Monday, February 11, 2013

JCPS blasted in what education chief calls 'academic genocide'

Holliday says State, Poverty, Partly to Blame

I'm not sure the inflammatory language was necessary, but it looks like charter school supporters just got a fresh load of ammunition for their best argument in favor of charters - that a set of persistently low-performing Jefferson County schools refuse to follow improvement plans and thousands of Louisville students are left without adequate educational options as a result.

On the other hand, can anyone point to a state take over that produced an enduring positive result?

This from Toni Konz at The Courier Journal:

State could step in after 16 of 18
low-performing schools show little progress;
JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens notes challenge

Nearly all of Jefferson County’s persistently low-achieving public schools are failing to improve, a situation so dire that Kentucky’s education commissioner called it “academic genocide” and warned that the state may be forced to intercede.

A new analysis by the Kentucky Department of Education found that 16 of the 18 Jefferson County schools that underwent overhauls in the past three years because of chronically poor academics are showing little or no progress, despite receiving millions of dollars worth of resources to boost student achievement.

Moreover, state officials say several schools failed to follow the detailed improvement plans they agreed to as a condition of their overhaul — and Jefferson County Public Schools officials failed to exercise the oversight needed to make sure the plans were being followed.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said the state may need to take over direct oversight of some schools’ turnaround efforts, as it has done in several other districts. He said that could happen at “schools performing at the lowest levels for the longest periods of time — schools such as Valley, Shawnee, Frost, Doss and Iroquois.”
“This is going to take much more than a school district effort; this is a communitywide problem,” Holliday said in a phone interview with The Courier-Journal on Friday. “This is about poverty, this is about kids who are not coming to school, this is about lack of parental engagement and, frankly, it’s academic genocide. What hope do these children have?”

He acknowledged that the state is partly to blame for failing to make sure that JCPS was following the improvement plans, but he said the district must also take responsibility.

“We were relying on JCPS to pull these schools out,” Holliday said. “We assumed the district had the capacity; however, in many cases they were running on their own initiatives and were ignoring what the state was telling them to do.”

Susan Allred, associate commissioner for the Department of Education, said when one of the state’s education recovery directors went into Jefferson County’s “priority” schools last year, she found that “many processes that should have been in place were not in place.”

Allred said recovery specialists were supposed to be able to get into classrooms to support teachers to improve instruction, and “that wasn’t happening everywhere.” In addition, some schools were not following their 30-60-90-day improvement plans, which are detailed steps those schools must follow to achieve results, she said...

Jefferson County school board members said Friday they are “deeply concerned” with the state analysis.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to be in what seems like the same place that we were three years ago,” said Carol Haddad, vice chairwoman of the school board. “We are not happy with the results; we have not been happy with the results for many years. It is one of the reasons why I felt we needed a new superintendent.”

School board Chairwoman Diane Porter agreed but said the state needs to provide guidance, not condemnation...

Details of the analysis

Over the past three years, 41 public schools in Kentucky have been selected for overhauls because of chronically poor academics. Eighteen of those schools were in Jefferson County.

They were selected as the result of a state law passed three years ago that required the Department of Education to identify the Title I and non-Title I schools that were in the bottom 5 percent academically. Title I schools are those that are eligible for extra federal funding because they have large numbers of students from low-income families.

The schools had to choose among four overhaul options: transferring management to an outside agency; closing the school; replacing the principal and up to half of the school’s faculty members; or selecting a transformation model that would, in part, link teacher evaluations and pay to academic progress.

The state analyzed academic measures at all 41 schools, including test scores, graduation rates and ACT scores, and found that 23 were making sufficient progress.

But it found that only two of Jefferson County’s 18 low-performing schools were on the right track — Fern Creek and Fairdale high schools.

The remaining 16 schools — Shawnee, Valley, Western, Doss, Iroquois, Seneca, Southern and Waggener high schools and Frost, Western, Knight, Olmsted Academy North, Myers, Stuart, Thomas Jefferson and Westport middle schools — had shown little or no improvement.

