Complaints erupt over private group's education report

Complaints erupt over private group's education report

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The problems at Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) are well known. Lagging proficiency scores and disturbing achievement gaps signal changes are needed.

But one report suggesting a possible solution drew criticism from some at JCPS. And that criticism is directed both at the findings and at the group who commissioned the study.

The Steering Committee for Action on Louisville's Agenda (SCALA) formed in 2017. The private group of 69 invited people is largely a collection of Louisville area business owners and CEOs, with some community and civic leaders. Part of the group's agenda is to explore ways to remove possible roadblocks to future growth.

One problem area is public education. Low graduation rates, lagging proficiency scores and disturbing achievement gaps are a common concern at JCPS.

SCALA commissioned a report from a nonprofit called Bellwether Education Partners. The Bellwether website describes the group as "focused on dramatically changing education and life outcomes for under-served children" and helping educators "accelerate their impact and by working to improve policy and practice."

An education committee created by SCALA and chaired by Lantech CEO Jim Lancaster looked to Bellwether to examine progress in other school systems and produce a report on what might work for JCPS.

The focus was on changing JCPS from the top.

"Our hypothesis," Lancaster said, "was that because of a combination of the structure both from a law perspective and a structure of the way the board works, that we're unable to make any systematic improvements and changes at any kind of pace that's going to get us where we want to go."

Lancaster said the report findings support taking power away from the Board of Education and giving more to top administrators to facilitate a faster rate of change.

But at JCPS, attacks on the report came from both the board and from teachers.

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Board of Education member Chris Kolb called the Bellwether report was "bought and paid for by the wealthy corporate sector in Louisville to tell them what they wanted to hear and therefore has zero credibility or value to the discussion."

Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim was also critical. He said a report focusing on leadership structure is missing the point.

"These are not the problems with JCPS," McKim argued. "We have a lot of challenges. We need to roll up our sleeves as a community and deal with a lot of the issues that, frankly, happen outside the four walls of the schools."

Lancaster said the point of the study was to start a public conversation and said SCALA was trying to be proactive in exploring changes to JCPS in advance of a possible state takeover of the school system.

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