Thursday, February 5, 2015

Senate Bill 8: Another Approach To Charters

Senate Bill 8 is the second charter bill proposal in the 2015 session. It proposes a pilot charter program in Kentucky's two largest districts, with enrollment limited to students from low-income families who attend schools with unusually weak performance.

We've taken the eight questions from Exploring Charter Schools in Kentucky: An Informational Guide, and developed "Answers for Senate Bill 8" to summarize key features of the new bill.  The new summary available in a public DropBox folder, along with the earlier summary of House Bill 174.

Check it out, and do share questions if you have them!

--Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

Thursday, January 22, 2015

House Bill 174: One Approach To Charters

In November, the Prichard Committee released Exploring Charter Schools in Kentucky: An Informational Guide, a report designed to "be useful to Kentuckians with many different views" on the charter issue, "clarifying possibilities and challenges and informing a broader public discussion about how best to equip Kentucky students for successful futures."

The body of the report was organized around "Eight Questions for Any Charter School Bill."

With the opening of the 2015 General Assembly, House Bill 174 is the first that can be analyzed using those questions.

In "Answers For House Bill 174," you can find two pages that do just that.

It's available in a public DropBox folder, and if other bills are filed on this issue, the plan is to share similar summaries in the same folder.

Check it out, and do share questions if you have them!

--Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 Quality Counts: Results for Kentucky

The 2015 Quality Counts report is out from EdWeek, using a new approach to grading Kentucky, the 49 other states, and the District of Columbia.

In three categories, we can still compare grades from 2013.  Quality Counts now grades Kentucky:
  • C on Chance of Success, the same as 2013, while moving up from 38th to 35th.
  • C on Equity and Spending, up from a C- in 2013, while moving up from 34th to 26th.
  • C- on K-12 Achievement, the same as 2013, while moving down from 13th to 19th.
On one new category, Quality Counts grades us:
  • C- on Early Childhood, with a rank of 26th
Quality Counts no longer gives grades on three kinds of state policy choices:
  • Transitions and Alignment, on which Kentucky had a 2013 grade of A and ranked 4th.
  • Standards, Assessments, and Accountability, where we had an A- and ranked 20th.
  • Teaching Profession, where we had a B- and ranked 5th
Combining all those changes, Quality Counts now grades our state:
  • C as an overall grade, down from a B-, with our rank dropping from 10th to 29th.
So, we do have a drop in grade and rank, driven by the elimination of policy commitments as a source of grades.  Those grades were about our state-level willingness to commit to big changes, but not about whether those commitments were altering what really happens for students. EdWeek used to give us credit for effort, and it seems pretty reasonable that they're now looking at what our efforts produce.

Opinion: Quality Counts 2015 ends up saying that Kentucky education is producing:
  • Stronger results (19th in K-12 Achievement)
  • With ordinary resources (26th in Early Childhood and in Equity and Spending)
  • For students who face deeper challenges than those in most other states (35th in Chance for Success)
On balance, I think we should all pause and be pleased with these results for a full 90 seconds before we get back to work on moving our kids to the higher levels we know they can attain.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What the Research Tells Us about Charter Schools & How That Informs Our Next Steps [With Correction]

In October, the Prichard Committee convened a core group of its members and constituents to study the research and findings of our nation’s now 20 year experiment with public charter schools. The issue of charter schools has been debated for several years in Kentucky with the discussion often reflecting the strongly held positions of supporters and opponents. Forty-eight Forty-two states in the nation have charter enabling legislation, beginning with Minnesota in 1991. Kentucky chose a different path to local autonomy, innovation and reform with the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990; which included school-based decision making (SBDM) councils meant to ensure the community has a strong hand in local decisions regarding community schools. More recently, the passage of Districts of Innovation allows districts to request waivers from specific regulations to allow for creative ways in achieving student outcomes.

Honoring Kentucky’s tradition of reform and commitment to student achievement, the Committee sought first to better understand the opposing viewpoints and to identify a common definition of charter schools. The viewpoints ranged from a deeply held belief that the public education system should allow for more choice by parents to an equally strong belief that public investment should be used to strengthen the traditional system of education in an effort to serve students better. The common thread definition for all charters is that they accept responsibility for student outcomes in exchange for freedom to innovate and public funding. 

