Saturday, January 14, 2017

In 2017, Let’s Take Bold Steps for Kentucky’s Youngest Kids

| by Cory Curl, Associate Executive Director |

Last week, the Prichard Committee called on the 2017 General Assembly to set bold goals with expectations to increase student performance and close achievement gaps across the Commonwealth.

As parents, we know our kids benefit when we set clear goals and expectations. My five-year-old son makes concrete, ambitious goals for himself for Lego projects. He also follows through – just look at that Space Shuttle! But he needs his parents, teachers, and other caregivers to be clear about our expectations for all the other aspects of his learning, growth, and character. By doing so, we also communicate to him that we’re invested in his success.

Likewise, young children across Kentucky benefit when leaders in communities, business, schools, and government set bold goals for them – increasingly, they are taking bold steps to invest in kids’ current and future well-being.

Here are a few of the many ways that Kentucky will build on its early childhood education progress in 2017:

Voluntary Home Visiting
Kentucky is the only state in the nation that provides statewide support to new families and their infants and toddlers through evidence-based, voluntary home visiting. Each year, HANDS provides home-based mentoring and coaching to more than 8,000 at-risk families across all Kentucky counties. Research conducted here in Kentucky shows that HANDS has a significant effect on improving birth outcomes, helping new parents improve their skills, and reducing child maltreatment.
In 2017, we will encourage continued expansion of HANDS and secured funding through the reauthorization of the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program.

Quality Learning Environments
A recent report rates Kentucky’s Head Start program as 2nd in the nation for quality thanks to investment in teacher training. Kentucky is also taking a giant leap to embed quality throughout preschool, child care, and Head Start through its new Kentucky All-STARS quality rating system. Several programs, such as Warren County’s preschools, have already earned 5-star ratings for quality.
In 2017, we will encourage the development and continuous improvement of All-STARS, along with incentives to encourage more school districts and child care providers to meet higher levels of quality.

Local Partnerships
School districts, child care centers, and Head Start programs across Kentucky want to serve more preschool-age children in high-quality, full-day learning environments. Unfortunately, Kentucky has lost ground in preschool enrollment – falling in state rankings from 24th in 2008 to 40th in 2016. Creative, locally driven public/private partnerships will help reverse this trend.
In 2017, we will be learning innovative approaches from grantees of the new Preschool Partnership Grant Program. These are school districts, child care centers, and other communities working together to better serve more children and their working families.

The Strong Start Kentucky coalition of individuals and organizations, including the Prichard Committee, has committed to advancing Kentucky’s early childhood system from birth through 3rd grade by prioritizing these three areas of focus for this coming year.

Our kids win when we set bold goals and clear expectations for them, and our Commonwealth wins when our kids meet those expectations and succeed in life.

Join with us in sharing your goals for children and our Commonwealth with policymakers in Frankfort during Children’s Advocacy Day on February 9th and Live United Day on February 16th.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Eight Charter Questions: Rep. Moffett's HB 103

| Susan Perkins Weston |

At the start of the 2017 legislative session, Representative Phil Moffett has filed a bill on charter schools. Using the eight questions from the Prichard Committee's Informational Guide, here's a summary of his legislation. A two-page version to print out is available here, and you can download a complete copy of the bill request here.

SPECIAL NOTE
In addition to its charter school provisions, HB 103 calls for a new category of opportunity schools and to an end to new districts of innovation, though already approved districts could continue their work.

WHAT STUDENT RESULTS WILL CHARTER SCHOOLS BE EXPECTED TO DELIVER?
Each body that seeks to authorize charter schools will propose “a description or outline of the performance framework the potential authorizer will use to guide the establishment of a charter contract.” Charter applicants will submit a plan to an authorizer that includes “using external, internal, and state-required assessments to measure student progress on the performance framework.” Charter schools will also “subject to the student assessment and accountability requirements applicable to noncharter public schools in the state.”

