Charter School bill clears Kentucky Senate

The Kentucky Senate has voted 23 to 15 in favor of House Bill 520, with amendments, which will allow Kentuckians to create charter schools. The bill now returns to the House for a concurrence vote.

Bold new evidence: Kentucky does not lead the nation for education improvement

Claim especially misleading for state’s black students

Truth supports need for charter schools in Kentucky

As arguments swirled the past few months over charter schools, Kentuckians have been hearing claims that their state already leads the nation for the most educational improvement since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA). As a consequence, that argument goes, this means Kentucky doesn’t need charters.

The latest example of this “leads the nation” claim is found in a March 10, 2017 Herald-Leader Op-Ed by David Hornbeck, one of the major architects of KERA. Hornbeck asserts:

“Kentucky children have made more progress than any other state in the nation.”

It’s a bold statement, but is it true?

And, is it true for all Kentucky’s children?

To explore these questions, we fired up the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ Main NAEP Data Explorer web tool. We used data from the NAEP Data Explorer to assemble the two tables below, which show how Kentucky’s eighth-grade blacks stack up against other states that also had scores for these children of color reported for both the earliest and latest years of NAEP state testing.

Table 1 shows the NAEP Grade 8 math results black students in the listed states received back in 1990, the year KERA was enacted, and 2015 scores – the latest available. The table is sorted by the change in the NAEP Scale Score for math in each state across the 1990 to 2015 period.

Table 1

Grade 8 Math Improvement for Blacks for 1990 and 2015 Ranked

As you can see, Hornbeck’s assertion isn’t just wrong, it’s very wrong when we talk about improvements for Kentucky’s largest racial minority group compared to other states with usable NAEP data for black students.

Kentucky lands nearly at the bottom of the stack when we rank each state’s increase in NAEP Grade 8 Math Scale Scores for black students over time. Only four of the 28 states with data available progressed even less than Kentucky.

If we only consider southern states listed in Table 1, we find that North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia and Arkansas all matched or exceeded the national average increase in black students’ math scores between 1990 and 2015. Kentucky never came close to any of them.

By the way, all of those five Southern states have charter schools. At present, aside from Kentucky, only Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia don’t have charters. Thus, except for West Virginia, all the states listed above Kentucky in Table 1 have charter school laws. That is something to think about.

[Read more…]

Kentucky’s Real Progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

On Friday, March 3, 2016 the Kentucky House made history when it voted for the first time in favor of a charter school bill and sent it on for Kentucky Senate approval.

The vote was contentious.

Debates in the morning meeting of the House Education Committee and during the eventual deliberation and adoption of the bill by the full Kentucky House sometimes were bitter – even tear filled. And, there were lots of inaccurate statements along the way.

One entirely too prevalent assertion mentioned by many legislators was that Kentucky has made great education progress since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA). Sadly, while the state’s public education system has made some progress in the past quarter of a century, it’s a real stretch to say “great” progress has been made. Let’s examine why inflated claims of great progress are out of order.

Figure 1 shows the NAEP Grades 4 and 8 reading and math proficiency rates for all Kentucky students from the earliest available year of testing and the most recent, 2015 results. There obviously has been progress, more in Grade 4 than Grade 8, but calling this a “great” accomplishment just isn’t right.

For example, only 40 percent of Kentucky’s fourth graders tested at or above NAEP’s Proficient level in 2015 in both fourth grade math and reading. That means that after a quarter of a century of KERA, 60 percent of our fourth graders – well over half – still don’t meet muster in either subject. After a quarter of a century, with so far yet to go, does it seem right to talk about “great progress?”

In the eighth grade NAEP, results were even worse. Only 36 percent of the state’s eighth graders scored at or above the NAEP Proficient level in reading. Far more disturbing, only a truly disappointing 28 percent of Kentucky’s eighth graders met muster in NAEP math. That means 72 percent of the state’s eighth grade students – as of 2015, a full quarter century after the launch of KERA – still don’t perform adequately in math.

Figure 1

Kentucky's NAEP Proficiency Rates on 4th and 8th Grade Reading and Math Assessments, Earliest Year Tested and 2015, All Students

Based on the known rates of progress that can be calculated using the data shown in Figure 1, the Bluegrass Institute projected the number of years following 2015 that remain before Kentucky can anticipate that at least 80 percent of its students will score proficient or above on the NAEP. You can see those projections in the table inserted in the upper right side of Figure 1. Those time estimates to reach 80 percent proficiency rates on the NAEP range from at least 34 more years required in Grade 4 math to an astonishing 126 more years for Grade 8 Reading.

With so much left to do, it is obviously inappropriate to crow about already making “great” progress. A large amount of progress simply hasn’t happened.

