Jefferson County does not match up academically to other districts from audit that we can check

This week Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen delivered an audit on the functioning of the Jefferson County Public School (JCPS) District. Plenty of problems are listed in this 301-page report, but the auditor also provides over 200 suggestions on how to improve. That could be helpful – IF – Jefferson County folks ever get past their initial, knee-jerk denials.

WAVE-3 TV’s article, “JCPS fires back after audit claims wasted millions,” carried the first round of denials from a Louisville schools crowd that seems to place the status quo interests of highly paid school staffers ahead of those of Jefferson County Public Schools’ (JCPS) generally under-served students.

I dealt with some of the more general whining yesterday. Now, let’s look at a somewhat more technical denial, found at the end of the WAVE-3 post, where it says:

“JCPS said comparisons would have been difficult if Edelen did try to tie test scores to his audit. Three of the districts don’t have a testing system that can be easily compared with JCPS. As for the other two, JCPS said their scores trail Charlotte and Austin is a mixed bag. JCPS is roughly equal in reading but behind that Texas city in math scores.”

Very simply, I don’t think that is accurate. Once you look at the test data involved, which comes from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, I think Jefferson County does not look too good on the academic issues, either.

If you have a taste for details, read on.

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Louisville’s new schools audit: Let the denials begin

It was only a few hours after the new audit of the Jefferson County Public Schools was released on Wednesday by the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts before the denials started rolling in from Louisville’s entrenched, adults-first interests.

WAVE-3’s article, “JCPS fires back after audit claims wasted millions,” carried some of those first denials from a crowd that seems to place the status quo interests of highly paid school staffers ahead of those of Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) generally under-served students.

The audit is disturbing

It’s not surprising the adults-first crowd in Louisville is riled. The new audit takes clear aim at some long-time sacred cows – over-staffed and over-paid personnel in Jefferson County’s schools.

WAVE-3 points out some of the compelling evidence:

“The audit found 369 JCPS employees were making more than $100,000, three times more than one of the peer school systems auditors compared to JCPS.”

“Auditors found 150 salaries of $100,000 in central office alone. That’s compared to just 33 in Cobb County, Georgia central office outside of Atlanta, and 39 in Austin, Texas, two of the five benchmark school districts compared JCPS too.”

But deniers don’t want to hear it

The deniers excused those excesses in some rather nonsensical ways. They claimed many of the staffers had worked at Jefferson County for many years, apparently expecting us to believe everyone in comparison districts like Austin, Texas and Charlotte, North Carolina just arrived on their scenes recently.

One of the more outrageous excuses, as related by WAVE-3:

“Board member Carol Ann Haddad said the very public way Edelen went about all makes her think he’s using it as his own springboard to run for governor.”

Let’s see if we understand this. The auditor was wrong to issue a public report, funded with public tax dollars, in a public forum? Yeah, right!

Haddad really added to her denier status by saying:

“I really have a problem when people want to use education as a ground for political gain.”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

Actually, the auditor did his job – pretty diligently as far as my first reading into the audit indicates – and now he is accused of playing politics?

Why is Haddad trying to raise a smoke screen around some pretty clear indications in the audit that the Jefferson County Board of Education members – also all elected, don’t forget – have not carried the mail for their kids very well? Why isn’t she digging into the audit, first, to see what needs work? Who is really the one playing politics at the expense of students?

One more thing: the deniers brought up test scores, claiming that they didn’t really look so bad, at least compared to Austin, Texas, which has comparison testing data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. I’ll deal with that issue tomorrow and close by pointing out this situation provides dramatic new evidence that Louisville badly needs some real school choice options to help shake the establishment schools out of their denial problem.

State Auditor: Jefferson County Public School District has top-heavy bureaucracy

Confirming problems many have long understood on a subjective basis, the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts just released a huge report on the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS).

The report was actually requested by the Jefferson County Board of Education, which now might better understand its limitations in trying to control the huge bureaucratic monster in Louisville.

To be sure, findings in the Auditor’s 301-page report are extensive, pointing to a school system that seems more run for adults than students.