WHICH PUBLIC SCHOOL REQUIREMENTS WILL BE WAIVED, AND WHICH REQUIREMENTS WILL CHARTER SCHOOLS HAVE TO FOLLOW?
Required:
  • State assessments, program audits, and other data for accountability
  • Health and safety laws (including vaccinations, emergency drills, criminal record checks, weapons rules, student seclusion and restraint rules)
  • Civil and disability rights (except that “If a student's individualized education program team determines that a disabled student's needs are so profound that they cannot be met in the public charter school, and the public charter school cannot provide a free, appropriate public education to that student, the student's district of residence shall place the student in a more appropriate setting”)
  • Plans for identifying and serving gifted students and students who are academically behind “including but not limited to the school's plan for compliance with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations” on serving those students
  • Employee health and life insurance matching that received by district employees
  • Transportation for students who live in the district where the school is located
  • Financial audits
  • Open meetings and records rules for governing boards and contractors paid more than $25,000
Not required:
  • Free and reduced-price meals for low-income students (application must describe “the health and food services to be provided to students attending the school”)
  • Student learning services, including primary talent pool, primary program, family resource and youth services centers, individual learning plans, college-level courses in high school, and class size caps
  • Teacher certification, state processes for teacher growth and effectiveness, continuing contracts (tenure), and single salary schedule
  • MUNIS accounting, state purchasing and bidding rules, and 2% contingency reserve
District-authorized charter schools will participate in state retirement programs. Participation by other charter schools will be optional, but the state retirement appropriations will include charter employees.

Possible questions: Will health requirements include physical activity in grades K-5? Will disability rights include alternate diplomas? Will public school laws on suspensions and expulsions apply?

HOW WILL STUDENTS BE ADMITTED OR ASSIGNED TO CHARTER SCHOOLS?
Students who wish to attend will be admitted. If the number wishing to attend exceeds the school’s capacity, preference will be given to students who already attend the school, their siblings, and students who live in the district where the school is located. A charter school will also be allowed to give preference to the children of its full-time employees and members of its governing board, so long as those children are not more than 10% of the school’s enrollment. Remaining slots will be awarded by lottery. At conversion charter schools, a preference will also be given to students who attended the school before the conversion.

Possible question: Will charter school be able to establish additional preferences or requirements for admissions, beyond those listed in the bill?

WHO WILL AUTHORIZE CHARTER SCHOOLS?
Charter schools will have multiple authorizers: school districts, mayors’ offices in Lexington and Louisville, the boards of four-year colleges and universities with accredited education schools, and the Council on Postsecondary Education will all be eligible for authorizing roles. Those potential authorizers will submit applications to the Kentucky Board of Education, setting out the performance frameworks they will use, other elements of their authorizing plans, and commitment to the legal requirements in the bill. The Kentucky Board of Education will be the authorizer for virtual charter schools and hear appeals when charter applications are rejected.

Possible question: Which bodies will authorize conversion charter schools?

WHO WILL BE ABLE TO APPLY TO RUN A CHARTER SCHOOL?
“Teachers, parents, school administrators, community residents, public organizations, nonprofit organizations, or a combination thereof” will be able to apply. Half of the governing board’s members will have to be parents of the school’s students, and no more than one-third of members will be teachers or administrators at the school. If a charter school plans to contract with an education service provider, the planned terms of the contract will be included in the charter application. A single board will be allowed to govern more than one charter school, and incorporation will be required if the school seeks state facilities funding.

Conversion charter schools will be allowed when the local school board votes for the conversion or a “simple majority of the parents or guardians of students who attend the school have signed a petition requesting the conversion.”

Possible questions: Will a private school be able to apply to convert to a public charter school? Will charter schools be required to obtain 501(c) nonprofit recognition from the Internal Revenue Service?

WILL CHARTER SCHOOL NUMBERS AND ENROLLMENTS BE SUBJECT TO CAPS?
No.

