Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reading and knowledge in Massachusetts

Strong reading depends on strong background knowledge--on vocabulary and concepts and overall ability to sort out what a given text is about. I shared E.D. Hirsch's core argument here. In a more recent op-ed, Hirsch offered a key data argument that steady attention to content builds reading ability for the long-haul:
Consider the eighth-grade NAEP results from Massachusetts, which are a stunning exception to the nationwide pattern of stagnation and decline. Since 1998, the state has improved significantly in the number of eighth-graders reading at the "proficient" or "advanced" levels: Massachusetts now has the largest percentage of students reading at that higher level, and it is No. 1 in average scores for the eighth grade. That is because Massachusetts decided in 1997 that students (and teachers) should learn certain explicit, substantive things about history, science and literature, and that students should be tested on such knowledge.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Kindergarten disappears?

The traditional kindergarten classroom that most adults remember from childhood—with plenty of space and time for unstructured play and discovery, art and music, practicing social skills, and learning to enjoy learning—has largely disappeared. The latest research indicates that, on a typical day, children in all-day kindergartens spend four to six times as much time in literacy and math instruction and taking or preparing for tests (about two to three hours per day) as in free play or “choice time” (30 minutes or less).
Crisis in Kindergarten: Why Children Need To Play In School argues strongly for the role of play in children's development and against recent rapid conversion of kindergarten into a setting for formal academic learning. The report draws on recent major research, is written clearly and with passion, and deserves close attention. Check it out here. (Hat tip: Melanie Tyner-Wilson.)

Enrollment, staff, puzzle

In the fall of 2005, Kentucky had:
  • 1.38% of elementary and secondary enrollment nationwide
Our share of elementary and secondary staff was smaller than 1.38% in three categories:
  • 1.31% of district officials and administrators nationwide
  • 1.34% of principals and assistant principals
  • 1.35% of teachers
Our share of staff was larger than 1.38% in other categories, so that we had:
  • 1.41% of guidance counselors nationally
  • 1.45% of student support staff (not listed as district or school in the NCES report I used for this analysis)
  • 1.46% of district administrative support staff
  • 1.92% of district instruction coordinators
  • 1.97% of school and library support staff
  • 2.00% of other support services staff (not listed as district or school)
  • 2.02% of instructional aides
  • 2.05% of librarians
If instead, Kentucky schools and districts had consistently had 1.38% of each kind of staff, we would have had:
  • 47 more district officials and administrators
  • 67 more principals and assistant principals
  • 1,011 more teachers
  • 26 fewer guidance counselors
  • 149 fewer student support staff
  • 120 fewer district administrative support staff
  • 254 fewer district instruction coordinators
  • 363 fewer librarians
  • 1,756 fewer school and library support staff
  • 4,435 fewer instructional aides
  • 7,208 fewer other support services staff
Those differences invite some discussion. I’m not arguing that Kentucky should staff schools to those averages. There may be important benefits to what we do differently, and our students may have different needs. I do think, though, that this is an interesting mirror to look in, inviting us to think about how we currently staff public education.

(Source: I've shown how I calculated the the numbers above in a one-page analysis here, using data from the Digest of Education Statistics 2007 here.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Obsession: Reading requires knowledge

E.D. Hirsch started an important 2006 article this way:
Jones sacrificed and knocked in a run.

Typically, a literate British person would know all the words in the sentence yet wouldn’t comprehend it. (In fairness, most Americans would be equally baffled by a sentence about the sport of cricket.) To understand this sentence about Jones and his sacrifice, you need a wealth of relevant background knowledge that goes beyond vocabulary and syntax—relevant knowledge that is far broader than the words of the sentence.
Hirsch's big point is that, once students crack the basic code and can sound out words, the rest of reading is about understanding new text by connecting it to what they already know. He writes:
The point of this example is that knowledge of content and of the vocabulary acquired through learning about content are fundamental to successful reading comprehension; without broad knowledge, children’s reading comprehension will not improve and their scores on reading comprehension tests will not budge upwards either.
I think this idea is a huge part of how family advantages translate into school success: children of more educated parents get more of the helpful background knowledge at home.