By the way, the situation looks MUCH worse when we examine the NAEP performance of Kentucky’s black students. Claiming “great progress” once this actual data is examined is simply unacceptable.

As Figure 2 shows, even as 2015, the NAEP reports only depressingly low percentages of Kentucky’s black students scored proficient or above in both Grade 4 and Grade 8 reading and mathematics.

Figure 2

Kentucky's NAEP Proficiency Rates on 4th and 8th Grade Reading and Math Assessments, Earliest Year Tested and 2015, Black Students Only

In two cases shown in the table insert in Figure 2, the trends on NAEP tell us Kentucky is nearly a century away from seeing a desirable math proficiency rate for its black students. In eighth grade math, the goal is the better part of two centuries away. In the case of Grade 8 Reading, the 80 percent proficiency rate goal is more than 2-1/2 centuries away!

This is simply unacceptable.

Clearly, Kentucky’s actual NAEP performance renders claims of great progress to be greatly exaggerated.

[Read more…]

Kentucky House approves charter school bill

It’s now officially recorded. The Kentucky House has approved the state’s first charter school bill by a vote of 56 to 39.

Vote Tally on HB 520 During Vote Explanation

Legislation Alert: House Bill 520 to establish charter schools passed by Kentucky House Education Committee

Full House debating now

Today marks a notable move forward in the attempt to bring more school choice to Kentucky. House Bill 520, with amendments, received a favorable vote in the Kentucky House’s Education Committee this morning.

The discussion on the bill included highlights by several key Kentucky leaders including Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner, and Kentucky Board of Education member Pastor Milton Seymore in addition to those from the bill’s sponsor, Kentucky Representative John (Bam) Carney.

Starting shortly after noon, the legislation is now being heard in the full Kentucky House.

Important late-breaking changes to the approved bill include the deletion of pure online charter schools and the addition of the mayors of Louisville and Lexington as authorizers.

If eventually adopted, House Bill 520 would make Kentucky the 44th state to have a charter school law.

Another reason why Kentucky needs a strong charter school bill

A new report from ProPublica provides dramatic evidence about a real threat to student success when only local school districts are allowed to authorize charter schools.

ProPublica’s article points out that in some areas of the country local districts are authorizing charter schools so the district can hide poor student performance and make its regular schools look better. The district authorizers are not holding the charters accountable. They are manipulating the process to make their regular schools look better.

ProPublica’s article includes a map that provides an additional warning for Kentucky. The map identifies school districts with more problematic alternative schools.

ProPublica Dropout Factory Warning National Map

Here is an enhanced blowup of the Kentucky section of the map.

ProPublica Dropout Factory Warning KY Blowup Map Enhanced

Notice that school district enrollment is identified by the size of the circle. The degree to which each district’s alternate schools appear problematic is identified by the shade of pink inside the circle, with darker shading indicating more issues of concern.

Unlike the vast majority of states, especially those east of the Mississippi River, Kentucky is covered border to border in these pink “measles.” Furthermore, while you need to look closely since most Kentucky districts are small, many of the state’s circles are in darker shades of pink, indicating ProPublica has a whole lot of concerns about many alternative schools here.

Keep in mind that Kentucky currently has no charter schools, so all of the high concern alternative programs in the Bluegrass State are being run directly by the school districts. This shows that such abuses are not unique to charter school states or charter schools, either. These problems are a feature of ineffective, if not outright inappropriate, motivations on the part of local public school districts.

ProPublica says this problem manifests itself in places like Florida’s Sunshine High School in the Orlando area. I confirmed with the Florida Department of Education that Sunshine High is indeed a district authorized charter school. In fact, virtually all of Florida’s charters are district authorized. So, while Florida has plenty of “measles” on the ProPublica map, this is actually a traditional school district problem because the authorizer of a charter school is supposed to be the first line of accountability for a charter school. Per ProPublica, that isn’t happening with district authorized charters in Florida.

By the way, if a Kentucky district brought in a separate ‘hidden dropouts’ charter school, that charter school’s performance would be separately reported, making statistics for the district’s regular schools look better, just like is happening in Florida. We don’t want that temptation here.

So, here are some messages for Kentucky legislators.


  • Our pending charter school legislation needs to insure districts can’t engage in such abuses with any charters established here.

  • It clearly would be much better for Kentucky to allow independent charter school authorizers who face no temptations to hide bad performance for school districts.

If Kentucky only allows local school districts to authorize charter schools, those ProPublica map measles – already far too numerous – are likely to expand even more in the Bluegrass State.

And, Kentucky’s kids will pay the price.

(Blog updated with minor wording changes and the blow up map, 21 Feb 17 at 7:38 pm)

Washington state judge rules revamped charter school program IS constitutional!