HOW WILL CHARTER SCHOOLS BE CLOSED IF THEY DO NOT DELIVER?
Charter revocation will be allowed if a charter school does not meet or make progress toward performance expectations. If a charter school receives “fair and specific notice from the authorizer” of violations of the charter contract, standards of financial management, or applicable education laws and then fails to correct the violation, revocation will also be allowed. Each charter authorizer will set up additional procedures for notifying a school and allowing it to present evidence and arguments against revocation, and final decisions will be made by a resolution of the authorizer’s governing board.

Possible question: What will constitute the governing board if a mayor’s office is the authorizer?

WHAT FUNDING WILL CHARTER SCHOOLS RECEIVE?
Charter schools authorized by a school district will be funded ”at a minimum, at the same level as noncharter public schools located in the school district.”

Charter schools authorized by other bodies will receive funding matched to the full per-pupil state and local dollars included in the SEEK formula, including local tax revenue that is not eligible for SEEK equalization (known as Tier II). The charter school will also receive state and federal categorical funds, and will be eligible to participate in a “public charter school facility revolving loan program.”

Possible question: if a charter school enrolls students from two districts with different levels of Tier II local revenue, will the charter school receive funding based on the district where it is located or based on the districts where the students reside?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Students Going Further: A Connecting Note

| Post by Susan Perkins Weston |

So far, in this series of posts, I've shared four kinds of thinking behind my confidence that Kentucky students can learn at substantially higher levels than we currently see.

My first post for 2017 offered examples of students already soaring.

The next three have each offered partial explanations of how students can have all that potential and yet that potential does not get realized:
  1. Students do not engage enough big tasks that let them build and show their big capacities.
  2. Teachers do not do enough systematic work analyzing what students produce, identifying instructional implications, and planning next learning steps
  3. Schools are not set up to allow teachers to do the systematic work and sustain the big tasks, with schedules erecting some of the largest barriers.
Here, I want to add that while those posts give three explanations, they don't offer three different prescriptions. The really big idea is that with the right deep shift in time and culture, teachers can engage together in the careful analysis of student work in order to teach important tasks with increasing effectiveness. It's one big strategy, not three smaller ones.

With that strategy, implemented at scale over a sustained period, Kentucky students can work at substantially higher levels than we currently see.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Students Going Further: Teachers Should Be Growing Together


| Post by Susan Perkins Weston |

Teachers are smart people and schools are dumb institutions.

That’s the short version of my biggest new idea of the last five years. The first part is a short way of firmly stating respect for the talent, study, and judgment Kentucky teachers bring to their work. The second part is a short way of pointing out how our schools (and those all over the country) are set up to make it hard for those teacher capacities to deliver all they could for students.

Especially, it’s a way of pointing out a central folly of American education: separating teachers from one another for nearly all of nearly every working day. That structure means the skill and insight growing in each classroom is set up stay in that one classroom, and never move next door or across the hall. Other professionals organize their work so they can “get smarter off of each other,” but the default structure of Kentucky schools and American schools more broadly makes that transfer and synthesis difficult and unlikely.

There are efforts underway to amend the unhealthy pattern, including these:
  • Professional learning communities, at their best, commit serious time for teachers to convene on a regular basis to analyze standards and student work and plan cycles of instructional improvement, with each meeting being able to consider new results and further refinements. 
  • Kentucky’s new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) calls for much more thoughtful teacher observation, including peer observation, leading to truly useful discussions about how to deepen the work.
  • Careful schedule design can create common planning time by grade or subject.
Those are all good but small steps in the right direction.

We need bigger steps. Based on what Kentucky teachers have told me over the last 26 years and on every account I read on how Finland, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and now Canada are moving forward, I conclude that student opportunity cannot be changed in the needed big ways without changing teacher opportunity at least as much.

Specifically, for teachers to dig in deeply and steadily on figuring out major change, they need major time in big chunks, on the order of a day every week or every other week.