I also think it's why middle school teachers always say kids aren't learning to read in elementary school: the students have good generic decoding skills but don't have the conceptual background to make sense of science and social studies texts.

Finally, this idea is why I'm obsessed with serious content from the earliest days of school. I want it taught anyway that works, from seeing plants grow to building models of the solar system, from acting out the Mayflower to sharing songs about Abraham Lincoln. That work helps students begin building a mental web of reading-and-science, and reading-and-history, and reading-and-economics. The stronger that web is early, the more prepared they will be to use books later in school to get more knowledge, with depth and detail, connected to the topics they understand early on.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Beshear appointments confirmed

As the legislature adjourns, some key education appointments have been confirmed:

  • Council on Postsecondary Education members Glenn Denton, Pam Miller, and Paul Patton.
  • Education Professional Standards Board members Lonnie Anderson, Cathy Lynn Gunn, James Hughley, Laranna Lynn May, Gregory Ross, and Sandy Sinclair-Curry.
  • Kentucky Board of Education members Dorothy Combs, Billy Harper, Austin Moss, and Bridget Ramsey.

Tuition, fees, inflation, mystery

Over 20 years, from 1988-89 to 2008-09, full-time undergraduate resident tuition and fees grew:
  • 385% at Morehead
  • 391% at Kentucky State
  • 402% at UK's Lower Division
  • 413% at Murray
  • 415% at Louisville
  • 417% at UK's Upper Division
  • 433% at Eastern
  • 483% at Northern
  • 508% at Western
  • 526% at KCTCS
Over the same twenty-year period, the cost of living grew:
  • 82%, as measured by the Consumer Price Index

(Sources: growth calculated from CPE's Tuition History 1987-2009, with CPI calculated here.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Local commitments on Core Content results

Here's a first round up of reported district plans for transition accountability work.

Fayette County will calculate an Accountability Index and let the public see how close schools get to the statewide goal of 100 by 2014. In his electronic newsletter, Superintendent Stu Silberman writes that:
For the next two years the state will not calculate an accountability index for schools, but will provide us with the tools we need as a district to do these calculations for ourselves. We feel it is important that we do this for two reasons – to maintain our accountability to our families and community and to be able to measure the progress we are making with our kids. The work and commitment to helping kids learn at high levels is incredible right now in our district and it is important that we celebrate the results when they come back.

Bullitt, McCracken, and Oldham will use this year’s optional Core Content Tests in arts & humanities and practical/vocational. The CJ quotes Paul Upchurch, Oldham County school superintendent as saying: "we're coming at this from the standpoint that we have to maintain accountability in every classroom and for every child."

Those four, plus Campbellsville, Elizabethtown, and Jefferson County will score writing portfolios this spring.

Most reports do not say whether districts will calculate an Index following the Fayette model, but Jefferson County will not do so, according to Deputy Superintendent Marty Bell.

Please do let us know what you're hearing from your local schools on this issue!

Rigor, relevance, early college high school?

In an effort to streamline the pathway to postsecondary education, some educators and researchers have argued that challenging underrepresented and remedial students to earn at least two years' worth of college credit while they are working on a high school diploma can improve their outcomes.
A symposium held yesterday included with multiple reports of initial good results from schools that are trying out the strategy. Inside Higher Ed's full coverage is here, with handouts and video of the event here. [Hat Tip: Ed Trust Express]

Bonus quote: “If Henry Ford were to come back to Earth, the only thing he would recognize is the American high school.” (Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Viewpoint: Four accountabilities at once

Since 1998, Kentucky has layered on four different sets of assessment and accountability requirements, only one of which can be linked to our 1990 reform:
  • In 1999, we launched CATS, using its results to set 2014 goals that take all subjects and all levels of student performance into account.
  • In 2001, the federal government added NCLB accountability for proficiency in just reading and mathematics, with separate scoring for each disaggregated group.
  • In 2002, Kentucky added achievement gap targets for disaggregated groups with SB 168.
  • In 2006, Kentucky added Explore, Plan, and ACT readiness tests under SB 130, with required additional learning opportunities for any student who scored below CPE standards.
That's a lot.

