What education accountability can (and cannot) do, Part II

Once again, Prof. Gary Houchens, a Bluegrass Institute Scholar and Kentucky Board of Education member as well as a professor at Western Kentucky University, has posted a great blog about the goals and limitations of education accountability.

I highly recommend reading Dr. Houchens’ blog.

By the way, at the risk of oversimplification, an education accountability program is somewhat like the speedometer in your car. Without question, a speedometer provides valuable information for the safe operation of the car, but your speedometer won’t make your car go faster or slower. It is only a performance instrument.

Still, it is dangerous to ignore a speedometer and consequences for doing so can be very high.

Thus, the idea that we would want to rip an accountability program out of the education machine is just about as dangerous as the idea of ripping out the speedometer in our vehicles. The key is that we want a speedometer with accurate calibration and easy to read indications. I think our education speedometer needs more work in the accuracy and readability area, but the notion that we could get along without such a performance gauge is not good for our kids.

Mississippi fires testing contractor who made serious mistakes

Kentucky uses same contractor

AP reports that Mississippi has fired NCS Pearson after that testing company made serious grading errors on high school tests that have impacted graduation for as many as 1,000 students.

Some students who actually performed poorly on a high school history test erroneously got high scores while other students who actually did well got inaccurately low scores that might have prevented high school graduation.

The AP article points out that this isn’t the first time Pearson made mistakes on high school exam grading that adversely impacted students. The company also had to pay for a failure of its online testing system in 2015, as well. Pearson reimbursed Mississippi $250,000 for that computer glitch.

Pearson is the prime contractor for Kentucky’s KPREP tests in Grades 3 to 8. So far, problems such as those in Mississippi have not been reported during Kentucky testing.

KY Board of Ed gets bad news about projected math proficiency to 2030

The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) was heavily engaged in discussions about the state’s new school accountability system today, and one slide, shown in Figure 1, which didn’t make anyone happy, is shown below.

Figure 1

Kentucky Actual and Projected Elementary - Middle School Math Achievement to 2030

This slide shows actual average math scores from Kentucky KPREP testing in 2014 (blue bars) and 2016 (red bars) along with projected scores for 2018 (green bars) and a full school generation of kids out in 2030. Each section of the graph covers a different group of students:

ALL = All Students
W = White Students Only
AA = African-American Students Only
FR = Free or Reduced Cost School Lunch Eligible Students Only
SWD-IEP = Students with Learning Disabilities Who Have an Individual Education Plan

As you can see, even for the highest performing group, the white students, even 13 years from now the Kentucky Department of Education projects only 73 percent will be proficient. That would be an increase of 24 points from the 49 percent that KDE says were actually proficient in 2014. That works out to a proficiency rate growth rate of 1.8 points per year.

For African-American students, fewer that one in two, just 46 percent, will be proficient in 2030. In 2014, 30 percent were proficient, for a growth rate of only 1.2 points per year

Of course, this is based on Kentucky’s somewhat unproved KPREP test results. For an even more disturbing look at the state’s slow rate of progress, click the “Read more” link.

[Read more…]

Principals indeed should lead, but Kentucky’s SBDM laws interfere with that

WDRB reporter Toni Konz posted a couple of Tweets a few days ago regarding the importance of the principal being a real leader in the school. She’s right about that.

Konz Tweets About Principals Leading

BUT, thanks to Kentucky’s awkward School Based Decision Making laws, which come from the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, principal leadership is seriously hampered in Kentucky.

Instead of supporting strong principals, Kentucky’s schools have a mandatory rule-by-committee system, a governance system that often proves problematic in human organizations.

[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…]

Seven Myths About Education

Bluegrass scholar Prof. Gary Houchens has his own, great blog, and one of his new entries is a really though-provoking winner. In “Seven Myths About Education,” Houchens discusses a book with the same title that takes a lot of what we hear are “proven facts” about education to the wood shed.

Check out what the book and Houchens believe about these seven myths:

• facts prevent understanding
• teacher-led instruction is passive
• the twenty-first century fundamentally changes everything
• you can always just look it up
• we should teach transferable skills
• projects and activities are the best ways to learn
• teaching knowledge is indoctrination

If you are a parent, ask yourself if any of these myths are driving what happens in your child’s classroom. Your child’s future could depend on it.

