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.

Taking a better look at new graduation rates in Jefferson County Public Schools

Due to the troubling rate of improvement in a large number of Persistently Low-Achieving Schools (PLAs) found in Jefferson County’s public schools, the entire school district has been under a microscope for some time.

Concerns really started to ratchet up after the Kentucky Board of Education was told on February 6, 2013 that the worst progress in PLAs improvement was found in Jefferson County.

Things exploded several days later on February 10, 2013 when Education Commissioner Terry Holliday used the term “Academic Genocide” to discuss what was going on in Kentucky’s largest school system.

Following those shocks, it’s understandable that Jefferson County District staffers are eager to grab at anything that shows hope for their schools. Unfortunately, desperately gabbing at straws can create more problems than solutions.

Thus, when the school district issued a press release earlier this week claiming the high school graduation rate rose by 1.6 points (as mentioned in this WAVE-3 TV video) between 2011 and 2012, I got curious.

It turns out that while Jefferson County’s high school “Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate” (AFGR) did increase for all students from 67.8 percent to 69.4 percent between 2011 and 2012, the rate in 2011 had previously declined from the 69.3 percent figure posted in 2010.

Overall, in the past two years, Jefferson County has hardly made any progress in its overall high school graduation rate, just a scant 0.1 point improvement – hardly anything to cheer about.

In the interest of giving you a more complete picture, this table shows the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) latest information about Jefferson County’s high school graduation rates for the Class of 2009 through the Class of 2012.

There is a cautionary tale in this data. While the 2012 rates are mostly higher than those back in 2009 (exception – Hispanics), there actually were declines in graduation rates in Jefferson County between 2010 and 2012 for males, Asians and Hispanics. Whites made no improvement what so ever between 2010 and 2012, as well. That implies Jefferson County mostly hit a progress plateau after 2010.

African-Americans overall did make a 1.1 point improvement between 2010 and 2012, but the very low rate in 2012 needs to be considered in light of the data for males and females. Unfortunately, we don’t get disaggregated data by sex by race from the KDE, but with the huge gap in male-female graduation rates overall, it is very likely that the black male AFGR in 2012 in Jefferson County was less than 60 percent, a threshold number that a research team at the Johns Hopkins University uses to identify “Dropout Factory” performance. It is also possible that black males did not share the progress of black females.

The bottom line is that Jefferson County continues to have major problems. The school district will do better if it spends less time trying to gloss over that fact and more time on some of the good ideas that Superintendent Donna Hargens is trying to implement despite dubious help from her local teachers’ union.

KY Ed Commissioner tells how union contract blocks needed reforms in Louisville’s schools

The Leadership West Louisville Institute hosted one of their Lunch Forum Panel discussions today on the “Academic Genocide” going on in Louisville’s Persistently Low-Achieving Schools (PLAs). Panelist Terry Holliday, the Kentucky Commissioner of Education, got hit with what-if questions and came right back with some here’s-how-it-is answers. This is by far the strongest commentary yet from Holliday about how the union contract with the Jefferson County Teachers Association has prevented needed changes in Louisville’s PLAs.

Jefferson County projects up to 6,000 high school graduates in June

Will graduates have the skills they need?

The Courier-Journal reports that up to 6,000 students may graduate from Jefferson County high schools this June.

Actually, that’s not very good news. You see, the Jefferson County Class of 2013 entered high school four years ago as ninth graders with 8,391 members in attendance.

One year later, this class had already been whittled down to just 7,728 students in the 10th grade.

Even if 6,000 of the Jefferson County survivors of this class graduate, an Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate calculation like that currently used for school accountability in Kentucky shows less than three in four of the first time students in this class will survive to graduation.

Furthermore, one must wonder if the students who do graduate will have more than a hollow piece of paper in their hands after they cross the stage.

The Class of 2013 took the ACT college entrance test one year ago as 11th grade students. With the class further whittled down to only 6,228 students as of the March ACT testing last year, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s ACT Benchmark Score results showed that less than half of the class was ready for Freshman English at a Kentucky university or two-year college. Little more than one out of three were ready in math and reading. The rest of these students will likely require non-credit bearing remedial course work if they do move on to postsecondary education, assuming they actually do graduate this June.

Kentucky gets more money to turn around Persistently Low-Achieving Schools

But, will this help Jefferson County?

The US Department of Education just announced that Kentucky will get another $7.7 million to spend on improving the state’s Persistently Low-Achieving Schools (PLAs) under the federal government’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program.

US Ed’s announcement also claims:

“Early findings show positive momentum and progress in many SIG schools, and some of the greatest gains have been in small towns and rural communities.”

That is generally true here in Kentucky. The one glaring deficiency in the program, as has been made amply clear by Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday, is that most of the lagging PLAs are found in one location – Jefferson County.

