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.

[Read more...]

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.

Brookings Institution report: Kentucky lags in engineering, technical talent

A new report from the respected Brookings Institution focuses on economic well-being related to manufacturing growth potential in the Bluegrass region, specifically the “Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement,” or BEAM region. This region includes counties in Indiana near Louisville along with Jefferson County and its surrounding counties and other counties running east to Lexington.

In “Seizing the Manufacturing Moment: An Economic Growth Plan for the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky,” Brookings notes that the BEAM area is:

“…a distinctive region of ‘makers’—manufacturing that creates quality jobs and drives innovation from Ford and Toyota motor vehicles, to state-of-the-art GE appliances, from the sprawling plants of those major multi-nationals to more than 1,600 firms producing a wide variety of goods, including 97 percent of the world’s bourbon.”

But, the report points to chilling statistics that show the Bluegrass region is workforce challenged to meet aspirations for future growth in manufacturing.

Brookings says:

“Kentucky and the BEAM region significantly trail national averages on measures of its engineering and technical workforce. It ranks in the bottom 10 percent on most: 48th among the states in the percentage of college degrees awarded that are in engineering and natural sciences, 48th in the percentage of technology workers in the labor force.”

Given that more than two decades have passed since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA), this is a truly stunning revelation. Since the early days of KERA, Kentuckians have been inundated with claims about all the progress supposedly achieved in the Bluegrass State’s schools.

Well, that progress is apparently seriously inadequate when we are talking about getting more of our children ready for real careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Worse, while Kentucky clearly has a long way to go in the STEM catch up game, the state’s new education game plan isn’t a winner.

The new Kentucky Core Academic Standards, which are totally derived from the Common Core State Standards for math and from the Next Generation Science Standards for science, offer little likelihood that many of our students will have an opportunity to be fully prepared for STEM courses in the future.

The new math standards cut off with Algebra II. The standards never even consider at least two more years of high school math coursework through the minimum of pre-calculus that STEM career hopefuls need.

The state’s new science standards cut off at the end of 10th grade biology, omitting for the most part everything STEM hopefuls need in chemistry and physics, or basically the last two years of meaningful science courses for students who want careers in science.

Because these advanced math and science courses are not in the state’s standards, our schools have no requirement to offer them. Furthermore, our state’s education leaders have no plan or method to evaluate the quality of those courses in any schools that voluntarily decide to provide a full STEM preparation track.

Turning your back on the last two years of coursework needed to go into STEM careers is a terrible way to improve the state’s performance in this area, but that is what our education leaders have done.

So, if the mayors of Louisville and Lexington, who are the driving force behind the new Brookings report, really are serious about “Seizing the Manufacturing Moment,” they need to pay some serious attention to the state’s new standards. Because, while the Kentucky Core Academic Standards claim they are focused on STEM preparation, the truth is the new standards lack the follow-through required to really make it happen for our students, and our economy.

[Read more...]

Pay attention educators: Misleading the public about school performance has consequences

We’ve written many times in the past about deceptive reporting in Jefferson County’s “Every1Reads” program such as here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and even here, way back in 2008.

The issue: the Jefferson County school system – in an attempt to grossly inflate its true performance on teaching students to read – created really “dumbed-down” statistics for its Every1Reads program. Those home-grown statistics implied many Jefferson County students were doing just fine and “reading at grade level.”

In truth Jefferson County’s Every1Reads statistics claimed success for any student that scored above “Novice” on Kentucky’s now defunct, very undemanding CATS reading assessments. As a result of this deception (the Kentucky Board of Education, which controls state testing, never claimed scoring above Novice was reading at grade level), Jefferson County’s citizens were regularly told that astronomically high percentages of their students – on the order of 90 percent – were “reading at grade level,” implying all was well.

The truth is that even today very low proportions of Jefferson County students actually read proficiently. This fact became brutally clear when the school district began to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ (NAEP) Trial Urban District Assessments in reading in 2009. Only 30 percent of the district’s fourth grade students and just 26 percent of the eighth graders met the NAEP standard for proficiency. Two years later, the district’s proficiency rates on 2011 NAEP testing scarcely improved. The fourth graders were only 34 percent proficient and the eighth graders were just 27 percent proficient.

Flash forward to the present and it appears the Every1Reads statistical deception is creating really unfortunate consequences. Finally facing up to the stark reality from both the NAEP and now Kentucky’s new K-PREP testing, the district is scrambling to find more Every1Reads volunteers. However, a Courier-Journal article, “JCPS rallies to raise elementary reading scores; search for mentors comes up short,” says the district wanted 1,500 volunteers for the Every1Reads program but only got 600.

That’s what happens when you mislead the public about performance. After feeding its citizens a lot of inflated nonsense for years, this shortage of volunteers was just about inevitable.

