Saturday, February 16, 2013

It's Butt Kickin' Time in Jefferson County

The part I could never wrap my mind around, was not so much what was said, but who said it.

When a judge wants to make a strong point about some long-standing injustice, it is perhaps necessary and proper for the court to make crystal clear the strength of its convictions. So when North Carolina Judge Howard Manning used the term "educational genocide" to describe inequities in the school system, it was purposeful, and that purpose was to kick the collective butts of school administrators high and low. The court was not responsible for creating the problem or administering whatever changes were necessary. The court reviews whether the law is being followed and provides feedback to the public.

But the role of state Education Commissioner is not the same as a judge. As the commissioner rightly stated, "The state is just as guilty as Jefferson County." Is the commissioner kicking himself in the butt? Is Holliday saying that the state is guilty of allowing the Jefferson County Board of Education to operate a system of educational apartheid - for decades apparently - and because of that, the state now needs to takeover as many as 18 low-performing JCPS schools?

First, let's be realistic. The General Assembly has decimated the Kentucky Department of Education to the point that no true "takeover" is possible. But KDE can sure give JCPS writer's cramp and some variety of in-your-face oversight that the department apparently did not see fit (or perhaps, lacked the capacity) to provide before.

But were the commissioner's 'academic genocide' and 'apartheid' comments really meant to provide ammunition (in the way of protest sign slogans) for groups seeking solutions that lie outside of the JCPS system - most notably through a renewed push for charters? He suggested charter schools and recovery zones to the C-J editorial board.

He says he wants to work cooperatively with the JCPS Board. He and the Board agree on most elements of what must be done. But clearly, his comments weren't designed to engender cooperation with the Board. They seem to have been aimed at the public with the hope that the public will aim their frustrations at the Board - but not necessarily the state.

This from The Courier-Journal:

JCPS school board rejects 'academic genocide' tag for low-performing schools 

Kentucky education chief's language called reckless
Calling his statement “reckless,” Jefferson County’s school board on Friday issued a joint statement rejecting sharp criticism by Kentucky’s education commissioner in which he compared the lack of progress among the district’s low-performing schools to “academic genocide.”

“Dr. (Terry) Holliday accused JCPS of committing ‘academic genocide’ on Louisville students and compared JCPS to ‘apartheid,’ ” the Jefferson County Public Schools board said in its statement. “We emphatically reject this characterization of our district and the work of JCPS’s 16,000 employees. We are concerned this reckless language will distract from the real issue of increasing student achievement by starting yet another squabble among adults, about adults.”

School board chairman Diane Porter said the board decided to send a “united response” after The Courier-Journal submitted questions Thursday to all seven members requesting that each respond to Holliday’s criticism of the district and his warning that the state may take over oversight of some of the district’s 18 low-performing schools.

A recent state analysis found that 16 of those 18 schools were failing to make adequate progress, despite receiving more than $1 million worth of resources to help their turnaround efforts.

Holliday was traveling Friday from Washington and could not be reached for comment.

But he said recently that Louisville should be “outraged” by wide learning gaps between schools such as duPont Manual and Valley High School. And at a Courier-Journal editorial board interview Tuesday, he agreed that Jefferson County had effectively created a system with two different levels of expectations, saying it was tantamount to “apartheid.”

Holliday also said he purposely used the inflammatory phrase “academic genocide” to provoke a community response. And he told the editorial board that some of the county’s persistently low-achieving schools could face a state takeover of their overhaul efforts as early as this fall unless they show improvement soon.

This from the JCPS Board of Education by way of C-J:
The JCPS school board statement

Communication is the glue of cooperation. It’s what holds together partnerships between many people with different views and ideas and keeps them working toward common goals. When problems arise, we should talk about solutions and formulate plans to overcome these problems. In the absence of communication, goals are compromised and partnerships can come apart.

