Saturday, July 31, 2010

Robin Hood: Freedom fighter or medieval socialist?

If you haven't seen Ridley Scott's latest version of "Robin Hood," you should -- especially if you're an ardent lover of freedom and individual liberty.

I saw the movie recently and heartily recommend it. I also endorse Cathy Young's review of the film and analysis of the history of the Robin Hood character in the recent Reason Foundation magazine. Young rightly concludes that Robin Hood, played brilliantly by Russell Crowe in the latest version, has captured the imagination of generations because of "freedom, not redistribution."

Those who believe in using the power of government to take from those who earn and give it to those who won't may think Robin Hood is their superhero. But as Young points out: "The earliest Robin Hood ballads, which date back to the 13th or 14th century, contain no mention of robbing the rich to give to the poor." The person Robin helped in those earlier versions was a knight on the verge of losing his property to "the machinations of greedy and unscrupulous monks at an abbey."

It was only later that Robin Hood "turned from an outlaw farmer into a dispossessed aristocrat and, eventually, a patron of the poor." But even then, his primary opponent -- and the object of the people's loathing -- is the Nottingham sheriff, who was hated not because of his badge but because of his moonlighting as a tax collector.

No longer should Kentucky's leftist politicians, university professors, activists and groups take comfort in the popular notion that Robin Hood was a medieval socialist. Instead, freedom fighters across the commonwealth can include Robin Hood as one of their own.

He was, as Young puts it: "A libertarian rebel."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Milton Friedman honored today

The Bluegrass Institute honored the late economist Milton Friedman today in an annual event that featured a number of interesting speakers and a panel question and answer session.

Here is the keynote address from the Bluegrass Institute’s Vice President for Policy and Communications Jim Waters. Stay tuned for more from this event.

This just in! Friday links!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Massachusetts’ governor axes school board members who raised questions

Could something similar have happened here?

Editors at the Boston Globe are clearly worried about the replacement of two of the Massachusetts Board of Education’s most outspoken critics of the recent decision to drop Massachusetts’ highly regarded education standards. Instead, the state is signing on to the ‘Common Core Standards’ that Kentucky recently adopted.

The newspaper worries:

“The education bureaucracy rolls unimpeded without Stotsky, a prickly expert on English language arts, and Fortmann, an exacting math consultant.”

Under its soon to be replaced standards, Massachusetts has been cleaning up on recent testing from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

For example, the state’s 2009 NAEP proficiency rates in math in grade 4 was 57 percent, way above the US average of 38 percent and Kentucky’s 37 percent. In grade 8 math, Massachusetts scored 52 percent proficient while the nation only posted 33 percent proficiency and Kentucky scored just 27 percent proficient.

In NAEP reading in 2009 in grade 4, Massachusetts scored 47 percent proficient, while the US average was only 32 percent and Kentucky posted a 36 percent rate. In grade 8 reading, the percentages were 43 percent in Massachusetts, 30 percent nationwide, and 33 percent in Kentucky.

Of course, as I have written before, Kentucky enjoys a huge and unfair advantage in these NAEP comparisons because we are not a diverse state. In 2009 grade 4 reading NAEP reported 84 percent of Kentucky’s fourth grade students were white while in Massachusetts only 69 percent were. US wide, the white population was only 54 percent.

Anyway, I have to ask – Why would a state give up on success like that?

Closer to home, our own Kentucky Board of Education is getting a major rework, as well. Some of the same concerns the Globe raises about a loss of people willing to speak out may apply here, as well. Gone, in particular, is hard-charging Joe Brothers, former chair of the board. It remains to be seen if the replacement members maintain his strong push to address our chronically low-achieving schools or return to the ask no deep questions mode of operation that generally hampered the board ever since it was reformed in 1990 by KERA.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Open records update

Operation: Open Records 2010 marches on!

Requests were sent yesterday to obtain the check registers for the last fiscal year to those schools who opted to reply to previous records requests via their lawyers.  We talked a little bit about this when it was revealed that Grant County Schools (a district with 5 schools) paid close to $110,000 in legal fees in fiscal year 2009.

We have already received Grant County Schools' check register.  In FY 2010, the district spent $72,000 on legal expenses.  The good news? This time, the school district didn't have their attorney respond, it was someone on staff!  Maybe, just maybe, we finally got through...

TEA parties party on, dude

The TEA party movement shows no signs of weakening. In fact, the push back against high taxes, big government and constitutional disdain continues to gather strength.

Click here to listen to the 90-second audio commentary.

Random Wednesday notes...

1) A foggy window is made of glass - but it's still hard to see through.  We've talked for a long time about how transparency is important because it is the first step toward accountability.  This is absolutely the truth. While we do have the Kentucky Open Records Act (which we have made extensive use of here) in our commonwealth, we need to make sure that our transparency is transparent - that we have effective and responsive transparency. This video lays out why that is important.

2), our government transparency and accountability website is on the cusp of hitting 1 million views!  This is exciting as has become a resource for Kentucky's citizenry to access information about their elected officials, schools, state performance data and also provide them with the opportunity to voice their own contribution!

3) Ungraded primary performance! - Check out this recently contributed article by education analyst Richard Innes.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More on Race to the Top Phase 2 Finalists

As this map shows, Kentucky, once again, is the only finalist state with NO charter schools!

Note: I added circles and the note about them to the base map

Ungraded Primary Performance in Kentucky

In 2008 the Kentucky Department of Education surveyed all the elementary school principals in Kentucky concerning the degree of implementation of the multi-age environment in their schools. This offered me an opportunity to compare the degree to which Kentucky’s elementary schools adhere to the concept of multi-age grouping – known as "Ungraded Primary" in Kentucky – to those schools' combined average math and reading proficiency rates on Kentucky Core Content Tests (KCCT). Those KCCTs are used for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability.

The various levels of compliance with Ungraded Primary in 2008 are categorized as:

"Single Grade" - Students are not multi-age mixed

"Dual Graded (e.g., P3 and P4)" - Some multi-age mixing occurs, but not more than two age groups in a classroom

"Non-Graded Primary P1-P4" - Complete multi-age grouping of all students who would normally be in Kindergarten through third grade

"Non-Graded P2-P4 and graded P-1" - Students entering school (formerly Kindergarten) held separate from multi-age environment of what was formerly considered grades one to three.

I merged the Excel spreadsheet containing the Primary implementation information with another Excel document from the department of education that contains each school’s 2008 proficiency rates from the KCCT. The math and reading proficiency rates for each school were averaged together, and then the spreadsheet was analyzed to see how the degree of Ungraded Primary implementation corresponded to each school’s performance on the KCCT reading and mathematics assessments.

This graph shows the results.

