Another school system transparency law violation

The Courier-Journal reports that the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office just hit the Jefferson County Public School District with an Open Records Law violation for not making public information available in accordance with the law.

This adds to a growing list of violations of the state’s transparency laws by various education agencies which even includes an Open Meetings Law violation last year by the Kentucky Board of Education.

Maybe it’s time to put some real teeth into the laws for those in state agencies who chose to ignore the requirements for them to be transparent to the public.

Even Kentucky shows great public school innovation can come from outside of the public school community

NSCW-Stacked-Logo-Unit4-150x150 (1)
The Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank, joins with hundreds of groups nationwide to celebrate the fifth annual National School Choice Week (Jan. 24-30). Since its beginning more than 12 years ago, the Bluegrass Institute has been the leading voice to give Kentucky parents effective alternatives to ensure that each child receives a quality education. As part of National School Choice Week, the Bluegrass Institute will publish a series of blogs offering information on school choice. This series will be one of 16,000 events nationwide taking place as part of this year’s National School Choice Week.

For our second blog of this series, we are going to discuss how great ideas for education don’t necessarily come from within the traditional public education establishment. In fact, some within the establishment will fight programs that really work well for kids when those programs run counter to “adult interests.”

Let’s begin with another look at the Kentucky State of Education report from Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt.

In his new report on “The State of K-12 Education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Pruitt discusses a very exciting program that dramatically improved our public school students’ opportunity to take and succeed in Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

On Page 8 the State of Education includes this graphic, which shows both the numbers of AP test takers and the numbers of AP tests taken have notably grown in Kentucky since 2011.

AP Test Data 2015 in Kentucky

Furthermore, Pruitt’s report candidly admits that a specific program is largely responsible for this, saying:

“For the past eight years, AdvanceKentucky, a statewide math and science initiative, has had a significant impact on the growth of Advanced Placement in the state, especially among those who are traditionally underserved and underrepresented in AP courses.”

In fact, the vast majority of increased AP participation in math, science and English subjects in Kentucky over the past decade is found in AdvanceKentucky’s partner high schools.

AdvanceKentucky is a proven program, something the Bluegrass Institute has recognized for many years.

For example, in just the second year of the program, we blogged about this AdvanceKentucky graph that showed the first two groups of Kentucky high schools to join the program produced proportionately far more AP qualifying scores (QS) in math, science and English (MSE) than either the nation or the overall Kentucky public school system.

AdvanceKentucky 2009 to 2010 Graph

But, there is still more to the story that the State of Education report didn’t cover. A key message is that ideas that really work for education can, and do, come from outside of the traditional education establishment. And, sometimes, the traditional school culture will actually fight innovation that works for kids.

[Read more…]

Charter schools do outperform across the nation if students attend long enough to benefit

Since Governor Bevin’s election, the discussion about public charter schools has ratcheted up several notches. Kentucky’s new governor publicly supports charter schools as one tool that can help boost the currently lagging performance in the state’s public school system, especially for minority students.

Still, anti-charter sentiment from adults in our existing education establishment remains strident, with people throwing all sorts of data around claiming that charter schools really don’t perform well.

While much of this is political “noise,” we do see some important evidence in a series of reports from The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University that charter-school students nationwide are pulling away from their traditional public-school counterparts. Furthermore, this finding helps explain why a lot of reporting on charter schools doesn’t get the analysis right, treating charters unfairly in the process.

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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.

[Read more…]

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.