Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Changing the World - One Heart & One Mind at a time

A nice statement on diversity and unity at EKU...

This from President Michael T. Benson in EKU Magazine: 
As our country emerges from a historic, albeit fractious, election season, I have thought many times in recent months about unity.
And I am always reminded how our University blends the unique gifts and talents of students, faculty and staff from all corners of the globe to our mutual benefit. We call it unity in diversity.
For many of our students through the years, especially the last half century, the Richmond campus was their first substantial exposure to others of a different race, nationality or faith. Maybe it was a professor, a classmate or perhaps even a roommate. Whatever the context, fear soon gave way to acceptance and deep-seated suspicion to a once unimaginable trust, and all came to understand that unity didn’t mean conformity but, rather, our common bonds as human beings and a shared purpose.
Have Colonels always seen eye to eye? Of course not. They didn’t in the turbulent 1960s, and they don’t today. But I know many readers of this magazine could tell heart-warming accounts about how their exposure to different cultures opened not only their minds but their hearts. I know because you have shared with me many such stories. Two articles in this magazine tell how some of our students’ lives were changed forever as they shared a love of music or served others in international settings. Another tells of a social work graduate who used her Eastern education to change lives all around the world.

Back home, we have all come to see that our community is at its best when it focuses on what unites us, rather than divides us; fosters a spirit of inclusion that celebrates individuals and their ideas; and honors the value of service. Among those uniting forces are the campus traditions that have linked generations of Colonels, such as rubbing Daniel Boone’s toe for good luck. Other traditions, such as freshman beanies, have not survived, but remain vivid memories for thousands of alumni. You can read about some of our most cherished traditions, past and present, in another article in this issue.

A recent addition to our Campus Beautiful was the setting in August for what I hope will be a new campus tradition: the passage of each freshman class, in its entirety, through Turner Gate. Our newest landmark, on the west side of campus, is distinguished by four simple but profound words — Wisdom and Knowledge on the side facing Lancaster Avenue, Purpose and Passion on the other — that describe what students come here seeking and what they acquire during their studies to use for the betterment of society.

Then, for our many “legacy” students, Eastern is a family tradition. It’s not unusual at all to meet current students who are the latest of several generations of their families to attend. What better testament to the enduring value of the Eastern Experience!

Through any period of change, whether on a national scale or in higher education, we can all take great comfort in the fact that Eastern continues, as it always has, to change the world, one mind and one heart at a time.

And that, friends, is our best campus tradition of all.

Michael T. Benson
President, Eastern Kentucky University

SCOTUS could clear roadblocks to School Vouchers

“No portion of any fund or tax now existing, 
or that may hereafter be raised or levied for educational purposes,
 shall be appropriated to, or used by, or in aid of, 
any church, sectarian or denominational school.” 
-- Kentucky Constitution, @ Section 189

This from Morning Education:
The Supreme Court on Wednesday is set to hear a case that could have huge implications
for school voucher programs. At issue is an 1875 provision of Missouri's Constitution banning public money from going "directly or indirectly" to religious groups, including schools. Similar provisions, called Blaine Amendments, exist in roughly three dozen states and have been a major barrier to school vouchers. They've also proved resilient, surviving numerous state ballot repeal efforts - including an unsuccessful Michigan initiative pushed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos nearly two decades ago.

Religious groups see this and a related Colorado case as their best shots at scrapping the amendments - and they believe Neil Gorsuch, who just took his seat on the high court, will take their side. They point to Gorsuch's deference to religious rights in other cases. Most notably, while on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, he backed a religious challenge to the Affordable Care Act - joining the panel's majority in the Hobby Lobby case to rule that the Obama administration could not require a closely-held business to offer contraceptive coverage if that interfered with the owners' religious beliefs - a decision later upheld by the Supreme Court. In another case, he ruled that a Wyoming prison had to provide a sweat lodge to a Native American for his religious practices.

Court watchers believe Gorsuch might cast a tie-breaking vote since the court had apparently delayed arguments in the Missouri case until they had a ninth justice. "The justices have likely seen this as a case on which they would have been divided four to four," said Stephen Wermiel, a constitutional law professor at American University. "They must expect that Gorsuch will be the deciding fifth vote."

There is a chance the case could get tossed out . The case hinges on the state's denial of Trinity Lutheran Church's request for a grant to reimburse the cost of resurfacing its preschool playground with recycled tires. State officials said the Blaine Amendment prevented it from aiding the church in any way. But late last week, Missouri's newly elected Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, announced that he has directed the state agency to consider religious organizations for such grants. The parties on both sides must submit their views by noon today on whether the the announcement makes the legal dispute moot. Even if the justices dismiss this case, they could soon hear the same issues in a pending Colorado case in which the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State claim a school voucher program violates the state's no-aid clause.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Kentucky Leads the Nation in School Turnaround, Says National Study

While the legislature debated public schools this year, a significant accomplishment went mostly unnoticed: Kentucky was singled out as uniquely successful in school turnaround.

