Jefferson County Schools playing games with Kentucky’s scholarship money

The Courier-Journal reports the largest school district in Kentucky now joins several others in watering down its grading system so more kids will get more scholarship money from the taxpayer.

Resetting the grading scale so more students will get “A’s” on their report cards does nothing to increase academic rigor in the school system. It is just more of what caused Dewey Hensley, the recently resigned chief academic officer in Jefferson County, “A boulder-sized sense of frustration regarding our lack of focus, our emphasis on perception above reality, and the lacking sense of urgency around achievement” in Jefferson County Public Schools.

Meanwhile, Carl Rollins, the executive director of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, claims that this sort of stunt does not increase the awards of KEES scholarships very much. But, Rollins’ data does not yet include the huge chunk of more Jefferson County students that will now be added into the mix from by far the largest school system in the state. Next year, the scholarship story will probably be different. After all, the people in Jefferson County who made this grade-inflating decision are counting on just that.

NAEP Shows Atlanta Charters Outperform

One of the major limitations with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the sampling error in all the scores. These errors can become quite large when we examine performance for smaller student groups such as black students in charter schools versus blacks in non-charters in the same school jurisdiction.

But, if enough students of color are present, and if their scores are really notably different, we can tell that from the NAEP. And, Atlanta’s 2015 NAEP scores show that city’s charter schools are outperforming traditional schools for black students, in most cases by amounts that are far more than merely statistically significant.


While it takes a fairly large score difference before we can declare Atlanta’s charters are outperforming the city’s traditional public schools, the NAEP Data Explorer’s statistical significance test tools show the scores are statistically significantly different for everything NAEP tested in 2015 in the city except Grade 4 Math. My manual calculation using the standard errors published for the Grade 4 Math scores indicate the actual score difference missed being statistically significant by about half a point. However, the very large score differences for the other subjects are not just statistically significantly different, they are simply very significant.

Atlanta’s charter school performance for NAEP Grade 4 Reading and both subjects in Grade 8 are impressive. Wouldn’t it be nice for Kentucky to join 43 other states that now have charter schools so we could import such good-performing educational systems into places like Louisville?

With a new governor, more evidence of problems in Louisville from the NAEP, and EXPLORE, and a crying need for school choice in Kentucky, it’s time to move ahead for children. It’s time for Kentucky to enact school choice legislation so that children, not adults in the school system, will become the real focus of our school system.

(Updated table on October 31, 2016. NAEP apparently fixed the earlier problem with the sampling error information for Grade 4 math and the statistical tool in the NAEP Data Explorer now provides a valid test)

Lack of improvement in Jefferson County’s NAEP Grade 8 achievement gaps no surprise

I wrote yesterday about how a correct analysis of the new National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results for Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) shows that the white minus black achievement gaps in the school district really have remained essentially unchanged.

That was no surprise to us, at least for the eighth graders.

You see, for many years NAEP Grade 8 math and reading performance has closely tracked another testing program given to all eighth grade students in Kentucky: the ACT, Inc.’s EXPLORE test.

We already knew that EXPLORE was showing something else from what JCPS would have us believe.

The graphic below will appear in our forthcoming update to our Blacks Falling Through Gaps series, but I thought we should show it now so we can make our message about the NAEP crystal clear:

Within the measurement errors associated with the NAEP, which only examines a sample of students, there has been no discernable improvement in recent years in the achievement gaps for Jefferson County in the eighth grade in either math or reading.

JeffCo EXPLORE - 2012 and 2015 Compared

As you can see in the section of the table titled “White Minus Black Gaps,” the changes in the gaps between 2012 and 2015 all show a small INCREASE in those gaps for all four subjects tested, including both math and reading. These small increases would not be detected by the NAEP accurately, but because EXPLORE is given to all Jefferson County public school students, there is no sampling error in the EXPLORE results. The small increases are real, and they obviously signal a continuing, serious problem.

And, Jefferson County Schools’ trying to fool the public by playing games with the real measurement accuracy available from the NAEP to hide such problems isn’t going to fly.

Sadly, it looks like former Jefferson County academic chief Dewey Hensley got it right in his resignation letter when he charged Jefferson County Schools suffer from a “great deal of time devoted less to developing quality schools for children and more about managing perceptions for adults.”

It’s time for less management of perceptions and more improvement for children in Jefferson County.

Does NAEP really show much improvement in achievement gaps in Louisville?

