Category Archives: Kentucky

ACT Scores Highlight Kentucky’s Persisting Racial Achievement Gap

The Kentucky Department of Education released the results of Kentucky high school juniors’ spring ACT scores today. Since 2008, the ACT has been administered to high juniors across the commonwealth as a way of measuring students’ readiness for college. There were modest increases in scores from last year in English (17.3 to 17.8), mathematics (18.2 to 18.3), reading (18.4 to 18.9), and science (18.5 to 18.7). Male and female students’ scores were rougly even.

Racial achievement gaps, however, persist. For example, black students’ scores lag behind white students by 3.4 points in English, 2.1 points in math, 4 points in reading, and a 2 points in science. Black students’ composite score lags behind white students’ composite by 3.2 points (15.8 versus 19). But in addition to the black/white racial achievement gap, black students’ scores also continue to lag behind those of American Indian, Hispanic, and Asian American/Pacific Islander students.

My purpose is only to draw attention to the scores, so I refrain from editorializing. There has been enough of that. I will say, however, that the gaps are absolutely unacceptable. Much remains to be desired with Kentucky’s scores overall, but for me, the persisting achievement gaps are even more upsetting.  Personally, I am sad, outraged, disappointed, and motivated all at once. These scores are part of mounting evidence that we continue to fail our children. This failure lies at the feet of us all; yes schools, but also parents, communities, and higher education institutions. There is so much that can and should be done, but we choose not to do it. Again, we choose not to do it.

Well, I have said enough. Now let’s do something.

For anyone interesting in looking at the results, here is the link to the Kentucky Department of Education’s press release:

Assisting “Persistently Low-Achieving” Schools in Kentucky

This week Kentucky Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday outlined steps that the Kentucky Department of Education will likely take to assist schools that the Department identifies as “persistently low-achieving.” So far, the Department has identified 10 such schools across the commonwealth, based on factors including test scores in reading and mathematics, meeting AYP (adequate yearly progress) goals, and high school graduation rates. The Department’s planned intervention measures include the following:

  • providing up to $500,000 a year for three years to spend on “turnaround efforts;” 
  • establishing three Centers for Learning Excellence, each headed by an educational recovery director, to provide the schools with technical assistance;
  • assigning an educational recovery leader to each identified school to mentor the principal; and 
  • assigning educational recovery specialists in language arts and mathematics to work directly with teachers.
It’s hard to say much about the plan at this point. It has innovative elements, but at the same time isn’t earthshaking. I am very happy that the plan will include measures to support both administrators and classroom teachers. I am also pleased that the plan appears to be whole-school-oriented. We have known for some time”  that effective schools (or any organizations for that matter) are much more than the sum of their parts, thus interventions should be designed with that in mind. 
I’ll keep you posted on further developments.

No Charter Schools in Kentucky, At Least Not Yet

The regular legislative session of the Kentucky General Assembly has ended, and a few things should be noted. First and arguably most important, we do not have a budget. Also noteworthy, however, is that legislators were unable to get a bill through which contained a provision creating charters schools in the commonwealth. kentucky is one of only 11 states that have not passed charter school legislation, but during this legislative session lawmakers came ever so close to making the charter school idea a reality in Kentucky. The last minute push for the somewhat controversial (at least in Kentucky) education reform came as a result of Kentucky failing to win federal funding in the Race to the Top competition. Kentucky did successfully make it to the finals of the first round, but in the end, not having charter school legislation proved to be too costly for the state’s application to win funding.

If the bill had passed successfully, Kentucky’s charter law would have been a conservative one. The bill granted local school boards sole authority to approve charter school applications. The schools would have existed as entities within local school districts, and would have been held accountable to local boards. Kentucky charter schools would have only been able to hire state certified teachers and administrators, and charter schools would have been bound by any local bargaining agreement between teachers unions local school boards. Clearly, the bill was crafted conservatively with the intent of making the reform palatable for traditional public school proponents/charter school opponents. With hopes of winning funding in the second round of the Race to the Top competition, the charter school provision had won the support of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), and many local school district officials around the state.
All may not be lost for charter school enthusiasts in Kentucky. Because the state has not passed a budget, the legislature will be heading for a special session, where the charter school discussion could very likely pick up again. The enticement of federal funding in Race to the Top may be just enough to move Kentucky into “Charter Land.” To be honest, with the way the provision is presently written, I have a hard time seeing why traditionalists would oppose it. If anything, charter school proponents should oppose its restrictiveness. The proposed law is so restrictive that the likelihood of charter schools really taking off under it are slim to none. I say let’s get this done Kentucky and fight for funding in round 2. I’ll keep you posted here as this unfolds.

