Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Jefferson County presentation

Grading the Jefferson County schools was today's Louisville Forum topic. I spoke along with Kevin Noland, Ben Oldham, and Bob Rodosky. Here's the prepared version of what I said in my opening comments on the issue:
Louisville Forum Draft Remarks
Susan Perkins Weston • January 12, 2010

I want to begin with praise for your community’s commitment to education.

Yesterday, I pulled my favorite data files and compared Jefferson County to the rest of the Commonwealth: to the other 119 counties taken as a group or to 173 districts as a group.

Here are some of your strengths:
• In your adult population, Jefferson County has one third fewer high school dropouts than the rest of the state, 14 percent compared to 21.
• You have half again as many college graduates, 26 percent compared to 17.
• In 2007, you had 74 percent more taxable property per pupil than the rest of the state.
• You set yourself local school taxes 25 percent than the rest of the state. That is, you had more property to tax and you taxed your wealth at a higher rate.
• Your added effort allows your public schools to spend 19 percent more per pupil.

I’d also like to add one final number to put your population in perspective: 22 percent of your county’s children live in poverty, compared to 23 percent in the rest the state.

Seeing all that, I have no doubt that Jefferson County ought to be in a leadership position. Your schools should be delivering results in the top third of the state, and educators from elsewhere should flocking here to learn about your successful innovations.

Unfortunately, that is not what is happening academically in your schools.

The most recent state reports show reading results for seven grades, but I’m going to report to you on just one grade from each level:
• In fourth grade, 89 percent of districts delivered higher rates of reading proficiency than Jefferson County Public Schools.
• In seventh grade, 82 percent of districts delivered more reading proficiency
• In tenth grade, 57 percent of districts delivered more reading proficiency

For low-income students in the free and reduced lunch program, results were even weaker. Your proficiency and above rates were lower than:
• 92 percent of districts in fourth grade.
• 87 percent of districts in seventh grade.
• 61 percent in tenth grade.

For African American students, compared to other districts with a population large enough to report, your percent proficient and above in reading was lower than:
• 83 percent of districts in fourth grade.
• 81 percent of districts in seventh grade.
• 51 percent of districts in tenth grade.

In math, the results were mildly better. Limiting the numbers just to students overall, your percent proficient was worse than:
• 81 percent of districts for fourth grade.
• 77 percent of districts for seventh grade.
• 37 percent for eleventh grade.

To sum that up: none of those results were in the top third, and all the elementary and middle school results were in the bottom quarter of the state.

Further, the trends are not positive.

From 2007 to 2009, Jefferson County’s percent proficient or above in reading went down for white, black, Hispanic, and Asian students. It went down for students in the free lunch program. It went down for students with limited English proficiency. Statewide, those percentages went up for every group except Limited English.

In other subjects, proficiency either declined more or improved less than the state in math at all levels, in science at all levels, in social studies at all levels except high school, and in writing at all levels except high school.

In public education, Jefferson County is not where you want to be and not where you belong in light of your resources or commitment. Your children deserve more. The proud people of Jefferson County should expect more, demand more, and be about the business of creating schools that deliver more.


  1. Interesting post and data in light of the day's activities at the Senate with RttT and Charters.

  2. BRILLIANT! Jefferson County has needed to hear a cogent, data-backed critique like this for a long time. I hope they heed your warning.

  3. What role do Jefferson County legislators play these results?

  4. Its time we look at why the numbers are so dismal. As a retired educator with 30+years of service, I am convinced that the union is in charge of the schools and are preventing administrators who want to improve instruction from demanding that staff be held accountable for their performance. If children are not achieving than are they being taught, if not,why not? Lets demand more of the people who are teaching our children.

  5. How do you see the recent article in the Atlantic Monthly dealing with data from Teach for America impacting Jefferson County?

  6. @ Carol,

    When your Senators and Representatives demand better results in Jefferson County, you'll have better results in Jefferson County. Without that, nothing will happen, because no one who works in Frankfort can move on these problems without their support.


Updates and data on Kentucky education!