Louisville has been “skipping class” and has a lot of makeup work to do.

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Cheating at one of Louisville’s premier magnet high schools????!!!!

It was was low profile for some time, but WDRB has now resurfaced a story about a potential cheating scandal at Louisville’s Male High School.

WDRB says:

“Eight seniors at Louisville Male High School say they were helped by a school official – or witnessed the official helping their peers – on a standardized test that measures whether students are ready for college.”

WDRB’s article continues with some of the TV station’s own investigative reporting interviews with students and others. That reporting that makes it clear an investigation is clearly warranted and certainly points to a high likelihood that improper activities did occur at Male. Now, both the Kentucky Department of Education and the ACT, Inc., which developed and administered the COMPASS tests in question, are investigating.

The consequences could be dramatic.

Not only would cheating lead to consequences for those involved directly, but the school’s overall College and Career Readiness Rate in the state’s Unbridled Learning accountability program would also be impacted. That would reduce the overall accountability numbers for the school.

One more point: this is the second major issue to surface with COMPASS in the past few months. I wrote earlier (here, here and here) about an issue where students using certain smart calculators could compromise the accuracy of the overall COMPASS math score. That issue could impact many schools across Kentucky. However, so far there has been no public discussion about the exact amount of such impacts on the true College and Career Readiness rates. I hope the Kentucky Board of Education addresses the situation in a transparent way shortly.

By the way, I did a little estimate of what could happen to Male’s College and Career Readiness if the COMPASS cheating occurred. Click the “Read more” link to see that.

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Closing a school, but turning it into a charter school would be much better

The Courier-Journal reports that the Jefferson County Board of Education has thrown in the towel on trying to fix the endemically troubled Myers Middle School. Essentially, Myers is going to be closed. Scheduled incoming sixth grade students this fall instead will enter a number of other schools.

Myers current sixth and seventh graders, who will be in the seventh and eighth grades this fall, will all transfer along with most of Myers’ current teachers to the Waggener High School campus.

This little shuffle will play nice tricks on the state’s school accountability program because the new Waggener Middle School will have all of its state assessment goals reset. Waggener Middle can’t get back in trouble for several years. However, with the only real change being the building location, it’s hard to see how Myers’ problems will be fixed by this chair shuffle.

In fact, with the middle school students now closely located with the Waggener High kids, all sorts of new problems could raise their ugly heads. One comment found under the Courier-Journal’s article from Rich Gimmel points out that Waggener was a middle-high school once before and that arrangement didn’t work out well.

The really sad part of this story is that Myers would be a perfect situation for Kentucky’s first charter school, if we just had a law allowing them. Charter schools across the nation, especially in places like New Orleans, New York City and Boston, are stepping out dramatically in exactly the sorts of situations that plague Myers Middle.

While tradition-bound Jefferson County Board of Education members bemoan the fact that they have no clue why Myers continued to fail, charter schools in other states are sifting through all of that confusion to create student friendly situations where students who enter years behind can catch up and even surpass their traditional public school counterparts.

It’s time for Kentucky to jump on a school reform program that has now been adopted in 42 states. It’s time for Kentucky to move beyond a “protect the traditional public schools at all costs even when they don’t know what they are doing mentality” and do something right for kids, instead. It’s high time Kentucky offers the kids at Myers a real choice with a solid public charter school option.

How about giving us the CURRENT NAEP data on charter schools, correctly analyzed?

During last Thursday’s meeting of the Kentucky Senate’s Education Committee, Dr. Bob Rodosky, the statistical person from Jefferson County Public Schools, asserted his school district outperformed charter schools across the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2011.

That assertion surprised me for several reasons. First, charter school performance has been improving on the NAEP. Second, the latest NAEP data is from 2013, not 2011. Why cite out of date statistics?

So, I got curious. I cranked up the Main NAEP Data Explorer Web tool to generate the following tables. These tables compare NAEP reading and math performance for the fourth and eighth grade from Jefferson County and the nation’s charter schools. This 2013 data shows Dr. Rodosky’s comments are no longer accurate.