We worked through the fall to gather unbiased information on the organizational and operational elements of charter schools. We took a close look at charters in Louisiana, and New Orleans specifically where public charters were used to quickly get a system of education back up and running in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. We engaged the National Council of State Legislatures to provide a landscape of charters across the country and to help us understand the funding mechanism for public charters; the National Governor’s Association to help us understand the intricacies of legislation and regulation to ensure strong charters should Kentucky choose to go in that direction; we heard from Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, Terry Holliday who experienced charters first hand as a superintendent in North Carolina and has expressed nuanced support; and we relied heavily on the research from CREDO, the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, that produced the first comprehensive study of charter school impacts on student performance in 2009 and followed with a second study in 2013. 

What the Committee found, in a nutshell, is that the overall performance of charters has been mixed. There are clear success stories through major charter management organizations with a longstanding track record of success, like KIPP, but the research does not currently support generic start-up charters as a clear path to higher student achievement. While the CREDO report finds that charters can be beneficial in urban settings and with African American students living in poverty, the same does not hold true for rural and suburban students. Furthermore, the need for both strong parent engagement and collaboration between all public schools within a district (including charters) were both cited in our discussions as critical indicators of overall success regardless of public charter or traditional public school. 

 Source: CREDO 

The Committee plans to continue to study the issue with an emphasis on finding effective ways to close achievement gaps that continue to persist between groups of students. Our hope is to come up with a portfolio of tools to use in addressing Kentucky’s persistent achievement gaps. 

At this point, the Committee decided to release detailed information to the public in a report entitled, “Exploring Charter Schools in Kentucky: An Informational Guide” We hope this information proves useful if policymakers continue to debate enabling legislation for charters in Kentucky. Kentucky is leading the way in many areas of education reform – and with a fair amount of success. The Prichard Committee has been committed to student progress by closing achievement gaps, ensuring strong accountability, and adequate funding for over 30 years now. It is through that same lens that the Committee now studies the issue of public charter schools.
--Stu Silberman

Correction note: This post has been revised to show the correct number of states that currently allow charter schools, with our thanks to the alert reader who identified the mistake.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Children We Leave Behind: Seeing and Engaging The Results

Which student subgroups have the worst achievement gaps, so severe that the group performs like the lowest 1% of all students?  In Kentucky, gaps that deep earn a "focus school" identification under Kentucky's accountability regulation. (Technically, the designation applies when a subgroup has "a score in the third standard deviation below the state average for all students," but that works out to something very like the bottom 1%.)

In this year's list of focus schools, students with disabilities are, by far, the group most likely to have results that earned that designation.   The pie chart above shows that for reading, and matching charts below show that that the pattern is similar for every other subject Kentucky tests.

I don't like what I see in these charts, but I do like being able to see it.  We should not hide from this kind of truth about how we are doing as a state. In each community where a student group is struggling this deeply, we should be talking about the problem and pulling together to solve it.

We should be pulling together to meet children's needs if the group being left so far behind is students with disabilities. We should engage just as intensely if the group is African-American students, Hispanic students, students with limited English proficiency, or students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals: those problems happen in fewer schools, but when they occur they are just as urgent.

Do the schools in your community have a student subgroup that is being left this far behind?  You can find the full list of Focus Schools by going to the Supplemental Data portion of KDE's Open House Portal, clicking the link for Accountability, and scrolling to the bottom of the page.  Please do check, and please do discuss what you find with your neighbors and your local school leaders.  We can change this picture, but only if we see it and engage it.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Susan's Opinion: Social Studies without History is a Bad Idea

Proposed new  social studies standards are drawing teacher concerns, according to today's Herald-Leader report.  Teachers say the standards give little guidance on what students should learn each year.

The draft Kentucky Academic Standards for Social Studies is available in the materials for the October 7 Kentucky Board of Education meeting: go to that portal, scroll down to Item IX and then look for Attachment B.

I've read the full document, and I agree with the teachers. My biggest concern is that the draft social studies standards contain no history.

