Friday, July 22, 2016

Why Knowledge Matters

| by Cory Curl |

Reading comprehension has a lot to do with students’ knowledge and vocabulary.

To build a foundation for reading comprehension for all future learning, students need exposure to a well-rounded curriculum including science, social studies, arts, music, and other subjects beginning in early elementary school. Susan Weston has shared this point several times here at PrichBlog.

Fortunately, Kentucky’s education community has understood this for a long time. Both policy and practice have emphasized a well-rounded curriculum, and we have the results to suggest that this is the right track.

Science is a case in point. As Lisa Hansel of the Knowledge Matters campaign pointed out in a webinar that we hosted last evening, Kentucky ranked 4th in the nation on the 2009 4th grade NAEP science test. That year, Kentucky elementary schools had the highest amount of instructional time devoted to science (see this paper by Dr. Rolf Blank).

Lisa also suggested that this commitment to building knowledge in the early grades contributes to Kentucky’s strong showing in NAEP reading, where Kentucky 4th grade students score in the top 10 in the nation.

The webinar also featured Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who went into lively detail about why knowledge matters for reading comprehension, as well as why attention to this connection is important for equity for all students. Lisa provided five concrete recommendations of how states can incentivize a well-rounded approach in the early grades. You can learn more about the research and recommendations in this issue brief.

We had a great discussion about how parents can advocate for a knowledge-rich curriculum. Lisa and Robert also shared stories to illustrate why an emphasis on building knowledge provides an opportunity for engaging and active classroom learning rather than rote memorization.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides some policy spark for states to incentivize a well-rounded education, an opportunity that Secretary of Education John King underscored in recent remarks. As always, we encourage you to be involved in Kentucky’s efforts to redesign its accountability system and otherwise take advantage of opportunities provided in the new law.

We welcome your suggestions on how can help keep you informed and engaged through the process.

Monday, July 18, 2016

What Kind of Student Writing Do We Want? And Where?

| By Susan Perkins Weston | 

 Some writing makes an argument to support a claim.  Other pieces inform or explain, and still others provide narratives or real or imagined experience.  Our Kentucky Academic Standards call for students to become skilled in all three, but that still leaves room to puzzle about how much teaching and learning time should be invested in each kind. 

In EdWeek's new coverage of Changing Practice in Writing Instruction, that balancing pops up in multiple places.  In one interview, Lucy Calkins says "the common core says that a third of kids’ writing should be narrative."  Another article reports that "By the time students are in 12th grade, literary writing to convey experiences is expected to take up 20 percent of the time allotted to composition, compared with 40 percent each for informative writing and argumentative writing."

Both statements share a part of story. The 2010 Common Core State Standards aimed to align with an earlier Writing Framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  The original CCSS document show that framework using this table:
It's clear that Dr. Calkins' comment is about the grade 4 expectations, and the other article was explicitly looking at grade 12.

Both leave something big to be said.  This isn't all about English and the study of composition. Much of the high school writing for argumentation and explanation can be, should be, and must be part of mastering scientific communication and civic participation. That work belongs in science classes and social studies classes. That version of literacy needs teachers who are expert in the work of those disciplines.  Still more, those disciplines need literate students: they need students who are equipped to make sense of texts about science and social studies and equipped to organize and share thinking in those fields. 

For example, a high school's writing plans might be spread out like this, with plenty of room for narrative in English because major slices of argument and explanation happen in other classes.

The elementary and middle years can prepare students for that high school range, with argument and explanation becoming increasingly important as students mature.

