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.

[Read more…]

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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Ex Jefferson County school board member offers troubling predictions

Outgoing chair of the Jefferson County Board of Education, David Jones, who lost his bid for reelection to the board in November, made his assessment of what is coming to the Jefferson County Public School System (JCPS) very clear in his December 16, 2016 Op-Ed in the Courier-Journal.

Says Jones of November’s school board races:

“Union candidates won all three board seats in November. When the new board convenes in January, five of the seven members will have expressed solidarity with, and owe their election to, the teachers’ union.

With JCPS employee surrogates in charge of the board, there is no chance that the needed restructuring of non-teacher salaries will occur – and no chance that meaningful new resources will go into JCPS classrooms, where they are desperately needed.”

Jones also wasn’t pulling punches when he talked to Courier reporter Allison Ross for a companion article about his departure. After calling for action to deal with what a recent study says are excessively high salaries for many non-school jobs at the Jefferson County School District’s central office, he said:

“This won’t be easy because it will require moving money to support kids who need it rather than looking out for the wants of adults who band together for the biggest piece of the pie they can grab.”

So, it remains to be seen if the union, which seems to be clearly in total control, will surprise Jones and do the professional thing for students or just “band together for the biggest piece of the pie they can grab.”

Unfortunately, the teachers’ union in Louisville doesn’t have much of a track record of doing the right things for students, so Jones’ grim predictions may well prove true.

And, one more Jones prediction seems very likely if Louisville cannot get its act together on its own. Jones also writes in his Op-Ed:

“If Louisville won’t solve JCPS’ problems, Frankfort will try.”

Because Louisville fills such an important area in the overall Kentucky economy, continued failure of its school system is simply something Frankfort cannot afford to ignore.

In addition, the district faces lots of criticism regarding civil rights issues related to its chronic minority achievement gaps and now from a major bullying lawsuit. So, it’s not totally unlikely that some federal attention could be headed Louisville’s way if the teachers’ union, which Jones has now pronounced fully in charge, doesn’t clean up this troubled school district’s act.

So, JCTA, let’s see what you can do. I think a lot of folks will be watching.

Kentucky education’s “tooth to tail” ratio: still wrong

One of our long-time, major concerns with public education in Kentucky has always been the very low proportion of teachers compared to the total number of staff members in the state’s public school system (See one old example in our original Bang for the Buck report on school efficiency which I authored a decade ago in 2006).

In fact, I was writing about the staffing issue even before the Bluegrass Institute was on anyone’s “radar screen.” Way back in April 2003, months before I knew anything about the institute, I put out “KERA Update #67” which includes comments about the staffing issue.

The truth is that data adding to our concerns has been available for years in the annually released Digest of Education Statistics stretching back beyond the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA).

Now, Table 213.40 in the new, 2015 edition of the digest updates school staffing information through 2013, and Kentucky continues to have an obviously out of proportion staffing issue in its schools.

Figure 1 shows how Kentucky’s very low teacher to total staff ratio has ranked over time against the other 49 states and the District of Columbia’s school systems.

Figure 1


As you can see, shortly after KERA was enacted, Kentucky’s already low ranking for teachers in schools sank ever more. Ever since, the state’s teacher manning statistic has pretty much hovered around the very bottom of the stack. Very simply, Kentucky has one of the worst staff manning ratios where it counts the most – front line classroom teachers – of any state in the nation.

It is interesting that back in 1989, the year before KERA came along, just over half the staff membership in each Kentucky public school was comprised of teachers. Now, as Figure 2 shows, that ratio has decayed to the most recently reported situation for 2013 where only 42.8 percent of the staff in each school is composed of teachers.

Figure 2


Much of the low teacher staffing ratio in Kentucky’s schools is reported to be due to more teachers’ aides on site. But, research raises questions about the education value of those aides compared to having more teachers around.

A report prepared for the Kentucky Department of Education in 2003 titled, “A State-Of-The-Art Approach To School Finance Adequacy In Kentucky,” discusses the educational contribution of aides on Page 21, saying “research generally shows they do not add value.” The report suggests not using aides in its recommendations for a comprehensive school reform model.

For sure, if we didn’t have so many non-teacher staffers on our school payrolls, we could afford to hire more teachers and pay those teachers more, too.

Because of the economic issues and the potentially adverse impact this is having on actual education in Kentucky’s public education system, it is time for the legislature to ask some pretty sharp questions about why this picture is so different for Kentucky compared to the vast majority of states in this country. We might find answers that could help us make our education system far stronger if legislators do that.

Superintendent tells how Kentucky’s School Based Decision Making Council (SBDM) laws tie elected board members’ hands

Discussion shows how SBDM laws render parents and school boards powerless

Parents in the Boone County Public School District are getting an interesting education these days. They are learning that their locally elected school board and their school superintendent have absolutely no authority regarding what may be some very bad curriculum choices recently made in one of the district’s middle schools.

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