The first bar, "Single Grade Program" (shaded yellow) shows the combined average proficiency rate for reading and math was 71.64% in those schools which do not use any multi-age groupings.

The next bar, "Average for all Multi-Age Models," (shaded pink), shows that overall across all the various multi-age groupings, the averaged math and reading proficiency rate was somewhat lower at 70.70%.

Following bars show the combined average math and reading proficiency rates for several different classifications of multi-age environments. Only one of those environments, “Dual Graded (e.g. P3 and P4) Only,” where students are multi-age mixed only with two ages maximum, shows somewhat better performance than the totally non-multi-age "Single Grade Program.” That difference is only 0.57 percentage point, which probably isn't significantly different.

Based on the 2008 data, none of the various the multi-age environments currently used in Kentucky produce a notable advantage in academic performance over the traditional, graded structure. In fact, most of the implementations result in slightly lower performance. Therefore, the current rather lax enforcement of the requirement to implement multi-age environments in Kentucky is probably wise.

Find more information including the technical “stuff” here.

Kentucky still in Race to the Top, Phase 2

The US Department of Education has just released the names of the 18 states plus Washington, DC that remain in the competition for Phase 2 fund awards under the Race to the Top program.

Kentucky made the cut.

Of course, we made the cut in Phase 1 of RTTT, and came up short when the cash actually got handed out. Our major failing that time, the lack of any charter schools, remains a potential obstacle to our getting any money, or a significant amount of money, in RTTT Phase 2.

Education Week reports,

“...if New York, Florida, and California win and are awarded the maximum amount allowed by the Education Department's rules, they'll eat up $2.1 billion, or more than half of the remaining funds. Altogether, the states are asking for $6.2 billion, far more than the $3.4 billion that's available.”

Thus, even if we win a Phase 2 award, we may see a lot less money than state educators would like.

New York catches the "CATS fever" of inflated school test grading

We learned all about inflated scoring on state tests in Kentucky years ago when I (and others) started to point out here and here that proficiency rates on our now defunct CATS school assessments were soaring while our kids continued to get low proficiency rates on federal tests.

Now, New Yorkers are learning that the “CATS Fever” of educators inflating school test results over time isn’t limited to the Bluegrass State.

Hopefully, our new pending assessment will include some safety mechanisms to insure we don’t get a repeat infection of “CATS Fever” when our new tests come on line in a year or so.

Rev. Jerry Stephenson speaks in Frankfort

In this video filmed in Frankfort, Kentucky, Rev. Jerry Stephenson discusses charter schools, race, underperforming school systems, and the tea party movement.  Check this out!

Pastor Jerry Stephenson, Frankfort July 2010 from freedomky on Vimeo.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Courier-Journal: Superintendent evaluation secrecy should end

Add the editors at the Louisville Courier-Journal to the growing group of people who are upset with the recently passed legislation that allows local school boards to conduct evaluations of public school superintendents largely in secret.

Bluegrass Institute event theme: 'What would Friedman do?'

The late Nobel laureate Milton Friedman will be remembered as one of the great champions of freedom at an event on the University of Louisville campus this week.

Click here to read the news release.

Can you hear us now? Part 3...

This is the third part in our series interviewing Kentuckians about their representatives and what they want to see different about their government.

Can You Hear US Now? (part 3) from freedomky on Vimeo.

Kentucky also lags in four-year college completion rate

A new report presented by Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board (which creates the SAT college entrance tests and runs the AP program) is loaded with educational comparison data for the 50 states and Washington DC.

Over the past few days, we’ve looked at Kentucky’s substandard performance in getting students through to two-year degrees. Now, let’s see how we do with four-year degree programs.

Sadly, the answer is – not well. Graph 9.3c on page 159 in the report shows Kentucky’s four-year college success rate is only 47.3 percent. That ranks only 36th in the nation and is nearly 9 points below the US average.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Prichard shooting the messenger

Over the past few days I’ve been discussing a new “The College Completion Agenda, 2010 Progress Report” from the College Board (which creates the SAT college entrance tests and runs the AP program).

Among other things, this College Board report takes some well-aimed shots at things our K to 12 education community needs to improve if we are going to repair the United States’ serious decline in higher education accomplishment compared to the rest of the world (in the past four decades, the US has fallen from first to 12th place for persons holding higher education degrees).

Inevitably, the College Board’s comments about what K to 12 education needs to do brought out a sharp response from the choir director of the “KERA Amen Chorus,” Kentucky’s very own Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

Prichard yells at the college types for trying to tell K to 12 how to improve while saying little about how colleges supposedly need to change. Prichard charges the College Board’s recommendations are “…a plan for educating without educators, and an approach to students that literally calls for never approaching the students.”

Well, Prichard is way out of line on this one.

At least in Kentucky, colleges already go far above and beyond to try and accommodate the very poorly prepared product coming out of the state’s K to 12 system.

That K to 12 product is so poorly educated that the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) reports that 45 percent (yes, nearly half) of Kentucky’s recent high school graduates who go on to higher education need to take at least one remedial course as soon as they walk in the college door. And, as this graph shows, the trend has hardly improved over the period of time that the CPE has data to report.

Basically, Kentucky’s postsecondary system already bends over backwards to try and accommodate the problems it inherits from Prichard’s beloved K to 12 system. Kentucky’s college system has been doing so for some time.

How much more (expensive, I might add) coddling would Prichard have the colleges provide to students who are no longer elementary school babies, though they may continue in too many cases to act that way?

Significant remediation is reported in other states, as well (see page 66 in the College Board’s report).

Let’s really put some emphasis on this. Dr. Ed Hughes, the president of the Gateway Community and Technical College in Northern Kentucky, tells me that when his school started up around 15 years ago, it only needed to offer one remedial course in math. Now, Gateway must offer three different levels of remedial math, reaching much farther back to cover material students should have mastered well before the 12th grade. Again I must ask, how much more coddling does Prichard want?

Kentucky whites seriously lag in two-year college completion rate

I’ve been writing about a new report from the College Board (which creates the SAT college entrance tests and runs the AP program). This report is loaded with educational comparison data for the 50 states and Washington DC.

Yesterday, I discussed one of the most disturbing graphs in the report, which shows that Kentucky seriously lags the national average for completion of Associate Degrees as of 2007.

Now, I’m going to cover some even worse news.

Figure 9.2h on page 154 in the report ranks each state’s white students’ Associate’s Degree graduation rate. Kentucky could not place much lower. Only in two states, Arkansas and West Virginia, is the graduation rate for Associates' Degrees for white students lower than in Kentucky. Kentucky's two-year degree graduation rate for whites is only 31.2 percent, over 10 points lower than the national average rate of 43.5 percent.

Since Kentucky’s population runs around 85 percent white, our predominant racial population group is doing terribly compared to their counterparts in the rest of the nation. We simply must fix this!