Sadly, many Jefferson County students who really can’t read are the ones suffering, not the education system adults who tried to claim otherwise.

So, in the interests of the children, I’ll add my support for the call for Every1Reads volunteers. Volunteers have always been badly needed even if the Jefferson County School District wasn’t honest enough to admit that before.

[Read more...]

Changing dropout age to 18 minimum worries Jefferson County Board of Education Member

While enough Kentucky school districts have now approved a minimum dropout age of 18 to make this mandatory in a couple of years for all school districts, there is plenty of quiet concern that this policy change may not really work so well.

Among the doubters is Jefferson County Board of Education member Linda Duncan, who lays out her concerns in this opinion piece:

Raising Kentucky’s Dropout Age | Linda Duncan: ‘Nagging thoughts’ about change.

Among other issues, Duncan raises a new point: will the change mostly just produce misleading statistics that provide an image of dropout figures being reduced while many students still wind up missing before graduation?

Jefferson County Teachers’ contract negotiations have started, Part 1

There is no shortage of discussion about this highly restrictive contract

Teachers' Union Contract Time in JeffCo

I ran into Donna Hargens, the superintendent of the Jefferson County Public School District at yesterday’s meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education. I wished her well as she starts what could be the most important teacher’s contract negotiation in Jefferson County Schools’ history.

To be sure, problems created in the current contract are significant.

Learn about some of those problems from audio and video recordings available in the “It’s Time To Put Kids First” web site.

For example, you can listen to our good BIPPS friend Mandy Connell from WHAS radio in a 30-minute interview with Labor Relations Attorney Peter Janus. Mandy and Mr. Janus do a nice job outlining much of the crazy, adults-before-kids stuff in the current Jefferson County Teachers’ Union contract. They discuss how this short-changes students and creates a more parent-hostile school system, as well.

Other posts allow you to play a radio ad about the union issues from It’s Time To Put Kids First.

There is even a video that I shot of Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday discussing problems in Jefferson County.

Squabble over alleged union complicity in Louisville’s “academic genocide” kicks up a big notch

The latest shot in the “academic genocide” tiff between the Kentucky Department of Education and Jefferson County public school educators got fired in today’s Courier-Journal. Says the Courier, “Teachers union denies holding up low-performing Jefferson County schools.”

Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) president Brent McKim is challenging Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday to come up with specific examples of how teachers in some of Louisville’s Persistently Low-Achieving Schools (PLAs) road blocked needed changes.

McKim demands:

“We are particularly interested in which specific schools have been demonstrating ‘significant resistance’ with some detail, so we can plan school visits to these sites to try to understand what has been occurring.”

McKim’s latest action mystifies me.

I don’t understand why he and his staff aren’t already spending time in those PLAs and do not already know what is going on. It’s no secret which schools are not performing well – we all know that. Why isn’t JCTA already there?

There’s still more mystery. Holliday already provided some very specific examples of union-related resistance to reforms.

Some of those examples include teachers who attempt to hide behind the union’s contract to avoid meeting together in collaborative groups and to avoid receiving in-class coaching.

In fact, there has been a lot published on union interference in the Jefferson County PLAs.

All of which could make McKim’s new challenge a mistake.

McKim’s challenge could force identification of individual teachers who did the things Holliday has already discussed. If individual teachers refused to cooperate without legal support (and, even McKim has admitted the PLAs law supersedes the union’s contract), such teacher refusal might be considered insubordination. Insubordination can get an employee fired regardless of union protection.

In the end, someone could walk away from this game as a very big loser.

Meanwhile, as the adult squabbling continues, thousands of Jefferson County kids remain trapped in PLAs that aren’t making much, if any, improvement.

Educators: Do they or don’t they know what works?

And, when will they ever get on the same page?

If students’ lives were not being ruined by the controversy, some of the nonsense coming from Thursday’s Leadership West Louisville lunch forum about the educational genocide in that city’s schools would be hilarious.

During the meeting, while talking about what is needed to turn Louisville’s Persistently Low-Achieving Schools around, Jefferson County Superintendent Donna Hargens declared, “We know what works.”

In Friday’s coverage of the event, the Courier-Journal quotes Jefferson County Teachers Association president Brent McKim saying:

“We all want to find the silver bullet that works. But we haven’t quite found it yet. But we’re all committed to not stopping until we do.”

McKim’s comment to the Courier that “state law forbids a union contract from interfering with written reform plans at persistently low-achieving schools” also disagrees sharply with comments from Commissioner Terry Holliday that provided specific examples where the union contract was used to block needed reform activities.

No wonder there has been so little progress. The union remains on a totally different page from everyone else.

In fairness to the students, the Kentucky Department of Education may have to step in to run some of these schools. And, since union leader McKim has now stated the union contract cannot get in the way of that process, maybe something good will finally happen for kids in Kentucky’s biggest city.