This table shows the 2011-12 to 2012-13 trends in the percentages of students reaching or exceeding the PLAN Benchmark Scores in Jefferson County’s PLAs high schools along with the district and statewide data.

PLAN is given to all 10th grade students in the fall of the school term and the benchmark performance provides a good idea about how many students are on track to succeed in college and careers as of this grade level. Score declines in 2012-13 are shown in larger red typeface. Note that the majority of the Jefferson County PLAs high schools saw declines in both their mathematics and reading performance and now lag WELL behind the statewide average performance. The large number of PLAs schools in Jefferson County also dragged the overall district performance down, as well.

Statewide, aside from a slight drop in the reading performance, scores stayed stable or increased. So, Jefferson Count won’t catch up to the rest of the state when its scores are going backwards. Unless there is a dramatic change in performance with the ACT testing of 11th grade students, which is going on this month (beware of cheating, KDE!!!), the PLAN data indicates we can anticipate some significant management changes in Jefferson County schools this summer.

New PLAN data for Jefferson County shows many problems

The tables below (click on it to enlarge, prints out best on legal size paper), have some very interesting information about the new PLAN test performance in Jefferson County’s high schools and the most recently available demographic data for those schools.

PLAN is a test from the ACT, Incorporated that is linked to the ACT’s college entrance test, which is given to all 10th grade students in Kentucky’s public schools. The PLAN Benchmark Score performance provides useful information about the percentage of students who are on track for college and careers. Both tables are sorted by the math Benchmark performance.

Some quick observations:

Regarding PLAN academic performance, the math Benchmark performance in the Persistently Low-Achieving Schools (PLAs) in Jefferson County is terrible. Only 1.9% of the 10th grade students in Valley High School were on track for college and careers as of the fall of this current school term. After nearly a quarter century of KERA, that is atrocious! Other schools like Western High, The Academy @ Shawnee, Doss High, etc., did little better. In fact, even the top performing PLAs school, Fern Creek High, is adequately preparing scarcely more than one out of ten students in math.

Science results are just as dismal for many of these schools, and only around one in for students or even fewer have acceptable reading skills, as well.

Next, consider the demographics in these schools. Note that the spending per pupil is much lower in the high-performing magnet high schools like DuPont Manual. Spending in DuPont Manual is actually around half or less the spending in some of the PLAs. So, money isn’t the answer.

Louisville’s school system has a serious problem with sex biases. Note that the schools with the worst math performance have heavy ratios of male to female enrollment, while the magnets found at the top of the table have predominant female enrollment.

The biggest discrepancy in enrollment by sex is in the highly black (77.7% black) Central High School. Females outnumber the males by a factor of nearly two to one.

Example: DuPont Manual is only 40.8% male and 59.2% female while the bottom listed school, Iroquois High, is 54.8% male and just 45.2% female.

No surprise: Whites predominate in the magnet high schools, while blacks are heavily over-represented in the Persistently Low-Achieving Schools.

Based on the free and reduced cost school lunch statistics, it’s very hard for poor kids to get into a magnet high school in Jefferson County. These mostly serve white kids.

The “Transition to Adult Life” failure rates for some schools are alarming. Valley High School’s reported 45.5% failure rate is astonishing, even compared to other PLAs high schools. Coupled with the school’s dismal, “Dropout Factory” level graduation rate of just 52.4%, this school isn’t preparing many kids for life. Even those with diplomas often only have a hollow piece of paper.

Western High’s 19.0% transition failure rate and Moore’s 13.1% failure rate are also disturbing. This places the rather dismal graduation rates in those schools in sharper relief, as well.

[Read more...]

Insight: What’s behind the best improvement in any Persistently Low-Achieving School

We’ve been talking a lot about the lack of notable progress in Jefferson County’s large number of Persistently Low-Achieving Schools (PLAs). Although student enrollment there amounts to only around 18 percent or so of the statewide enrollment, 18 of the 41 PLAs, or 44 percent, are in Jefferson County. Sadly, the rate of improvement in those schools is so bad that Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday recently likened it to “educational genocide.”

While Jefferson County languishes, however, another PLAs school, the Lincoln County High School, is getting its act together. A recent news article, “Lincoln County High leading all PLA schools on improvement indicators,” in The Interior Journal points out, Lincoln is posting the best turn-around performance of any PLAs.

Lincoln Superintendent Karen Hatter says she:

“…believes her high school’s turnaround was made possible by faculty and administrators who ‘embraced the idea of transformation’ after the school was designated PLA.

‘You can either accept your place and try to improve and look at it objectively, or you can make excuses,’ she said. ‘They didn’t make excuses.’”

My, that’s a refreshing bit of honest educator acceptance of a problem!

How very different from the denial dance going on in Louisville.