Kentucky Schools SEEK Funding Restoration

Gaming, Tax Reform among ideas for generating revenue for schools

Kentucky’s public schools are seeking a restoration of funding to 2008 levels in the 2014 budget year.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Kentucky school districts want to go back to 2008 funding levels.  That’s because funding has steadily been decreasing for Kentucky public schools.  First, the economic collapse in 2008 caused tough budget years.  Then, the legislature faced its own budget challenges because of a failure to address public pension underfunding.  So, the Kentucky General Assembly didn’t decrease funding in the SEEK formula, they just left it the same.  However, the number of students in Kentucky schools steadily increased over the past five years.  Meaning schools and districts are operating on less dollars per pupil than they were just 5 years ago.

In addition to flat SEEK funding, “flexible funds” for schools have actually decreased.  So, districts are left to either make up the funds locally (difficult in many rural communities) or, go without.  Districts report cutting items like foreign language and school counseling, even eliminating the use of buses for extra-curricular activities.

While districts have so far gotten by, they say that if the trend continues, more serious program cuts are on the way.

For their part, lawmakers have generally sounded unsympathetic, noting they’ve had to balance some tough budgets.  Of course, it was the General Assembly that failed to properly fund promised pensions in the past — so, they created the mess they now complain about.

That said, Governor Beshear has talked about both tax reform and expanded gaming as ways to generate revenue to mitigate the state’s budget woes.

Both Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and Prichard Committee Executive Director Stu Silberman have been calling for a renewed commitment to proper funding of Kentucky’s schools.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KYEdReport

Blankenship: Professional Pay Needed for Teachers

Over at Education Week, Prichard Committee Executive Director Stu Silberman interviewed Kentucky Education Association Executive Director Mary Ann Blankenship.

Among the highlights, Blankenship noted that teacher pay in Kentucky has remained essentially flat over the past 5 years, with some teachers actually seeing less take home pay now than they did then.

She also noted that funding cuts in recent years have meant teachers are spending more and more of their own money on school resources.

Like Silberman and Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, Blankenship is challenging Kentucky policy makers to put schools first in the 2014 legislative session. Not only do teachers need professional pay, the schools where they teach need adequate resources.  With less state funding, those two essentials are becoming more and more difficult to provide.

Blankenship noted that Kentucky continues to make significant gains in education achievement and that teachers have been very responsive to a fast-changing education environment in light of the move to Common Core.

But, with all those challenges, the reality of lower pay and fewer resources will eventually take a toll.  Kentucky must act now to reverse that cycle — policy makers must ensure better, smarter pay and adequate resources for schools in order to ensure that progress is not slowed.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KYEdReport

 

Core Pioneers

Kentucky was the first state in the nation to adopt and implement the Common Core State Standards.  They’ve just finished their second year of Common Core tests.  So, how’s it going?

The good folks over at Hechinger Report have some analysis.

Here are some highlights:

1) Results are mixed.  This is to be expected.  It’s early on in the process.  Kentucky experienced similar “growing pains” with KERA and ultimately ended up with some pretty solid results — overall improvement on NAEP standings and stronger scores for low-income kids.  Are they where they want to be? No.  But the path of raising standards and focusing on both investment and equity has gotten results.  20 years ago, Kentucky and Tennessee were in roughly the same place in terms of NAEP standings.  Now, Kentucky’s students consistently test higher on NAEP.

2) The improvement is not fast enough. Scores on the Common Core tests are still pretty low.  So, state officials want faster improvement.  However, unlike the KERA reform, this reform has not been met with significant new investment in schools.  And, some advocates and even the Commissioner of Education are calling for a renewed commitment to investing in Kentucky schools.

3) It may be too much, too soon for some kids. Teachers and parents are expressing frustration over the “pushing down” of standards to lower and lower grade levels.  That is, what was once covered in 6th grade math is now expected in 5th grade.  There is some legitimate concern that younger children aren’t developmentally ready for what the Common Core expects.

4) There is some good news. Despite the somewhat bleak picture painted by Hechinger as they state, “Across the state, test scores are still dismal…,” a closer look at this year’s results offers some key points of optimism. Specifically, the Prichard Committee points out:

Looking at group patterns, students with disabilities improved in every subject, and the Gap, free and reduced meal, and African American groups improved in all but one–with most of those results being quite strong. 

So, other states should watch Kentucky — to see what’s working and what can be improved.  And Kentucky policymakers should focus on providing the necessary investments to make Common Core work.  Additionally, the Commissioner and Governor should be willing to make changes to implementation where necessary — and listen to educators for guidance on where those changes are needed.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KYEdReport

 

Core Defense

Gov. Steve Beshear and Commissioner Terry Holliday defend Kentucky’s participation in the Common Core in an op-ed in the Lane Report.