The most notable example is for eighth grade math, where white, black and Hispanic charter school students all outscored their racial counterparts in Jefferson County Schools by a statistically significant amount. In fact, most of the score differences shown are much larger than just statistically significant – they are just plain significant (I’ll be happy to send the Excel spreadsheets with full information, including the sampling error metrics, to anyone really interested).

G8 Math

It’s also worth noting that the racial demographics in the nation’s charter schools vary considerably from those in Jefferson County. Whites only make up 30 percent of the nation’s charter school enrollment, but they comprise 52 percent of the Jefferson County enrollment. Because whites in both cases significantly outscore the minorities, it essential to break the scores out by race if you really want to understand what is happening. Just looking at overall average scores can be highly misleading, a problem with test comparisons I have discussed many times before.

Continuing on, things don’t look much better for Jefferson County when we look at NAEP eighth grade reading.

G8 Read

Charter school whites and blacks both outscored their Jefferson County racial counterparts by a statistically significant amount. Hispanic scores were tied, once you consider the sampling errors in the NAEP.

The situation is similarly troubled for Jefferson County when we examine fourth grade math results. Here whites and Hispanics in charter schools did better than Jefferson County’s students. Black scores are statistically tied even though the blacks in charter schools did score four points higher than Jefferson County blacks did.

G4 Math

Finally, when we look at the scale scores from the NAEP Grade 4 Reading Assessment, we see no advantage for Jefferson County, once the statistical sampling error in NAEP is considered (Rodosky never mentioned statistical sampling error).

G4 Read

The bottom line here is that one of Rodosky’s main arguments against charter schools falls apart when we examine the latest NAEP data. It is clear that even average charter school performance across the nation is better overall now than what Jefferson County is producing. The clear message is that Jefferson County could most definitely benefit from even average charter school performance.

Of course, you first have to make charter schools legal in Kentucky, an action some adults in the school system seem to want to block at all costs, even if their reasoning is wrong.

Innes to talk about Priority Schools at Louisville 912 meeting

BIPPS’ Richard Innes will discuss education in some of Jefferson County Public Schools most troubled schools and what can be done to improve them. These schools, currently classified as “Priority Schools,” were initially called “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools.” Priority Schools are among the very lowest performing schools in the entire state of Kentucky, and Jefferson County has a disproportionate number of them.

Meeting Details:

Date: February 24, 2014

Time: 7 pm

Location: Jeffersontown Library,
10635 Watterson Trail, Jeffersontown, Kentucky

The library has plenty of free parking available

And, it took six years to replace this principal because……???

Legalize School Choice
One of Jefferson County’s lowest performing schools is the Valley High School.

It landed on Kentucky’s Persistently Low-Achieving Schools (PLAs) list in early 2010 – in the very first round – as one of the lowest 5-percent performers in the entire state.

Under the ReStaffing school improvement option selected after the school was identified, the principal was supposed to be replaced, unless an audit recommended otherwise.

That audit, formally the 03/14/2010 – 03/19/2010 School Leadership Assessment Report for Valley High, says:

“The school leadership assessment team has determined that the principal does not have the capability and capacity to continue the roles and responsibilities established in KRS 160.345.”

But, the principal was not replaced.

Two years later, a 02/26/2012 – 03/02/2012 School Leadership Assessment Report for Valley High found:

“The principal does not have the ability to lead the intervention and should not remain as principal of the school to continue his roles and responsibilities established in KRS 160.345.”

But, he wasn’t replaced after that second failure notice, either.

Incredibly, principal Gary Hurt was still in place during yet another, Special Review Report for Valley High School conducted in during April 17 to 19, 2013!

Playing like a broken record, this third audit says:

“The principal does not have the ability to lead the intervention and should not remain as principal of Valley Traditional High School to continue his roles and responsibilities established in KRS 160.345.”

That seems to have finally done the trick, but why did this drag out so long? Hurt should have been gone after the first audit came out in 2010. For sure, he should have been removed after the 2012 audit.

Clearly, the school district refused to face the truth. The Courier-Journal says the district kept this principal in place for a total of six years, well beyond any grace period that should have been allowed under the PLAs program.