Over the past two days I have been writing about the new results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). I have been stressing that the NAEP has a fair amount of statistical sampling error in all of its data, and that often turns what appear to be “wins” into nothing more than ties. Today, you will see how this important NAEP fact of life impacts what we can really learn from this assessment about the achievement gaps in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS).

We can look at JCPS NAEP data because this very large school district has participated in what the NAEP calls its Trial Urban District Assessment program since 2009. However, the sample sizes collected are fairly small, and that generates a considerable amount of statistical sampling error in the scores. That sampling error limits our ability to detect real changes in the district’s performance. Very simply, it takes more than a few points of difference in scores before we can validly conclude that a true change has occurred.

Sadly, an understanding of the statistical limits in the NAEP seem to have escaped some staffers at JCPS, because they made public claims about gap improvements based on the NAEP that are not really accurate. With one exception, what looks like “wins” in achievement gap improvements in Jefferson County are actually only ties with the gaps previously posted. As far as we can validly determine from the NAEP, Jefferson County cannot claim much progress with its achievement gap problems.

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Innes going live on WLLV Friday morning

WLLV Radio Logo
Richard Innes, the Bluegrass Institute’s staff education analyst, will be on air live with Pastor Jerry Stephenson on Louisville’s WLLV AM 1240 starting at 10:30 am Friday, October 23, 2015.

Innes and Pastor Stephenson will be talking about new testing results for Louisville area schools including a disturbing answer to a puzzle about white and black high school graduation rates in some Jefferson County public high schools.

Call-in opportunity is normally offered on WLLV, so get your questions ready.

Is there more educational genocide in Louisville’s school system?

Dr. Dewey Hensley
Those of us at the Bluegrass Institute are still reeling from the shocking announcement yesterday that Dr. Dewey Hensley, one of the real educational stars in Kentucky, is quitting his post as the chief academic officer at the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS).

For sure, Hensley’s resignation letter makes it very clear: he isn’t leaving on happy terms. He fumes about “indecision” plus “marginalized voices, eroded credibility and a great deal of time devoted less to developing quality schools for children and more about managing perceptions for adults” that he sees in the obviously troubled JCPS. Hensley bristles about the “pseudo-innovation” going on in Kentucky’s largest school district and the fact that he feels set up to be the scapegoat for continued failure when he clearly has not had the ability to make real change.

Hensley certainly had a positive track record with the challenge of a seriously under-performing, inner city school. As the principal of the J.B. Atkinson Elementary School in the heart of Louisville, he produced dramatic improvements despite his school’s way above poverty and minority enrollment. He did that at a time when most educators seemed clueless about what works for these children.

Without question, Hensley was highly regarded by many.

He received a number of key awards, such as the Dr. Johnnie Grissom Award, for his performance at Atkinson, and for good reasons. He was a fan of innovative techniques like digital learning. He was willing to take Jefferson County to task for questionable school staffing decisions and was not afraid to challenge “the culture of can’t.”

In fact, when he ran Atkinson Elementary, it was far more than just a rapidly improving elementary school. It was a place that brought everyone, staff members, union leaders, and even college professors and students together to learn what worked for kids and how to carry that message out to a wider audience.

But, the JCPS can be a grinding, disheartening place to work. When the district hired Hensley away from the Kentucky Department of Education in 2012 to become its chief academic officer, I expressed concern that Hensley might not survive the do-nothing politics that seems to infect the district’s central office, writing at that time:

“It remains to be seen if the Hargens/Hensley team can overcome strongly entrenched adult interests in Jefferson County to effect real change for the system’s students.”

Sadly, it looks like those entrenched adult interests have won, again. And, the latest victim of the continuing academic genocide there is one of the few adults who showed some promise as a way to end the mess.

Of course the real losers in all of this are the students in Jefferson County. Their interests are being subordinated to the selfish concerns of adults in their school system – adults that Hensley clearly feels are more interested in the status quo and looking good than in actually doing good things for kids.

If ever there was a great argument for parents to have more school choices in Louisville, this has to be it.

Jefferson County’s busing woes go on

Drivers won’t even take more cash to do most challenging routes

JeffCo Busing Plan Rolling Over Parents - KidThe latest in the seemingly never ending saga of busing excesses in Jefferson County Public Schools is starting up again with the launch of another school year.

This time the issue is finding drivers to handle the district’s 50 worst bus routes. As one driver told WDRB:

“A challenging run consists of one bus driver with 50 plus kids that are out of control, crawling on the floors, jumping over seats, cussing, hitting other students, making obscene gestures, pulling pants down … You name it, they do it.”