Note that these white students graduated from high school in 2004 or later, so they spent their entire K to 12 school experience in KERA-influenced schools. Also, most two-year students in Kentucky are from in-state high schools, so this is a reflection of KERA, not out of state education systems.

The report also has a graph for black students' graduation rates in all 50 states. Only 23.7 percent of the state's black Associate's candidates got their degree within three years as of the 2007 results, which is below the national black average of 26.4 percent.

As I mentioned yesterday, this should not be a big surprise to our long-term readers since the Bluegrass Institute has stressed for some time that our remedial course requirements for recent high school graduates who go on to college are very high.

But, it’s sad to see that our extensive spending on KERA has not created better results for the state’s two-year college candidates from 2007.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Teacher accountability with teeth in Washington, DC

One hundred sixty five under-performing teachers are being removed in Washington DC as the nation’s capital implements its new teacher corps improvement program, called IMPACT.

IMPACT replaces a former, awkward and time-consuming process for removing poor teachers, a largely dysfunctional process similar to those typically found in virtually every school system in the country.

The Washington Post announced today that D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is firing those 165 teachers using the new appraisal and accountability system developed by Mathematica Policy Research.

The Post says:

“Last month, union members and the D.C. Council approved a contract that raises educators' salaries by 21.6 percent but diminishes traditional seniority protections in favor of personnel decisions based on results in the classroom. The accord also provides for a "performance pay" system with bonuses of $20,000 to $30,000 annually for teachers who meet certain benchmarks, including growth in test scores.”

Thus, DC teachers accepted a significant pay increase in exchange for being willing to allow the worst performers to be removed from classrooms. But, contract or not, the union really didn’t mean it. Now, the union tells the Post it intends to fight the dismissals. Apparently, union leaders thought they could take the extra money without honoring the new responsibilities that came with it.

Rhee is not without her critics in DC, and the school situation there is apparently part of the political fight to see who will be the next mayor in the nation’s capital. Thus, the jury is still out on whether or not the IMPACT process will stick. But, it is clear that many more are growing frustrated with an educational system that continues to cover up mediocre teachers while the education of children suffers. At least in DC, they are trying to do something about it.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board tells me here in The Bluegrass State we don’t even have a policy, awkward and time-consuming or not, on how a school administrator can go about removing an under-performing teacher. The board says they are unaware of any teacher in the state who ever lost credentials because of inability or unwillingness to teach at an acceptable level of performance.

Kentucky lags in two-year college completion rate

A new report presented by Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board (which creates the SAT college entrance tests and runs the AP program) is loaded with educational comparison data for the 50 states and Washington DC.

One of the most disturbing graphs (Figure 9.2c, page 149) shows that Kentucky seriously lags the national average for completion of Associate Degrees as of 2007. Students in our state’s two-year programs who entered in either the 2004-05 or 2005-06 school terms only succeeded in getting their degree 23 percent of the time. Nationally, 27.8 percent of two-year degree candidates got a degree within three years of entering college. The state ranks 35th in the nation on this statistic.

These students graduated from high school in 2004 or later, so they spent their entire K to 12 school experience in KERA-influenced schools. Also, most two-year students in Kentucky are from in-state high schools, so this is a reflection of KERA, not out of state education systems.

Kentucky's 23 percent graduation rate from two-year colleges should not be a big surprise to our long-term readers. The Bluegrass Institute has stressed for some time that Kentucky's remedial course requirements for recent high school graduates who go on to college are very high.

Still, it’s sad to see that our extensive spending on KERA has not created better results for the state’s two-year college candidates from 2007.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Busting the myths about farm subsidies

Farm subsidies were never meant to serve as a permanent cash cow for large farm operations.

Click here to read the latest Bluegrass Perspective by our summer intern, Jourdan Causseaux.

Click here to see a list of total USDA subsidies in Kentucky from 1995 to 2009.

Americans now lag in getting college degrees

The New York Times reports today about something we’ve been talking about for some time – the fact that not enough of our younger citizens are going on to, and completing, higher education.

A new report presented by Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board (which creates the SAT college entrance tests and runs the AP program) says that while the US used to rank number one in the world for the percentage of its 25- to 34-year olds with college degrees, we’ve now sunk to number 12 among 36 developed nations.

Today, Canada leads the international degree competition with 56 percent of its younger adult citizens holding at least an Associate’s Degree. In the US, only 40.4 percent from this age group hold such credentials.

Things are even worse for US minority and disadvantaged students. The College Board’s president indicated that only 30 percent of our African-Americans and just 20 percent of our Latinos hold postsecondary degrees.

A graphic included with the report shows that at present the percentage of Kentuckians aged 25 to 34 who hold at least a two-year degree ranks only 39th among the 50 states and Washington, DC.

On this map, which is a part of that graphic, more than 40 percent of the young adults in states shown in green have at least an Associate’s Degree. States shown in blue have a rate between 30 to 40 percent. Less than 30 percent of the young adults in the states shown in pink hold at least an Associate’s Degree.

What does the College Board say bears major responsiblity for the decline in US degree holders? Answer: the K to 12 education system in the United States.

The College Board had no trouble outlining many shortcomings with the K to 12 program in the US.

Of course, that will be no surprise to our steady readers.

There is a lot more of interest in the new College Board Report, so stay tuned.

(Revised post updates statistic and adds last sentence)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Legal costs in schools, Fayette Co. "sustainability council", and videos...Thursday Links!

  • NJ school district legal costs: An article discussing the increasing legal costs in the New Jersey school system.  This is a recent interest for our Operation: Open Records 2010 project as we have written about it here and here.
  • Apparently energy managers aren't enough: I blogged recently about how stimulus money is being used to hire "energy managers" across the state to analyze and make recommendations to school districts about energy use.  Well apparently that's not we have a Fayette County sustainability council.  Not making it up, couldn't if I wanted to.  Maybe they need an education council to help with those underperforming schools...oh wait, they have one, the school board.
  • Operation: Open Records 2010 - Update: Responses are still rolling in from our blast of records requests.  Check the project portal to see what we have been after.  More are expected to go out before the end of the month - and these will be really interesting!
  • Here are videos of Jim Waters and Kevin Jackson discussing liberty, race in politics, the need for citizen involvement to achieve change, and much, much more!

  • Help Kentuckians Take Back Their Freedoms! - consider donating to the Bluegrass Institute and support efforts for K-12 education research, forcing transparency in state and local government, and spreading the message of liberty across the state! Take action now!

Can You Hear US now? Part 2

Here is the second installment of "Can You Hear US now?", citizens speaking out about what they want to see their government do differently!

Can You Hear US Now? from freedomky on Vimeo.

