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.

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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.

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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.