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

Kentucky Touts ACT Gains

With today’s release of the ACT College and Career Readiness report, the Kentucky Department of Education is touting the fact that the state’s students are making continuous gains in terms of readiness.  The state points to three-year trends that show the number of Kentucky students hitting college/career ready benchmarks steadily (and slowly) heading upward.

The trend data is noteworthy because it establishes that while Kentucky still has work to do, the progress is steady and real.

What’s fascinating is that this progress has been made without any of the trendy reforms oft-touted by today’s education reform crowd.  Kentucky still has no Charter Schools.  There aren’t voucher schemes in the state or any school system.  Kentucky has yet to tie teacher evaluations or licensure to test scores.  In fact, Commissioner Holliday tweeted today that recent polling data on the issue of tying teacher evaluations to test scores was reason to take further pause before considering using scores for the evaluation process.

What that means for Kentucky kids is that they won’t be subject to a barrage of new tests used primarily for creating a number score for a teacher.  Instead, they can expect the same focus on high standards and strong teaching that has been the backbone of Kentucky education policy for more than 20 years now.

What’s even more telling, perhaps, is that in Tennessee, a state that has adopted liberal charter enrollment policy, changed teacher evaluation radically, and recently passed new standards tying teacher licensing to test scores, there was no release today touting similar gains in college and career readiness.

In fact, if you simply look at head-to-head results, Kentucky students test higher (slightly) than Tennessee’s in 4 out of 5 categories.

What’s the difference? Instead of trying every trendy new reform and developing test-dependent policies, Kentucky has focused on rigor and investment.  The comparison of the two states is an important lesson for those in Kentucky who will call for vouchers or charters or score-based teacher evaluations in the 2014 legislative session.

Kentucky should stay the course, continue investing, and move its schools forward.

For more on Kentucky education policy, follow us @KyEdReport

Reform Without Funding is Dead

Or, that’s the claim essentially made by Stu Silberman here.

Silberman points out that as states like Kentucky continue to push forward on education reform, this time, they’re doing it without the commitment to funding that allowed Kentucky to be successful in the 1990s.

Specifically, he notes:

Funding cuts at the federal, state and local levels over the last several years
combined with the additional pressures and demands of high-level reform are
creating an environment for failure. Action to change this must come soon. Would
Kentucky have made the progress it has since 1990 without the supports for
teachers and students? The answer, clearly, is no. And unless we find a way to
support our teachers and kids this time around, we will see movement again – but
this time it will be in reverse.

Clearly, Silberman is not pleased with the trend of reform that says that we can improve schools without investing in them.  While it is true that simply spending more money won’t help, it is also true that targeted reforms without adequate financial support are doomed to fail.

Kentucky is a state that got education reform right in the 1990s and proceeded on a positive path into the 2000s.  Going backwards now should not be an option.

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

Rand Paul Gets it Wrong on Charter Schools

This post first appeared on July 30, 2013 on our sister site, Tennessee Education Report

 

Yesterday, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Rand Paul stopped by Nashville’s KIPP Academy to talk about education issues and to allow Alexander a chance to be photographed next to Tea Party favorite Paul.

The topic of discussion was school choice and the two legislators were joined by Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and House Speaker Beth Harwell.

First, let me say that KIPP Academy and a number of other Charter Schools do very fine work.  Charter Schools can offer an alternative that helps kids and the good ones are a welcome addition to the mix of options offered in urban school systems.

That said, the event seemed odd in that it was Paul who was talking about the lessons Kentucky could learn from Tennessee’s education experience.  Kentucky has no Charter Schools, no voucher schemes, and not much in terms of what current “reformers” deem necessary to “improve” schools.

Here’s what Kentucky does have:

– Higher scores on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) than Tennessee in seven out of eight categories.

– A higher ACT composite average than Tennessee

– A larger percentage of its population with 4-year college degrees than Tennessee

– A lower unemployment rate than Tennessee

In short, Kentucky’s schools are getting results and continue moving in the right direction.

So, it seems Lamar Alexander might want to ask one of the many Democratic governors Kentucky has had over the years about the importance of a long-term commitment to meaningful reform.

Kentucky’s Education Reform Act, passed in 1990, changed the way schools were funded.  It set up a new system of testing.  It provided early career support for teachers.  Funding for all schools was increased.  One feature many at yesterday’s event touted about Charter Schools (autonomy, school-based decisions) was written into the Act — Kentucky schools have Site-Based Decision-Making Councils.  These bodies (parents, teachers, administrators) make decisions about school governance and budgeting.

Kentucky spends about $1500 more per student than Tennessee and has sustained this investment (for the most part) in good and bad economic times.

Governor Steve Beshear has been committed to high quality early education.

The results are clear: Kentucky’s been committed to meaningful, sustained investment in schools and teachers and it is paying off and continues to pay off.

Tennessee has tried just about everything but sustained investment, with the 2014 legislative session sure to bring up further discussion of vouchers and other schemes – none of which will likely come with more dollars for the classroom or more support for teachers.

And on just about every indicator, Kentucky beats Tennessee when it comes to school-based outcomes.

It’s time Lamar Alexander and Tennessee’s policymakers look north, and learn the lesson that long-term, sustained support for schools is the only way to move students and the state forward.

For more on Kentucky education policy, follow us @KyEdReport