Kentucky Department of Education reorganizes

The Kentucky Department of Education just announced a major reorganization of the entire agency. According to the news release, the streamlined department has shed two major offices and $500,000 in salaries to support them.

Says education commissioner Terry Holliday:

“This model enables the agency to directly address priorities related to Senate Bill 1 and other legislative mandates, Kentucky’s Race to the Top application and the Kentucky Board of Education’s strategic plan.”

Click the “Read more” link below to see the new organizational structure and names of key personnel.

Also, let us know if this new structure proves more or less responsive to your requests for information and service. Commissioner Holliday did a lot to improve responsiveness with the old departmental set up, and I hope that trend will continue as the department “shakes out” its new organizational structure.

Fordham study trashes education standards used in Kentucky

Says pending new standards should be MUCH better for us

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute just published comparisons of all the states’ existing education standards versus the new Common Core Standards that Kentucky is now adopting. The new standards were developed by a partnership of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors’ Association.

The new standards will guide course development in Kentucky and also will be the basis for the new public school assessments the state plans to introduce in about a year.

The change comes none too soon for Kentucky’s children, because the Fordham report says our existing education standards are “among the worst in the country.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Are the golden geese about to die?

San Jose, Calif., dropped its janitorial staff and hired outside contractors.

Other California cities following suit include Maywood, which is cutting its entire staff as other city or county entities pick up the work, and Lakewood, which contracts out 40 percent of its services.

Johns Creek, Ga., outsourced all of its city hall and public works services.

Why? Their taxpayers can’t afford to continue paying the overwhelming costs of city employee health care and pension benefits.

Kentucky cities face the same challenge. With new federal mandates and taxes poised to smash Kentucky taxpayers, city leaders across the commonwealth are about to witness the death of their golden geese.

"Do nothing" has been the easy and preferred political decision to address the skyrocketing health care and pension costs that threaten Kentucky's solvency. Business as usual is no longer a viable option.

Reality is about to hit Kentucky's cities. Local political leaders may remain focused on squeezing more money out of Kentucky taxpayers to subsidize their unaffordable city worker benefits, but the truth is: The geese's days are numbered.

Check 'no' on 'card check'

'Card check' would stifle Kentucky employers' decisions concerning their own companies and likely result in them falling victim to unfair sanctions, subjective penalties and big fines.

Click here to listen to the 90-second audio commentary. (part 1)
Click here to listen to the 90-second audio commentary. (part 2)

Can you hear us now?

We hit the pavement and asked Kentuckians want they want to see different about their government.  This is what they had to say (part 1)...

Can You Hear US Now? from freedomky.

Make it 10

More families join lawsuit against Jefferson County busing plan

Adding to a story we’ve been tracking for some time, Wave-3 TV reports that still more families have joined the lawsuit against the Jefferson County Public Schools’ onerous busing plan that offers little hope that bad schools will improve.

This busing plan forces some Jefferson County Kindergarten and first grade kids to ride buses for an hour each way to school while negotiating at least one bus change in the process.

The plan creates no inducement for Jefferson County’s bad schools to improve. It just results in those schools messing up the lives of different students while adding huge extra costs for non-education enhancing diesel fuel, school buses and drivers. “Green” it’s not!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jim Waters speaks about liberty, big government, and the need for change

Jim Waters, Frankfort July 2010 from freedomky on Vimeo.

Civic leaders in Cincinnati get it: Teachers union contracts can stifle educational improvement

Civic leaders in Cincinnati get it: Teachers union contracts can stifle educational improvement

The Sunday print edition of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Enquirer has a rather remarkable letter to the community from a host of the area’s civic leaders.

This “Letter to the Community from Strive Partnership” pulls no punches about how the current contract between the teachers union and the Cincinnati Public School System (CPS) “continues many of the failed policies of the past.”

The letter lists some of those failed policies. These include:

• Rewarding “…teachers for seniority while ignoring the success or failure of their students,”
• Restricting “…the superintendent's ability to create innovative alternative schools,” and
• The fact that “…teacher transfer and placement processes prevent schools from assembling the best possible instructional teams.”

It's good to see that so many civic leaders understand these issues and are willing to speak out publicly, with their names included, in such a frank letter.

It really is time for teachers' unions everywhere, and that definitely includes Kentucky, to step up to their responsibilities. Teachers unions represent professionals, not factory workers. That requires some changes in union leaders’ thinking if we are ever to see new standards that will grow the performance and prestige of this absolutely critical profession while insuring that the members of the profession are treated fairly.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jefferson County busing plan rolling right over parents and kids

School system denies 70 percent of parent requests to avoid onerous busing plan

The Jefferson County school bus juggernaut continues rolling – right over the best interests of students and parents.

Now, the Courier-Journal reports that 70 percent of parent requests for transfers out of the busing chaos, about 1,200 of them, have been turned down.

Instead, Kindergarten and first grade students will be forced to ride buses up to an hour each way to school, sometimes having to negotiate a bus transfer in the process.

And, parents with legitimate hardship situations are really upset.

For example, Brandy Schad doesn’t think she got treated fairly. Schad’s husband has Crohn’s disease and Schad tried to get her son assigned to a school where the family could get help when her husband was hospitalized, which apparently happens frequently and without warning.

Now Schad is interested in joining the growing lawsuit against the busing plan. As of July 12th, a total of five parents were interested in joining the suit. Now, the Courier reports the count of parents seeking to join the suit is up to eight.

The really sad part of all of this is that just throwing different kids into a low-achieving school isn’t likely to improve education in that facility. It’s just going to wreck the lives of different children. If Jefferson County schools would get serious about improving the performance of its schools, then the pressure to bus would pretty much go away.

And, I just can’t see any caring parent of any race getting excited about their child being forced to spend two hours on a school bus every single day. Whether that bus is headed to Louisville’s upscale Eastern end or its urban Western section, after an hour ride the kids are going to arrive at the school door already tired, bored, and not in much of a mood for learning.

Death by pen – the silent killer of free market health care

In the dead of night or light of day, the Obama administration can now just destroy private health care companies. All it takes is a pen.

With no shots fired and no debate or analysis, the Obama administration drove another stake in the US health care system by REQUIRING health insurance companies to provide FREE COVERAGE for dozens of screenings, laboratory tests and other types of preventive care.

The companies that provide these services employ people, buy equipment and supplies, do research and compete to earn every dollar of business. These companies have real costs and cannot stay in business if they are not compensated.

Insurance companies also have real costs for the services and coverage they provide to their customers. They cannot provide their services for free.

The line is drawn. The intent is clear. The Obama administration plans to drive private insurance companies and suppliers out of business with mere strokes of a pen. Provisions of Obamacare allow it. Their political pals in Congress enable it.