Over the last week, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Terry Holliday has spoken with the media concerning the lack of progress in the Jefferson County Public School (JCPS) District’s lowest-achieving schools. Dr. Holliday accused JCPS of committing “academic genocide” on Louisville students and compared JCPS to “apartheid.” We emphatically reject this characterization of our district and the work of JCPS’s 16,000 employees. We are concerned this reckless language will distract from the real issue of increasing student achievement by starting yet another squabble among adults, about adults.

We share Dr. Holliday’s sense of urgency; however, it would be far more constructive if he communicated directly to the superintendent the specifics of what his staff is seeing in order to help students at these schools. When the commissioner met with The Courier-Journal editorial board this week, he expressed dismay at the board’s failure to ask hard questions regarding this issue during last Monday’s school board meeting. That’s a fair point for someone on the outside to make. Although a presentation on persistently low-achieving (PLA) school performance was on the agenda and the board heard testimony from principals of three of these schools, we were frankly unprepared to respond to Dr. Holliday’s accusations. We pledge that future meetings will better explain to the public what the district is doing to turn around our weakest schools and how effectively our plan is being executed.

We agree with Dr. Holliday that PLA schools must improve at a faster rate for students to leave these schools prepared for the future. We also agree with the commissioner that, since coming to JCPS, Superintendent Donna Hargens and her leadership team have made great strides in working cooperatively with the state in improving performance at these schools. Dr. Holliday is right when he describes this as a community problem that extends beyond the purview of the school. He is also correct when he says the state and JCPS share the responsibility to improve performance at an acceptable and reasonable rate.

We are united in support of Superintendent Hargens’ plan to achieve JCPS’s mission for all students to reach their full potential and graduate prepared. We will continue to operate with a sense of urgency. Some progress has been made, and we are optimistic that this plan will work. We agree with Dr. Hargens that we will do whatever it takes to improve student achievement, including revising plans to fix what’s not working. We won’t give up on our schools.

The huge challenges we face are not insurmountable. However, it will take the wisdom, intellect, engagement, and elbow grease of every stakeholder to turn the tide in these PLA schools. The commissioner and JCPS need to continue to work together and in good faith. Our children and community deserve nothing less.


The Jefferson County Board of Education:
Diane Porter, Chair, District 1
Carol Ann Haddad, Vice Chair, District 6
David Jones Jr., District 2
Debbie Wesslund, District 3
Chuck Haddaway, District 4
Linda Duncan, District 5
Chris Brady, District 7

Then - as if on cue - this from C-J:

Louisville black ministers lobby for charter schools to replace low-performing schools

A Louisville group of African-American ministers said Friday that it wants charter schools to replace the 18 low-performing Jefferson County public schools that have been ordered to undergo overhauls.
The group issued a press release stating they support state officials who have criticized Jefferson County Public Schools for their oversight of the schools.

The Rev. Jerry L. Stephenson, state director for the Black Alliance for Educational Options, said in a statement: “We stand with these African-American ministers, parents/grandparents and concerned community members to announce our support of Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who compared Louisville’s public schools to ‘academic genocide.’ The African-American community is standing with the commissioner demanding that the state and local JCPS school board take immediate action to bring these low performing/failing schools to high quality education for our black and low-income students.”

The group is demanding that the state, the legislature and the JCPS school board:

• Pass legislation during this session to turn the low-performing schools into public charter schools immediately.

• Provide full funding for churches and community organizations to provide academic tutoring and educational technology support to students living in those schools’ enrollment areas.

• Provide a state audit of the allocation of financial resources within JCPS.

The Rev. Frank Smith Jr. of the Christ Church In Our Community said in a statement: “We believe there are a great number of good teachers and educators within the JCPS, yet, they are lacking the right leadership and support that is needed for them to help our students.”

The Rev. Dr. Charles King Jr. stated: “Commissioner Holliday said exactly what we’ve all been thinking and what we’ve know for quite some time, our schools are failing our children. We’re here today to say enough.”
Apparently Hal Heiner of Kentuckians Advocating Reform in Education (KARE) doesn't know how it works. When your campaign has a mantra, it must be repeated ad nauseam in order to stick in the public mind. Nowhere does he use 'academic genocide' or 'apartheid.' That's no way to run a campaign. But Rev. Stephenson gets it.

