Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Study results, adjust instruction: Improving western Kentucky nursing education

Check out a great National Public Radio story: Western Kentucky Community and Technical College figured out that the Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology was a major barrier for many students who want nursing careers--and didn't accept that result.

Instead, WKCTC analyzed the problem and looked for instructional solutions:
"You're not taking this class as just an elective," Dean Karen Hlinka says. "You're taking this class as building the foundation for the rest of your education. So you've got to get it."

Hlinka realized that a lot of her students just weren't ready. They knew how to memorize, but they didn't really know how to think. So the school set up a special class, which teaches just the first six weeks of a whole semester. It began integrating how to read the textbook into class lectures, instead of just what's in the textbook.
With the new approach, WKCTC is reporting passing rates 20 percentage points better than the national average, giving clear evidence of success with an impressive improvement to teaching and learning.  

Added tip: for the fullest excitement, I recommend listening to the broadcast version: I think it's more detailed and energetic than the website text!

--Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

Monday, September 1, 2014

Learning at higher levels: Content knowledge to strengthen students' reading

How can students learn at significantly higher levels?  To build substantially stronger reading skills, one key step may be to equip students with powerful academic content knowledge. 

Karin Chenoweth explains the connection:
If schools aren’t teaching kids an awful lot of content — that is, history, science, literature, and the arts — the same kids who do well on third-grade tests can fail later tests — not because they can’t decode the words on the tests, but because they cannot understand the words once they’ve decoded them. And they can’t understand them because the words haven’t been taught.
Some kids do arrive at school with a lot of background knowledge and rich vocabularies, usually acquired from discussions at home and a set of experiences ranging from being read to from an early age to being taken to museums. The kids with those kinds of experiences tend to be kids from educated and well-off families, which is one of the reasons that reading scores are so highly correlated with family income and mother’s education.
If we are to break that correlation and ensure that all children can read and comprehend well, schools need to have coherent, content-rich curricula that systematically teach history, science, literature, and the arts. This isn’t so that children will do well on fifth-grade reading tests, by the way; it’s so that they can understand the world around them. Fifth-grade reading tests are just proxies for what comes next.
Chenoweth is writer-in-residence at the Education Trust, so it's no surprise to find her pursuing and articulating strategies that can have the biggest benefits for students who may lack many of life's other privilege.  Her article originally appeared at the Huffington Post, and it is now also available at the Core Knowledge blog, which has long argued that rich content and strong reading can grow best when learned together.

-- Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

Six basics for Labor Day

1.  Teaching causes learning. (Thank you, Richard Elmore!)

2.  Better standards can contribute to better learning --if they are translated into better teaching.

3.  Smaller classes can allow better learning --if they allow better forms of teaching.

4.  Funding can support better learning --if the dollars enable better teaching.
5.  Changing pay and pensions and job security rules might promote better learning --but only if those incentive structures turn out to be effective in promoting better teaching.

6.  Kentucky education is a huge system involving a vast array of ideas and arguments and dollars and cents and buildings and software and hope and dreams, and the whole giant swirl is only important for a single reason: because the lives of our children are being changed by the work of our teachers.

--Posted by Susan Perkins Weston 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Low-income access: KCTCS

As a group, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) institutions enroll substantial numbers of students who qualify for federal Pell grants based on family income.  In the graph below, it's clear that the schools of Eastern Kentucky serve some of the highest proportions, but all of these schools have higher Pell rates than any public university except Kentucky State.

The average net price at these schools is also relatively for low-income students, with only one four-year school offering a better rate.

Both sets of numbers are for beginning students, as are those in yesterday's post showing similar data for the universities, and all results come from the College Navigator site.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Low-income access to four year colleges: two notes [Revised]

In two charts, it's clear that Kentucky public four-year institutions vary dramatically how they engage low-income students. Revision note: both charts reflect data for beginning students at each university.  That fact was omitted in the original post

First, Pell grants are the leading federal support to help students afford college, and Pell participation is the easiest way to gauge a university's low-income enrollment (much the way free-and-reduced-price meal eligibility is the quickest indicator for K-12 education).  On this indicator, notice the huge sweeping change from Kentucky State's 75% to UK's much smaller 25%.

Second, net price is an important measure of accessibility, indicating the average amount students pay after all financial aid is subtracted from a university's sticker price.  On that indicator, Northern Kentucky University clearly looks most accessible, charging less than half of what Kentucky State and Western ask from low-income students.

This data and much more is available at the great College Navigator site.