As government sets up to compete with private companies or take over the health care system completely, anyone who thinks it will be fair is naive. After all, only the government can print money and operate hapless monopolies without accountability or consequences.

Unless people this time rise up and scream "ENOUGH!" before it is too late, we will witness the creation -- and be at the mercy of -- another great inept government monopoly: health care.

This isn't just politics anymore. It is life or death for our free market and for each one of us.

Get your week started with...Monday Links!

1- Public Transit - The Cato Institute takes a look at the disproportionate percentage between spending and usage of public transportation over the last 40 years.

2 - Operation: Open Records 2010 - We have updated many of the records requests on the Open Records 2010 Portal.  We are working to promote transparency and accountability in Kentucky government.  Check out these requests and their responses!

3 - Closing in on a milestone! - is closing in on 1,000,000 visits!

4 - The Economics of the left: Unemployment Benefits create jobs - Check out this blog post about the myth of unemployment benefits helping to cure the unemployment problem.

5 - Friedman on Government and the Poor.

The Bluegrass Institute is hosting a "What would Friedman do?" lecture at the University of Louisville on July 30, 2010.  Learn more here.

Kevin Jackson, July 10, 2010

Kevin Jackson was the keynote speaker at FreedomFest in Frankfort, Kentucky on July 10, 2010.  Here he is speaking about the current political climate, race, and the need to return to the founding ideas and values of our nation.

See more Bluegrass Institute videos here.

Jefferson County anti-busing lawsuit growing

The Jefferson County Public School system’s ill-advised school bus plan, which has wrecked havoc on No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top school accountability, is being challenged in court.

Now, the Courier-Journal reports more parents are joining the lawsuit, which argues that state law gives children the right to attend their nearest school.

Jefferson County Schools argue the law does not apply because it only pertains to separate school districts that merge. However, the base law dates back to 1942, and I suspect the huge Jefferson County system of today was created by a merger of older, separate school districts after 1942.

So, this one will be interesting to watch.

And, regardless of what happens with this suit, the problem of Jefferson County being able to subvert both state and federal school accountability laws simply by changing busing plans each year remains as a serious challenge. The Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Board of Education have yet to get a handle on that.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

How’s that again? Prichard Committee citing good example from a CHARTER SCHOOL!

The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence has been notably quiet in the fight to get a decent charter school law in Kentucky.

That makes one of their new blog items especially noteworthy.

Can it really be? Prichard lauding practices of teacher evaluation from Pittsburgh's City High? A CHARTER SCHOOL!

Check it out for yourself here.

Of course, we have to look elsewhere to benefit from innovations from charter schools because Kentucky does not have any of these innovative schools.

And, so far, Prichard hasn’t been of any help in changing the law so we can fix that deficiency.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Christian County Board of Education hides from voters, too

Another local board of education is choosing the cowardly way out of their responsibility to the voters (subscription), hiding behind a terrible, anti-voter law passed during this year’s legislative session.

That voter-hostile law allows (but does not require) local boards of education to conduct the meat of their annual superintendent evaluations in secret.

This secret process denies voters any insight into how their individually elected officials perform perhaps their most important job – oversight of the school district’s CEO.

The only thing Christian County voters are likely to see is a “consensus” report that won’t reveal anything about what individual board members really think. This process will also cover up problems.

Shame on any Christian County (and Jefferson County) board members who subscribe to this cowardly retreat from their public responsibility. As elected officials, they have a primary, individual responsibility to be up front with the people who put them in office. Hiding behind a secretly developed consensus report doesn’t pass the test.

Friday, July 16, 2010

No fooling: Cutting Louisville’s high school dropouts by 50 percent would save millions

The Alliance for Excellent Education has just posted new estimates that if we could cut the Jefferson County Public School System’s disastrous dropout rates for African-Americans by 50 percent, that there would be a benefit to those kids of color of $4.3 million. A similar cut for the city’s Latino and Asian students would save another $1.3 million.

That in turn could trigger additional economic benefits for the city in areas like increased home and automobile sales and investment that would generate over $11 million more.

It sure beats what too often happens now, where the taxpayer winds up paying for incarceration of the under-educated in Kentucky who cannot get and hold a job.

Hat tip to KSN & C for finding the article.

Time to flip the switch on government giveaways

Vice President Biden's recent trip to Louisville was little more than grandstanding about how stimulus funds have 'helped' the taxpayers and the economy.

Click here to read the latest Bluegrass Beacon.

Jefferson County School Board hides behind new, ill-advised law

An article in yesterday’s Courier-Journal highlights exactly why I am increasingly against a new law that allows school boards to evaluate their school superintendent in secret.

Says Debbie Wesslund, chair of the Jefferson County Board of Education:

“It doesn't matter what we say or think individually, it matters what we say or think as a board."

That is absolute nonsense.

This board, like every school board in Kentucky, is an elected body. Managing the superintendent, who is the CEO for the school district, is arguably a school board’s most important function.

Voters can’t make intelligent choices about who represents them on their local school board when that board conducts its most important work in secret, offering only a “consensus” summary to the public. A consensus document will provide no clue about what individual board members really think.

Not everyone agrees with Westslund’s ideas.

Hats off to Jefferson County Board of Education member Steve Imhoff, who abstained from voting on the superintendent’s performance, saying he believes the entire evaluation should have been public. He gets it.

So does Courier-Journal attorney Jon Fleischaker. The Courier’s article points out Fleischaker said last year that, “the public misses important information when portions of the evaluation are closed.”

He is absolutely right.

Unwittingly, Ms. Wesslund’s comment allows informed speculation into the real reason that school boards pushed the legislature hard last year for this public business transparency violation. Those board members certainly know it will be much harder for someone to run against them when they can hide what they are doing from the public that elects them.

Maybe, places like Jefferson County should vote their entire board out of office if their board takes advantage of the new secrecy bill to thwart the public’s right, and need, to know (the new bill does not require secrecy; it just allows it). If the board wants to collectively hide in secret, maybe they should be collectively discharged in public - except for men like Steve Imhoff who clearly understand what the elective process and doing the public’s business is really all about.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

4 ways to spend money

Milton Friedman had a true gift for explaining basic economic ideas so that anyone could understand them. Here is Friedman discussing the four ways to spend money (and drawing a comparison to public education spending).

The Bluegrass Institute is hosting a "What would Friedman do?" lecture at the University of Louisville. You won't want to miss this! You can learn more details here.

More on school energy managers

Logan already did the initial blog about the new school energy managers program, but this news release provides some interesting insight into what is going on.

Check out the background of the new energy manager for Pulaski, Casey and Rockcastle County schools.

This makes me wonder what these energy managers are really going to be doing and whether a well-designed informational pamphlet for local school administrators could accomplish about the same thing at considerably lower cost.