This from pro-charter guy Hal Heiner in C-J:

The recent statewide test scores confirmed what we’ve long known: There is a great divide in education. In a system built upon “one form of education fits all,” over 10,000 young Kentuckians each year drop out of school with little likelihood of returning. With this decision to quit comes a new future that often includes prison (80 percent of prison inmates are high school dropouts) and harsh limits on a potentially rewarding and accomplished life. Why would anyone choose to squash their future at such a young age?...

The facts are clear: the current single form of education is failing a large percentage of our children. Nowhere is the deficiency more acute than in Jefferson County. With 32,000 out of the 100,000 current students dropping out into a difficult and often dependent life, it is past time to add a new form of education to meet the needs of at-risk children. These children and their parents need a choice.

An astoundingly successful form of education eliminating the great divide is public charter schools. 
This, of course, is not uniformly true - not by a long shot.
One visit to Tindley School in Indianapolis will convince anyone that poverty and education failure is not destiny for children with large gaps in their lives. Tindley is a public charter school located in the middle of a neighborhood previously having a 24 percent graduation rate. Students enter Tindley in the sixth grade typically three years behind academically. By eighth grade the achievement divide is eliminated, and by graduation their achievement scores actually surpass the public school average and rival those of elite public schools. It is a different form of education with a longer school day, a longer school week and a longer school year along with broadening the students’ context of life; but students and parents are choosing it! The school also eliminates physical obstacles with medical care, clothing, three meals per day and help with homework.

Outstanding educational achievements for at-risk students at Success Academy in Harlem, KIPP schools in Nashville, Tindley schools in Indianapolis and in thousands of innovative public charter schools in 42 states across the country are shouting out to Kentucky.

Shouldn’t the thousands of at-risk children in Kentucky’s schools have the opportunity to at least choose an education fully addressing their needs? Isn’t educating all children our moral responsibility? Doesn’t our future depend on education as the necessary ingredient to grow our state’s economy and create high paying jobs of the future?

We believe so. The time for public charter schools in Kentucky is now.

Chairman, Kentuckians Advocating Reform in Education (KARE)
Louisville 40243
And finally, a couple of letters to the editor at C-J:

Low-achieving schools

Thanks for your excellent article on the lack of progress in improving our high number of persistently low-achieving schools. I take issue, however, with Brent McKim, president of the teachers’ union, who blames both the state and poor “parental support.” The state is not to blame, because (based on the numbers cited in your article) almost all of the 41 persistently low-achieving schools statewide have made sufficient progress with the state’s help, except in Jefferson County, where 16 out of 18 did not.

Likewise, Mr. McKim is wrong to blame parents. Poverty or another disadvantage should never be a valid excuse for failing to provide all children with a quality education. Moreover, as the number of neighborhoods served by these failing schools grows from the west to the south, central, and now eastern parts of the county, it should be obvious that most of these schools are not located in poverty-stricken areas.

I grew up in the South End, in one of the neighborhoods now served primarily by failing schools. While the typical family there may not be as wealthy, they are average, hard- working Americans; and they care just as much about their children’s future as anyone else. I also have a common-sense suggestion that will cost nothing and help narrow the achievement gap immediately.

I taught English in a Japanese public school and worked for a district not unlike Jefferson County. There, teachers and administrators were only assigned to the same school for three years, after which point, they would be re-assigned to another school in the district. If a particular school was struggling, the district had the benefit of choosing from among a large pool of experienced educators.

This system made sure that each school had the benefit of drawing from the same pool of qualified teachers and staff, and it would prevent struggling schools from being staffed primarily by the least experienced educators or those forced out of other schools. The responsibility lies with our leaders — not only JCPS administrators and union leaders but also with our mayor and council members. Stopping this “academic genocide” should everyone’s first priority.

