Surprise! Kentucky’s average teacher salary ranks a lot higher than you probably thought

It was probably a surprise statement for many during last night’s Kentucky Tonight show on KET, which included Bluegrass Institute president and CEO Jim Waters.

At 37 minutes and 40 seconds into the online version of the show, Brigit Ramsey, who now heads the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, stated that Kentucky’s teacher salaries now rank 26th in the nation among the 50 states. That’s right – right in the middle of the pack.

Because there will be a lot of disbelievers, we checked this one out. We pulled up the National Education Association’s (NEA) latest edition of their annual statistical bible, the “Rankings & Estimates, Rankings of the States 2016 and Estimates of School Statistics 2017” report. We cruised to Table I-12 in that document, which covers “AVERAGE SALARY OF TEACHERS AND INSTRUCTIONAL STAFF ($) (2017).” We even found a nifty hot link in the PDF report that allowed us to download an Excel spreadsheet with the entire set of tables from Section I. That made it super easy to rank the column holding the “All Teachers” salary information.

Sure enough, the Ramsey surprise was confirmed. According to the NEA itself, Kentucky’s 2017 teacher salaries rank right at the median – in 26th place – among the 50 states.

You sure haven’t been hearing that from Kentucky educators who are complaining they need more money.

By the way, I also took a look at the 2016 median household income in all 50 states as tabulated in the US Census Bureau’s web site. Kentucky only ranks just four places up from the bottom of the 50 states for its median household income level.

Got that: Kentucky’s teacher income ranks 26th, Kentucky’s taxpayer ability to fund that only ranks 47th.

So, while the Kentucky taxpayer is paying teachers at a level that ranks right in the middle of the nation, the taxpayers’ ability to do that is being very sorely strained.

Now, how is that again about raising taxes even more so our teachers can grab even more from our state’s very financially strained families? Could there be a gratitude problem here let alone a lack of touch with reality? Or, do teachers think tax dollars come out of thin air?

Are Kentucky’s education administration costs out of line?

The quick answer is that the state does appear to spend an unusually high amount on general education administration. In fact, if the state could just reduce those general administration costs to match the overall US average, annual savings on the order of $20 million seem possible. That would be about enough to give every teacher a $500 raise.

Want to see the details?

Click the “Read more” link.

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How much reform is too much? Teachers weigh in

The January 17, 2018 edition of Education Week includes an update to an electronic article titled “Majority of Teachers Say Reforms Have Been ‘Too Much‘” that was posted on December 19, 2017.

It’s an interesting “read.”

And, it appears teachers generally are unsettled by all the changes that have been going on recently thanks to things like Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, big changes in digital learning, and so forth.

For example:

  • Asked how they would describe the amount of change/reform teachers have experienced in the past two years, 58 percent said it was “Way too much” or “Too much.” Only 34 percent said it was “Just about right.”

  • Concerning which changes in the past two years had the most impact:

    • 62 percent of teachers surveyed by EdWeek said that changes to teacher evaluation headed the list.
    • 58 percent cited curriculum changes
    • 53 percent brought up changes to professional development (OJT for teachers)
    • 52 percent mentioned changes to state assessments

  • Regarding how reforms in the past two years had impacted instruction, only 39 percent said the impact was either “Generally positive” or “Very positive.”

That last bullet may be the real key. Certainly, the last school term’s KPREP test results were nothing to cheer about in Kentucky. Even the Kentucky Department of Education’s usually self-congratulatory news release about the 2017 results candidly admitted:

“Overall, achievement increased slightly at the elementary and middle school levels, but was down somewhat at the high school levels. Achievement gaps between different groups of students persisted in many areas and will be a major focus of KDE, schools and districts under the new accountability system.”

With scarcely more than half of the elementary and middle school students scoring proficient or more and fewer than one in two students in both school levels scoring proficient or above in math, slight progress clearly isn’t what the state needs.

And, with high school reading proficiency at only 55.8 percent and math proficiency a dismal 38.1 percent, decay at this school level was definitely not what Kentucky needs to see.

The percentage of high school graduates who met college and/or career ready criteria also dropped from 68.5 percent in 2016 to 65.1 percent in 2017.

So, it looks like EdWeek’s survey, which was taken nationwide, also applies to Kentucky, too.

There’s a problem here. And, it appears teachers know it.

Fighting ‘Fake News’ in the Classroom

I don’t follow the Atlantic, but one of their writers, Alia Wong, has a very interesting article up in the Education Writers Association site about the problems of teaching school kids about fake news.

Unfortunately, Wong’s article makes a lot of sense.

Wong begins by posing a very interesting question:

“During and after the 2016 presidential campaign, questions arose about whether shortcomings in civics instruction had exacerbated polarization in the electorate and influenced the election’s outcome. The questions on civics education were soon accompanied by a related one: What if schools are contributing to a breakdown in democracy by failing to ensure kids are media literate?”

The article then answers that question, expressing concern that a recent study by the Stanford History Education Group found that students identified a web site “as a credible source of information — even though the website is maintained by a lobbying firm for the food and beverage industry.”

The article additionally laments that students decided one news article was more credible that another solely because the first article had an “attractive infographic.”

The Atlantic’s writer also points out that “media illiteracy is in large part symptomatic of a systemic flaw: schools’ failure to instill these skills amid an increasingly convoluted world of information.”