In the article, they note that Kentucky was the first state to teach and test using the Common Core State Standards. They also note that the stronger curriculum is yielding results in terms of increased graduation rates and a decreased need for remediation among high school graduates attending Kentucky colleges.

Kentucky’s leading role should be no surprise.  Since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, Kentucky has taken the lead on using rigorous, relevant curriculum and holding students to high standards.  The higher expectations combined with increased investment in schools helped Kentucky become one of the fastest-improving states on the NAEP.

The lesson of 20 years of progress is that successful reform requires meaningful investment.  Or, as Stu Silberman put it, Reform Without Funding is Dead.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport

Value-Added Value?

I wrote recently about the limited value of value-added data when it comes to predicting teacher effectiveness.

Now, more information has come out regarding the impact of value-added data on education policy.  Specifically, the impact the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) has had on Tennessee education outcomes.

TVAAS was included among a set of reforms adopted as part of the Education Improvement Act in Tennessee in 1992.  The EIA was passed in a response to a lawsuit regarding inequity in school funding.  A similar situation precipitated Kentucky’s Education Reform Act (KERA) in 1990.  Over the last 20 years, however, the two states have taken different approaches and have different results to show for their efforts.

Here’s the big takeaway from this piece on the utility of TVAAS data in terms of its impact on student achievement:

Tennessee received a D on K-12 achievement when compared to other states based on NAEP achievement levels and gains, poverty gaps, graduation rates, and Advanced Placement test scores (Quality Counts 2011, p. 46).  Educational progress made in other states on NAEP [from 1992 to 2011] lowered Tennessee’s rankings:

• from 36th/42 to 46th/52 in the nation in fourth-grade math[2]

• from 29th/42 to 42nd/52 in fourth-grade reading[3]

• from 35th/42 to 46th/52 in eighth-grade math

• from 25th/38 (1998) to 42nd/52 in eighth-grade reading.

That’s right. Tennessee has lost ground relative to other states since the implementation of its TVAAS system as well as its other education reforms adopted in 1992.  Funding inequity persists, and while the overall numbers in terms of student achievement have gone slightly up, other states have moved forward faster. That means Tennessee is essentially worse off relative to the country than it was when it started.

One key difference in Tennessee is persistently low investment in schools. Which highlights the need for Kentucky to continue its focus on investing in schools and doing what works to achieve proficiency.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport

 

Breaking Down the Test Results

The Prichard Blog has a nice breakdown of the recently released testing results in Kentucky.

It’s hard to say it’s all good news – but, there’s plenty of good news.  And of course, room for improvement.

Here are the key takeaways:

Looking at group patterns, students with disabilities improved in every subject, and the Gap, free and reduced meal, and African American groups improved in all but one–with most of those results being quite strong.   Students with limited English proficiency declined in all but one subject, and Asian students declined in three of six.
For all students, the pattern is strong growth in science, social studies and writing, moderate growth in reading and a small uptick in language mechanics, but a disturbing decline in mathematics.
Looking at the whole sweeping picture, I think the spotlight developments are:

  • Successes for the Gap group, free and reduced meal students, and students with disabilities.
  • Weaknesses for students with limited English proficiency and African-American, Asian, Hispanic students.
  • Growth in elementary writing and language mechanics, middle school reading and language mechanics, and high school science and social studies.
  • Troubling declines in elementary reading and science, middle school mathematics and science, and high school mathematics.

It’s important, then, that Kentucky keep focusing on next steps — and that investment in schools keeps up with a clear need to move toward greater proficiency.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport

Value-Added Caution

Lots of attention in the discussion around teacher quality focuses on value-added data and the ability to determine a teacher’s effectiveness from a single test score.

More recently, a study by researchers at Harvard has received lots of attention because it purports to indicate that replacing a bad teacher with a good one has significant lifetime impact on student earning potential.

Unfortunately, it seems none of the media fawning over this study know how to use a calculator.

So, I break it down here:

This is the study that keeps getting attention around teacher quality and student earning potential. It was even mentioned in President Obama’s State of the Union back in 2012.  It keeps getting cited as further evidence that we need to fire more teachers to improve student achievement.

Here’s the finding that gets all the attention: A top 5 percent teacher (according to value-added modeling or VAM) can help a classroom of students (28) earn $250,000 more collectively over their lifetime.

Now, a quarter of a million sounds like a lot of money.

