Politics as usual in Louisville’s school board elections

WFPL reports “Teachers Union Could Spend Big on JCPS Board Endorsements.”

What an understatement.

In past years the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) made “independent expenditures” of over $100,000 a piece in support of individual candidates in the county’s school board races.

There is nothing illegal in this, but such overwhelming financial support makes it almost impossible for anyone the union does not like to win a seat on the Jefferson County Board of Education.

Do you think a teachers’ union should have so much influence over election of officials who will eventually cut the contract with that union? Is the public really well-served by this process?

Progress in Jefferson County High Schools??? NOT so fast!

Over at the Prichard Committee’s blog, Susan Weston just posted data she worked up for her recent presentation to the Louisville Forum about the condition of Jefferson County’s public schools.

Weston claimed that while Jefferson County’s elementary and middle school students notably lag behind their counterparts in the vast majority of other Kentucky school districts, the “high schools look much healthier.”

Well, that diagnosis may be an uncomfortable forerunner of what is about to happen to real health care in this country. It’s way off. Louisville needs a second opinion.

To begin, Weston looked at test results for the overall student average scores and separately for low-income student scores and for African-American student scores.

Ms. Weston claims that in both reading and math, Louisville’s fourth and seventh grade students lagged behind somewhere between 76 percent to 92 percent of the other school districts in Kentucky depending upon the subject, grade level and student group considered.

That is a pretty low performance level.

In very sharp contrast, she claimed that for 10th grade reading and 11th grade math, only somewhere between 17 percent and 42 percent of the other districts performed better than Jefferson County.

That is a huge difference – making Jefferson County High Schools look like miracle workers.

Can this really be?


Weston forgot a good rule with statistics. If things look too good to be true, better check for some hidden explanation.

In this case, it really isn’t hard to understand what is happening.

Very simply, Jefferson County drops out a much higher proportion of its kids than other districts do before those kids ever get to take high school tests. It’s no wonder that the remainder in Jefferson County’s high schools looks like they are doing better – proportionately there are a lot fewer kids left to test than in other districts. And, as dropouts, overall those Jefferson County kids would certainly drag down the averages had they stayed in school long enough to test.

The truth is that while other districts are working hard to keep kids in school, even if they will score low on state tests, Jefferson County has some of the lowest graduation rates in the state in the new 2011 graduation rate report that was released last week by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE). This table summarizes some of the grim reality in those new graduation rate statistics.

In fact, while the overall statewide graduation rate went UP in the new KDE report from 76.7 percent in 2010 to 78.0 percent in 2011, Jefferson County’s overall high school graduation rate for all students dropped from 69.3 percent in 2010 to the 67.8 percent figure you see in the table above.

Yup – FALLING graduation rates! That’s the stuff that makes for a “healthy” school system – NOT! But, it can inflate high school test scores.

Jefferson County Schools central office cleanup saves millions

The Courier-Journal reports an extensive clean-up of the bloated central office at the Jefferson County Public School District is likely to save $4 million, apparently each year. That, according to district superintendent Danna Hargens, is money she can now plow back into education in the schools.

It’s about time. Things are so bad even the very militant, protect-every-job-you-can teachers’ union in Louisville agrees with the cuts.

Of course, concerns about bloat in Louisville’s school management organization, including not only excessive staff but serious salary inflation for that staff, have circulated for some time. This was old news back when now-departed former superintendent Dr. Sheldon Berman was still at the helm.

But, it took Berman’s ouster and replacement with Hargens to make things start happening. A management audit of the district supported by Hargens and completed last fall only confirmed the obvious – too many people, too much being paid. However, the audit gave Hargens the ammunition and political cover she needed.

Now, Hargens has reduced her highly paid administrative cabinet from 16 people to just six. Across the entire central office, Hargens either outright eliminated or froze job action on 89 positions. She did create 21 new positions, but a lot of people still are apparently leaving. And, the Courier points out, the departing administrators all had annual salaries of more than $100,000 each. When the dust settles, even after filling 21 new positions, the Courier claims savings will be in the multi-millions of dollars. That’s still ‘small potatoes’ savings when you consider that the district’s total financial receipts in 2010-11 from all sources – local, state and federal – totalled $1.1 billion, but it is a start.