With that scale of time, teachers can share the deep innovation efforts. They can move from hearing about a big way they could change teaching to trying it and then refining it, including figuring out why first and second efforts didn’t seem to succeed as fully as expected, and how to make third and fourth rounds increasingly robust. They can exchange ideas, so that one teacher’s insight becomes part of the shared toolkit of an entire team. They can puzzle through what’s happening with particular students and what changes will help those individual learners flourish.

Without that scale of time for professionals to work through innovations, our schools are stuck in a continuous loop of knowing big change could work and seeing it not quite get to lift off and lasting orbit.

The student results we see now come close to our teachers’ individual best under exhausting and isolating circumstances. What we should want and work for is something close their collaborative best in more sustaining and supportive environments.

Source note: My main image of the needed revolution in time use comes from Marilyn Crawford’s tenacious work on school schedules that find the time for deeper work,  and my understanding of its importance flows from steady comparative reading about teaching in other countries, with special respect for the 2007 McKinsey report on “How The World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out On Top.” 

Students Going Further: Teaching and Learning Refined by Evidence

| Post by Susan Perkins Weston |

 Kentucky students can go much further, and the right kinds of responsive support can put that excellence in reach. Gene Wilhoit has called for “a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning.” That feedback uses students' own work, compared to pertinent standards, as key evidence of what needs to come next in the learning process.

When evidence is gathered and used that way, over and over, important things happen. A big set of studies show that the process raises achievement for students of all backgrounds and especially raises achievement for students who have long been underserved.

Here’s a tricky part of that research: it often calls the evidence work “assessment.” Phrases like “assessment for learning” and “formative assessment” try to keep the emphasis on how the evidence is used quickly to improve (form) teaching and learning. But those words also allow us to imagine many little tests, often multiple choice, almost always separate from the learning itself, provided by an outside testing company or developed in close imitation of what those companies sell.

The research actually supports something different.

Its main point is about teachers finding evidence in work students produce through their regular learning. Backing that up, there’s thought on designing the assignments to be sure that evidence will be available. For example, in Literacy Design Collaborative modules, the building blocks are mini-tasks where students develop skills by creating products and the products can be checked against quick scoring guides to tell if learning is on track or if further instructional support should be added. The evidence comes from the learning work, not from a pause to take a test.

On the surface, this approach can sound familiar and simple, but it actually calls for a huge shift in the culture of American schooling. Our ingrained tradition is offering everyone similar teaching and then counting the very different results for different learners. What the research describes is a process of varied teaching, with rapid adjustments, aimed at getting higher and much more similar results for the learners.

That shift is key.  Those who use, study, and support this alternate process do not deny that students who fall short had may have learning disabilities or face cultural and economic challenges or bring the wrong work ethic to class. Instead, they call for for steady cycles of analysis and innovation to defeat whatever has been limiting the learning. And it offers a big stack of research evidence that teaching effort structured that way results in students going further, revealing their potential, and doing work at levels that we haven’t expected to see using other approaches.

Actually, even that summary isn’t good enough, because it’s much too centered on teachers. At its most powerful, students themselves use the feedback, engage the standards they’re aiming for and participate in identifying the next steps that will let them climb to full success. That “sunlit vision” of learning has been a pillar of my understanding since I first read Rick Stiggins “Assessment Manifesto,” and it’s built into the Wilhoit definition at the start of this post.

Understanding how big a shift we need in the design of teaching and learning offers a second part of the explanation of how Kentucky students can have the potential to go much further, and yet we can see that example regularly going unfulfilled.

Source Notes: Before the 2008 Stiggins manifesto, Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam offered a big 1998 research synthesis on this type of assessment/evidence use, writing for researchers in Assessment in Education and for educators in the KappanMargaret Heritage’ 2010 report for the state Chiefs summarizes follow-on research in some depth –and the Wilhoit quote above appeared in her forward. Roger Marcum gets personal credit for pulling me into the Stiggins report and Ann Shannon gets a hat tip for showing me Wiliam's argument.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Students Going Further: Tasks and Task Ceilings


| Post by Susan Perkins Weston |

Kentucky students can do powerful work given opportunity, but opportunity matters. They can’t learn to apply geometry to major design projects by cranking out answers to thousands of small equations. They can’t learn to evaluate and synthesize research by filling in worksheet blanks. They can’t learn to design experiments, implement them, and analyze the resulting data by reading about experiments in books. They can’t learn to communicate and collaborate by keeping their eyes on their own separate papers.