Bluntly, it's too much.

Accordingly, I'm not willing to characterize the Kentucky Education Association's position as finding "KERA too demanding," as the Courier-Journal did this morning. CATS accountability as the KERA approach has not been the only demand educators have juggled in recent years.

I'd be a happier citizen if CATS accountability had continued during our transition to a new test. I'd also be happier if KEA had taken a different position on that issue, and if there had been a way to remove any of the other accountability pieces instead.

Nevertheless, I do recognize the multiple loads educators have been carrying. I know that a person can ask to lay down some of that burden without rejecting our whole education reform.

I also know that, once we get through the transition period, SB 1 offers some strong positive opportunities for Kentucky's children, including those noted here.

Turning those opportunities into reality is the most important education work ahead. We will only succeed with Kentucky teachers as central participants, and we will only succeed by working with the largest organization speaking for teachers' concerns.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Viewpoint: Showing up to lead

This is the top item right now at www.kasc.net:

With enough focus like that, this transition may just come out all right.

The fate of the primary program

In 1990, the Kentucky Education Reform Act required an ungraded primary program for students until they were ready for fourth grade. If my memory is working right, the whole concept took only a couple of sentences.

In 1992, a KBE regulation specified the "critical attributes" for the program: developmentally appropriate educational practices, multiage and multiability classrooms, continuous progress, authentic assessment, qualitative reporting methods, professional teamwork, and positive parent involvement. The same regulation required schools to submit annual reports on what was working and what would be improved the next year--and that regulation is still on the books.

In 1998, a new statute added these directions:
Each school council or, if none exists, the school shall determine the organization of its ungraded primary program including the extent to which multiage groups are necessary to implement the critical attributes based on the critical attributes and meeting individual student needs.
That should have worked. It should have allowed schools do anything that worked about the ages of kids in each classroom (the multiage attribute in red above), provided they gave children continuous progress (in green above) and the other attributes in the list.

It didn't work. I haven't heard a live discussion of critical attributes in a decade. The Department stopped collecting school reports long ago, claiming that the needed thinking would surely be somewhere inside comprehensive school improvement plan, but making it quite clear they did not plan to go looking. If any part of KERA died "not with a bang, but with a whimper," it was primary. Where primary lives on, it's by the choice of educators who believe in it, not by any genuine state requirement.

So, can we get all young children classrooms where their progress is checked steadily and their learning activities are regularly adjusted to make sure they keep moving forward? I think we can.

From the state level, clearer standards and more focused preparation for new teachers are on the way, and from the local level, there's rising interest in balanced assessment and the student growth it can promote. If we can combine those two, and especially if we add a new commissioner ready to focus on effective instruction, we can deliver for students.

Only we won't call it primary, and we won't even mention current law as we get it done.

Monday, March 23, 2009

EdWeek on Kentucky starting over

Under the headline "State at Vanguard of Standards Movement Starts Over," Education Week reports:
Kentucky lawmakers have passed a bill to overhaul the state’s K-12 assessment system, putting the Bluegrass State in the spotlight on testing issues—and possibly making it a national leader on the issue once again.
The legislation overwhelmingly approved this month would create a series of tests aligned to new standards that are to be internationally benchmarked and designed to ensure students are prepared to enter the workforce or go to college.
I added the emphasis at the end of the first paragraph because I think it's a sound and important evaluation of the long-term implications of SB 1.

The full article is here, and I especially liked the quote from Ken Draut:
“This is the next generation of our assessment/accountability system being born.”

Kentucky's school funding progress

Since 1990, Kentucky has made an important, lasting step up in the fairness and strength of our school funding. Here's a fast overview, using 2006 School Finance Report information with an inflation adjustment.

