March 18, 2019

Selective high schools and diversity

New York City’s selective high schools have a diversity problem:

Though black and Hispanic students make up nearly 70 percent of New York City’s public school system as a whole, just over 10 percent of students admitted into the city’s eight specialized high schools were black or Hispanic, according to statistics released Monday by the city. That percentage is flat compared to last year.

It’s also a problem in Louisville.

DuPont Manual is commonly viewed as the most desirable public high school Jefferson County. It’s a selective admissions school that accepts applications from students from all over the county and offers free transportation to those that are selected for admission.

Yet in a district where 36% of students are African American, only 13% of Manual students are African American (the smallest percentage of any JCPS high school) and admission tends to favor students from the most affluent areas of Louisville.

Using data from the JCPS Data Book and the US Census Bureau, we can see how a student’s home zip code correlates to the chance they will attend duPont Manual. Across all of JCPS, about 3.5% of high school students are enrolled at Manual, but that rate varies significantly by students’ resident zip code.

In Jefferson County’s seven most affluent zip codes, JCPS students are anywhere from 2 to 4.5 times more likely to enroll at Manual than the JCPS district average.

zip-plot

Those familiar with Louisville won’t be surprised with the income distribution across zip codes, shown in the map below.

mhi-map

But it’s revealing that the map above so closely mirrors the map below, which reflects the odds that a JCPS high school student in a given zip code is attending Manual. In every zip code west of duPont Manual’s campus, students are enrolling at Manual at less than half the district rate. There are three zip codes in West Louisville with more than five thousand resident JCPS high school students, but only 46 students attend Manual - less than 1% of the resident students in these communities.

manual-map

Unlike NYC, we don’t have publicly available data to further illustrate how many students have applied to Manual, where they live in Jefferson County, how many were qualified but not admitted, etc. But the opaque admissions process at Manual does appear to favor families from communities with more financial resources.

I don’t begrudge any family that currently sends or has sent students to Manual — it’s a great school and those parents have every right to seek out the best situation for their children. But a student’s educational opportunities shouldn’t be limited by the value of a home their parent(s) can afford. Louisville’s most selective public school, like NYC’s selective high schools, aren’t granting enough opportunities to the students who would stand to benefit the most from admission.

It’s why Kentucky should keep pushing to expand school choice. Low-income and African American families deserve the same opportunity to choose a great school for their child as a family in Anchorage or Prospect.


March 8, 2019

Grading my PLL proposal - first four cities

As of today, Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) has named 4 of the 12 cities that will host games during their inaugural season. The PLL started with a list of 30 cities and in January, I posted what I thought would be the ideal slate of 12 cities for the new league.

My initial selections started with the idea that the PLL should focus the bulk of their schedule in regions where youth lacrosse has the fastest growth rates. Now that the first four cities have been named, my picks are looking pretty good.

pll-cities-v2

Grading my proposal’s accuracy after 4 cities: B+

I nailed three out of the four: New York, Chicago, and Baltimore. I’ll also give myself a half-point for Boston - while I thought that the PLL should pick one of the group of Boston/Hartford/Providence, my Hartford homerism weighed too heavily on my initial pick.

Here’s what I’d like to see out of the next 8 PLL city announcements:

  • 2 more “Midwest” region cities
  • 3 “South” region cities
  • 3 “West” region cities

I really think that the PLL should avoid picking any more “Northeast” region cities. If they’re serious about increasing the exposure of the sport, they’ll need skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been.


March 6, 2019

Teacher pay, community income, and sickouts

salary-mhi-map

Do teachers in Kentucky earn more or less than the median household in the communities they serve?1

The most recent data from the American Community Survey show that the Median Household Income (MHI) in Kentucky is $46,535. In the 2018-19 school year, data from the Kentucky Department of Education show that the average certified salary for Kentucky teachers was $57,819 - a difference of $11,284. However, household income and teacher salaries vary across communities in Kentucky. In most of the state, teachers earn more in salary than the median household, but there are communities where those dollar amounts are similar, and in a handful of the state’s most affluent communities, teachers earn less than the median household’s income.