Charter school shootout on KET, Part 3

Over the past few days, I’ve been commenting on KET’s Monday night show on charter schools (which is on line here).

One of the more interesting comments came at 41 minutes and 41 seconds into the on line broadcast version when show panelist Phil Moffett said:

“The real reason that the public schools don’t do well now is because there is no incentive for them to do well. They continue to get the kids. They continue to get the funding regardless of what the results are.”

Is this the case in every school in Kentucky?

I don’t think it applies to a few upscale communities where pressure from well-educated parents insures that schools are motivated, and do ‘carry the mail’ for their students. Those parents can afford to send their kids to private schools, and the public schools know it. That creates real competition – and better schools.

However, in Mr. Moffett’s hometown Jefferson County Public School System, and in far too many other school systems in the state, there are extensive examples that when parents are not well educated, well-to-do and organized, schools have continued to under-perform ever since our expensive education reform was enacted in 1990.

But, those schools still get our money – and our kids.

This is one of the things charter school proponents hope can be changed by creating some competitive motivation with charter schools. Competition works in upscale communities, so why not try it elsewhere in Kentucky?

After 20 years of KERA, given the state’s overall generally very slow rate of progress when data is fairly considered, we need to do something different. If not charters, then what?

Certainly, just throwing more money at the existing system doesn’t seem hopeful. We tried that already for the past 20 years.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Prichard Committee still pushing statistical nonsense

The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence has pushed statistical nonsense about the real performance of our public school system on and off for years. Sadly that trend is continued within this recent Op-Ed from Prichard head Robert F. Sexton.

The Kentucky Long Term Policy Research Center (KLTPRC) has been shut down, but that doesn’t stop Sexton from citing statistical garbage in one of their last papers.

Which is really sad. Prichard owes Kentuckians a more honest accounting.

Of course, if Prichard really did that, more would understand that Kentucky’s very expensive education reform, which Prichard played a major hand in creating and nurturing, has not really done that much for the students in Kentucky.

You know what time it is...Wednesday links!

  • Washington's Parasites Take Aim at Apple - government take-over of the car industry, regulation of soft-drinks, tobacco bans...yes, government intervention is getting out of control but don't mess with my Apple!  The Cato Institute takes a look at being penalized for success.
  • - just a little plug for our government transparency site.  We are nearing a million visits and with each day our database of information becomes more and more robust.  Spread the word about this site and if you're feeling particularly saucy, maybe you can contribute some of your knowledge to help the cause!
  • - if you haven't visited this site, you are missing out on a great resource.  There are so many things you can track here it's almost not worth listing them...just go check it out!
  • Superintendent Reviews Update - we have continued posting superintendent reviews, check and see if your district is listed.  You may find the reviews to be surprisingly...well...glowing.
  • Federal money, local jobs? - This CafeHayek piece is a good follow up to a blog I posted yesterday about the creation of "energy-manager" positions for school districts.

Charter school shootout on KET, Part 2

KET’s Monday night show on charter schools provided plenty of examples of how opponents of charters will grasp at almost any straw to fight introducing these highly successful public schools in Kentucky.

One of the more outrageous of those examples occurred about 48 minutes into the program (which is on line here) when Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, tried to make a case that competition from charter schools would induce public schools to waste money on public relations instead of helping students.

Well, even without charter schools, our regular public school system has been working overtime to inundate the public with all sorts of public relations “stuff” about how wonderfully the system is progressing.

One of the worst examples comes from McKim’s very own school district. The Bluegrass Institute has written plenty about it.

This PR nonsense involves grossly inflated claims about reading improvement in Jefferson County under the Every1Reads program.

Check out my comments here, here and here.

If McKim is really serious about public schools wasting money on PR stunts, he can start saving some money right now by getting his very own home town school district to stop misleading the public with the nonsense that any kid who scores above “Novice” on the Kentucky Core Content Tests is somehow “performing at grade level” and is doing just fine.

The facts are that while the Every1Reads program claims Jefferson County readers are over 90 percent up to speed, the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress Trial Urban District Assessment showed only 30 percent of the fourth graders in town read proficiently and just 26 percent of the eighth grade students did.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Charter school shootout on KET, Part 1

Per our alert yesterday, last night’s Kentucky Tonight show on KET was all about charter schools.

It brought together State Representatives Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville and Carl Rollins, D- Midway with Jefferson County Teachers Association president Brent McKim and Bluegrass Institute board member Phil Moffitt to hassle it out about charter schools.

Of course, as is usually the case with Kentucky Tonight shows, there were plenty of ‘opinions,’ only some of which are really true. I’ll discuss an obvious one in this first blog.

One of the key issues in the charter school debate is whether or not the current, plodding pace of Kentucky’s regular public schools is adequate.

Around 49 minutes into the show (which is now viewable on line here), McKim stated that Kentucky used to score around 48th or 49th on a whole host of education indicators in the early 1990s. One indicator he mentioned was the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Well, here are some facts.

Back in 1992, Kentucky’s overall eighth grade math scale score on the NAEP ranked 28 out of 41 states. Thirteen states scored lower than Kentucky did that year (so, we didn’t rank 49th or 48th, not even close). On a percentile basis that can be compared to the 2009 results, when all states participated, this is about the 34th percentile.

Flash forward to 2009.

Kentucky’s overall eighth grade math score on NAEP tied one other state for a rank of 34 out of 50 states. Fifteen states out of this larger testing group scored lower than Kentucky. Kentucky’s performance falls at about the 34th percentile for comparison to the 1992 situation.

In other words, in eighth grade math our relative performance didn’t budge for all students compared to other states between 1992 and 2009. But, back in 1992 the state’s performance wasn’t equivalent to a 48th or 49th place performance, either.

Adding insult to injury, as of 2009, the NAEP says Kentucky’s eighth grade math proficiency rate is only 27 percent, little more than one in four. How can anyone call this significant progress?

We already have energy consultants in state employees!

Yesterday I asked some questions regarding stimulus money being used to hire 35 full-time "energy managers" for Kentucky school districts.

On the Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence website you can see how all of the stimulus money set aside for the Kentucky State Energy Program is divided up - all $52.5 million of it.

The "School Energy Managers Project", as you can see, is allotted $5,050,012.  That's a lot of money for 35 people.  In fact, that is $144,286 a person.  I certainly hope that's not an annual salary figure.

Seems like a lot of money to me, especially since Governor Beshear already received input from state workers on how the state can save money through simple energy fixes. You can see those energy saving recommendations made by state workers here.

Quote Of The Day

Question: Your essay offers parallels between Brooklyn busybodies and Taliban oppressors. How does the nanny state resemble totalitarian theocracy?