The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) got this news in February, delivered by Dr. Susan Lusi, President and CEO of Mass Insight, a national group that focuses on education reform.

“As national experts in school turnaround, we see Kentucky as a leader in establishing a system of continuous improvement,” said Dr. Lusi. “We talk about turnaround being dramatic, systemic and sustained, and we believe in many ways, Kentucky has achieved this.”

While school turnaround efforts often don’t work, they do here, she said. In January, a separate evaluation of the Obama administration’s school improvement grant (SIG) program called it a failure, and that report made big national news.

“That’s not what we see in Kentucky,” said Dr. Kelly Foster, head of the Office of Continuous Improvement and Support at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE). But, she added, “You can’t just get handed a bunch of SIG money and immediately be successful.”

Kentucky broke the mold, Dr. Foster says, because “we believe in a continuous improvement model in our work. We try to be reflective and always improving. It is important to build sustainable systems.”

So, this isn’t a story about test prep drills yielding quick one-time results; it is a lesson in building systems that support student learning.

As bureaucratic as that might sound, a systemic strategy is key. Think of it using the phrase coined during early space flight: “all systems go.” It means that you’ve looked into every area critical to overall performance.

Just as NASA develops a solid system, then checks all the boxes before blastoff, that’s what Kentucky developed – an “all systems go” strategy for Kentucky’s schools.

Kentucky was judged using what Mass Insight has designated as the crucial components that must be strong in a state-level system to impact low-achieving schools – from diagnosing weaknesses, to staffing and training and involving families.

It praised the historic Kentucky Education Reform Act along with the state laws and policies that followed to support education reform, which have “created a culture of continuous improvement and clear theory of action to assist focus and priority schools.” It said there is a clear and strong accountability system for all schools that spells out how and when KDE offers support.

Furthermore, it commended the department’s strong commitment to working directly with its low-achieving schools, focusing on three key priorities: academic focus, school culture and use of data. These have been coined the “Big Rocks.”

KDE and school/district leadership roles are clearly defined in school intervention, with resources provided for diagnostic reviews, explained the researchers, along with school leadership development assistance and implementation of the Baldridge continuous improvement model.

Mass Insight said KDE has received adequate resources over the years to address school performance, but questioned whether there would be enough for future work. And it pointed out the challenge of effective staffing, but recognized Kentucky’s attention to this issue and its efforts in employee training and retention in struggling schools.

Dr. Lusi said that of the low performing schools receiving state support and exiting priority status in Kentucky, 74 percent are performing at a proficient level or above. Schools are designated as “priority” based on various measures including test scores and graduation rates.

And in March, there was more good news with the exit of Louisville’s Valley High School from priority status. It has now met its improvement goals for four years straight, with a graduation rate of just shy of 80 percent. That consistent upward trend indicates “all systems go” in how the school operates.

The report says public support has been key to our success so far. “Over the years, a consensus emerged that schools should be preparing students for college and the workforce. The expectation was that school improvement would help Kentucky produce more skilled workers to compete in the future, with school accountability a key strategic priority. A changing political environment, however, has made this work challenging.”

With implementation of a new federal law – the Every Student Succeeds Act – and the new state law – Senate Bill 1, the report says, “It is important that KDE finds a way to maintain its commitment to continuous improvement during the transition and ‘stay the course.’”

The consensus that emerged years ago to support all Kentucky’s public schools is still essential to continue the systemic reform that has made a solid difference.

That public support depends on us to get the message out about the record of public education excellence in Kentucky. Citizens will more likely support investing in something that has shown to be a success.

So, next time you hear someone criticize public schools, this is a story to tell. Kentucky leads the national in school turnaround.
You can read the report by going to the link within KDE’s press release.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Could Kentucky's charter school law be unconstitutional?

UK law professor Scott Bauries is right about the current legal climate, but remember, the climate at the time of the Rose case was hardly hospitable to judicial solutions - so much so that the Supreme Court ruling was shocking to legislators who had forgotten they were in charge of the schools. 

I'm also dubious about challenging charter schools based on funding. Maybe it has a shot, but I don't see the angle.

I am more aligned with Senator Neal who debated specific points from the Rose decision related to an efficient system of schools. Any ruling would have to be considered in light of the definition of an efficient system as detailed in the Rose decision.

This from the Courier-Journal: 
Charter schools are finally allowed in Kentucky, but legal experts and advocates say it's only a matter of time before the law permitting them is debated in court.