But, in their sample, a classroom was 28 students. So, that equates to $8928.57 per child over their lifetime. That’s right, NOT $8928.57 MORE per year, MORE over their whole life.

For more math fun, that’s $297.61 more per year over a thirty year career with a VAM-designated “great” teacher vs. with just an average teacher.

Yep, get your kid into a high value-added teacher’s classroom and they could be living in style, making a whole $300 more per year than their friends who had the misfortune of being in an average teacher’s room.

If we go all the way down to what VAM designates as “ineffective” teaching, you’d likely see that number double, or maybe go a little higher. So, let’s say it doubles plus some. Now, your kid has a low VAM teacher and the neighbor’s kid has a high VAM teacher. What’s that do to his or her life?

Well, it looks like this: The neighbor kid gets a starting job offer of $41,000 and your kid gets a starting offer of $40,000.

Wait, what? You mean VAM does not do anything more than that in terms of predicting teacher effect?

Um, no.

And so perhaps we shouldn’t be using value-added modeling for more than informing teachers about their students and their own performance. Using it as one small tool as they seek to continuously improve practice. One might even mention a VAM score on an evaluation — but one certainly wouldn’t base 35-50% of a teacher’s entire evaluation on such data. In light of these numbers from the Harvard researchers, that seems entirely irresponsible.

Perhaps there’s a lot more to teacher quality and teacher effect than a “value-added” score. Perhaps there’s real value added in the teacher who convinces a struggling kid to just stay in school one more year or the teacher who helps a child with the emotional issues surrounding divorce or abuse or drug use or any number of other challenges students (who are humans, not mere data points) face.

Alas, current trends in “education reform” are pushing us toward more widespread use of value-added data — using it to evaluate teachers and even publishing the results.

I can just hear the conversation now: Your kid got a “2” teacher mine got a “4.” My kid’s gonna make 500 bucks more a year than your kid. Unless, of course, the situation is reversed next year.

Stop the madness. Education is a people business. It’s about teachers (people) putting students (people) first.

I’m glad the researchers released this study. Despite their spurious conclusions, it finally tells us that we can and should focus less on a single value-added score and more on all the inputs at all levels that impact a child’s success in school and life.

As Kentucky considers teacher evaluation “reform,” caution should be used when deciding what (if any) role value-added scores will play in new evaluations.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport

Kentucky’s Investment in Schools Drops at Wrong Time

Well, it’s never really the right time to decrease your investment in schools, but Kentucky has seen its investment in schools decrease at a time when the economy is in greatest need of improvements in education.

That’s the conclusion drawn by the Kentucky Center on Economic Policy in this study.

As Commissioner Holliday and Stu Silberman have argued, the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly is a critical one for Kentucky schools.

With a decrease in per pupil spending of nearly $500 since 2008, Kentucky can ill afford NOT to invest additional dollars in schools this session.

It’s an election year, so maybe that will motivate lawmakers to do the right thing and start getting education dollars moving in the right direction again.

Yes, revenue and budget priorities are tricky issues — but nothing is more important than keeping Kentucky’s schools moving forward.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow us @KyEdReport

As Kentucky Considers Charter Schools, Ohio Offers Important Lessons

Kentucky is one of a handful of states that has zero charter schools.  As legislators return to Frankfort in 2014, though, it seems another push is underway for the state to allow at least some charter schools, most likely in Louisville (JCPS).

The argument for charters is two-fold.  1) Families should have a choice.  Period.  Rather than being offered a limited set of options from district schools, families should be allowed to choose another option.  A publicly-funded charter school may offer that option.  And choice is good, no matter if the charter is actually any better than the traditional schools students may attend.  This argument has some degree of appeal, especially for those students and families who are situated in struggling schools.

2) Charter schools are good because they serve economically disadvantaged students BETTER than district schools.  If Kentucky adds charter schools, student achievement will improve over time and more students will be better-served by the offerings of the school system.

The advantage of having not yet adopted charter schools in Kentucky is that we can see what other states have done and what works and what’s not working.

If number 2 above is true, then it would be hard to argue against charters.  However, if number 2 is false, it’s difficult to adopt charter schools simply on the basis of choice alone.

So, what is the experience in other states?

I’ve written before about Tennessee, a state that has had expanding access to charter schools for the past 10 years.  Yes, it’s true that a very small percentage of TN students currently attend charter schools — but it also seems likely that Kentucky would follow a similar path — a gradual scaling-up of charter schools.  It’s likely to be some time before more than 5% of Kentucky students attend charters.  So, Tennessee is instructive if for no other reason than it has had charter schools for 10 years now and yet it’s students, even in the big cities where charter schools exist, perform at a lower level than Kentucky’s on NAEP assessments AND on the ACT.  So, education “reform” hasn’t moved the numbers substantially in Tennessee.