It’s clearly way too early to determine if this shake-up at the district office will have much impact on the classrooms in Louisville and such things as the significant achievement gaps we recently pointed to in many schools there.

However, at the very least it looks like the taxpayer just might have a good chance to get a bit more bang for the incredible amount of bucks the Louisville system spends each year.

So, you have to give superintendent Hargens credit for taking on the status quo in her own central office. I wish we were seeing more of this in Frankfort.

WLKY picks up story about white versus black achievement gaps in Louisville

Add WLKY in Louisville to the list of television stations that picked up the story about the white versus black achievement gaps in Louisville that we discuss in our new paper, “Blacks Falling Through Gaps.”

WHAS picks up on our new report on gaps in Louisville and call for charter schools

Pay attention near the end of this 3-minute newscast item to comments from the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS).

JCPS claims they already knew about the data.


Clearly, major news teams in Louisville did not know. Who was keeping the secret?

Furthermore, if JCPS knew, what actions have they taken in schools like Noe Middle School – where the white minus black reading proficiency gap exceeds 43 percentage points? What specific action has JCPS taken at the Dunn Elementary School – where the math gap is 55.66 percentage points?

Sadly, JCPS only provides an uninspiring, generalist response that sounds just like same old thing we’ve been hearing for the past 22 years whenever someone points to evidence that KERA isn’t working well.

By the way, our report does outline tremendous achievement gaps in Louisville schools today but didn’t discuss gap trends over time. Read this short paper for yourself here.

WFPL reports on our new gaps paper

WFPL in Louisville picked up the story today about the white versus black achievement gaps in Louisville that we discuss in our new paper, “Blacks Falling Through Gaps.”

Learning disabled student didn’t need any test accommodations to ‘ace’ the ACT

Story sheds light on Kentucky’s learning disabled policies

It’s an interesting story.

Per the Courier-Journal’s article, “Achiever | Manual junior doesn’t need extra time to score 36 on ACT,” Jefferson County Public Schools student Kenny Jackson has been labeled as ADHD and could have qualified to get extra time to take the ACT college entrance test.

Kenny said no to the extra time.

Kenny got a top 36-point score on the ACT, anyway.

It makes you wonder.

Does Kenny really have attention deficit problems, or is he just so far ahead of his teachers that they bore him?

Might what is supposed to be Kenny’s problem instead be evidence of teaching that does not meet the student’s needs?

Adding interesting evidence about what may really be TD, a ‘Teacher Deficit’ problem, the news article says Kenny started taking an ACT prep course but stopped paying attention after he had to correct the teacher’s multiple errors with math problems.

Is it the student’s fault when the teacher doesn’t know the subject? Should the student get blamed for not paying attention to such a teacher?

As I said, this sounds more like a ‘teacher deficit’ rather than a student problem.

Kenny’s story also has larger implications.

At present, some misguided people are trying to prevent Kentucky from tightening up on a serious abuse of a special accommodation on the state’s reading tests. Currently, the so-called state reading assessments actually are being read to about half of the entire number of kids labeled as learning disabled in Kentucky. That abuse undoubtedly inflates test scores, which makes teachers look good. However, this practice also hides what may really be a refusal/failure of educators to teach thousands of Kentucky kids who actually could learn to read – IF they got proper instruction. As things stand, kids get labeled and remain illiterate – teachers get a free ride and may not even know how to really teach reading – and test scores hide it all.

You have to wonder how many of those poorly served kids wind up in jail as adults…because they cannot get jobs…because they can’t read.

Just like Kenny Jackson, a lot of other learning disabled kids in Kentucky could be far more capable than we realize. However, our education system created a system that allows schools to sidestep their responsibility to educate these students. As Kenny Jackson just showed us, that sort of special education policy, which underestimates the potential of learning disabled students and interferes with their proper education, needs to change.

School data quality: Still a big problem

Honest principal in Nevada points to gross error in data for his school

US News and World Report’s (USN&WR) annual ranking of high schools came out only a few hours ago.

Already, controversy is brewing about this dubious ranking program.

This time, part of the problem is that some of the data stored at the US Department of Education is clearly just plain wrong.

Principal Jeff Horn at the Green Valley High School in Nevada says there is a serious error in the enrollment data USN&WR used to show his school ranking 13th best in the nation.