That situation led to only 13 well-qualified drivers willing to go for the extra money involved to drive these 50 routes. So, only about one in four of these routes will have the kind of driver they really need.

Maybe if Jefferson County gave up on the failed idea of busing and fixed problems within schools instead, things would work better.

Will Jefferson County’s excessive busing crash due to driver shortages?

JeffCo Busing Plan Rolling Over Parents - Kid
The Jefferson County Public Schools’ busing madness may be running up against a new problem.

After years of kids being hauled all over the school district – sometimes miles from their homes – boredom and resulting misbehavior among the students were inevitable consequences. It’s no secret that student behavior problems and other issues have been growing for years.

Now, however, the problems of students acting out on the buses has gotten so bad that the school system is facing a new situation: record retirement and resignation of bus drivers.

WDRB reports that the Jefferson County Public Schools system is currently about 75 to 100 drivers short of what is needed to operate this massive system next fall. Is it possible that a bus driver shortage will finally force the school district to take a more rational approach to fixing its schools?

After all, as we pointed out in our “Blacks Still Falling Through Gaps, the 2012 Update” report, busing isn’t fixing achievement gap problems in Louisville. It’s just moving it around a bit.

Here are some key points from WDRB:

  • JCPS drives more than 70,000 kids to school every day (That’s about 70% of the entire enrollment)
  • Crashes are common
  • There are bus fights: sometimes so bad drivers are forced to pull over and wait for police
  • A video surfaced last month showing a school bus dragging a 7-year-old old girl down the street
  • Someone shot at a bus


It would be MUCH better if Jefferson County pushed for a real charter school law in Kentucky so they could reform some of their biggest problem schools into higher performing charters where local neighborhood kids would want to go to school. I am pretty sure most kids in Louisville look at long bus rides to schools far away from home as boring and sometimes frightening. Furthermore, despite something like four decades of trying, buses have not fixed Louisville’s extensive education problems.

Terrible, low bang-for-the-buck education idea in Louisville

Do you think building and operating a really expensive mockup of a NASA space center and mission launch control in one of our schools is a great educational idea? Well, as the Courier-Journal reports today in “Challenger Learning Center ‘on hold’ by JCPS,” the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) did exactly that. Inevitably, this costly idea has now failed to successfully launch in what is a spectacular example of lousy bang-for-the-buck planning.

[Read more…]

Jefferson County Schools’ busing woes never end

JeffCo Busing Plan Rolling Over Parents - Kid
We’ve written a ton of articles over the years about the expensive, environmentally unfriendly, and largely ineffective busing-for-integration effort that is still going on in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) (just search our blog using “busing Jefferson County” in the search window).

But, it looks like citizens of Kentucky’s biggest city just love to bang their head against the busing wall.

So, a new WAVE3.COM article about continuing violence on the buses is no surprise to us.

What is a surprise is the low learning curve about things that just don’t work for schools in Jefferson County. The Supreme Court figured out that busing wasn’t getting the job done years ago and dropped the mandate to bus for integration in Louisville.

Louisvillians keep on doing it to themselves, anyway, never seeming to realize that moving a black child to a school with better test scores for whites provides no guarantee that the black child will get the same education. In fact, that black child might not even wind up in the same classroom with the whites.

The WAVE3 article says that fights on Louisville’s school buses are down from 269 two years ago to 172 last year.

But, the article also says that John Stovall, president of Teamsters Local 783, the union that represents bus drivers, claims, “When some bus drivers report fights to the principal, who is the only one with the power to suspend a child from the bus, the incident is sometimes swept under the rug.” So, who knows what the real fight numbers are?

And, in 2012 the Courier-Journal pointed out that problems on the buses extend beyond fights to bullying and other forms of unruliness.

In any event, one fight is too many, but having something on the order of several hundred fights a year signals problems.

When you couple the bus violence with the evidence we assembled a couple of years ago that moving kids all over the map in Louisville didn’t result in better scores for the under-privileged kids who got sent to supposedly better schools on the East side of Louisville, it’s clearly past time for Louisville to fix its neighborhood schools, especially those in the West End. That way, students can thrive in a nearby school and parents can be close by for support, too. This would be a far better solution than burning huge amounts of diesel to operate what too often turn into rolling fight arenas.

JCPS doesn’t know how to fix those neighborhood schools you say. Then let’s – finally – try the charter school approach! We obviously need them in Louisville – and now in Lexington, too.