This reminded me of another kids-believe-all-sorts-of-stuff-on-the-web study that I learned about years ago regarding the fictitious “tree octopus.” Kids were directed to a bogus web site that had been created to fool them and then wouldn’t believe this fabrication didn’t exist even after researchers explained the web site was a plant created to test student credibility about anything found online.

Back in the present, the worry may be about fake news and our kids’ ability to detect it, but Wong’s take on the issue sounds all too much like solid – and scary – news to me.

Will digital learning replace teachers with others?

Some sharp-eyed parents just caught my attention with their Facebook post about a very interesting section of the Boone County School District’s application to be one of Kentucky’s Districts of Innovation.

Check out this waiver request (in red type) to the existing statute (in black type) to use teaching assistants (aides) in place of certified teachers to monitor and even instruct students doing digital learning.

Boone Co DOI Application Regarding Subing Aides for Teachers

This will further reduce student interaction with certified teachers.

It will also save the school district a ton of money, of course. If aides are assisting with virtual/digital content, certified teachers are not needed.

Despite the claims in the Boone County waiver, I need to point out that aides may not be very useful in the education system, especially in upper level grades.

In 2014 the firm of Picus, Odden & Associates created a report for the Kentucky Council for Better Education that has this interesting comment on Page 84:

“Instructional aides, as they are typically used in schools, do not positively impact student academic achievement (Gerber, Finn, Achilles & Boyd-Zaharias, 2001).”

Other comments on Page 62 in the Picus report discus other research from Tennessee that also indicates aides were not useful in even elementary school classrooms.

In fact, Picus and his group were so unimpressed with the value of aides that they called for no instructional aides and only a very few supervisory aides at any school level (elementary, middle or high school) in a school model they proposed for Kentucky on Page 51 of their report.

So, a very serious question needs to be addressed:

Has digital learning for public school students advanced to the point that most students no longer will require teachers to learn? If so, members of the teaching profession might need to start thinking about other employment options.

At the very least, the District of Innovation experiments in Boone County just got a lot more interesting.

Principals indeed should lead, but Kentucky’s SBDM laws interfere with that

WDRB reporter Toni Konz posted a couple of Tweets a few days ago regarding the importance of the principal being a real leader in the school. She’s right about that.

Konz Tweets About Principals Leading

BUT, thanks to Kentucky’s awkward School Based Decision Making laws, which come from the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, principal leadership is seriously hampered in Kentucky.

Instead of supporting strong principals, Kentucky’s schools have a mandatory rule-by-committee system, a governance system that often proves problematic in human organizations.

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Teacher staffing in Kentucky still very problematic

We have written very frequently in the past about Kentucky’s very abnormal and low ratio of teachers to other staffers in our public school system (such as here, here and here, to cite only a few examples).

The problem is that when other staff members bloat up the manning in a school, teachers’ salaries inevitably suffer.

Recently released data in the latest Digest of Education Statistics for 2016 allow us to update our ranking graph for teacher staffing in Kentucky versus other states’ and Washington, DC’s schools.

As you can see in the graph below, we have not improved the situation.

Teacher to Staff Ratio to 2014 for Kentucky

In fact, back in 1989, the year before Kentucky’s education reform act was passed, teachers in Kentucky’s public schools made up 50.1 percent of the entire school staffing and we ranked No. 43 for our staffing ratio. As of the latest data for 2014, Kentucky’s teacher-to-other-school-staff ratio shrank to only 42.8 percent.

Thus, as of 2014, Kentucky now ranks No. 49 for its very low teacher-to-total-school-staff ratio a ranking virtually unchanged since the early 1990s. And, that has bad implications both for teachers’ salaries and educational performance, too.

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Gov. Matt Bevin declares May 8-12 ‘Teacher Appreciation Week’

Governor Bevin’s proclamation says:

“Teachers are responsible for educating and guiding Kentucky’s children and the future of the Commonwealth and use their vast expertise and talents to give our children a solid foundation for their entire lives,” Gov. Bevin said in the proclamation. “Kentucky is grateful for the love and sacrifice our teachers give to make our children and communities flourish.”

We at BIPPS add our salute to the many teachers in Kentucky who do their best for our kids.

More evidence Kentucky’s single salary schedule for teachers is problematic

A news report from the Paducah Sun says something that’s no surprise to us: “Recruiting teachers can be a challenge in some fields” (subscription). The article quotes McCracken County Assistant Superintendent Heath Cartwright saying:

“We’ve been fortunate and have been able to find quality applicants for vacancies within our district. However, we do see there is a very limited number of teacher candidates in the areas of math and science.”

That is in no small measure due to the fact that unlike the situation in most areas of our economy, teaching in Kentucky generally pays the same regardless of how many people have the skills needed to teach in the different academic areas. Thanks to a basically one-size-fits-all salary structure, shortages in specific academic teaching areas like those mentioned by Cartwright are typical across Kentucky.

Clearly, Kentucky needs to rethink the way it pays teachers.

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Vanderbilt study: Merit pay for teachers improves student performance

A new study from Vanderbilt University concludes, as Education Week puts it, that “merit pay for teachers can lead to higher test scores for students.”

Vandy’s study points to an interesting policy idea for merit pay. Click the “Read more” link to learn about that.

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