Louisville 40204 –

Parent responsibility

Certainly we as a community, not just the leaders of our school system, can do much to prepare children for school, learning, and productive living.

My eyes have been opened to some realities not addressed by Sunday’s Courier-Journal article as I have been doing volunteer work with refugee families in all the “low-performing school” areas.

First, parent involvement makes a difference, from the infancy and prenatal stage, before the children ever enter a school. When children have at least one and preferably two parents and some extended family who care and nurture and teach them lovingly at home, they do better in school and in life.
I know a refugee mom who is teaching her one-year-old the alphabet using some books she bought at the Dollar Tree store. I saw an American man in that same shopping center throw a baby in the backseat of his car with a carseat he chose not to use. Guess which child will probably have more trouble in school in a few years?

Second, we are neglecting to focus education dollars where they can be most productive. While it is good that most income-qualified four-year-olds get free preschool in Jefferson County Public Schools, only some of the three-year-olds do. In some other states, all qualified 2- and 3-year-olds can get free preschool.

Reporters and school people can talk all they want about statistics. Common sense and a closer look at more statistics will tell you we need to get parents to take more responsibility for their children’s health, education, and well-being from the time of pregnancy, and we need to provide healthy learning environments for younger children from the low-performing school neighborhoods.

Louisville 40299 –


Anonymous said...

Maybe instead of busing for racial diversity, they should have been busing for academic diversity.
Really, I thought the district had been spending millions on transportation for this very reason for the last few decades. What happened when these kids from poorer areas got bused to more affluent schools? Seems like if you sent them to the "good schools" they would have achieved higher.

Glad I don't teach in Jefferson County. Lots of finger pointing. Seems funny that the black church pastors want to point a finger at the school system and expect funding to be channeled in their direction to help support kids. I kind of thought that was what they were suppose to be doing for communities congregations anyway. Seems to me that if there genuinely was this vast and dramatic disperity, then it should have been pretty evident long ago - surely Holliday didn't suddenly proclaim it so now it is so. Seems like churches and community organizations would have noted this and gotten involved earlier. Seems like those folks want to act like either it didn't exist or they were not aware of it until ol' Doc said "genocide" and "apartheid". Now all the sudden they want accountability and a piece of the finacial pie... err.. I mean shared voice and responsibility for their congregations' children's education. Wonder how many more days until Rev. Al Sharpton makes a visit to Louisville?

Anonymous said...

I think that the charter school folks and KDE should get exactly what they are threatenting/asking. Give them schools and the same kids but no cherry picking and no expulsions for kids that wont play by the Charter school/KDE rule books.

YOu want'em, you got'em.

Anonymous said...

Wow D Holliday, if these charges of instructional apartheid are accurate, why in the world did it take the you and your KDE staff overseeing state education five years to notice it? I mean you take great pride in pointing out that you have visitied every district in the state and you send me those Fast Fives all the time - but no idea about the diabolical, racist master plan being implemented by the 24th largest district in the United States which you are suppose to be overseeing.

Now that you have discovered academic genocide in Jefferson County, what next? You have a dream where gifted students will receive adequate fund? Four score and sixteen years ago our founding athletic forefather established KHSAA? Ask not what your student can do for you but what you can do for your student?

Anonymous said...

And I thought I was a bomb thrower.

Not sure how he is expecting to develop credability, cooperation and capacity by calling JCPS a bunch of operational racists. That's what you want from your leader, come in and cut your legs out from under you infront of the stakeholders and then expect by in from those being served as well as those who serve.

It would be interesting to see what type of diversity KDE presents within its hiring. I see a lot of white folks and a few African Americans but have yet to note anyone of Asian, Hispanic or Native American desent. Ah-oh, sounds like we've got racism in KDE.

Anonymous said...

I keep mulling over the comments of Terry Holliday.

I consider myself an educated person, but I'm a loose cannon, and know I'd be a poor leader beacause I don't always think before I speak.