Moving in the other direction from Kentucky, northern neighbor Ohio has had charter schools in its “Big 8″ school districts for 16 years now and has expanded charter schools to 37 other low-performing districts.  After 16 years, this report shows some pretty disappointing results.

87% of students in a public charter school in Ohio attend a school that earned a grade of D or F on ability to meet state standards.  What’s more, 93% of charter schools in Ohio scored a D or F in high school graduation rate — 20 points WORSE than the public schools in the Big 8 districts. So, kids attending charter schools were significantly less likely to graduate than there non-charter peers in big city districts.  And that’s with accountability measures in place that closed the lowest-performing charters.

Urban poverty is a complex problem.  Educating students in that environment is also complex.  Simply adding charter schools, even with accountability provisions, doesn’t solve the problem.  A small number of charter schools are working in Ohio’s big cities.  And so are the district schools.  It seems like the wiser course of action to investigate what’s working at those schools and apply it to JCPS.  Likewise, Tennessee offers 10 years of empirical data.  Looking to schools that have success stories and finding out what works makes a lot of sense.  If state laws need to be changed or tweaked to allow more district-level innovation, that makes sense, too.  Adding a layer of charter schools, especially when the numbers say they offer no better educational future than existing district schools (and are sometimes worse) does not make sense.

The problem with experiments in public education is that those receiving the treatment are our children.  If the charter school where they attend middle school is a failed experiment, and it closes after three years, they’ve lost middle school.  Time they cannot get back.  Kentucky would be better served to increase its investment in and support of existing schools while adopting proven strategies based on evidence.

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow us @KyEdReport

 

Does Kentucky Need Charter Schools?

So Gary Houchens sent me this handy link about ACT scores in the midst of a Twitter discussion on charter schools in Kentucky.  Of course, there aren’t any charter schools in Kentucky right now.  But Gary wants to change that.

Which is fine. There are some very high quality, solid charter operators out there who may offer good options for some families.

BUT: The ACT numbers from the link simply don’t make the case that Kentucky MUST have charter schools to get results.

Houchens and Richard Innes from the Bluegrass Institute suggest that if Kentucky is to improve its results for African-American and Latino students, charter schools provide the answer.

Not so fast.  Let’s look at a comparison between Tennessee and Kentucky.  After all, Tennessee is most similar demographically and it’s right next door (or, below).

Tennessee has also gradually been expanding charter school offerings since 2002.  There are several high quality charter programs in both Memphis and Nashville.  So, if charters really do help urban students and students of color improve performance, that result would be evident in the numbers Innes cites.

Instead, African-American and Latino students in Kentucky perform better than their counterparts in Tennessee.  And in fact, the achievement gap between white and African-American students in Kentucky and Tennessee is identical.

Just having charter schools hasn’t made Tennessee any better at getting results for students of color.

Perhaps even more telling is how Kentucky and Tennessee students on free/reduced lunch perform. For this, we turn to NAEP results. Both states have around 55% of their students on free/reduced lunch.  Initially, Tennessee students on the program were the focus of charter schools, though that has expanded.  So, if the benefits of charters are clear, they’d be showing up here.

Kentucky’s kids score higher than Tennessee’s on 7 out of 8 indicators (4th/8th math, science, reading, writing).

Let’s take 4th grade reading as an example.  In 2009, Kentucky 4th graders on free/reduced lunch scored 10 points higher on NAEP reading than Tennessee’s.  By 2011, the difference was 12 points in Kentucky’s favor, with Tennessee’s number actually dropping a point.

What’s Kentucky doing differently? A focus on high standards and, until recently, investment in schools.  Can they do more? Sure! And charter schools could be a part of that equation.

Let me be clear: High quality, high performing charters should NOT be prevented from coming to Kentucky simply because a few superintendents don’t like the idea.  If quality can be controlled and accountability ensured, Kentucky might want to add charter schools to its arsenal.

But let’s also be clear about expectations.  Simply adding the choice of a high quality charter school will not dramatically change the Kentucky education landscape.  Kentucky shouldn’t be adding charter schools simply because choice is a nice idea.  Or because they are expecting some dramatic new result.  Expectations should be realistic and the focus, in general, should be on investing in the resources that support high quality, rigorous instruction for all students, regardless of what type of school they attend.

For more on education policy in Kentucky, follow us @KyEdReport