A breaking story in Washington State has implications for pending charter school legislation in Kentucky. A Washington judge ruled yesterday that state’s revamped charter school laws are constitutional.

In 2015, in a move that currently concerns some Kentucky lawmakers, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that state’s charters were unconstitutional.

Now, it appears that the basic charter school principal is just fine in Washington; there just needed to be due attention to the funding process.

Legal Experts: Strong Kentucky Charter School Bill Meets Constitutional Muster

It seems some legal questions have been raised about Kentucky’s currently leading charter school bill, House Bill 103.

Now, the Center for Education Reform reports a top legal team has examined these questions. According to:

CER Says Strong KY Charter Bill is Constitutional

You can read the full news release here, and the legal report is available here.

So, Kentucky should press forward with HB 103. Our students deserve the option of strong and vibrant charter schools.

Jefferson County Schools in Serious Trouble

Education Commissioner orders full audit of system – State takeover could result

“I have determined that there is a presence of critically ineffective or inefficient management in the JCPS and accordingly, a comprehensive management audit of the governance and administration of JCPS is required pursuant to KRS 158.785 (2) and 703 KAR 3:205.”

Commissioner Stephen Pruitt in letter to Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) superintendent Donna Hargens advising the Kentucky Department of Education is launching a full Management Audit of that school district.

Pruitt’s letter lists 32 major and minor findings that collectively rise to the level of a serious deficiency.

Read more about this dramatic development in WDRB’s article, which contains a copy of the letter.

It’s no wonder Jefferson County residents are screaming for school choice.

Does all that busing in Jefferson County schools work?

Last week Governor Bevin touched on one of the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) self-inflicted education problems when he discussed the excessive and hugely expensive school busing situation in the school district, saying:

“Are we really helping these children by taking them from one community, putting them on a bus … to another community where arguably they should be getting a better education but frankly they may or may not be?”

It’s a fair question, one people in Louisville seem unwilling to really explore. So, let’s do that for them here.

In February 2016 the Bluegrass Institute released a new edition in our Blacks Falling Through Gaps series on JCPS. In “Blacks Continue Falling Through Gaps in Louisville’s Schools, The 2016 Update,” we found white minus black achievement gaps on eighth and tenth grade college readiness assessments were generally increasing. We also found dramatic evidence of very poor quality control over high school diploma awards and that blacks were far more likely than whites in JCPS to be socially promoted to a rather hollow diploma.

And, we found evidence that extreme busing in JCPS doesn’t reliably improve performance for black students.

Figure 1 below shows the location of the 19 JCPS elementary schools which posted very large KPREP math white minus black achievement gaps in 2015 of 30 percentage points or more.

It’s easy to see that these biggest gap schools predominantly are found in the upper scale areas of Jefferson County, generally located east of I-65.

Elementary School Map

This map doesn’t seem to tell a very satisfying story about the success of busing in JCPS. It appears that students can be bused way across town and still not get an improved education in supposedly upper scale schools.

But, in some cases the story actually is even more dramatic.

For example, the Dunn Elementary school ranks in first place for the largest elementary school white minus black math achievement gap in JCPS in 2015. That gap was an astonishingly high 50.5 percentage points!

Even more objectionable, Dunn Elementary’s black students actually had a much lower 2015 math proficiency rate (24.0%) than blacks achieved in much higher poverty and higher minority elementary schools in West End Louisville such as Kennedy (45.5%) and Carter (61.5%).

Note: Kennedy and Carter don’t have huge achievement gaps and therefore are not shown on the map.

Even the Portland Elementary School – a “Needs Improvement” school in 2015 with a long history of educational challenges – posted a much higher black math proficiency rate (39.3%) than Dunn’s in 2015.

Incredibly, if a black student were to live near Portland but went to Dunn instead, that student would ride a bus to a school that might, on average, offer less chance of academic success.

By the way, in the latest 2016 KPREP math testing, Dunn’s black student proficiency rate sank even more. While Dunn’s black math proficiency rate was only 24.0 percent in 2015, it plummeted to only 14.6 percent in 2016! The already really bad got much worse.

Dunn isn’t the only problem, either. The number three gap school in 2015, Hawthorne Elementary, had an even lower black proficiency rate than Dunn that year, with only 19.6 percent of its black students meeting the proficiency mark. Hawthorne’s black math proficiency slid even more to just 18.4 percent in 2016.

So, our gap map indicates that busing black kids to the east side of the school district provides no guarantees those students of color will actually do better there. Perhaps the many millions spent on bus operations and diesel fuel each year could be far more productively used if more kids attended their neighborhood school and the massive money saved was used to enhance the teaching corps and repair facilities, instead.

And, just maybe, a lot of discipline issues and traffic issues would go away, as well.