Those quintiles come from dividing districts into five groups, each serving roughly one-fifth of Kentucky students, based on their taxable property wealth per pupil.

We've improved resources for all students, with the greatest improvement for students who long received the weakest support.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

ARRA innovation grants

The $650 million innovation fund for districts from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (also known as "the stimulus bill) will be distributed next fall based on applications from eligible districts and groups.

Applications can come from individual school districts or from partnerships of a nonprofit organization with districts or a consortium of schools.

To be considered, applicants must show that they have:
  • narrowed achievement gaps based on race, poverty, disability, and limited English.
  • exceeded NCLB annual measurable objectives for two consecutive years or significantly increased academic achievement for all NCLB groups.
  • made significant improvement in other areas, such as graduation rates or increased
  • recruitment and placement of high-quality teachers and school leaders.
  • established partnerships with the private sector (including philanthropic groups), with the private sector provide matching funds to help bring results to scale.
Grant recipients can use the money to:
  • "expand their work and serve as models for best practices."
  • "work in partnership with the private sector and the philanthropic
  • community."
  • "identify and document best practices."
I hope a number of Kentucky's pacesetting districts will go after this important opportunity. Children all over the state could benefit from wider access to information on what's been working in districts with those strong results.

(Sources: ARRA
here --search for "SEC. 14007"--and a recent timeline from federal officials shared by Interim Commissioner Elaine Ferris.)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Remediation innovation (in Texas)

In Texas, a community college is offering innovative approaches to meeting developmental math needs.

Eastland College now targets specific concept weaknesses, so that a student whose weakness is only in one or two sub-areas of math can do intensive work on those fields and then can move more quickly into college-level work.

Eastland is also offering summer remedial math sections so that students can start the fall “math ready,” and then grouping those students in science courses designed to reinforce their math skills.

Those ideas are designed to extend the College's already strong record increasing enrollment in STEM majors and increasing persistence in those majors to graduation or transfer to a four-year school. (Article in Inside Higher Ed, with hat tip to CPE press clips.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Viewpoint: The Ten Best Things about Senate Bill 1

Here's my list, with the first and most important listed last.

10. Writing portfolios will be used from primary to grade 12, with new state guidelines for writing programs and new school council policies within those guidelines and a new EPSB focus on preparing good writing teachers and a new KDE review of writing professional development and a new program assessment of how writing is taught and learned. (Okay, I’d still prefer for portfolio scores to be part of state accountability, but I have to agree that SB 1 brings a pretty impressive second-best approach.)

9. Our universities and community colleges must now set public standards for their entry-level courses, with P-12 participants in their standards-development work. No more saying P-12 doesn't deliver without clarifying what would count as acceptable readiness.

8. Teacher preparation programs must equip future teachers to deliver on the new standards, evaluate students’ classroom progress, and adjust instruction to meet individual needs. (The Department of Education will be responsible for ensuring professional development to help current educators hone similar skills.)

7. Postsecondary faculty, staff, and leadership will join in the work to develop our new P-12 standards to ensure that we address the right knowledge and skills to prepare all students for higher education.

6. Program assessments in the arts will promote greater emphasis on students creating and performing.

5. Constructed-response items and on-demand prompts will require students to show their ability to solve problems and explain their efforts, while multiple-choice provides an efficient method to check the range of their knowledge.

4. Criterion-referenced scoring will tell us whether students are mastering what they should know and be able to do (while norm-referenced information will provide national comparisons and honor the concerns of parents who find percentile data helpful).

3. Science, social studies, and writing will be core assessment topics. Our children need those subjects, and and they will continue to be part valued, accountable parts of Kentucky expectations. Starting in 2011-12, they will again be part of statewide accountability.

2. Our new standards and assessments will be developed on a quick but responsible timetable. We all know the old chestnut about building the plane while flying it, and certainly did that with our last two testing systems. This time, we’ll do the design and construction in a hangar, and start flying the plane when we know it’s sturdy.

1. Revised, shorter, sharper P-12 standards by 2011, with the potential to help teachers do deeper, stronger work to move each and every child to success.

