that they’re going to have a real hard conversation about, ‘Why did our numbers go down? What did we do differently? Are we really paying attention to instruction or are we simply buying more books for us to practice tests?'”

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More from the Twittersphere

Back on September 23rd, Jim Waters, the BIPPS CEO, issued “Bluegrass Beacon: Site-based concept failing schools, students.” This Beacon article is about problems in general with Kentucky’s School Based Decision Making (SBDM) system. Waters points out that even in what, by Kentucky standards, is the high performing school district in Boone County, the SBDM system creates serious problems and notable confusion for even highly experienced educators.

Most notably, Waters’ article never even mentions Jefferson County or Louisville. The article is directed at a statewide problem that impacts all Kentucky school districts.

But, staying on topic doesn’t matter in the Twittersphere. The very same day that the Beacon article was released, a Tweet showed up criticizing BIPPS for “attacking” urban districts (think Jefferson County here) while calling Boone County “high performing.” The tweet alleged that Boone County had the same issues as Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), though “diluted” (whatever that might really mean). The Tweet’s implication was that educational performance in Boone County wasn’t materially different from Jefferson County’s.

Never mind that the article never made such comparisons.

In any event, the idea that folks in Jefferson County, which certainly isn’t performing well for its students, believed their school district was somehow equivalent to Boone’s performance was troubling. So, I collected 2016 ACT score data from the Kentucky School Report Card for each district and assembled that into the table below. Click the “Read more” link to see that.

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Update on what US Census shows about changes in education funding in Kentucky since KERA began – 2017

Out in the Twitter world I was recently challenged about Kentucky throwing more money at the education system since KERA began, so I thought an update on exactly how much education funding has increased in Kentucky would be worth adding to the blog.

One of the better, long-running sources of state education funding data is the US Census Bureau’s annual report series called Public Education Finances. The latest in the series is “Public Education Finances: 2015

Thanks to the fact that Public Education Finances has been issued for decades, we can look at how funding for education has changed since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 was enacted.

This table shows that story.

Table 1

Kentucky Education Expenditures 1989 and 2015 Compared

As you can see in the far right column of the table, real spending on education nearly doubled in Kentucky during the past two and a half decades.

In terms of dollars out of your tax-paying wallet, you are now paying 363.8 percent of what you paid in 1990.

It’s a sizable increase in education ‘bucks’ no matter how you look at it.

Still, despite all this increase in funding, only 40 percent of Kentucky’s fourth graders tested proficient or more in the 2015 NAEP Grade 4 math and reading assessments. In Grade 8, NAEP said only 36 percent read proficiently and just 28 percent did math proficiently.

Figure 1

Kentucky's NAEP Proficiency Rates on 4th and 8th Grade Reading and Math Assessments, Earliest Year Tested and 2015, All Students

Given that KERA was a quarter of a century old in 2015, I think there is reason to question the education bang Kentuckians are getting for our many bucks.

And, Tweeters who don’t get these data-based facts are probably in a small minority.

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