Seeing the role of disciplines beyond English is essential to understanding how richly English classes can engage narrative writing, literary texts, and other classic undertaking.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Pursuit of Excellence: Principles to Guide Kentucky's Future Postsecondary Success

The Prichard Committee today released a report outlining the the key elements of the Committee's work in postsecondary education going forward, as well as establishing guiding principles for ensuring Kentucky reaches its education, economic, workforce, and civic potential.
The full report can be found via the Committee's web-site here, The Pursuit of Excellence: Principles to Guide Kentucky's Future Postsecondary Success
Below is the full text of the Prichard Committee's statement released today:
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Providing a framework for a productive discussion on the future of postsecondary education in Kentucky is the goal of a series of guiding principles developed by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

“The Pursuit of Excellence: Principles to Guide Kentucky’s Future Postsecondary Success” provides a focus for the committee’s return to an area of advocacy that served as its foundation in the early 1980s.

The citizens’ organization was known at the time as the Prichard Committee on Higher Education in Kentucky’s Future. Its 1981 report, In Pursuit of Excellence, noted that “despite a tendency of people to become pessimistic about the value of institutions, (they) still look to education as the road to a better life and as the source of information and talent needed to solve problems.”

That remains true today as Kentucky faces issues of access, affordability, accountability and the relative value of achieving success through postsecondary education, the committee said.

In encouraging parents, students, business and community leaders, institutions and policymakers to participate in a discussion to ensure Kentucky builds and maintains an educated citizenry and a talented workforce, the Prichard Committee issued guiding principles that focus on access, affordability and quality:
  • Access – High-quality postsecondary educational opportunities in Kentucky should be inclusive of all students, and Kentucky should ensure that all students are prepared for, have knowledge of, and are encouraged to pursue opportunities through postsecondary education pathways.
  • Affordability – High-quality postsecondary education in Kentucky should be affordable to all students who want to benefit from and pursue such opportunities.
  • Quality - To ensure the highest quality postsecondary education system and student outcomes, Kentucky should focus resources on and measure institutional performance in improving the lives of students and the public at large.
“In the current fiscal and political climate, investments in postsecondary education – both funding and strategies to achieve public goals – must remain a public policy priority,” the committee concluded. “Abundant research and the reality of the lives of countless Kentuckians make clear that greater educational attainment does, indeed, represent the path to a larger life for individuals and the state as a whole.”

“The Prichard Committee has focused on increasing the quality of P-12 education for more than 30 years. With more students than ever becoming ready for college and career, it’s critical to ensure our entire education system presents a seamless web of opportunity for all Kentuckians,” said Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee.  “Renewing focus on access to affordable, high-quality postsecondary education will support efforts to ensure Kentucky has an educated citizenry and talented workforce.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

African American Suspensions: Cause for Sorrow

| By Susan Perkins Weston | 

Both suspensions and in-school removals take students out of their regular classes as a consequence for behavior. The chart above does not mean that every African American student was suspended last year. It does come close to meaning that for every African American student who was not suspended, another African American student was suspended more than once.

So far, what I’ve got on this is sorrow.

Sorrow for the students who separated from their classmates, removed from their school’s broad welcome in the simplest and most visible way imaginable.

Sorrow for the students who watch those separations, puzzling over what it means, puzzling over whether they should learn something general about an “us” or about a “them” from the pattern of who gets sent away.

Sorrow for the educators who decide on the separations, whether they had better options or not, whether they are still searching for other ways to work with the students or settled into despair.

Sorrow for the families, whether they think a particular exclusion just or unjust, whether they are giving the children the best preparation to avoid this kind of consequence or not.

Sorrow for connections not made, relationships not flourishing, potential not growing at its fullest possible speed.

Sorrow for all of us, because these students should be strong, secure, and settling into confident membership in our communities, and we somehow have not come close to making what should be into what happens here now.

I wish I had deep insight into how this happens in schools and classrooms.  I wish I had bold ideas for how to make it different.  I've been looking at these numbers since last October, without finding that kind of clarity.  Sorrow is what I've got, so I'll speak that, and welcome all thoughts on how we can do better.

Below: sharply contrasting data for three other groups of students:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Forward Progress for Early Childhood

| by Brigitte Blom Ramsey, Executive Director |

The 2016 session of the Kentucky General Assembly proved to be an unexpected win for progress and innovation in early childhood.

