Category Archives: Parents

Performance Accountability for All Kentucky Public Schools, or Just Charter Schools?

Over the last year as Kentucky lawmakers, educators, and educational leaders have debated the merits of adopting charter school legislation, demands for accountability for charter schools from the traditional public education community were heard all over the state. In fact, concerns about accountability for Kentucky’s charter schools came second only to concerns about funding following children who exited traditional public schools to attend charter schools.

Personally, I welcome and encourage public accountability for schools specifically, and government more generally. I believe tax payers, students, and their parents should expect and demand transparency from public schools and school districts, and that schools should be held accountable for their outcomes, including students’ academic performance and authentic measures of students’ career and postsecondary readiness. I have encouraged that conversation with the consideration of charter school legislation in Kentucky, and I will be a fierce proponent of performance accountability for charter schools as they are established in Kentucky.

The end result of our charter accountability conversations is that Kentucky’s charter school law will hold Kentucky’s charter schools to a very high standard, as it should. Truthfully, there wasn’t much to debate, as charter school advocates in the state were as adamant about performance accountability for charter schools as charter school opponents were. Central to what charter school advocates argued for was providing charter schools with greater organizational and governance flexibility and autonomy in exchange for increased accountability. That’s what the new law now requires. Kentucky’s charters will participate in the same assessment and accountability system as traditional public schools in the state. Additionally, because charter contracts will be granted for periods of no longer than five years, charter schools will be required to make the case to their authorizers for charter renewal and continued existence based on their performance. As well, because no students will be assigned to or required to attend a Kentucky charter school, charter schools face consumer accountability, in that a failure to attract and retain students will result in the school having to close its doors for lack of enrollment and funding.

What is unfortunate but not surprising, however, is that I’ve never heard demands for performance accountability for Kentucky’s traditional public schools with anywhere near the same intensity as I have heard from educators and educational leaders concerning charter school accountability.  I don’t believe I have ever heard the school boards association, or teachers unions, or superintendents associations demanding that traditional public schools be held accountable for their outcomes. Do Kentucky’s educator and educational leadership organizations only believe in performance accountability for charter schools? Should traditional public schools simply be trusted to work hard and do the best they can with students? Given that a healthy and successful charter school sector in Kentucky is not likely to directly serve more than 5 or 6% of Kentucky’s public school students, a focus on performance accountability for only charter schools leaves the rest of Kentucky’s public school students in a bind.

Kentucky does have an assessment and accountability system for public schools, but that system has been woefully inadequate in holding schools accountable for closing achievement gaps and preparing students for success in careers and postsecondary education. Under that system gaps have grown in some school school districts. Further, the system is far from being transparent with parents about the performance of schools. For example, one Kentucky high school classified as Distinguished in the current school accountability system posted the following assessment results for the 2015-2016 academic year:

  • 39.6% of students scored proficient or higher on the K-PREP Language Mechanics assessment (lower than state average)
  • 47% of students scored proficient or higher on the English II End-of-Course assessment (lower than the state average),
  • 49% of students scored proficient or higher on the Algebra II End-of-Course assessment,
  • 20% of its students scored proficient t or higher on the Biology End-of-Course assessment (lower than the state average)
  • 47% of students scored proficient or higher on the U.S. History End-of-Course assessment (lower than the state average)

As troubling as those numbers are, those are the averages across all students. The scores for low-income students and students of color are much worse. There is absolutely nothing Distinguished about that school’s results. And while I celebrate the progress the school has made, or any school similarly situated, we are at best misleading parents and students when we say  school performance like that is distinguished. It is not. Yet I have not heard of teachers unions or organizations of school boards or educational leaders decrying the ineptitude of a school accountability system that inappropriately labels schools as being high achieving when we know in fact they are not.

It is past time for Kentucky’s educators and educational leaders to get serious about performance accountability for our public schools; as serious as they were about accountability for charter schools. Kentucky will not move the needle on postsecondary success, degree attainment, or workforce participation until we design and implement accountability systems that center on students’ academic achievement, significant and meaningful achievement growth, and authentic measures of college and career readiness.

 

Education Attainment Alone Won’t Transform Kentucky: Reconsidering Policy, Practice, and Attitude

I am an educator. With the exception of a few brief years I spent in law enforcement as a very young man, I have spent all of my career in K12 and postsecondary education. From my earliest days as a high school teacher in the New Orleans Public Schools, to my time in teacher preparation in North Carolina, to my academic home today at the University of Kentucky, I’ve spent my career teaching and supporting students as they advance their education and achieve their academic goals. There’s not a greater proponent of education attainment than me. But education attainment alone is simply not sufficient for preparing the workforce Kentucky needs to retain and attract high wage jobs.

Kentucky has made tremendous strides over the last few decades with education attainment. Our graduation rates are much better than they were a few decades ago. Higher percentages of Kentuckians are literate and have high school diplomas. Increasing numbers of Kentuckians are going on to pursue postsecondary education and earning postsecondary credentials and degrees. In fact, in some years Kentucky has led the South in gains in high school graduation rates and postsecondary degree attainment. Those are all achievements that every Kentuckian should be proud of. Educationally, Kentucky is not the same state it was even 20 years ago. But we still have quite a ways to go. And we won’t get to where we need to be without making a course adjustment.

