Education is the focus of this year’s Kentucky Kids Count County data book released this week by the Kentucky Youth Advocates.
For the first time, the data book gathered data on students with disabilities enrolled in Kentucky public schools. Kentucky’s alternative education program, early childhood education and graduation rates were among the education topics covered in the 61-page report.
Kentucky Youth Advocates compiles the book along with the Kentucky State Data Center at the University of Louisville as part of the national Kids Count initiative funded by the Anne E. Casey Foundation.
Education is just one cornerstone, along with economic well-being, health, family and community, that is measured by the Kids Count project that collects data on the county level on more than 100 measures of child well-being.
Executive Director of Kentucky Youth Advocates Terry Brooks describes the Kids Count initiative as a “report card on America’s kids.” Kentucky has more than 1 million children who are age 17 and younger. The state ranked 35th in the nation overall based on 16 key indicators of child well-being and 28th in education.
Brooks said the KYA focuses on one cornerstone each year for its data book, and 2012 was education’s turn. “The timing is good because there are some opportunities to tackle some issues there,” he said.
“We always want it to propel policy changes. The whole premise is we want to confuse opinions with data,” he said.
“In education, the data is especially important. I think there is a real line of division when people talk about education,” he said.
“If you listen to the education establishment, they have a pretty strong spin machine — ‘every thing is always great, we’ve got it under control.’ Listen to the harsh critics and they don’t think anything is right. The truth is somewhere in between those,” said Brooks.
“There are areas where we can all cite progress and areas that are clearly challenges. We hope (the book) will inform those conversations and maybe challenge folks to be a little less opinionated and more fact-based,” he said.
Among the report’s most important take-aways, said Brooks, is the realization that there are 155,000 children in Kentucky who are either receiving special education services or attending an alternative school.
In addition, when it comes to the effect of poverty on education, there are some troubling indicators, said Brooks. The number of families receiving childcare subsidies and the number of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in public preschools are declining.
“You can not read the report and not realize that there are both special challenges and opportunities for the most vulnerable kids in the state,” he said.
The data book also includes county-level data on: births to mothers with no high school degree, school attendance, school meals, school finance, out-of-school suspensions, corporal punishment, teacher quality and ratio, student achievement and young adults.
The opening essay of this year’s book focuses on alternative education and lays out a number of recommendations for reforms to district-operated programs.
Kentucky alternative schools are estimated to serve more than 55,000 youth each school year. “If it was a school district, it would be the second largest in the state,” said Brooks. “You can’t ignore 55,000 children.” Many times these children are the most at-risk of dropping out because they are not thriving in the traditional academic setting, said Brooks.
Kentucky has two main types of alternative education programs. A5 programs are operated by school districts, and A6 programs serve students involved with the juvenile justice system, foster care, or behavioral agencies.
During the 2011-12 school year, 135 of Kentucky’s 174 districts operated or used alternative education programs serving 45,000 students a school year. There are 99 alternative education programs serving approximately 14,000 youth in state agency care.
Boyd County has three district-operated alternative education programs and a program for state agency children. Greenup County has one of each, while Carter and Lawrence counties have only district-operated programs.
According to the report, most district-operated programs are designed to serve children who are primarily sent there for behavior or academic reasons.
In the past, these programs have simply “warehoused,” students, said Brooks, and have failed to challenge them academically or behaviorally. There also was once a “pretty pernicious state pattern where superintendents would deal with problem teachers by assigning them to alternative education,” Brooks added.
The Kentucky General Assembly recently passed a number of reform,s including clearly setting minimum standards for teachers in district-operated programs, according to the report. The state also continues to hold schools responsible for a student’s academic achievement by attributing their test schools to the sending school.
More than 100,000 students in Kentucky, or 15.1 percent of those in public schools ages 3 to 21, received special education services in December 2010 under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In the U.S., during the 2009-10 school year, 13.1 percent of the nation’s children, or 6.5 million students, were receiving IDEA services.
According to the report, 29 percent of Kentucky students receiving IDEA services had a language or speech impairment, double the rate of any other type of disability.
Developmental delays, specific learning disabilities and other health impairment each represented 14 percent of IDEA students, followed by 12 percent with mild mental disabilities, 5 percent with emotional-behavioral disabilities, 4 percent with autism, 3 percent with functional mental disabilities, 3 percent with multiple disabilities and 2 percent with other disabilities.
Rates of students with disabilities in local schools hovered around the state average. In Boyd County, 17.2 percent of students had a disability in Dec. 2010, followed by Carter County with 16.8 percent, Ashland Independent schools with 15.9 percent, Russell Independent with 14 percent, Greenup County with 13.9 percent, Fairview Independent with 12.5 percent and Raceland Independent School with 8.8 percent of students.
Nationwide, the rate of U.S. workers with a high school diploma has risen along with the number with some college, however, more than one of every four U.S. students fails to graduate on time.
In Kentucky, on-time graduation rates are improving, according to its Averaged Graduation Rate, adopted in 2010-11 and used retroactively to estimate rates back to the 2007-08 school year. According to the report, rates have risen from 75 percent in 2007-08 to 77.8 percent in 2010-11.
Locally, rates of on-time graduation have been mixed.
Ashland Independent’s rate increased from 76.1 in 2007-08 to 86.1 in 2010-11, and Fairview Independent’s jumped from 91.7 to 100 percent over the same time period. Greenup County’s rose from 67.3 percent to 81.1 percent. Carter County’s rate grew from 80.7 percent to 80.8 over the time period.
Schools whose rates dropped had fewer students fail to graduate on time compared to earlier years, but because of falling enrollment had a higher percentage rate of students who did not graduate on time.
Boyd County graduated 92.7 percent of students on time in 2007-08, compared to 90.3 percent in 2010-11, although the number of students dropped from 230 in 2007-08 to 227 in 2010-11. In Raceland, the story was the same Its rate dropped from 79 percent to 77 percent. Russell Independent had the largest drop, from 98.3 percent in 2007-08 to 90.3 percent. In 2007-08, 178 students failed to graduate on time, compared to 159 in the 2010-11 school year.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.