In the state’s largest district (Jefferson County), certified teachers in the 2018-19 school year earned $69,674 while the median household earned about $52,237 - a difference of $17,437. In neighboring Oldham County (the most affluent in the state) teachers earned an average of $56,118 in a community where the MHI is $92,273 - a difference of $36,155.

Salary Category Districts FTE % of Total FTE
Less than 90% of MHI 5 3,420 6.8%
Similar to MHI (+/- 10%) 33 9,021 17.8%
Slightly more than MHI (10-50%) 85 29,352 58.0%
Significantly more than MHI (50-200%) 36 6,823 13.5%
More than double MHI 14 1,982 3.9%

There are only 4 counties in Kentucky where the average teacher’s salary is less than 90% the county’s MHI. These are also happen to be the counties with the highest MHI: Oldham, Boone, Spencer, and Scott. On the other end of the spectrum, there are 50 districts where teachers are earning at least 50% more than the median household in their counties, representing 17.4% of certified teacher FTEs. In the majority of districts, teachers representing 58% of certified FTEs earned 10-50% more than the MHI in their counties.

ratio-map

1 in 4 of Kentucky’s certified teachers earns a salary similar to or less than the MHI of their employer’s county, which means 75% of certified teachers in Kentucky earn at least 10% more than the median household in the community they serve.

Why does this matter?

Kentucky has seen several days of teacher “sickouts” during this school year. These quasi-strikes were sparked in protest of changes to pension laws, proposed changes to a pension governing board, tax credit scholarship legislation, and a bill to change the process for hiring principals in Jefferson County.

Setting aside the merits of these policies, it’s important to consider the impact of “sickouts” on students and families. These disruptions to learning happen with little notice for parents/guardians to arrange childcare and for three quarters of the state, it’s done by public employees who out-earn the median household in the community they serve.

The raison d’etre for these school closures is often only tangentially connected to improving outcomes for kids. When it’s led by professionals earning more - sometimes significantly more - than the families they serve, quasi-strikes of teachers may actually lead to reduced support for their policy goals.

I’m a big fan of teachers - I was a public school teacher and my sister has made it her career. But I would urge Kentucky’s teachers to consider the impact of school shutdowns on the kids and families they serve before further utilizing that tactic. The vast majority of homes in the communities they serve earn less than the average teacher and may not have the means to arrange childcare on short notice. Additionally, disrupting the learning process may be even more harmful for economically disadvantaged students.

In the end, students and families bear the costs of “sickouts” in Kentucky and the benefits to them are not very clear. I’m not sure how many more school closures families will tolerate, but there is certainly a limit - I just hope that teachers don’t push past it.


  1. All code and data used to answer this question are available on my GitHub page. [return]

January 19, 2019

Untapped Potential

An incredible special report from the Boston Globe:

Over the past year, the Globe has tracked down 93 of the 113 valedictorians who appeared in the paper’s first three “Faces of Excellence” features from 2005 to 2007. We wanted to know, more than a decade later, how the stories of Boston’s best and brightest were turning out.

The entire collection of articles, graphics, and data paints a challenging and inspiring picture of the obstacles facing the “best and brightest” students in Boston’s public schools. Many of the students faced financial and/or social struggles when they first entered college, but some also found themselves academically unprepared for college work.

Some of the valedictorians - notably, the ones from selective “exam schools” - fared better than other public school graduates. That there could be such a wide variation in the quality of academic preparation among schools’ highest-performing students is extremely disappointing, but not surprising.

Much work remains to be done to help students navigate the transition from high school to college, both financially and socially, but K-12 leaders and policymakers should at a bare minimum ensure that high school coursework can prepare students academically for their next step. That may mean entering the workforce or military, attending a community college, or enrolling in a highly selective university, but no student should have their potential limited by policymakers’ lowered expectations and/or unchallenging curricular options.