New Education Week/NPR reporting shows Kentucky’s education spending is low

BUT, school spending in Kentucky doesn’t correlate to better academic performance

Some of the more radical public school supporters in Kentucky are complaining on social media – again – about the state’s relatively low spending per pupil compared to the rest of the nation. This time, they point to a recent article from Education Week with a map that color codes education spending in each school district across the country. Districts shaded in red and orange spend below the national average while those coded in shades of green spend above the norm. Kentucky, of course, is heavily shaded in orange and red.

But, there is a dirty little secret those spend-more-on-education-even-if-we-can’t-afford-it social media folks aren’t telling you – there is no correlation between higher education spending and better school performance.

And, Kentucky’s financial and testing data for the very same year cited by EdWeek and NPR – 2013 – proves that.

The PDF table I created, the Correlation for Spending and Math and Reading P Rates in 2013, shows total per pupil expenditures in each Kentucky school district in 2013. The table also shows the average proficiency rate in math and reading combined for each district in 2013 KPREP testing. I calculated that overall average for each district from the simple average of each district’s elementary, middle and high school math and reading scores. For districts without high schools, the average only was computed across elementary and middle school results.

I then ran a standard statistical calculation called a “correlation” to determine the relationship between those district spending amounts and their combined math and reading proficiency rates.

That correlation was -0.070, which is about as close as it gets to no correlation what so ever.

So, in Kentucky at least, spending more, or less, in 2013 didn’t have any relationship with better school performance.

This means simply throwing more money at education isn’t going to get us what we really want, which is much better performance for our students.

It would be MUCH better if our educators looked at those districts which are getting above average results with modest amounts of funding to try and figure out how to do the job more economically, not more expensively.

[Read more…]

Private school vouchers help level the playing field

An Op-Ed from the Cincinnati Enquirer offers some interesting counters to those who criticize the use of school vouchers that allow former public school students with low family incomes to attend a private school of their choice instead.

The Op-Ed’s author, Aaron Churchill, points to a number of positive impacts from vouchers such as an opportunity for students who are not being well served by their public school to seek an alternative with higher potential. He also takes issue with critics that claim voucher programs don’t really do better with these students, pointing out that 14 of 18 top quality studies do show vouchers improve results.

[Read more…]

State looks for legal help to examine JCPS collective bargaining agreements

The Courier-Journal reports that the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is now advertising for legal help to dig into collective bargaining contracts with Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) as part of the department’s ongoing and massive management audit of this troubled school system.

According to the Courier, the KDE

“…said it wants an analysis as to whether the contracts were negotiated in good faith, followed best practices and focused only on areas that were permissive subjects of bargaining, among other things.”

It certainly seems like KDE already smells smoke here and wants to see if there is a real fire behind it.

[Read more…]

Teacher staffing in Kentucky still very problematic

We have written very frequently in the past about Kentucky’s very abnormal and low ratio of teachers to other staffers in our public school system (such as here, here and here, to cite only a few examples).

The problem is that when other staff members bloat up the manning in a school, teachers’ salaries inevitably suffer.

Recently released data in the latest Digest of Education Statistics for 2016 allow us to update our ranking graph for teacher staffing in Kentucky versus other states’ and Washington, DC’s schools.

As you can see in the graph below, we have not improved the situation.

Teacher to Staff Ratio to 2014 for Kentucky

In fact, back in 1989, the year before Kentucky’s education reform act was passed, teachers in Kentucky’s public schools made up 50.1 percent of the entire school staffing and we ranked No. 43 for our staffing ratio. As of the latest data for 2014, Kentucky’s teacher-to-other-school-staff ratio shrank to only 42.8 percent.

Thus, as of 2014, Kentucky now ranks No. 49 for its very low teacher-to-total-school-staff ratio a ranking virtually unchanged since the early 1990s. And, that has bad implications both for teachers’ salaries and educational performance, too.

[Read more…]