OEA does more than investigate

OEA does more than investigate

OEA to school board members: We do more than investigate you and your districts
Kentucky School Advocate
July/August 2017
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer 
David Wickersham, left, who heads the Office of Education Accountability, talks with Harrison County board member Gary Dearborn following his clinic session at Summer Leadership Institute. Did you know that in-school achievement gaps tend to be larger in high-performing schools?

That very few students in Kentucky districts who commit weapons violations are expelled and that most are simply suspended?

And that not all the state’s special education teachers have the content knowledge and skills that they need?

These are a few of the findings in the three research reports the legislature’s Office of Education Accountability produced for 2016. Those reports were reviewed during a KSBA Summer Leadership Institute clinic by Bart Liguori, who heads OEA’s research division.
David Wickersham, left, who heads the Office of Education Accountability,
talks with Harrison County board member Gary Dearborn following his
clinic session at Summer Leadership Institute. 

It’s believed to be the first time the agency, which was created with 1990 state education reforms, presented at a KSBA event, said Director David Wickersham. OEA was initially charged with investigating waste, fraud and mismanagement in local districts, along with monitoring the work of state-level education agencies.

Lesser-known research functions were added later – functions that Wickersham and Liguori want local boards to be aware of. The Legislative Research Commission annually selects several research topics for OEA, some of them at the agency’s own suggestion.
2017 OEA research reports Wickersham said since he came on board OEA a year and a half ago, he’s viewed part of his role as outreach to groups that include KSBA, and the superintendents and school administrators organizations.

“It’s a way of making sure we’re all on the same page as much as possible,” he said.

Wickersham said he wants to make sure there’s as much transparency as possible about the agency’s processes.

“My experience has been that we have received very little negative feedback in terms of our final reports,” he said, “because the more people understand about the process the more they feel like they’ve been treated fairly.”

Appearances like the one at the Summer Leadership Institute also serve to make sure the agency’s research isn’t a “hidden gem,” he said.

“It’s an opportunity for us to talk about generally what our approach is on the investigations and then really dig down into the research piece of that. Because it’s our hope that the research won’t just be a fancy book or a nice-looking publication and instead will be used by the legislators in making policy decisions and by policy makers at the local level, too,” he said. “So we see it as an opportunity to kind of push that work out there, give it a little broader audience and hopefully have that trickle down to a level where it can really do some good.”

2016 OEA investigations Investigations
While Liguori reviewed research at the July 8 KSBA clinic, Wickersham explained some of the agency’s investigatory practices, which do not always find favor with local school boards. OEA does not: look into criminal activity, do audits, investigate certification issues, or remove or suspend local board members, he said.

“Our work is to be rehabilitative rather than punitive,” he said. Ninety-nine percent of the time its recommendations are for focused training, he added, “to help folks get back on track.”

Last year, the agency received 533 written complaints, most from the district level, and ended up investigating 18 percent of them. That’s for a combination of reasons, including determining that the complainant has contacted the wrong agency or that the matter can be handled at the local level by the superintendent (who is asked to notify OEA of the resolution). The chart on this page shows investigation outcomes.
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