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.

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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.

Suspension chaos in Louisville’s “reformed” problem middle schools

Could a charter school system have worked better?

Louisville’s Robert Frost Middle School and Myers Middle School have been a major problem for years.

Frost was tagged as a Persistently Low-Achieving School (PLAs) in the very first “Cohort” named in the spring of 2010. Myers followed into Persistently Low-Achieving status about a year and a half later when Cohort 3 PLAs were identified in October of 2011. Since then, both schools have blazed a trail of continued mediocrity so bad that the Jefferson County Board of Education essentially closed them at the end of the past school term.

But, the fix adopted by the board already shows disconcerting evidence that failure to educate former students from Myers and Frost continues.

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Lack of transparency: You don’t have to go to Washington to find it

There has been a lot of discussion in the past few days about intentional lack of transparency with the development and enactment of the Affordable Care Act, but Kentuckians don’t have to look to Washington for examples of the public’s business being kept from the public and their elected officials.

In fact, a story WDRB is breaking in Louisville shows the elected officials at the Jefferson County Board of Education were kept in the dark regarding questionable employee actions and an expensive settlement negotiated behind closed doors.

The issue concerns a former employee who once held a six-figure salary job as Jefferson County’s public information officer. That job was cut and the employee moved to human resources, getting a lower-paying – but still six-figure – salary. The employee didn’t last long in human resources, getting fired “for misconduct and insubordination, according to a copy of her termination letter obtained by WDRB News through an open records request.”

All of this happened without the vast majority, perhaps all, of the Jefferson County Board of Education having even a clue about what was occurring.

The school district defended the secrecy surrounding a $200,000 settlement, saying:

“While we stand behind what we have done, you have to weigh a lot of things. Do we fight the fight that we think is the right fight and do so with an open-ended checkbook, which is the taxpayers’ checkbook, or do we try to settle a situation and make a good business decision?”

Well, here are just a few questions about management in Jefferson County Schools all the secrecy has left unanswered. In raising them, I want to stress that the secrecy in this situation does not allow the public to know if the employee actually was wronged or was in the wrong.

• If the six-figure salary job of public information officer was eliminated, who now performs those functions? Were there two very highly paid people nominally doing this at Jefferson County?
• Was the employee’s move from public information to a six-figure salary human resources position a good skills fit? Who determined that? Was this really just a make-work action?
• Was the firing actually justified? Does the district’s refusal to defend its action actually indicate the firing might not be justified? If the firing was actually questionable, who is being held accountable? How would a similar mistake be avoided in the future if everything is secret?
• If the firing was justified, what kind of precedent is set by the district’s failure to stand behind its actions? Doesn’t this open the taxpayer up to unending, expensive settlements that might not be justified?
• Should the elected board of education be involved with actions, especially job terminations, involving high level district personnel? Is there a legal requirement for such involvement? If so, is there a salary point or job description that would determine the need for board involvement?
• Most important of all, what is being done, if anything, to preclude another expensive action like this in the future? Are the best interests of the taxpayers served by just sweeping this under the rug?

Keep in mind that Jefferson County School’s management history is already under question for being far from stellar. A recent audit by Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen raised lots of questions about how the district was handling the public’s tax dollars. Right now, it looks like somewhere around $200,000 more of those tax dollars might have been poorly spent while the local board of education – again – was left without a clue.

Jefferson County gets good midterm score for moving to fix audit problems

BUT, the full ‘Term’ is far from over, and a lot still remains to be done

WDRB reports that Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen gave the Jefferson County Public Schools an ‘A’ a couple of days ago at a Louisville Forum luncheon for the way the district is moving out in response to a major and critical audit his office conducted about a half a year ago.

That is good news, because initially there was a lot of denial in Louisville when the audit was released.

Still, other comments in the WDRB report make it clear that Auditor Edelen’s grade is only a mid-term report, and a lot of work remains before any final scores can be assigned.

For example, the audit was very critical of Jefferson County’s bloated and overpaid staff. Instead of meeting this one head on by themselves, the district is going to spend $192,000 of taxpayer money to buy cover with an independent staffing study from Management Advisory Group International, Inc. So far, I don’t know if a single job has been cut, but this study contract would just about pay for two more of those high-priced Jefferson County staffers. Any performance grades for this important and expensive area are premature, at present.

Also, the district’s new fiscal transparency web site is behind schedule. The district promises it is coming, but this effort clearly gets an “Incomplete” grade, at best, right now.

However, it is encouraging that Jefferson County has apparently worked through its denial issues and is moving to make changes. Whether this traditionally rather ingrown school system can actually fill its audit response portfolio with all the required items conducted with acceptable levels of performance remains to be seen.