Compulsory Attendance Bill in the Kentucky House: Symbolism is Important Too

The Kentucky House Education Committee approved a bill this week that would raise the state’s compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18 by the year 2015. The bill states that Kentucky’s high school graduation rate must be a least 90% by July 1, 2015. Advocates of the bill cite the social and economic importance of children earning a high school diploma in the 21st Century. Currently, compulsory attendance ages across the country range from 16 to 18 years of age. Several states currently have compulsory attendance ages of 18, including CA, CT, HI, LA, and NE; but there is no correlation between states’ compulsory attendance ages and their high school graduation rates (here is a list of state’s compulsory attendance ages by state). 

So here is my take on this. If passed, this bill will not bring about an increase the high school graduation rate in Kentucky. Let’s be honest here; lots of kids physically drop out of school now before the current compulsory attendance age of 16, and they mentally drop out of school as early as late elementary school. Increased numbers of children will not graduate from high school simply because we write it into law, any more than they will stop doing drugs, drinking, or smoking because the law forbids it.  However, I do believe that this bill has some symbolic significance. It symbolizes the commitment that Kentuckians are making to improve public public education in the state., and to move Kentucky beyond fighting to not be last. That is important. It is an important statement to make to the rest of the nation, but I believe it to be even more important to make to Kentuckians; that what we have always done and always expected of ourselves is not good enough anymore. Kentucky education is moving. So as long as there is enough substance to go along with the symbolism, symbolic bills like this one are okay with me.

Kentucky State University to Launch Mentoring & Community Collaboration Center for “At-Risk” Students

Kentucky State University (KSU) is preparing to launch a new program, the Promising Youth Center for Excellence, in which KSU students will serve as mentors to a group of Hispanic and African-American students identified as “at-risk.” The US Department of Health and Human Services funded initiative will bring together the struggling students, KSU mentors, parents, and community members in a collaborative effort to meet students’ needs. The underlying assumption of such a program is that schools, parents, and communities working collaboratively puts students in a much better position to be successful. Also fundamental is the idea that universities–including students–can serve as facilitators of this type of collaboration.

Nice work KSU and good luck!

Kentucky House Passes Bill to Limit Credit Hours for Obtaining Degrees

This week the Kentucky House of Representatives passed /files/2/0/0/6/0/216301-206002/Kentucky_House_Bill_160.doc”>House Bill 160 would limit credit hour requirements for all bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degree programs to 120 hours; and limit all associate of arts and associate of science degrees to 60 credit hours. The bill would, however, allow the Council on Postsecondary Education to approve exceptions to the requirement for “specialized programs that comply with specific program standards established by external accreditation bodies or for other reasons deemed necessary by the council. The stated intention of the measures is to increase the four-year graduation rate of students in public universities.

In my opinion, working toward a seamless transition from community and technical colleges to four-year public universities is a great idea. I believe that such a system would be in the best interests of both students and the Commonwealth’s post-secondary system. I will admit, however, that the General Assembly’s desire to dictate to colleges and universities the maximum number of credit hours for completion of associates and bachelors degrees was a bit startling to me. Upon hearing about the proposed measure, I decided to take a  totally non-scientific perusal of credit hour requirements for bachelors degrees at the University of kentucky and Bluegrass Community and Technical College. I found that that by and large, most degree programs do not require more than 120 credit hours for the completion of the bachelors degree or 60 credit hours for completing associates degrees. But I continue to wonder why the Kentucky House finds it necessary or even reasonable to legislate requirements for college degree programs. Admittedly, as a university professor I have some biases, but what expertise in degree program design does the General Assembly posses that university faculty and administrators are lacking? Really, I would like to know.

No Charters in Kentucky’s Race to the Top Application, But Why? Really?

After much talk about the possibility of “Race to the Top” influencing Kentucky to adopt charter school legislation, the Senate Education Committee today voted down an amendment that would have given life to the charter schools in the Commonwealth. The proposed measure would have only allowed for the conversion of chronically low-performing schools into charter schools. Critics of the proposed amendment argued that a last-minute change in the state’s Race to the Top application allowing for charter schools would have derailed the nearly unanimous support of the state’s school districts. In reality, however, unanimous support was not what lawmakers were afraid of losing. They were afraid of losing the support of the largest and arguably most influential district in Kentucky, Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisiville). Kentucky’s Education Commissioner said that the loss of district support of the application as a result of including charters could be more costly to the state’s application than not including the charter schools provision.

So for now, there will be no charter schools in Kentucky. But I do not believe that this is the end of charter school discussion in Kentucky. As I said in a post a while back, it’s been pretty interesting to me, a newcomer, listening to Kentuckians’ reactions to the charter school idea. It is as if “charter school” is a bad word here. And that’s fine. As I’ve said many times before, there are several good arguments against charter schools. For a look at some check out my a recent exchange on charter schools at The Edjurist. I guess the only thing that bothers me about the resistance to charter schools that I’ve heard in Kentucky is that most of it is misinformed. 