Given the state’s significant state fiscal challenges, the session began with little hope for increasing the state’s investment in our youngest learners, and with a lot of questions about the continued support for the Commonwealth’s commitment to quality early childhood.

Nonetheless, early childhood advocates proposed key measures to help maintain the state’s momentum:

  • Align public preschool eligibility and child care assistance eligibility to the same Federal poverty level (FPL) and incrementally increase eligibility for both programs to 200% of FPL. Current preschool eligibility is 160% of FPL 
  • Current child care assistance eligibility is 150% of the 2011 FPL 
  • Incentivize collaboration between public preschool and private child care to increase participation in preschool and serve children in environments that best suit their needs.

In the end, the final budget approved by the Governor and General Assembly included significant progress – maintaining and increasing the state’s investment while also providing for innovations to build capacity and strengthen the system:

  • Increased child care assistance eligibility to 160% of current FPL, bringing it into alignment with the eligibility level for public preschool 
  • Maintained the full $90 million for preschool and maintained eligibility at 160% of FPL 
  • From the $90 million for preschool, carved out a set aside of $7.5 million in each year of the biennium to establish an incentive grant for local collaborations between school districts and private child care providers to increase participation in preschool. Statewide, enrollment has dropped significantly since 2010.

Source: Kentucky Department of Education Staff Note, June 2015

We are thrilled to see the incentive grant program for early childhood partnerships in the budget. This is a testament to the state’s commitment to innovation and partnership in early childhood. It will be important for Kentucky to make the most of this unique opportunity by building evidence of success by serving more young learners, increasing school readiness, and improving efficiency of programs.

The budget language calls on the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) to administer the incentive grant program. It requires KDE to work with the Kentucky Board of Education, Early Childhood Advisory Council, Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and Child Care Advisory Council to design the program requirements. The next few months will be a pivotal time for these state agencies and advisory groups, as well as for school districts and child care providers to identify ways that they can partner to better serve young learners in full-day programs.

Why is it so important for school districts and child care providers to work together?

  • Increasing access to quality preschool programs helps increase kindergarten readiness and early success in school.
  • Public preschool should be increased in a way that does not crowd out private child care.
  • Public-private partnerships bring diversity into the system that helps build the state’s capacity to serve more children with high-quality services that meet families’ needs.
  • Partnerships between the public and private sectors encourage efficient and effective use of resources.

The idea of partnerships is not new in Kentucky.

  • In April 2015, in partnership with Metro United Way, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Kentucky Youth Advocates Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children, the Kentucky Head Start Association, the Kentucky Department of Education, the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Stars for Kids Now, we released a brief that detailed the benefits of partnerships and examples of models underway now in Kentucky.
  • In January 2016, the Early Childhood Study Group report recommended partnerships as a way to strengthen school readiness and ensure a stronger system for children from birth through third grade.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, comments, or ideas about effective partnerships between school districts and child care providers. We will continue to keep you informed as we learn more about this unique opportunity for Kentucky’s young learners.

Monday, May 9, 2016

ESSA Update: The Details Matter for Equity

| by Cory Curl, Associate Executive Director |

As we discussed here late last year, the U.S. Congress approved a new version of the federal Elementary and Secondary Act. This version, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), gives states some more leeway in how they design their K-12 school and district accountability systems.

This move at the federal level gives us an opportunity to do what we do so well in Kentucky. We have a long history of working together to set clear, meaningful goals for student and school success. We then come together around a set of shared measures to show how schools and districts are – or are not – making progress toward these goals.

To that end, the Kentucky Department of Education has just concluded a series of 11 town hall meetings across the Commonwealth. At the town hall meetings, Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt and Associate Commissioner Rhonda Sims shared information about ESSA and listened to educators, parents, and students about how they define student and school success. Videos and summaries of these meetings are available online, along with comments that have been submitted via email.

The next few months will be an important time for Kentuckians to continue engaging in these conversations. Everyone has a seat at the table to contribute to the process of setting these goals and measures, which will have so much influence on the priorities that schools and districts set for years to come.