So, it’s now 2014. The Courier-Journal says Valley High’s new principal has been in place less than a year, but there is some hope of progress at the school, finally.

Why did it take so long to make such an obvious decision? How can this deplorable trail of inaction even remotely be considered to be in the best interests of the Valley High students?

Even worse, at some point this became a much bigger story than just the poor performance of one principal. It became a tale of how everyone in the supervisory chain failed that principal’s students. Sadly, that chain stretches from the central office at the Jefferson County Public School System all the way to Frankfort.

This serious situation exposes serious and persistent problems with the traditional public school system, which continues to place the interests of adults ahead of students. Clearly, we need better pressure on that system if we are ever going to see the substantial improvements our students need.

We at the Bluegrass Institute think one way to create that badly needed pressure is through the creation of charter schools.

We tire of listening to traditional school bureaucrats make all sorts of excuses while they let a situation like Valley High fester on for almost four years. It’s time for some real changes.

Charter schools won’t be nearly the complete answer, but they are a badly needed tool that our ingrown traditional educators continue to resist just as stubbornly as they resisted the obvious need for leadership changes in Valley.

It’s time to start thinking about students, first.

Jefferson County Schools could benefit from what is happening in Boston’s charter schools

Legalize School Choice

A new report on the superior performance of Boston’s charter schools got me thinking about a comparison with Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public Schools.

Both Boston and Jefferson County are large, city-based school systems, but I honestly thought the student demographics in Boston would give that city a notable advantage over the Louisville area schools in any comparison of educational performance. After all, if Boston’s students were richer and less diverse than Jefferson County’s, any argument about Boston’s charter schools would fall on deaf ears in the Bluegrass State.

But, when I checked the actual data, boy did I turn out to be wrong!

The real student demographics in Boston and Jefferson County indicate the Kentucky school system actually should have huge advantages in any comparisons (click the “Read more” link to see details on demographics).

That made Boston’s and Jefferson County’s new reading and math proficiency rates from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Trial Urban District Assessments (TUDA) especially troubling. Basically, Boston beat up on Jefferson County although the student demographics strongly indicate this should have gone the other way.

NAEP Proficiency Rates in JeffCo and Boston 2013

For the three primary races in both cities – whites, blacks and Hispanics – Boston outperformed Jefferson County in every area except Hispanic reading. And, many of those differences are statistically significant.

Jefferson County didn’t have enough Asian/Pacific Islanders to get NAEP scores reported. And, neither city had enough American Indian/Alaskan Native citizens to get scores for that racial group, either, so no comparisons are possible there.

However, the overall message is stunning. Jefferson County had advantages that should have led to it universally outscoring Boston’s schools. That simply didn’t happen.

But, could Boston’s charter schools have played much of a role in the NAEP results?

I didn’t find information on the percentage of Boston’s children who attend charters there, but the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association reports that a 2010 change in Massachusetts law allows charter enrollment to run at 18 percent of all enrollment.

Also, it sounds like the charters quickly grew to absorb that allowed growth, and the growth was centered in high needs areas (Which I assume includes Boston). So, it looks like the enrollment in Boston’s charter schools is large enough to have an appreciable impact on the overall NAEP scores above.

That raises a new question: just what does Boston’s charter school performance look like?

How about this quote from a recent 2013 Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) study on Massachusetts charters:

• The average growth rate of Boston charter students in math and reading is the largest CREDO has seen in any city or state thus far. At the school level, 83 percent of the charter schools have significantly more positive learning gains than their TPS counterparts in reading and math, while no Boston charter schools have significantly lower learning gains.

Yes, this is the same CREDO organization that reported in 2009 that only a small percentage of charter schools outperformed traditional public schools across the country. The CREDO crowd does not hand out praise for charters lightly.

CREDO isn’t alone with praise for Boston’s charter schools, either. Another report on Boston’s charters, using a random-sample-like, lottery-based study method I think is superior to CREDO’s, also was released by a research team from MIT and Harvard in 2013.