January 12, 2019

Packing for a Cold Weather GORUCK HTL

One of the few things you can control when attempting a GORUCK HTL is your gear. Some of the items you’ll want are obvious and will be listed on the official event packing lists GORUCK provides, but if an HTL is one of your first GORUCK experiences1 and/or you haven’t done cold-weather events, this list might help you figure out what additional gear you’ll need.

In November 2018, I successfully completed my first HTL during Veterans Day weekend in Indianapolis. At the start of the event, the temperature was in the low 30s and dropped to 19F in the wee morning hours of the Heavy. For most of the weekend, the temperature mostly stayed in the 30s, with a few hours of low 40s. Precipitation-wise, there were a few mild flurries the first night, but nothing too serious.

The following is a description of my gear, both worn and carried, during the weekend I earned my bolts.

htl-packing

The ruck

First things first: the ruck. I’ve used both a standard 26L GR1 and a 21L GR1 for events.2 I’m 5’11” and the 26L is just slightly too long on my torso and I’ve found that the 21L is just more comfortable for me.

I’ve added a GORUCK sternum strap and hip belt, which for me are non-negotiable items for an HTL. Not only will it help re-distribute the weight in your ruck, the hip belt will prevent your ruck from sliding into the back of your head/neck during the inevitable bear crawl.

On the front MOLLE of my ruck, I’ve got a Black Diamond Quickdraw that acts as another handle. It comes in handy while doing presses and overhead holds. This addition isn’t needed if you have a Rucker 2.0 with the second handle already sewn into the bottom of the ruck.

Also, a reflective band. It’s required.

And a morale patch. Because of Rule #1.3

Inside the ruck: laptop compartment

I have a 28 pound steel plate from the now-defunct SH Plates for the Heavy/Tough and a 20 pound plate from GORUCK for the Light. If you’re using a GR1 or a Rucker, make sure you purchase the correct plate to fit your ruck.

Inside the ruck: slant pocket

This is where I like to keep quick-access items. Per the recommendation of Mark Webb’s Heavy packing list, a couple of climbing runners are really helpful to store here. They come in handy when carrying awkwardly-shaped items like logs or rocks or whatever else the Cadre come up with. I keep two in the slant pocket.

I also carry two lifting straps. If your Cadre like to use Jerry Cans, this will help give you significantly more grip endurance.

Inside the ruck: hydration

I use a low-profile 3L Source bladder for all of my GORUCK events, which is clipped to the internal webbing of my GR1 and secured to one of the shoulder straps with an ITW web dominator.

During the HTL, I learned something about cold-weather events: your water hose can and probably will freeze. Around 1:00am during the Heavy, my hose froze and I was only able to thaw it by disconnecting it and wrapping it around my torso under my shirt.

Some will advocate for forcing air into your hose after each drink to combat freezing, but as I discoverd, it’s not going to work all of the time - particularly if it drops below 20 degrees.

You may want to consider just carrying a Nalgene as a backup hydration source and/or insulating your hose during a cold-weather HTL.

Inside the ruck: dry bags

I like to use two dry bags inside the main compartment of my ruck. The Sea to Summit 13L Dry Sack is big enough to fit most of the stuff I wanted to carry and will keep these items dry. Additionally, if/when the Cadre make you do a gear dump, it helps speed up the re-packing process.

The dry bags also keep you organized. Loose items can easily lead to a gypsy camp - a clear violation of Rule #1.

In dry bag #1, I stored extra clothing items. Extra wool socks, an extra-warm pair of gloves each came in very handy during this event. It’s also where I initially stored my half-zip thermal layer, a merino wool neck gaiter, a merino wool beanie, and my windbreaker. However, it was so damn cold and windy at the start point, all of this gear made it on my person before the event started.

In retrospect, I would have liked to add a light, packable down jacket to this dry bag. Lesson learned.

All of my food, medical items, extra carabiner, extra climbing runners, and phone went into dry bag #2. I kept my phone in a small Pelican case with my wallet. For future HTLs, I’ll probably leave that stuff in my duffel bag with my between-event gear.