No Valley Forge, no Gettysburg, no D-Day, no Berlin Wall, no falling Twin Towers. No Industrial Revolution and no Depression. No slavery, no segregation, no civil rights movement. No Trail of Tears. No debate over the Bill of Rights and no seventy-year struggle for women's suffrage. And for that matter, no Isaac Shelby, no Isaac Murphy, and no Kentucky at all except for a single reference to the state constitution.

Instead, there's only a section on Historical Thinking, which calls only for overarching skills in thinking about history: chronological reasoning, contextualization and perspectives, historical arguments, and interpretation and synthesis.

This is a big problem for children's learning: no one can use those big skills without having some meaty history to apply them to. Especially, "contextualization" means figuring out how a particular primary document relates to a bigger historical situation--which means you can't do it at all until you've learn a bunch of history.

It's also a big problem for students preparing for citizenship: They really do need to recognize the main outlines of what happened in their state, country, and world before they were born, in order to join the debates about what should happen next. 

And it will be a problem for many who participate in our political community.  Have you heard recently about activists who argue that the new AP U.S. History standards omit too many important parts of our shared heritage? Having also read the APUSH standards, I think those critics are wrong.  But if the same folks criticize these draft Kentucky standards for the same kind of omissions, they will be right.  Those who have worked for decades to ensure that our children understand that our heritage includes the diverse experience and diverse contributions of America's indigenous peoples, by African-Americans, and by more recent immigrant groups, will be just as frustrated.

Finally, these draft standards could be taught equally well in Oregon, Uruguay, or Oman: they're not designed to equip citizens of Kentucky and the United States for the work of participating here. I think that's a mistake.

--Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

Friday, October 10, 2014

EdTrust: Kentucky Accountability Signals Are Weak on Achievement Gaps

"Average math proficiency rates of African American students at schools earning a Distinguished rating are lower than average math proficiency rates of white students in Needs Improvement schools."
"Similarly, between 2012 and 2013 in Kentucky, reading proficiency rates for African American students declined at about 40 percent of Distinguished schools with data for this group. Math proficiency rates fell at about the same share of top-rated schools."

Both the chart and the quotes are from a new Education Trust report, "Making Sure all Children Matter: Getting School Accountability Signals Right."  In Kentucky, Florida, and Minnesota, EdTrust checked whether strong ratings school like "Distinguished" reflected strong achievement for students from historically under-served groups.  In all three states, they found good reason for concern that "a high rating despite low performance for some groups paints a false picture of success and allows schools to overlook some students."

I join EdTrust in counting this issue as very important, and I want to add two Kentucky-specific thoughts.

No, the Gap Group does not ensure good signals about results for Kentucky's minority students. In Kentucky's accountability system, a school's overall score includes separate attention to a Gap Group that combines students with low family incomes, disabilities, limited English proficiency, and minority backgrounds.  However, because Kentucky has so many low-income (free/reduced meal) students, results for that one group dominate the combined results. Groups with weaker results than the low-income group effectively disappear.  You can see the disappearance happening in my recent PrichBlog post on "2014 Achievement Gaps," showing that the Gap score matches what's happening for low-income students and hides what's happening for the others. So, no, the Gap Group does not signal the importance of results for other groups of under-served students.

No, the rules on "Focus Schools" do not ensure good signals about results for minority students. Yes, Kentucky's accountability regulation says that if a school has a student subgroup with results like the bottom 1% of students statewide, it must be identified as a Focus School.  And yes, the regulation says that Focus Schools cannot be rated as Distinguished.  But in 2013, the Kentucky Department of Education decided not to follow those rules.  So, no, the Focus School rules do not reliably signal major gap problems. And also, no, major gap problems do not exclude Kentucky schools from being publicly identified as Distinguished.

EdTrust's report concludes:
Our hope is that this analysis will prompt policymakers, advocates, and educators to put equity squarely back on the table in each and every conversation about accountability. The Secretary of Education can re-start that focus by making group performance matter in the upcoming waiver renewal process.
I second that hope and add that the Kentucky Board of Education has independent authority to ensure that all children matter in Kentucky accountability, with or without Secretary Duncan's prodding.

--Posted By Susan Perkins Weston