In many education circles, this problem is tied to a great Richard Elmore claim: task predicts performance. Around that phrase, Elmore rallies many different classroom observations and the work of many research projects to show that powerful tasks matter and yet remain rare.

Huge numbers of school assignments continue to operate at the level of small, disconnected activities, giving students little chance to grow the big skills.

I know powerful exceptions, including the Literacy Design Collaborative and Mathematics Design Collaborative work that Kentucky teachers have helped lead. Project-Based Learning and Deeper Learning efforts also show promise by offering students much larger and more authentic challenges to take on.

I also know that the teachers who do the work report steady struggle to convince colleagues that the big efforts are the right next steps.

There are reasons that schools ask too little from students. There’s habit and tradition, since so many teachers were mostly taught by worksheet and lecture themselves. There’s the ready availability of handouts that implement the small-scale efforts. There’s the shortage of time to develop the better tasks and think through teaching plans that empower students to work with growing insight and independence. Especially, there’s the shortage of collaborative time to work though those approaches with colleagues, share student results, and think together about what else to improve for future learning.

There’s also testing. The assessments Kentucky uses for accountability are heavy on quick-answer questions. If we base accountability on 30 questions in an hour, it stands to reason that teachers will hesitate before spending three hours on a single, much richer challenge. Even a decade ago, students had to respond to open-response items that required them to build their own explanations, but that’s nearly gone in our current assessments, and especially lacking at the high school level.

Kentucky students can go much further: my case for that is based in part what students do when given big opportunities in the form of substantial tasks. Today’s students do not often fly that high: my explanation for that starts with the fact that they do not often get the opportunity. Together, those two points show how potential can both exist and go unfulfilled.

Opening the big doors to big student tasks will require deep changes in school culture and practice,  changes that I think will only be fully secured when a large majority of teachers come into the profession having spent many years learning from that kind of assignment. It will be hard work, but it will be work very much worthy of our energy.

Source note: Elmore makes his task claim in many places, including his work with collaborators in Instructional Rounds, and also regularly attributes the claim to Walter Doyle and his 1983 piece on “Academic Work.” 1998 work by Fred Newmann and his colleagues on “The Quality of Intellectual Work in Chicago Schools” and 2009 work by Kim Koh and Allan Luke on “Authentic and conventional assessment in Singapore schools” add depth to the analysis, and I’m specifically grateful to Barb Smith at the Literacy Design Collaborative for putting those works in my path.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Students Going Further: My Case for Confidence



| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |

I am entirely confident that  Kentucky students can move to substantially higher levels of achievement than we see today. For the start of 2017, I'm going to share my reasons and back them up (over multiple posts) with notes on the challenges we’ll have to meet to deliver on that potential.

I’ll start with the core of why I believe our students can fly much higher.