My food was mostly a little leftover Halloween candy, a few protein bars, and some packets of almond butter. It was on the light side of what I needed, but I got through the event without crashing. Might add some beef jerky to the mix next time.

I also keep a bottle of electrolytes to add to my water during events. I’ve used LyteShow for the past few events and haven’t had cramping issues.

My medical items are pretty standard: a few band-aids, Advil, some KT tape, alcohol wipes, and a needle for draining blisters. I also pack a small container of Trail Toes. Whenever I had a chance to change my socks, I made sure to re-lube my feet, which helped me to finish the HTL with no blisters.

I also pack an extra set of AAA batteries for my headlamp and a shoelace in my med kit. I’ve never had an issue with the laces on my shoes or batteries during an event, but I feel it’s wise to anticipate where Mr. Murphy might strike.

Inside the ruck: top zipper pocket

This is where I keep a snack-sized Ziploc bag with my drivers license and quitter’s cash. The Cadre will want to see these during the admin phase, so I like to keep it very handy.

I’ll also stash my headlamp and some chapstick in this pocket.

Inside the ruck: mesh pocket

I have a spare 3L Source bladder, hose, and mouthpiece in this pocket. Hydration is key during an HTL and two is one and one is none.

Having a second hydration option saved me during the Heavy. My original water hose broke when my ruck was tossed onto some pavement only a few hours into the event. I was able to switch it out for my backup and was fine.

I also kept an emergency blanket in this pocket. Thankfully, we did not need it during the event.

What I wore

It all starts with your feet. SmartWool socks are great for cold-weather events, and when paired with my Solomon Xa Pro 3D shoes, ensure that my feet stayed warm enough without taking on too much blister-causing moisture.

Moving up from my feet, I wore an Under Armour Heat Gear 2.0 base layer, which was just right for my HTL in terms of heat retention and sweat wicking. On top of that base layer, I had some Patagonia pants, an elastic belt, dry fit long sleeve shirt, Mechanix gloves, and my GORUCK Tac Hat.

As I noted earlier, this was not warm enough and I ended up wearing the extra layers I had intended to keep in my dry bag for most of the event. During the course of the event, some of these layers found their way back into my ruck, but I’m glad that I had them with me.

An underrated piece of clothing was my neck gaiter. I can’t begin to describe the difference this makes in staying warm and protected from the wind during a cold weather GORUCK event. If you learn one thing from my packing list, it should be to get a wool gaiter for any cold weather GORUCK event.

Between events

You want to have a clear plan of priorities between events. My list went something like this:

  1. Get some calories
  2. Stretch and foam roll
  3. Foot care
  4. Prep gear for next event
  5. Shower/brush teeth
  6. Nap

It’s critical to get the first 5 in before you get any sleep. The last thing you want to do is scramble for food/gear with 30 minutes to get to the start point for the Tough/Light.

Your gear will only get you so far

The odds that a gear malfunction or oversight will make or break your HTL experience are extremely small. You will still have to cover a few dozen miles, grind out a lot of PT, and carry some heavy shit. Smart gear choices can make that stuff a little better, but it’s still going to suck, but that’s what an HTL is about. Some shoe/sock combinations may be marginally more comfortable/durable, but it won’t make up for a lack of logging some serious miles under weight pre-HTL.

If I had to boil down my advice heading into your first cold-weather HTL, I’d recommend the following:

  • Pack high-quality gear, but not too much.
  • Wear a merino wool neck gaiter.
  • Have a plan, place, and gear/food for your between-event time.
  • Ruck as many miles as you can pre-event with a heavy ruck.
  • Get your mind ready with some overnight rucks and workouts on an empty stomach.

And as with any GORUCK event, embrace the suck.


  1. If attempting an HTL is your first GORUCK experience, you’re crazy. [return]
  2. As a pedant I must point out that technically, it’s a GR0. [return]
  3. Rule #1 = Always look cool. [return]