Answer: Consider ice cream: Even a single scoop of vanilla was forbidden to women in pre-war Afghanistan, lest they become decadent and Western. In Brooklyn, moms try to force ice cream trucks out of parks, thus eliminating the temptation to consume fat and sugar. The magnitude of interference is different, but both are looking to the state to protect the people from their worst selves.

Reason magazine's contributor to New Threats to Freedom, Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward

Monday, July 12, 2010

How solvent is your commonwealth?

You've heard about the financial meltdowns occurring in states like California, where things have gotten so bad that workers are being issued IOUs instead of paychecks.

But according to US Debt, it's not California or New York or Arizona that's in the hottest fiscal water. It's.........Kentucky!

That's right.

According to the real-time info on this "clock," Kentucky's 32 percent debt-to-GDP (technically, it would be Gross State Product, which is the best indicator of a state's economic health) ratio is the highest in the entire nation. And that percentage keeps growing.

And just think, the Kentucky House of Representatives wanted to add more than $1 billion worth of additional bonded indebtedness to the backs of Kentucky taxpayers during the just-completed legislative session. Shameful.

For your added viewing pleasure: Watch the "clock" and you'll see the debt, like magic, increase right before your very eyes!!

Stimulus money for energy managers in schools?

I don't think anyone would argue that efficient energy use is being a good steward of both the environment and hard-earned money.  I would think there'd be more discussion surrounding federal stimulus money being used to create positions for "energy managers" in Kentucky school systems.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported this last week.

Essentially, this is the breakdown of this "stimulus" project.
  • 35 new full-time positions
  • Serving over 130 districts
  • Money used for these hires were obtained through the Kentucky School Board Association (whom we have been writing about quite a bit lately) and the Kentucky Department of Energy Development and Independence.
While there are many positives to having someone analyze your energy efficiency and making recommendations, there are also some questions that should be raised:
  • How much are we paying these 35 new positions?  That's a lot of money going into creating new administrative positions that don't have a direct impact on kids learning (wait, that is what the schools are there for, right?).
  • Why can't schools use consultants from energy providers they already have a relationship with to improve their energy efficiency?
  • Is there really enough work for 35 people in full time positions.  I mean, once you make recommendations for schools, how many years can you continue to look at the same building?
  • The big question is...How long will the federal stimulus money continue to fund these new positions before the state/school district is forced to take that cost on?  Kentucky is broke and creating new admin positions doesn't seem like a good place to start to fix the problem.
Is this a wise use of money?

Kentucky Tonight: Charter schools

Check out "Kentucky Tonight" at 8 p.m. eastern tonight.

Phil Moffett, co-founder of School CHOICE Scholarships in Louisville and a board member of the Bluegrass Institute, will be one of tonight's guests.

Also appearing will be Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, and Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

Check out this earlier donnybrook over charter schools on Kentucky Tonight.

Courage abounds in face of pessimistic polls

In a commonwealth and country where pessimism rules the day, there are still those who shine the light of optimism on America's future.

Click here to read the latest Bluegrass Beacon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Diane Ravitch getting it wrong

Professor Diane Ravitch from Columbia Teachers College and now New York University amassed a considerable reputation over the years as an education historian.

Lately, however, she has been missing the target, as her recent comments to the National Education Association’s annual conference attest.

(Click the ‘Read more’ link below to learn more)

Texas requiring public university transparency about course offerings

A new law in Texas looks like it might be worth discussion everywhere else, as well. The Dallas News reports that under the new statute, every public college and university in Texas must post:

•A detailed syllabus listing each course requirement, recommended textbook, test and lecture topic for every undergraduate classroom course.

•A curriculum vitae for each professor, which includes post-secondary education, teaching experience and professional publications.

•A departmental budget report of the department under which the course is offered, from the most recent academic term it was offered.

•Cost-of- attendance information.

The information must be:

•No more than three links away from the institution's home page.

•Searchable by keywords and phrases.

•Accessible without a user name or password.

•Available on the seventh day of classes in the semester the course is offered.

Such information could make it much easier for students to select colleges that truly offer what they want to study while insuring that professors don’t lure kids in with a bait and switch agenda.

Of course, some of Texas’ professorial crowd are yelling about academic freedom. But, exactly whose freedom are they concerned about – the students’ or the faculty’s? And, since the public is paying a major portion of the cost, what gives professors the right to withhold this important information that can help students make much more informed choices?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The federal employee dream: Big pay, little accountability

Dreams really do come true ... for government workers supported by your tax dollars.

The Heritage Foundation released a paper analyzing data from 2006 to 2009 on federal employee compensation. Compare this to your compensation and benefits. Federal employees:

- Average 22 percent more per hour
- Get both defined contribution pension benefits and thrift saving plan
- Can retire at age 56 with full benefits after 30 years
- Get benefits are worth $32,115 versus the private-sector average of $9,882
- Get job security with unemployment going from 2 percent to 2.9 percent while the private-sector climbed from 4.2 percent to 10.6 percent
- Leave their jobs at one-third the rate of private-sector
- Pay is set by Congress under a wage-fixing pay scale based on seniority, not performance

There you have it - big government, big pay, big benefits and no accountability for performance. Wow.

We should all be so lucky. But we aren't. The federal compensation approach must end now before each one of us has to support two government workers. They're getting way too heavy to carry anymore.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Why Knox County parents want to send their children to Corbin Independent’s schools

“Corbin High to be given 'High Schools That Work' Pacesetter Award”

Can you hear us now!

Join the Bluegrass Institute at the Freedom Fest Rally on Saturday, July 10. Help us create a video montage that will be sent to Frankfort and D.C.

What's your message in 60 seconds?

What: 2010 Freedom Fest Rally

When: July 10, 2010 - 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: State Capitol, Frankfort, KY, on the Great Lawn

Bluegrass Institute will be Booth #1, the first booth at the top of the stairs on the left hand side (facing the capitol).

Stop by and let us record your 60-second message to Frankfort.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Legal costs and open records requests

In a recent post I discussed the amount of money spent on attorney fees by Laurel County Public Schools in fiscal year 2009.

I was curious as to how much the school district paid their attorney to respond to my request since the response I received was from their legal counsel.  I sent an open records request to obtain this information.  Sure enough, in compliance with the law, I received the invoice sent to the Laurel County Board of Education...


I shouldn't be surprised that all other expenses on this document were blacked out, leaving me with the sole $100 charge for responding to my records request.  Regardless, I'm still bothered by two things here...
  1. Laurel County Board of Education paid $100 for an attorney to send a 5-page document in the mail.  Really?  $100? It was just a superintendent review (which you can see here), not classified information that needed consultation from an attorney.  Couldn't someone in the superintendent's office or the chairman of the school board fill this request?  Then it would only have cost about 44 cents!
  2. This invoice contains 35 line items.  There are only 30 days in June.  I'm not the smartest person but this tells me that Laurel County Board of Education is paying for legal work at least daily if not more. 
Again, I'm not the smartest person in the world, but it seems like school districts could have someone on staff fill these requests rather than forwarding them to attorney's and paying way more than they need to for making copies and dropping a superintendent review in the mail.  In most cases, the superintendents themselves personally responded to my request for the evaluation.

