Monday, March 30, 2015

Higher Education Looking Stronger (Much Stronger)

The chart above made my jaw drop.

For years, I've been blogging the reported graduation rates for Kentucky higher education for years.   I've cited figures like a 52% six-year graduation for full-time, first time students who entered Murray State in 2005, and a 37% six-year rate for full-time, first-time students who entered Northern Kentucky University that year.  For associates degrees statewide, I've displayed a 32% three-year graduation rate for students who started full-time study in 2006, and reported that as better than most states' results for that time frame.

Just eyeballing the graph above, you can tell it suggests something much better.  Doing the arithmetic, we had 2009 graduates equal to 85% of our 2005 freshmen, and 2014 graduates equal to 88% of our 2010 freshmen.

How can the results be so different?  The big reason is probably that the reported graduation rates for each school count only the ones who start and finish at the same institution, while this method looks at the whole system, so that transferring and graduating counts as much as staying put and graduating.  Even knowing that transfers weren't accounted for, I never imagined that the impact could be on this scale.

The starting and entering numbers shown above also aren't perfect matches.  Here are some of the limits on the comparisons shown above:
  • Many of the 2014 bachelors degrees probably to students who started before 2010, and a bunch of the 2014 associates were earned by students who started in 2011 or 2012--but over the long run, that's more about timing than about whether students end up with a degree in hand.
  • Some students may earn very few credits their first year, and end up being counted as freshmen more than once--but that would make the number of students who start working toward a degree smaller, so that the number who earn degrees would be more impressive.
  • Some of the graduates may have transferred in from out-of-state. Depending on whether more students transfer in than transfer out, those transfers  could help or hurt the overall picture.
  • Some may have transferred from private institutions--and I do have anecdotal evidence that the flow of transfers does move toward the public sector and make the total graduations look stronger.
  • Some students who earn bachelors degrees earn associates degrees first, so they're counted in two different years--and each double degree means someone else who didn't finish at all.
  • Some students earn two degrees at the associates level or the bachelors level, and they'll also be counted more than once and offset some who don't make it to graduation at all.
Even with all of those factors, the chart above suggests that Kentucky's public institutions are graduating something like 80% of the students they enroll. That's good news that's very different than the graduation rates I've shared in past posts on higher education.

(Matt Reed's post on "Dropouts, Grads, and Terrible Counting" pushed me to do this comparison of the big numbers, and I'm grateful for the nudge.  The numbers in the chart come from the Council on Postsecondary Education's reporting on enrollment and degrees.)

--Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Internet Can't Replace Great Teaching

"When kids can get their lessons from the Internet, what's left for classroom instructors to do?"  I read that provocative question at the start of a recent Atlantic piece on "The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher", and I was, in fact, provoked.

Michael Godsey, the California English teacher who wrote the piece,  is bedazzled by the potential of videotaped lectures and downloaded lesson plans, to the point that he doesn't see how future teaching will require much more than fairly limited (and perhaps quite poorly paid) facilitators and cheerleaders.

I'm provoked because I think he's missed the most exciting current thought about teaching and learning.  Everything I'm hearing in Kentucky education says that live adults, actively engaged with students as individuals and team participants, will always be essential to the kind of learning that matters most.

For example, I've been listening to teachers who are participating in the work of the Mathematics Design Collaborative and using the MDC tools known as "classroom challenges" or  "formative assessment lessons."  Each challenge starts with a rich math task and organizes a learning process that draws students into "a productive struggle with the mathematics essential for college readiness."  There are standard handouts and tools, and the lesson follows a carefully designed set of directions, and yes, all those items are downloaded from a website.  The main steps work like this:

