Union chief’s example of public school innovation flunks

On July fourth the National Public Radio affiliate at Western Kentucky University published a highly ironic article, “Charter School Concerns Voiced by KEA President.” Hopefully, our students are learning better ways of providing supporting examples than the one Stephanie Winkler, the head of the Kentucky Education Association, stumbled over in her interview.

Trying to counter the pressing need for charter schools in Kentucky, the article says Winkler claims that “public schools have the ability to get creative and tackle difficult education issues.” Winkler then offered Jefferson County schools as an example.

How ridiculous!

Only very recently, Jefferson County Public Schools gave up on its “School of Innovation” project in the Maupin Elementary School. The dysfunction in this school, which was supposed to be a high model of reform, was so severe that it is now listed as a “Priority School.” The crash of innovation was so loud at Maupin that even its School Based Decision Making Council (SBDM) lost its governance authority. By the way, the SBDM undoubtedly was controlled by some of Winkler’s union members because, by law, teachers hold the controlling vote in every one of the state’s school councils.

Even the chair of the Jefferson County Board of Education admitted that poor district leadership was a key player in the Maupin fiasco.

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Trio of US Supreme Court cases point to expanded school choice options

It has been a busy week for the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), and school choice decisions were definitely a part of the docket.

Regarding the first decision, the Washington Post reports that SCOTUS ruled in a rather amazing 7-2 decision that the state of Missouri erred in denying funding to a church school for playground safety equipment. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. ruled that “…the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”

The Trinity Lutheran school ruling particularly raises eyebrows because it nibbles away at provisions in a number of state constitutions that prohibit providing public funding to private religious schools. The SCOTUS ruling signals those state restrictions might run afoul of the US Constitution.

By the way, these state constitutional provisions, often referred to as “Blaine Amendments,” were instituted in the late 1800’s as an attack on the growing presence of Catholic schools in the US. Kentucky is one of the states with Blaine language in its constitution, making the SCOTUS ruling of particular interest in the commonwealth.

While important, the Trinity ruling was regarded by the Washington Post and others as a narrow one that might not, by itself, signal a major challenge to Blaine Amendments in general might be in the offing.

That is why two more SCOTUS decisions, based in part on the Trinity Lutheran case, are especially important.

In the first of those actions, SCOTUS told the Colorado Supreme Court to reconsider a 2015 decision that a voucher program in the Douglas County schools in that state was unconstitutional. That Colorado ruling was based on Blaine language in that state’s constitution.

Finally, yet another case from Arizona fleshes out what seems to be friendliness in SCOTUS for issues favoring school choice interests. In this one, the New Mexico Supreme Court was told to review its decision to deny textbook funding to private schools, including religious schools. The Albuquerque Journal reports:

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion directs New Mexico justices to reconsider the textbook funding case in light of the Missouri playground case, in which justices decided it is unconstitutional to ban public funds from paying for certain projects at religious schools based solely on the schools’ private or religious status.”

The Journal additionally reports:

“’States are getting a clear message from the Supreme Court: They can’t exclude people from participating in government programs because of their religion,’ said Eric Baxter, senior counsel at Becket, the nonprofit law firm that represented the New Mexico Association of Nonpublic Schools.”

There also are some vague reports that SCOTUS told two other states with cases similar to those in New Mexico and Colorado to review their Blaine-based rulings, but we have not discovered details.

Overall, this has been a very important week for school choice supporters. While some would like the Trinity Lutheran decision to be considered only a very narrow ruling, the additional SCOTUS actions this week in the New Mexico and Colorado cases indicate the US Supreme Court actually has other ideas. Given the Trinity case’s virtually immediate fallout in Colorado and New Mexico, the overall implications of this week’s SCOTUS activities could have major implications for the constitutionality of the anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments that might result in greatly expanded opportunities for more school choice.

Florida charter schools outperform

A relatively new report from the Washington Examiner says that charter schools in Florida now significantly outperform the traditional schools in that state.

Just of few of the comments include:


  • On state exams, charter students outperformed their peers in traditional schools in 65 out of 77 comparisons;

  • Charter students learned more from one year to the next in 82 of 96 comparisons that focused on learning gains;

  • In 20 out of 22 comparisons, charters had smaller achievement gaps in math, English and social studies between white students and their black and Hispanic peers.

So, Florida has set the bar high as Kentucky gets ready to launch its first charter schools. We need the same sort of outstanding results from our charters, too.

Private school vouchers help level the playing field

An Op-Ed from the Cincinnati Enquirer offers some interesting counters to those who criticize the use of school vouchers that allow former public school students with low family incomes to attend a private school of their choice instead.

The Op-Ed’s author, Aaron Churchill, points to a number of positive impacts from vouchers such as an opportunity for students who are not being well served by their public school to seek an alternative with higher potential. He also takes issue with critics that claim voucher programs don’t really do better with these students, pointing out that 14 of 18 top quality studies do show vouchers improve results.

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Charter School Stories: They provide superb educations in Boston

Even though Kentucky’s charter school law is now on the books, we continue to hear vehement but ill-informed attacks from opponents.

For example, about two weeks ago former Jefferson County School Board member, Stephen P. Imhoff, sounded off in the Courier-Journal with some off-target comments about charters.

Said Imhoff, “The entire concept fails.”

Well, parents of some students in Boston’s Brooke Charter Schools clearly know Imhoff is spreading nonsense, as you can hear for yourself in this very short You Tube.

So, which would you prefer, a school like a Brooke Charter School or the recent Jefferson County Schools’ disaster that occurred in Maupin Elementary School?

I think the choice is clear – and that is Kentucky’s students need choices like charter schools.

Will it be strike two for Jefferson County Schools’ Chief Academic Officer manning?

More major problems are brewing for the already beleaguered Jefferson County school system.

On April 21, 2017, an online service connected to the Birmingham News newspaper reported that Lisa Herring, the current Chief Academic Officer (CAO) at the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS), is a finalist to become Birmingham, Alabama’s new school superintendent.

So, it appears Herring, who has been on the job less than a year in Louisville, isn’t exactly in love with her current position in JCPS.

This is no surprise. In fact, the CAO position at JCPS had a highly troubled history even before Herring arrived, and recent events point to a lot more heat headed in the CAO’s way.

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Charter School Stories: They please folks in North Carolina

Even though a Kentucky charter school law is now on the books, we continue to hear vehement attacks from opponents. The State Journal reported on April 4, 2017 in “Kentucky lawmakers say negative impacts of session will be felt across the state” that one opponent, Kentucky Representative James Kay, D-Versailles, believes “the impact of charter schools will be devastating.”

Apparently, folks who actually have their children in some of North Carolina’s charter schools don’t agree, as you can hear in this very short You Tube.

Charter School Stories: They DO help kids with disabilities

Even though a Kentucky charter school law is now on the books, we continue to hear vehement attacks from opponents like Kentucky Representative Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort. The State Journal reported on April 4, 2017 in “Kentucky lawmakers say negative impacts of session will be felt across the state” that Graham agreed another legislator’s assertion that “the impact of charter schools will be devastating.”

Though not specifically mentioned in the State Journal article, one thing charter opponents frequently claim is that these public schools of choice don’t help kids with disabilities.

That assertion would be a real surprise to Carmen Ward, whose son Paul has benefitted greatly from his attendance at a KIPP charter school in Missouri. But, I’ll let You Tube help tell you this story about how a student with Asperger’s didn’t get the support he needed until he entered a charter school.

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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.

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