Here are some of that report’s astonishingly good findings based on the MCAS test, which is the Massachusetts state assessment program:

• Each year spent at a charter middle school boosts MCAS scores by about a fifth of a standard deviation in English Language Arts (ELA) and more than a third of a standard deviation in math.

• High school gains are just as large.

For those of you who are not into the standard deviation “stuff,” a table found in the CREDO study mentioned above indicates those middle school scores would equate to about an extra 7.2 months of extra learning in English and over a year of extra learning in math. Wow!

Here are some more findings from the MIT/Harvard team:

• Charter enrollment produces gains on Advanced Placement (AP) tests and the SAT.

• Charter attendance roughly doubles the likelihood that a student sits for an AP exam and increases the share of students who pass AP Calculus.

• Charter school attendance also increases the pass rate on the exam required for high school graduation in Massachusetts, with especially large effects on the likelihood of qualifying for a state-sponsored college scholarship.

• Charter attendance induces a clear shift from two-year to four-year colleges.

The teachers unions have raised a fuss that charter schools supposedly under-enroll learning disabled students, so this last MIT/Harvard finding was particularly noteworthy:

• We also report estimates for a special education subsample, a group well represented at Boston’s charter high schools. With the exception of Adams Scholarship qualification and a possible delay in high school graduation, special education students seem to get as much or more from charter attendance as does the general applicant population.

This is EXACTLY the kind of performance we need in the many low-performing schools found in Louisville. If we had the option to convert them to charter schools using a well-crafted law such as that in Massachusetts, we could boost performance not only in Kentucky’s largest city, but also in other areas where education chronically underperforms in the Bluegrass State.

Why do our legislators keep fighting the obvious? Well-designed charter school programs benefit those who need it the most, students who are traditionally under-served by the standard public school system. We need to start thinking about what is best for kids, not adults, in our schools.

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Federal testing – Trouble in River City

Jefferson County math scores on federal testing look problematic

Legalize School Choice

New scores for major urban school districts from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were released today, and it looks like more trouble for Louisville and Jefferson County.

I put this first table together using the NAEP Data Explorer statistical significance test tools. It shows how white eighth grade students in Jefferson County Public Schools stacked up against their peers in the other large city systems that took part in what is called the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) program in 2011.

Whites G8 Math 2011

Note that Jefferson County was outscored by 10 other large city systems by a statistically significant amount and only outscored whites in Cleveland and Milwaukee by a statistically significant amount.

This next table shows results from the new, 2013 testing.

Whites G8 Math 2013

Big problems! Now white eighth grade students in 14 large city systems statistically significantly outscored Jefferson County, and Jefferson whites only statistically significantly outscored Cleveland. That is all.

Also, the eighth grade NAEP Math Scale Score for Jefferson County’s white students stayed perfectly flat at 285.

Now, let’s see how the Jefferson County African-American kids performed.

Blacks G8 Math 2011

In 2011 six large city systems outscored blacks in Jefferson County by a statistically significant amount and Jefferson County’s blacks outdid six other cities’ blacks by a significant amount.

That changed in 2013.

Blacks G8 Math 2013

Jefferson County’s blacks lost a bit of ground and now are outscored by blacks in seven cities and only bested blacks in four other large city systems.

Blacks in Kentucky’s largest city also experienced completely flat eighth grade math scores of 257 between 2011 and 2013.

This isn’t progress.

Not shown in the tables, but also released in the NAEP reports today, Jefferson County’s mathematics proficiency rates in math for both fourth and eighth grade are gruesome. White fourth graders in the district only scored 48 percent proficient on NAEP math, while the district’s white eighth graders only scored 35 percent proficient.

It gets depressing when we look at black math proficiency rates. In the fourth grade, Jefferson County’s blacks were only 14 percent proficient, and the eighth graders turned in an even more dismal proficiency rate of just 10 percent. That’s all!

After nearly a quarter of a century of promises that Kentucky’s education system was going to fix such problems, this positively cries out for more creative measures such as nation-leading charter school legislation that would allow parents some real choice options on where their kids get educated.