I have long felt that the duty of educated people is to lead. Is the use of the term "academic genocide" proof of Holliday's leadership, or is it, as I see it, a proof of that the man has failed to lead.

I began to wonder whether he Mr. Holliday might be mentally ill as this type of inflmmatory language seldom comes out of the mouth of public figures.All in all, his comments simply make no sense.

Richard, I'm looking for some leadership? What do you think? Is Holliday a loose cannon? Is he some successor to Michelle Rhee? Were his comments meant to attract the attention Arne Duncan? Whatever way you look at it, how can he work with Jefferson County Public Schools when he puts them on the defensive?

John Russ said...

I believe Commissioner Holliday intended to "set a fire" with his comments and he certainly accomplished that objective. He got the attention of the JCBE, media, community, and school personnel. As other comments noted, though, KDE has neither the resources or capacity to help solve the problem. Educational Recovery Leaders and Specialists have been in PLA schools since the schools' designation. Much blame can be shared among all stakeholders. The governor and legislature have refused to adequately fund schools e.g ESS, textbooks, professional development,and SEEK have all been cut. Leadership and programs in JCPS have lacked consistency. e.g. 3 superintendents in 6 years. A union contract hampers placement of effective teachers in PLA schools.
Principals do not consistently focus on improvement plans and strategies for long periods of time. A critical mass of parents do not support the work of the schools.

It is useless, though, to "light more fires". Every principal and teacher in those 18 schools understands the problem. The simple solution, great leadership and highly effective teaching, is very complex and won't be quickly accomplished. Give JCPS more time, but demand a clear, focused short and long-term plan that is closely monitored. Provide additional resources for students and monitor the effect on achievement. Ask parents to ensure their children are in school each day, homework is completed, and cell phones/iPods are not used during school hours.

For those who advocate charter schools I would say this. Take the same per pupil expenditure received by a PLA school and admit only the lowest performing students from any JCPS or private school.Do not remove any student who attends your school. If you raise achievement for all of your students, your model should be replicated.

John Russ
Louisville, 40207

Richard Day said...

February 18, 2013 at 8:55 PM: I don’t think Dr Holliday has failed to lead. Now, one may certainly argue with the direction of his leadership, but fairly early on, he provided explicit information about the direction he was heading.

He was pretty much required to follow Senate Bill 1 by virtue of holding the office. At the time of his candidacy he made it pretty clear that he was going to love it, and he embraced what I would classify as a moderate-right position on school reform (supporting charters, TFA...). But frankly, it’s hard to tell the right from the left on Ed policy these days. Anyway, he jumped on Race to the Top and told everyone that Kentucky’s application would show where his leadership was headed.

The inflammatory language would not have been my choice. I’ve never found it to be a successful strategy to thoroughly hack off the very folks I needed to accomplish my goals…and then act all cozy with them. It smacks of insincerity - grandstanding, perhaps. I though Donna Hargens showed great restraint. (But behind the scenes, it’s pretty clear that she was managing the board’s response on some level. See Toni Konz’s C-J blog for more on that.)

Public figures have from time to time made some pretty outrageous statements, to make some point or another. What is rare, indeed, is for a public figure to use such harsh language when describing a situation they have been in charge of for five years. It is as though Holliday is “shocked, shocked” to find a situation going on in Jefferson Co that the Courier-Journal has been reporting on for years – decades.

I have never thought of Dr Holliday as a loose cannon, and this is the only incident I can recall where he has even approached such a description. On the contrary, he’s been able to articulate a pretty consistent vision and drive SB1 without money. I think he works hard.

Again, one can disagree with his direction, but he communicates widely and you can usually see where he’s going. I would guess that he is - roughly - in the same camp as Michelle Rhee, at least rhetorically. Trying to impress Duncan? I don’t know why he would – unless he perceives that there’s money in it - so maybe on some level. He is operating increasingly on the national stage these days.

Thanks for the comment.

And John: Thanks for going on the record with your name. We don’t get a whole lot of that around here.