So let’s start with the basics. The charter school idea was based on Henry Hudson’s charter with the East India Company to explore the Arctic in 1609. The document detailed the purpose of Hudson’s trip, the risks, accountability requirements, procedures for compensation, and rewards for productivity. Ray Budde, considered by many as the father of the charter school idea, thought that a charter between teachers and parents could be similarly developed and used. Budde’s idea gained popularity with then American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Albert Shanker, who then pushed through the adoption of the idea with the AFT. The first charter school legislation came in 1991 in Minnesota, and today 40 states and the District of Columbia have adopted some variant of charter school legislation, with over 4,000 charter schools now in operation, and over one million students attending charter schools nationwide.

Some of those national statistics are what give so many people the impression that charter schools are a singular policy concept, with charter schools operating the same way in every state. But the truth is, because charter schools are a state-level reform, the idiosyncrasies of both individual charter schools and the state legislation that authorizes them make it difficult to speak of charters as a monolithic movement. For example, charter schools in Arizona are based on the assumption that market-like competition will bring about improvement in public schools, while Georgia’s charter school policy is not based on competition at all. Just about the only things that can be said about charter schools generally is that they are grounded in site-based management theory, which espouses that key decisions should be made at the school building level as opposed to the district central office or the state level. Other than that, however, there is extreme variation across states in terms of what charter schools are and how they operate.

So here is my issue: If charter school policies are written at the state level, meaning individual states decide what charter schools are, who can authorize them, how they will be authorized, how they will be held accountable, who they will be held accountable to, and how they will be funded; what is it about the general charter school concept that Kentuckians are so adamantly opposed to? It is completely natural that state teachers unions would oppose a charter school policy that does not require charter school teachers to be state certified. I get that. But who says that a charter school policy has to include that kind of provision. Any survey of state charter school policies shows clearly that a charter school is whatever a state wants it to be. And to be honest, charter schools in many states don’t operate significantly different than traditional public schools in Kentucky with school-based decision making councils. If someone is fundamentally opposed to school decentralization, and holds that many school decisions should in fact be made at levels higher than the school building administration, then yes, it is understandable that that persons would be opposed to the charter school concept. But that person would also be opposed to school-based decision making in any form.

Whether or not Kentucky ever adopts charter school legislation is not important to me. But what is important to me is that Kentuckians discuss and even debate the real issues; not misperceptions of issues. The education of children in Kentucky is too important to shut out possibilities because we don’t want to take the time to truly understand new ideas and have substantive, not political, discussions about them. I make this argument about charter schools and any other education policy issue that comes around. I say to my students all the time, you can take any position you want, but be able to substantiate it. Charter schools may not be right for Kentucky, but we need to do the work of coming to that conclusion.The decisions that we make about our children’s education must be based on reason; not feelings, not politics, and not what friends in other states say. Let’s do things right Kentucky. We owe it to our kids.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Optimistic About Receiving “Race to the Top” Funds

During a recent interview on KET’s (Kentucky Educational Television) “One to One with Bill Goodman,” Kentucky Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday expressed optimism about the Commonwealth’s chances of getting federal funds in the US Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” competition. The commissioner cited the Gate’s foundation’s funding of a consulting firm to help Kentucky craft its “Race to the Top” application as evidence that Kentucky’s education reform efforts are recognized and appreciated nationally. When asked whether Kentucky being one only ten states not having charter school legislation might hurt the state’s chances of receiving fundings, Holliday said that he did not believe it would. He talked about the possibility of integrating successful school models like KIPP (Knowlege Is Power Program) schools into the school-based decision-making framework already in place in Kentucky as one strategy for turning around persistently failing schools, but he did not indicate that charter schools were on the horizon in Kentucky. While acknowledging that Kentucky nor any other state could be assured of receiving funds, Dr. Holliday said that he felt good about Kentucky’s chances. As a new Kentuckian, I hope he’s right.

School-Based Councils, Superintendents, and Principal Selection in Kentucky

Kentucky State Representative Carl Robbins, chair of the House Education Committee, announced to a group of University of Kentucky education faculty and graduate students today that the House Education Committee would hear a bill during the next legislative session proposing amendments to principal selection in Kentucky. Presently, the Kentucky school based decision making statute (KRS 160.345) gives school-based councils the authority to select a new principal when a vacancy occurs. This policy has come under attack by district superintendents who the policy prevents from having a hand in selecting principals. The obvious intent of the statute was to give teachers and parents at the school building level the opportunity to choose a school leader who they believe is best able to meet their school’s unique needs. However, several concerns with the policy have emerged. First, while councils are vested with the authority to select principals, once hired, principals are held accountable to district superintendents who can legally fire them. In some instances, personality mismatches, political differences, or sheer incompetence on the part of the selected candidate have resulted in strained relationships between principals and superintendents. Because councils have varying levels of education expertise and represent diverse interests and ideologies, the reasons for their selecting a candidate may or may not be based on the candidates ability to provide effective school leadership. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the Kentucky legislature does with the policy.