One big pile of evidence comes from seeing young learners thrive. Big examples for me include:
  • The quality of reading, thinking, and writing students do when they take on big tasks through the Literacy Design Collaborative. For example, those could be tasks that ask them to explain the human impact on marine ecosystems or argue whether presidents should have line item veto power or analyze whether Hester Prynne was a virtuous woman within the description offered in Proverbs 31. (At coretools.ldc.org, anyone who creates a free account can see those three exemplary Kentucky teacher designs and many more.) I’ve listened to teachers debriefing after teaching those tasks, and they report students showing tremendous capacity for effort and discovery. I’ve read the student work, and been so absorbed by the substance that I forgot the age of the writers who were teaching me.
  • The sudden fire that lights up when students realize that what they have learned at home and in their communities is important for something they’re studying at school. The term of art is “culturally responsive teaching.” The examples that haunt me involve fiddlers in Powell County and second-graders whose teacher thought they were permanently disengaged until they heard the words "Montgomery, Alabama" and stood right up to go over 1955 as though they'd been there for the entire bus boycott and participated in all the planning before it began.
  • The soaring work of the Student Voice Team, where statute reading and data analysis and pubic presentation and professional caliber layout all get done at a pace that seems almost magical, because the participants see why it deserves this effort.
More broadly, I’ve watched dozens of young people, mostly starting at 11 or 12, take on huge bodies of knowledge on their own initiative. Once athletes or actors or authors spark a passion, they’ll read and read, and search and find, and explore and imitate and explain in overwhelming depth. Schools can offer sports and band and theatre as extracurricular programs because students come without being commanded. A simple way to state my confidence is this: I am convinced that students can master school-type content with at least half the depth they bring to understanding the music they call their own.

The other big pile of evidence comes from learning about schools and school systems where students beat the odds. That’s more systematic proof, but it isn’t ideal, because the evidence has to come from standardized tests that don’t show us much about ability to research and solve problems, gather and evaluate evidence, or communicate and collaborate in a team. So I use it, but use it second. Floyd County’s impressive pace of improvement is a compelling example, as are the high-performing schools and programs featured in EdTrust publications over many years. Helpfully, the best reporting on students flourishing in those places don’t just cite the numbers: they wrap the numbers in descriptions of the students doing active work and discussions of teacher observations of that work over time.

Over the coming posts, my goal is to tell a story of moderate complexity. It’s about kids who can do big work, but frequently don’t. It’s about educators who bring their talent and devotion every day, but often can’t pull off the big changes. And it’s about institutions that say they want the big shifts, but rarely build consistent opportunity for students and teachers to pull them off. Most of all, it’s an account of why we should press onward, aiming higher and pushing harder, and reject arguments that we can only expect a tiny snail’s pace of improvement in the years ahead.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ambitions goals, better tests (Prichard statement on accountability)

Here's the Prichard Committee press release issued this morning...

Ambitious goals, greater transparency and better tests are among the recommendations of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence for the state’s new accountability system. The statewide citizens group said the accountability system should be a major driver of education excellence for all students no matter their background or the barriers they face to success.

Noting that a steering committee led by the Kentucky Board of Education is working to design a new accountability system, Prichard Executive Director Brigitte Blom Ramsey urges lawmakers, “to consider legislation to give greater prominence to three elements we find essential to achieving a brighter future for our students and for the competitiveness of our state.”

Those elements are:
  • An ambitious and achievable statewide goal for student performance that is specific and measurable and establishes a clear timeline and expectations.
  • Policies that ensure transparency by making comparable education information at the state, district and school levels far more understandable, accessible and timely for parents, students and the public; accountability ratings should take into account the performance of each group of students.
  • Tests that measure the depth of knowledge expected in higher standards, including what students should know and be able to do to compete in the economy of the future.

Ramsey describes the elements as representing the next essential steps to ensure Kentucky delivers a world-class education for each student. “These steps build on a long tradition of leadership from the General Assembly. … It is because of this strong leadership and shared commitment that we find ourselves now ready to fully embrace the next giant leap.”

Accountability and transparency for student results have long been high priorities for the Prichard Committee, which believes the system should serve the following four essential purposes:

  • Provide information about student performance to parents, policymakers and the broader public that they can act upon to make improvements.
  • Sustain a sense of urgency to improve student learning, including identifying schools and districts that need special support to better serve students.
  • Communicate priority focus areas for statewide improvement.
  • Illuminate the return on investments in Kentucky’s public education system.

“Above all, the accountability system must drive high and consistent expectations for all students, schools and districts,” Ramsey said. “This is the key education issue facing the 2017 General Assembly.”