Death of an imaginary playmate

In case anyone doesn't know Martin Cothran, he teaches at Highlands Latin School, writes logic and rhetoric texts, manages an online academy, and analyzes policy for the Family Foundation of Kentucky. For most of two decades, he’s spun wondrous tales of an imaginary KERA-dragon.

Initially, Martin’s dragon tempted small children with dangerous elixirs called “valued outcomes.” Next, it ate several hundred educators when it caught them teaching spelling, and later still, it set fire to an entire village because a couple of local citizens dared suggest using multiple-choice questions in statewide testing.

The real reform story has been dull by comparison. On valued outcomes, legislators agreed in 1994 not to test for self-sufficiency, teamwork, and other marks of good character. On spelling, my oldest started waking me up for pre-dawn drills in 1995, and I know exactly which word my youngest missed at his schoolwide bee in 2007. On multiple-choice, we started accountability testing in 1992 and were working on adding multiple-choice items by 1996.

In Martin’s looking-glass commonwealth, the KERA-dragon cast educational spells far beyond the skills of the left-wing sorcerers of Berkeley, California, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In our real state, our elected leaders (from places like Richmond, Prestonsburg, Liberty, Burkesville, and Danville) voted in the Kentucky Education Reform Act. KERA delivered stronger and fairer school funding, reduced political corruption, and vastly improved facilities and technology. It nurtured more focused teachers, better instructional leaders, and a big step up in justified pride in public education. We've still got work ahead to strengthen classroom work, not because the primary program, extended school services, or sustained professional development were mistakes, but because we didn’t put in the hard work to help them succeed.

Martin’s fascinating narrative ended recently, with the final installment ("The Death of KERA") published here at his Vere Loqui blog. I admit to preferring the old song where:
A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys
Still, if slaying his personal Puff frees Martin to focus on strengthening the schooling he supports, I wish him all the best.

Myself, I'll keep doing my best to build up the public schools of our beloved commonwealth, along with thousands of educators, parents, and engaged citizens. While I’m working on that, I do hope Martin will stop by my own choice of "headquarters." The lights are on, the coffee’s hot, and the (magic-free) muffins are truly delicious.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I know unemployment isn't quite on the education beat, but I also know the figures above will have potent implications for children's lives and local school district revenue. (Hat Tip: Mark Hebert)

FAQ: How does NCLB count math and reading?

Reader Mary Rudd asked:
When we say we will only "count" NCLB areas of reading and math, are we saying that we will only look at the proficiency numbers for targeted populations or are we saying that we will look at all students' results in math and reading? Perhaps I have not taken the time to read carefully enough, but I haven't seen an explanation of what is actually meant by that portion of the decision.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, school have annual objectives in reading and math only. The objectives are defined as the percent of students who reach the proficient level, with no credit for students who are at any lower level. Schools have to reach the objective for all students and for disaggregated groups--meaning white students, African-American students, Hispanic students, Asian students, students in the free-and-reduced lunch program, students with limited English proficiency, and students with disabilities.

Do notice that under those rules, the only thing that counts is getting a student past the proficiency mark. There's no credit for getting student close to proficiency but not quite there, and no credit for any further improvement once students reach proficiency. The incentive is to sort students into three groups--already proficient, nearly proficient, and far from proficient--and focus on only on the middle group that's already near the mark.

Kentucky's accountability model has been better than that, with partial credit for each step closer to proficience and extra credit for moving students to distinguished. That means the incentive is to help every child make progress every day--which is also the right thing to do.

For 2009, 2010, and 2011, Kentucky will use only NCLB accountability. Many teachers will ignore the incentives and continue helping all students, but do notice that the system is designed to discourage that.

SB 1 in a nutshell

Senate Bill 1 will bring important changes to Kentucky assessment in accountability. If you're looking for a specific topic under SB 1, here are links to our recent posts on:
If you'd like my five summaries of SB 1 issues as a single PDF, click here.

Finally, if you have questions about where Kentucky is headed on standards, testing, accountability, and related issues under this major new legislation, please do share them in the comments below.