When will we stop wasting money?

Thursday links! Heatwave edition!

Check these links out today...while you are in the air conditioning.

  • Teachers got snubbed! Education analyst Richard Innes recently contributed this article to about how teachers didn't get a fair share of Kentucky's education fund increase.
  • Russ Roberts on "stimulus": I know I've been including a lot of links to Cafe Hayek blogs but that's because secretly, I wish I was one of their in-house bloggers.  Roberts takes a look at some editorial-type comments featured on a front page story in the New York Times regarding stimulus money.
  • Friend us! Have you become a fan of The Bluegrass Institute on Facebook?  You probably should so that you can help us spread the word of limited, transparent, and accountable government!

Farm subsidies: Classic pork problem

Subsidies have been a staple in U.S. agriculture since 1933 when the Great Depression led to the adoption of the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the nation’s first comprehensive food policy legislation.

The basic premise behind agricultural subsidies is to supplement on-the-farm income, thereby allowing small, family farms to compete with large agribusiness operations and/or foreign producers who experience economies of scale or other production advantages. On the surface it appears to be a noble cause.

However, there are two problems with farm subsidies: 1) private businesses are being supported by public funds and 2) the intended beneficiaries are not the ones receiving the subsidies.

U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Rand Paul is taking some heat over his recent comments concerning farm subsidies. Appearing on a Kentucky Educational Television debate, Paul said, “I don’t think federal subsidies of agriculture are a good idea … They often go to large corporate farming and I’m not in favor of giving welfare to business.”

That’s a stark contrast from Hopkinsville Rep. Ed Whitfield’s position. Whitfield brought home $89 million in farm subsidies last year.

If my time in agriculture, both professionally and educationally, has taught me anything it’s that Paul is unequivocally correct.

In 2009, the top 1 percent of Kentucky farms collected 22 percent of the subsidy payments, with an average payment of approximately $66,000 per recipient. For example, Seven Springs Farms in Cadiz received almost $370,000 in subsidies despite having an operation of over 19,000 acres. To put this into perspective, the remaining 80 percent of farm operations received only 17 percent of the payments.

It’s hard to argue against the intentions of agricultural subsidies, especially when the image of the idyllic farm struggling to make ends meet comes to mind. Unfortunately, that idyllic farm image is long gone, yet the subsidies that accompany it still remain.

Polls can't measure the freedom in America's DNA

Polls are much better at capturing the darkness of pessimism than the 'points of light' shining brightly across our commonwealth and country.

Click here to listen to the 90-second audio commentary.

Spreading the Higher Tax Rates Around

The "Bush Tax Cuts" are scheduled to expire at the end of this year. How will that effect your wallet? Smart Money breaks it down.

Spreading the Higher Tax Rates Around to Everyone

"The current six rate brackets of 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33% and 35% will be replaced by five new brackets with the higher rates of 15%, 28%, 31%, 36% and 39.6%."

Higher Capital Gains and Dividends Taxes for All

"Right now, the maximum federal rate on long-term capital gains and dividends is only 15%. Starting next year, the maximum rate on long-term gains will increase to 20%. The maximum rate on dividends will skyrocket to 39.6%"

Two Married Income Earners = Jump in Tax Bill

"Starting next year, the joint-filer standard deduction will fall back to about 167% of the amount for singles unless Congress takes action and the president approves. We don’t know if that will happen. If not, lots of lower and middle-income couples will face higher tax bills."

Return of Phase-Out Rule for Itemized Deductions

"If you itemize and have adjusted gross income above about $170,000 ($85,000 if you use married filing separate status), be ready for this phase-out rule to take a toll."

Return of Phase-Out Rule for Personal Exemptions

"Be ready for another tax hike if your adjusted gross income exceeds about $252,000 if you file jointly; about $168,000 if you’re single; about $210,000 if you’re a head of household; or about $126,000 if you use married filing separate status."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Schools STILL trying to group students by skill, not grade level!!

Will educators ever do good research?

A USA Today pickup of an Associated Press article about schools trying to group students by skills rather than age or grade level is really very sad.

The situation provides yet another piece of evidence that educators do lousy research before jumping on fad ideas.

In this case, the Kentucky education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA) officially called this fad idea “Non-graded Primary.” “Primary,” as it soon became known, was mandated statewide in every elementary school by the 1992-93 school year (See Page 1231, Section 31 (1) (a) in this copy of the law).

Back then, just like the AP reports today, it was all about trying to avoid labeling kids as failures.

Kentucky’s teachers struggled in every school district in the state to make the multi-age theories of Non-graded Primary work, but after about a decade of trying, it became evident, once again, that when education theory meets reality, theory often crumbles.

Students often left Non-graded Primary without the skills they needed in fourth grade.

Kentucky’s Ungraded Primary law was finally diluted in 1998 to the point where schools could, and many did, ignore it.

Today, while Ungraded Primary still remains on the books in Kentucky, the loophole law has resulted in considerable non-compliance in our schools. As of 2008, a Kentucky Department of Education report shows only 25 percent of Kentucky's elementary schools indicate they are operating a full, four-year multi-age inclusion program. The majority of schools indicate they are operating a traditional, single-age program.

What is also surprising is that there doesn't seem to be any study of the degree of implementation of the Non-graded Primary concept versus the resulting Kentucky Core Content Test results. I am working to see if we can obtain that missing information now.

In any event, most Kentucky’s students generally advance on the basis of age, just like in most other states in the country. Even KERA's most enthusiastic cheer leader, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, now admits that Primary just didn’t work out.

Never the less, as the AP reports, more than a decade after Kentucky more or less retreated from this problematic education idea, educators in other parts of the country, apparently ignorant of Kentucky’s history, are jumping on this fad, again.

And, ignorance of Kentucky’s history is obvious. For example, the news article says that the Kansas City School System is the largest ever to try this approach.

Not so!

Kentucky’s Ungraded Primary was operated in every school and district in the state, including the Jefferson County Public School System, which dwarfs the Kansas City system. Today, the Kansas City Public School System educates around 17,400 students. Jefferson County, by way of comparison, is home to 94,578 students according to the 2009-2010 Growth Factor Report from the Kentucky Department of Education.

Even a kid, unless he or she is in one of those Non-graded Primary math programs, can tell you which district is A LOT bigger!

(Note: Revised from initial post to reflect the information reported in the "2008 Demographic Survey of the Primary Program," which I discovered subsequent to making the original post)