Five schools — Doss, Frost, Myers, Stuart and Westport — received “zero” scores because they failed to meet any of the academic measures the state analyzed...

A question of leadership

Holliday said the state is leading the turnaround effort at seven of the state’s 41 overhauled schools because its leadership assessments determined that the districts lacked the ability to turn around the schools.

Those auditors determined that JCPS did have the leadership capacity to lead the turnaround effort — a finding that Holliday now questions.
“It’s an appropriate question to ask — if the district has the capacity to lead as deemed by the state leadership audits, why are these schools not progressing?” he asked.

Holliday said he is “very concerned about these schools,” and he said the Louisville community should be “outraged.”

“You have such a wide gap between a school like (duPont) Manual and a school such as Valley, and I can’t believe the Louisville community is condoning this kind of performance,” he said.

Holliday promised that the state will be taking a “much more active role to monitor the interventions in place at these schools (in Jefferson County).” ...

Meeting resistance

Jefferson County has been a contributor to its problems, state officials said.

Allred said JCPS “has been getting some results; they are just not as fast as it needs to be.”
“The approach needs to be different,” she said. “We have been working with some of these schools for three years. It has taken them an awfully long time to do the things they needed to do in the beginning.”

Allred acknowledged that turning around the state’s lowest-performing schools is a “difficult process that does not take place overnight.”

“And in Jefferson County, it’s been a hard dialogue to get all the people to the table at the same time,” she said. “We need to call out the folks who work with and support teachers to realize it takes different to be different. We have to look at each and every child, and we have to address the gaps that exist.”

Allred echoed Holliday’s concerns that the state has met “significant resistance” when working with some of Jefferson County’s priority schools.

“There is no magic wand, and we aren’t blaming the union — but it takes all of us — KDE, JCTA and the community, everyone has to be focused on the same outcome, and that includes increasing rigor in the classrooms,” Allred said. “That shouldn’t be a fight, and unfortunately, it oftentimes is.”
But Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said the teachers and schools have been nothing but cooperative. And he said he doubts the state could do any better job than the district, given the struggles many schools face with students who lack parental support and who often bring a host of home problems with them to class every day.

“It is not constructive for the state to point fingers at Jefferson County,” he said. “As president of the union, I know we have been doing everything we can possibly do to support these schools. Everyone in the priority schools is cooperating with the requests from the state.”

Allred said the district’s priority schools also have a “large number of new or fairly inexperienced teachers,” which can also be problematic, particularly if those teachers don’t get the extra support they need.

Jefferson County school board member Debbie Wesslund said the board has supported “significant changes to improve,” and Hargens has “stepped up our efforts by focusing on interventions when kids are struggling and by putting more resources and professional support in schools.”

“As a board member, I want to know that we have given schools and their leaders every tool available to succeed,” Wesslund said. “We need to constantly review this progress — and we are.”

Hargens said correcting problem schools that have been academically low-performing for decades is a difficult and sometimes slow task.

“This all takes a disciplined effort over time,” Hargens said. “This is not easy work, this is hard work. And it’s going to take everyone working together — the district, the state and this community — to turn them around.”


Anonymous said...

Blah Blah Blah. Finger point, finger point. Maybe they didn't implement the plans because they weren't implementable. Same old stuff, state comes in and forces locals to apply cookie cutter interventions and then act suprised when it doesn't occur.

I am sure the conditions are less than ideal for a variety of reasons but sometimes the problems transend what a school faculty or even a cadre of state interventionalists can address. What I am hearing is that the community and parental barriers are greater than the effort and strategies can over come.

I say let KDE take them over and along with the same responsibility for long term student achievement. I am betting they won't get any farther under the same conditions that current educators are struggling with.

Anonymous said...

I'm ashamed that Terry Holliday would use the term "academic genocide" to describe the situation in Louisville. This is not what is going on, and he is misusing vocabulary. I think this is but another feeble attempt by a second-rate thinker to blame Louisville teachers and not Louisville parents for their childrens' lackluster performance.