Kentucky's Republican-controlled legislature passed House Bill 520 last month, and Gov. Matt Bevin quickly signed it into law, championing charter schools as an innovative approach to helping at-risk children who are falling behind in class. Many Democrats, however, cautioned that charter schools will sap money and students from struggling public schools.

Todd Ziebarth of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which was "intimately" involved in the effort to pass this kind of legislation in Kentucky, said pretending the state's existing education system is equal for all students is "baffling." But he expects the new law's detractors will go to court in hopes of having it declared unconstitutional.

"I would be stunned if they didn't challenge it," Ziebarth said. "I just see it as a desperate attempt by those who oppose charter schools to do anything possible to prevent them from coming to the state and serving kids."

But Democrat Ray Jones, a state senator and attorney from Pikeville, believes a constitutional challenge to Kentucky's charter school law has a shot at success. "And I would be more than happy to help challenge this," he told the Courier-Journal.

Rob Garda, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, said it's a "longshot" that Kentucky's charter school law will be declared unconstitutional.

Charter schools are new to Kentucky but not to the U.S., and more than 40 states permit them. Garda said only one case — a lawsuit in the state of Washington — has succeeded in getting a state supreme court to declare a charter school law entirely unconstitutional.

Even that 2015 ruling hasn't wiped out charter schools in Washington, Garda said. Instead, the legislature tweaked the way it funds those institutions, which also has been challenged in court.

Legal challenges to charter schools usually focus on how they are paid for, he said. A case in California in 1999 tried but failed to have charter schools deemed unconstitutional irrespective of their funding methods.

In New Orleans, charter schools took off after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, he said. The first five years or so were dominated by political debates over the concept, but the city's public school system is on track to eventually become comprised completely of charter schools.

"We are way past the argument of whether charter schools should exist," Garda said. "Once we did turn our attention away from 'How do we eliminate charter schools?' to 'How do we make this work?' it resulted in huge improvements."

During the Kentucky Senate's debate over the charter school law last month, Jones explained why he believes the measure could be found unconstitutional in the commonwealth.

In a massive 1989 decision, the Kentucky Supreme Court declared that education is a fundamental right under the state's constitution, Jones told his colleagues. That case, Rose v. Council for Better Education, led to major reforms after the court deemed the state's school system unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruled that the state legislature must adequately fund an efficient system of common schools throughout the commonwealth, Jones said. That's where he thinks charter schools could run into legal trouble.

"I do not believe that charter schools are permissible under Kentucky's constitution if it takes one penny away from our common schools that are already underfunded," he said. "It is unconscionable and immoral for us to leave any child in a school that is failing, and that is exactly what will happen if you create a system of charter schools in Kentucky."

Constitutional challenges to charter schools are tricky, said Scott Bauries, a University of Kentucky law professor. The Rose case dealt with widespread underfunding of the state education system, he said, and the precedent it set may not be strong enough to invalidate an experiment like charter schools that moves government money around but doesn't underfund the system as a whole.

"Charters have been such a big hot-button political issue in Kentucky for so long that it would be hard for me to believe that somebody wouldn't file a lawsuit to challenge that current legislation," Bauries said. "I think it's certain it will be challenged. I don't think it's likely the challenge will succeed."

The Rose ruling came down at a time when the commonwealth ranked dead last on many educational measures in the U.S., but since then Kentucky's lower courts seem to have "lost their taste for adjudicating school funding suits," he said.

"We're just not really in that kind of constitutional moment right now," he said. "And I doubt that the legislature is as receptive to a decision like that as they were in 1989."

Mendell Grinter graduated from the Jefferson County Public Schools district and went on to found the Tennessee-based Campaign for School Equity, which encouraged Kentucky lawmakers to pass the charter school law.

He disagreed with the argument that charter schools are unconstitutional in Kentucky and would make the education system unequal by taking money and students from traditional schools.

"A JCPS-authorized charter school is going to be a JCPS public school," he said. "I don't think that it is going to destroy the system."

At this point, Grinter said Kentuckians should focus on figuring out how to implement charter schools effectively.

JCPS board chairman Chris Brady said many districts are awaiting direction from the Kentucky Department of Education on what the next steps for charter schools will involve.

Brady questioned the idea that everyone should forget about taking legal action and focus on making the law work as well as it can. The "kumbaya moment" should have happened when the bill was being crafted, he said, but the people developing it didn't appear too interested in school boards' recommendations.

"It seemed that there was really not an open door for suggestions on this," he said. "I think that there are certainly some grounds to challenge the law. As to who will go forward with that, I don't know at this time."

Although he has concerns about Kentucky's charter school law, he said Jefferson County's school board hasn't had a collective discussion about the measure's legality.