That federal database shows Green Valley High has 477 students and 111 teachers, for a pupil teacher ratio of just 4 to 1. Apparently, that incredibly low ratio didn’t set off any alarms at USN&WR. It should have.

The actual enrollment at the school is 2,850 students, which (IF the teacher count is accurate) works out to a 26 to 1 ratio. Also, the incredibly low enrollment figure apparently messed up the USN&WR calculation of ‘pass rates’ on Advanced Placement tests. Per the magazine, the school’s ‘pass rate’ was 100 percent (another questionable number). The real pass rate is 64 percent.

The Kentucky story

USN&WR also ranks what are supposed to be the top 10 high schools in each state, including Kentucky.

I have problems with USN&WR’s #6 choice of Ballard High School and the #8 choice, the Eastern High School in Louisville.

In the 2010 Kentucky Core Content Test in mathematics, both of those schools had big black versus white proficiency rate gaps. Eastern’s was more than 30 points. Ballard’s was MUCH WORSE – an enormous 50 point difference! Check for yourself in the Kentucky Department of Education’s Gap to Goal Excel Spreadsheet for “Statewide,” “All Districts,” available here.

Blacks are getting left behind in these schools, but USN&WR’s superficial analysis apparently won’t show you that.

Unfortunately, the Kentucky Department of Education does not report disaggregated 11th grade ACT college entrance test results by race, but Eastern doesn’t make the top 10 for its overall average ACT composite score in 2010, and Ballard didn’t do as well as Eastern.

Stay tuned for more about the issue of racial performance gaps in Louisville’s schools. We are getting ready to release a paper on that shortly. Busing fanatics in that city and elsewhere won’t be pleased. Neither will anyone who really wants to see the achievement gaps reduced.

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School improvement grant results mixed


Is it: School revival showing promise, not proof???

An on line story titled “School improvement grant results mixed” dated April 13, 2012 is now on line in the Kentucky Enquirer’s web site. It ran front page, top of the fold in the Sunday print edition of the Enquirer as “School revival showing promise, not proof,” which clearly conveys a different meaning.

To get a better idea about what is really going on, I dusted off a table I created last year on the first 10 schools in Kentucky to get identified as “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools” under the federal government’s School Improvement Grant program. This graph (click on it to enlarge, if needed) shows that earlier table updated with recently released test scores for the 2011-12 school term.

For reference, the statewide PLAN Composite Score average in 2011-12 was 17.0 and the statewide EXPLORE Composite average was 15.2. Every school in this listing scored well below those statewide norms in the current school term.

Based on the uneven up and down score trends in most schools in the listing, coupled with the drops in enrollment in the majority of these schools, I think it is too early to tell what is really happening. Due to the up and down trends in many schools’ scores, I’m not ready to say the results show promise.

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New test results raise questions about claims of progress

Yesterday the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) released the testing results from the fall for the PLAN and EXPLORE testing in Kentucky.

These two tests are coordinated at the grade appropriate level with the ACT college entrance test and use similar Benchmark Scores to show if students are on track to be successful in college and careers.

The EXPLORE is given to eighth grade students in Kentucky while our 10th graders take the PLAN.

Since I participated in a panel on charter schools in Louisville last night (more on that later), the first analysis I did on the new data focused on Kentucky’s largest school district. The table below shows what I found.

Among Louisville’s 21 regular high schools (special alternative schools don’t get test results), the majority – 14 of them – had really disappointing results for PLAN mathematics performance. In these 14 schools (highlighted in pink) fewer than 20 percent of the students scored at or above the PLAN Math Benchmark Score.

That means the overwhelming majority of the students in those schools are not on track for college and careers.

In a real shock, six of the schools posted math benchmark performance in the single-digit category. Fewer than one in ten of the students in those schools are on track to survive the first college math course they would take in a two- or four-year postsecondary school.

District wide, Jefferson County’s 10th grade students scored below the statewide math benchmark, as well.

Statewide, the new PLAN 2011-2012 Profile Summary Report shows that our students scored well below the national norm PLAN score for mathematics set in 2010, leaving Jefferson County even farther behind that national norm.

Clearly, a lot more needs to happen for kids in math, both statewide and in the state’s largest school system. PLAN makes that very clear.

And, as I recently pointed out here and here, the relative performance improvement in charter schools versus non-charter schools for math make these schools of choice and innovation look even more attractive for Kentucky.