1) Students are given an easily administered initial assessment task. This provides teachers with a qualitative sense of their students’ grasp of the targeted mathematics, and that evening, the teacher uses the student's first responses to decide which activities will be most appropriate for the net day's work.
2) Students are immersed in the mathematics of the initial assessment task through a set of collaborative activities. This part is designed as a guided inquiry. Students work in small groups, engage in discussion, take responsibility for their own learning, and learn from each other, often by examining one another’s work. Teachers circulate as the students work, asking questions or offering small suggestions when needed, deciding minute by minute which help can best move their students’ learning forward.
3) Students are engaged in a whole-class discussion. This is designed to pull the lesson together. Students get to strengthen their understanding while teachers get to deepen their insights into their students’ learning. It provides another opportunity to structure discussion, provide feedback, and allow students to learn from each other.
4) Students return to improve their response to the initial assessment. This gives students a look at what they’ve learned as well as more feedback, while providing teachers perspective on the effectiveness of their teaching.
Here's the important point for thinking about the Atlantic column: teachers say they're working at the top levels of their content knowledge and capacity for rapid decision-making all the way through the process.  For this kind of teaching, deep content knowledge is essential, and deep engagement with each student is essential, and the two have to be combined with great flexibility right in the moment.

Now, to be sure, if we only needed students to do accurate addition, computers probably can drill kids often enough and precisely enough to get us that limited (though important) skill. But we don't just need that.  We need students who can grab a mathematics challenge, try an approach, think through its effectiveness, talk with colleagues, revise their approach, and struggle productively to an answer that works well.  And we need students who will do that, because they have learned that they can in a setting with meaningful support and meaningful challenges.

To learn all of that, students need teachers who know them, engage them, work with them, share deep expertise in the content and practices of their academic field, and help students move one by one and step by step to becoming expert practitioners in their own right.  It's personal, humane work, and it will always be done best by personal human contact.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Kentucky Funding More Equitable Than Most (EdTrust Report)

Here's an occasion for Kentucky pride: our school districts that serve the most students living in poverty receive more funding.  The Education Trust's new Funding Gaps report compares 2012 funding for each state's districts with the highest and lowest proportions of poor students and finds that:
  • 11% more funding flowed to Kentucky's districts with the most poor students, as compared to the districts with the fewest poorest kids. 
  • Only six states had a stronger record of added support for districts with the most concentrated poverty: Ohio, Minnesota, South Dakota, Delaware, Tennessee, and Indiana.
  • Kentucky's added funding was enough to cover an estimated 40% additional cost to serve students in poverty, compared to what it takes to serve students from financially better-off backgrounds.
One caution: this study is good confirmation that we're sharing our "funding pie" relatively fairly, but it doesn't tell us whether "the pie" as a whole is big enough to meet our children's needs and equip them for adult success.  EdTrust compared Kentucky districts to other Kentucky districts, but not to the funding across the country or an estimate of adequate funding.

Still, this report is a plus for Kentucky.  We're investing in all our children on a relatively equitable basis, and that's a great good thing about our state.

The Funding Gaps report comes with plenty of additional detail, including interactive maps, reports on all states, and details on funding for districts with the most children of color (Kentucky looks good there, too).  Do check it out, and do let us know what you see as important or curious in the results.

--Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

Friday, March 27, 2015

2015 Early Childhood Profile

The annual Early Childhood Profiles provide a wealth of information about enrollment in state preschool and Head Start programs, child care quality and availability, kindergarten readiness, and other issues, and the 2015 editions for each county in the state are new this week from the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics.

There's so much to see here, so I'll share just one thing I looked at.  I tried looking at the number of three-and-four-year-olds participating in state preschool and the federal Head Start program, and figuring out how many other kids were in that age group.  Statewide, that gave me a picture like this:

The number shown for "At Home or In Private Settings" is just the result of subtracting the other numbers from the 110,238 reported children ages three and four statewide.

It was uncomfortable to see so many children not in either program, so I also tried estimating what's happening just with the children who are now four.  We only offer preschool and Head Start based on low family income to the fours, so I think this is a probably a good illustration of what's happening for that older half of the group:

This second picture suggests that most, but not all kids have some school-type experience before they start kindergarten.  It makes me curious about how many Kentucky kids attend private preschools, and also about ho2 child care experience compares as a preparation for beginning school: my starting guess is that the kids would be used to being with a non-parent and used to some group activities, but maybe not as familiar with learning-oriented activities and paying attention, and I'd love to learn from the folks who actually work with the kids as they begin their kindergarten year.

Take a look and see what you see in the state or your own county's Early Childhood Profile. Is there something you're pleased to see? Concerned to see? Curious to learn more about?  Please do share in the comments if something catches your eye.

-Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

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.