While it’s great that many more Kentuckians have high school diplomas and postsecondary degrees, we must come to terms with the reality that Kentucky’s significant increases in education attainment have not translated into the economic progress we so direly need. And that’s in large part because the diplomas, credentials, and degrees many Kentuckians have earned have not been aligned with the skills, credentials, and degrees that business and industry are demanding.

If Kentucky is to become what it has the potential to become economically, the state’s workforce has to become its strength, not its liability. To do that, young people and not so young people have to get the skills and credentials business and industry are demanding. It’s no secret what those in-demand areas are. In Kentucky, certifications and two- and four-year degrees in the medical fields, advanced manufacturing, and information technology would well-situate a young worker.

Below are a few changes in policy, practice, and thinking I believe Kentucky should consider for better aligning education attainment with workforce preparation. Better alignment of the two is essential if we are to become the economic engine we have the potential of becoming.

  1. Kentucky’s high school diploma has to be more meaningful. Higher graduation rates are good, but higher completion rates are not incredibly meaningful if the diploma students earn  is useless. The hard truth is, comparatively, it doesn’t take that much to earn a high school diploma in Kentucky. Our state’s current minimum requirements are neither rigorous enough to adequately prepare a student going on to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Kentucky, nor rigorous enough to ensure that a student not pursuing additional postsecondary education will learn a skill she can use to earn a wage sufficient for supporting herself. That’s unacceptable for Kentucky and it has to change.
  2. Kentucky’s postsecondary institutions must produce more students with credentials and degrees that match in-demand job sectors. There are more than a few good paying jobs that go unfilled in Kentucky. Eventually, some of those jobs are filled with skilled workers who come from places outside of Kentucky; and in other instances, the state’s skilled workforce challenges result in businesses deciding to put off expansion in Kentucky or to locate operations in other states with less severe workforce challenges. We have to turn the tide. Further, we need Kentucky’s postsecondary institutions to place greater emphasis on program development and program expansion in areas that lead to high paying jobs in high demand sectors.
  3. Kentucky’s parents and teachers have to change their mindsets about career and technical education. Too many students who would enjoy and be incredibly successful in technical fields that require less than a four-year degree have been inappropriately pushed into four-year institutions and into bachelor’s degree programs. In some cases, those programs have not aligned with students’ interests and/or strengths. An in other cases, those programs have not been aligned with jobs. In either case, the student has been inappropriately advised and shortchanged. The thinking that all high school graduates should go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree after graduating high school, regardless of what that bachelor’s degree is in, is wrong.
  4. Kentucky’s students should know that having a bachelor’s degree in any field will not necessarily lead to greater employment opportunities and higher wages than having an associate’s degree or an industry recognized certification. While on average, bachelor’s degree holders earn more than associate’s degree holders, there is substantial variation in the data across fields and majors.  For example, some bachelor’s degrees are intended to prepare students for further study in graduate school, and are not expressly designed for preparing students for job opportunities immediately following undergraduate degree completion.
    • As students are making institution, degree, and program decisions, they should do their homework. Students should be asking questions about recent degree and program completers, including whether those graduates have found jobs in their fields, where they are working, and how much they are earning as early career workers. Those are legitimate questions; ones which should help to inform students of what their best postsecondonary program options are. With better information, I am convinced that larger numbers of Kentucky students would decide to enroll in programs that are better aligned with their interests and strengths, and more likely to lead to the employment and wage outcomes they desire.

Kentucky: The Bluegrass Institute’s Written Online Charter School Debate

This past Monday, Kentucky’s Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy published the latest in its series of “Free to Learn” debates on public charter schools. If you have not yet checked it out I encourage you to do so at your earliest convenience. You can access the debate by clicking here. By facilitating and publicizing this debate, the Bluegrass Institute is providing a valuable service to Kentuckians.

One of the reasons the public charter school debate in Kentucky is so important and the reason I have participated in this series of debates is that Kentuckians have a right to understand the education policy solutions being debated in Frankfort. Kentuckians have a right to hear all sides of the public charter school policy issue, and then make up their minds about how they feel about public charter schools’ potential for Kentucky. It is my sincere belief that once Kentuckians come to understand what high quality public charter school legislation looks like and the promise it holds for addressing some of the intractable issues that our traditional public schools have struggled with for generations, citizens of the commonwealth will be willing to tell their elected officials that Kentucky should give public charter schools a try. I believe once Kentuckians understand both sides of this issue, they will be supportive of public charter school advocates’ efforts to create additional high quality public school options for parents. Not one Kentucky family should be forced into the school situations that many Kentucky families now find themselves stuck with. No child in this commonwealth should be trapped in a school that will not or cannot meet her learning needs. Kentucky families need and deserve additional high quality public school options.