Tomorrow, I'll share a matching look at these two indicators for KCTCS.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Local school revenue: Clarifying "the 4%"

Right now, school boards all over Kentucky are voting on budgets and tax rates for the school year, and the media reports often say the vote was on whether "to take the 4%" or not. 

That means they're voting for a 4% increase in the total amount brought in by local taxes.  If a district brought in $1,000,000 in local revenue last year, they're setting taxes that will bring in $1,040,000 this year.

Here's the tricky part: that may not mean a school board is voting to raise the tax rate on local properties.  In some districts, boards may be able to bring in 4% more dollars by lowering the tax rate on all the property being taxed.  That's because in most districts, the taxable properties become more valuable year by year.   If the assessed values go up enough, a district that wants 4% more revenue may have to lower the tax rate it charges on each $100 of taxable property. In other districts, it may be possible to bring in 4% more revenue by keeping the same tax rate, or raising the rate just 1% or 2%.

What's the magic of 4%?  That number matters because state law says that if a school board increases revenue more than that, voters can call a referendum to consider repealing the increase.  Given that rule, boards are very hesitant to go past the 4% mark.

For individual property owners, the key thing to know is that 4% in the headlines isn't necessarily 4% on your tax bill.  If you read the full article, you may find information on the old and new tax rates--or you may need to wait for your bill to arrive in the mail.

For community members in general, it can also be good to check on whether the new tax rate allows the schools to keep up with changes in prices and enrollment.  Recently, inflation has been lower than 4%, but if it ever went back to double digits, it would be really hard for districts to keep up.  And if 4% more money has to fund 6% more students, schools may be giving each child less support even though there's a larger total being spent.

[Note just for folks who love stuff like this: the rule about a 4% revenue increase only applies to property that's being used in similar ways from year to year.  When property is developed --say, from farm use to homes or from homes to stores-- it isn't included in figuring out the 4%. My friends and colleagues who work on these details at the state or local level will, rightly, want me to mention that nuance.]

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fantastic LDC task from Simpson County

Ashley Gore of Simpson County has created one of my favorite Literacy Design Collaborative modules ever, now recognized as meeting the "exemplary" standard under LDC's national jurying standards.  She asked her students to address this teaching task:
Is Hester Prynne a virtuous woman? After reading The Scarlet Letter, write an essay in which you discuss Hester's Prynne's character attributes and evaluate her virtues in connection with Proverbs 31. Support your position with evidence from the text(s).
In keeping with the LDC design process, the plain black text comes from an LDC template, but the part I've underlined in blue reflects wording Ms. Gore added to create a distinctive task for her own discipline and students.  Then she supported her students by identifying the reading and writing skills essential to the task and designing "mini-tasks" where students learn and apply each of those skills on the way to completing their essays. (Past Prichblog posts on LDC are here.)

The whole design is excellent, but my special excitement comes from seeing one of my very favorite Bible texts deployed in a way that requires respectful, critical analysis and comparison with a powerful novel.  It's a truly great teacher-created approach to implementing the Kentucky Core Academic Standards in a deep literary study.  

The complete module is available in LDC's CoreTools Library: you'll need to set up a free account to log in to the site, which also offers a complete set of LDC design tools for anyone who wants to try them out.

 (Illustration by By Mary Hallock Foote [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Teaching quality and time for teacher growth

At The Atlantic, a new and helpful article argues that "mastering the[teaching] craft demands time to collaborate—just what American schools don't provide." 

One compelling piece of the evidence comes from data gathered during the PISA test of student performance around the world.  Using information on school practices, Elizabeth Green has identified an important difference in how countries organize the work of teaching:
How much time do teachers spend on classroom instruction, and how much time do they have outside of class to devote to the other considerable, less visible aspects of the job: lesson planning, paper grading, conferring with students, calling parents, meeting with colleagues to discuss methods and goals. 
Here, the PISA results are not ambiguous. Every single country that outperforms us has significantly smaller teacher workloads. Indeed, on the scale of time devoted by teachers to in-class instruction annually, the United States is off the charts. 
We spend far more hours in the classroom on average, twice and nearly three times more in some cases, than teachers in any other OECD country save Chile.
Finnish high-school teachers, for example, clock 553 hours in the classroom each year. In Japan, home of jugyokenkyu [lesson study], that number is 500. In the U.S., it’s 1,051. (Figures for elementary and middle school show roughly the same skew.)
The whole article deserves a careful read, and so does Elizabeth Green's new book, Building a Better Teacher.