As the process unfolds, it will be critical to make sure that the goals and measures give schools and districts a big push to prioritize equity, making sure that every child gets what he or she needs to be successful in their next steps. This is the only way that Kentucky will be able to close the achievement gaps that have persisted for so long.

ESSA will help us on this front. While it gives states more flexibility in how they design their systems, it includes several requirements intended to ensure that equity is a priority for schools and districts.

To keep you informed on ESSA’s requirements and flexibilities, we are partnering with The Education Trust, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for high academic achievement for all students, particularly students of color and students in poverty. We have developed a series of fact sheets, below, to translate what’s in the federal law to what it means for us here in Kentucky.

The Every Student Succeeds Act: What’s In It? What Does it Mean for Equity?
Public Reporting

Update: View our May 12th Community Conversations webinar with The Education Trust 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Postsecondary Funding - A Mixed Bag for Kentucky

Lawmakers in Frankfort concluded the 2016 Regular Session of the General Assembly in a flurry of activity during the waning hours of Friday April 15.  Putting aside the on-going legal dispute over current year cuts to postsecondary institutions and any potential vetoes the Governor might still make, the impacts of the enacted FY 2016-2018 budget on postsecondary education were a mixed bag.

On the one hand, most campuses received a 4.5% reduction, one-half of the 9% originally proposed by both the Governor and the Senate.  This amounts to a total reduction of $59.1 million over the biennium and represents an 18.2% decline in yearly funding since FY 2008, or $197 million.  Kentucky State University, in recognition of significant challenges facing the campus, was exempted from the funding reductions and received long-sought additional funds to fully match the federal requirement for land-grant programs.  Additionally, Western Kentucky University and Northern Kentucky University received additional appropriations in FY 2018 to help bring their state allocation per student to the average of the other regional campuses.  Overall, the enacted budget continues the pattern of state disinvestment in Kentucky’s postsecondary institutions that has persisted since 2008. A disinvestment whose costs are ultimately born by students and families.

On the other hand, student financial aid fared substantially better in the final compromise - increasing across all programs by $117.9 million over the biennium.  Need-based aid through the lottery-funded College Access Program (CAP) and Kentucky Tuition Grant (KTG) increased by $55 million – which could serve up to 30,000 more financially disadvantaged students.  This represents significant increases to the main need-based programs that have been flat funded for nearly 10 years. Two new programs were created to help increase college access and attainment.  The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship received $25.3 million over the biennium and would provide essentially free tuition to recent high school graduates enrolled in associate’s degree programs at Kentucky community colleges, public universities and private colleges.  The Dual Credit Scholarship received $15 million over the biennium and will assist eligible high school students in paying for courses for which college and high school credit is awarded.

The budget also initiates the process by which postsecondary institutions will receive part of their funding based on performance against certain metrics.  Beginning in FY 2018, 5% of funding will be performance-based, rising to 15% in FY 2019 and 25% in FY 2020 and beyond.  A working group is established that will provide formula recommendations for the performance-based model to the Governor and General Assembly by December 1, 2016.  While in the early stages and not yet defined, this should be the first step in a process of recognizing that public investment will require accountability for progress toward well-defined system, institutional, and student outcomes and performance goals.

As the title of this post suggests – a mixed bag - perhaps one step backward and one step forward.  Issues of affordability and ensuring access to postsecondary opportunities for all Kentuckians’ make further reductions to institutional funding difficult to stomach.  A renewed commitment to state-funded financial aid programs, however, signals hope that perhaps progress is possible.
In the future, Kentucky needs to more effectively link decisions and policies on state appropriations, student aid and tuition to better define the expectations of institutions and students.  Lack of transparency in how postsecondary education is financed, and how the varying financial components interact, ultimately leads to less effective and efficient use of public resources and makes it more challenging for Kentuckians to reach their educational, economic, workforce, and civic potential.