Open Letter from Bob Sexton

Open letter to Kentucky Teachers, Superintendents,
Principals, and School Boards

From Robert F. Sexton, Executive Director,
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
March 18, 2009

On Friday, March 13 the Kentucky General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1, calling for an improved assessment and accountability system by the spring of 2012. We and many others strongly supported this legislation because it included testing improvements in response to teacher and public concerns. It could, if done right, move us to a next generation of testing and accountability, the kind of changes we also expect to see coming from the U.S. Department of Education and other states in the next few years.

But at the last minute a surprise provision was added with no public discussion, creating a big problem for everyone who works in education or cares about quality public education.

It was decided that, for the next three years starting this spring, Kentucky schools should have no accountability except for student test scores on math and reading as required by No Child Left Behind. This means that the results of testing for writing (portfolios included) science, history, geography, economics, civics (i.e., social studies) and the arts won’t be counted. The Kentucky Department of Education is also prohibited from publishing an overall school improvement score (accountability index) so schools won’t know whether they are better or worse than the previous year – and neither will parents or other taxpayers.

In supporting this measure the Kentucky Education Association president said we should “just give everybody a breather” from most accountability until we have a new system in three years.

In the past 15 years Kentucky schools have made well documented and unprecedented progress. Overall the state has moved from the nation’s educational cellar to the middle ranks of the states. Kentucky teachers and school leaders deserve huge credit for this. In schools that stand out for improving student achievement the research shows that the quality of teaching — what happens in the individual classrooms — is what matters most. What happens in those classrooms depends on school leadership too. So huge numbers of educators deserve the public’s deep appreciation for what they’ve done — this progress required very hard work over a very long time.

Taking a “breather” presents educators with at least three serious challenges. A disaster looms unless they find constructive ways to address them:

1. For the next three years schools won’t have a way of telling parents and other taxpayers how they’re progressing with student learning except in math and reading required by NCLB.

The CATS test will be given in science, history, geography, economics (social studies), and writing but it won’t count in an overall score for the school. Although the Kentucky Department of Education can make the test results public, we don’t know yet how – or if – that will happen.

No one will know whether one school is progressing compared to another, whether the achievement gap for minority or disadvantaged kids is being narrowed, or which schools need special help so their kids can catch up.

The challenge to educators: figure out how to let your parents, school council members and taxpayers know how your school is doing with the whole curriculum, not just reading and math.

2. In some schools, or perhaps many, a likely result will be to de-emphasize writing, science, social studies (history, economics, geography, civics) and the arts. This would be a tragedy for our communities and our commonwealth. These subjects are at the heart of preparing young people to be ready as citizens to handle the complex problems we are handing them. To slight these subjects in any way is appalling for our democracy.

The challenge: educators need to figure out how to emphasize the whole curriculum, not just math and reading. This has been difficult in the other states where the curriculum has been narrowed the way Senate Bill 1 has narrowed Kentucky’s.

3. Strong accountability (proven results) and making the case for adequate or superior school funding are joined at the hip. Since the early 1990s, all across America, there has been an implicit but real contract between educators, parents, and other taxpayers that says, in effect, “if we see results we’ll pay taxes for schools” and educators said, in response, “we’ll do our best to educate every child and show you the results to prove it.”

If it seems that schools have stopped focusing on increasing results for the next few years, it will be easy for local taxpayers to say schools don’t need increasing revenue either. I worry that folks like our Prichard Committee volunteers and the business community could also turn away from concern about school funding. They may return to those concerns once Kentucky gets serious again about results in writing, science, history, geography, civics and other core content — or they may not.

The challenge: educators need to prove to their communities, parents, taxpayers and business leaders that they do care about results for kids. Don’t worry about the folks who never have and never will support good public schools. It is the friends of strong public schools who will be very upset now. And that’s one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced in years.

Celebrity Death Match

Here's some fun to start the day: Richard Day v. Jim Waters

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Viewpoint: SB 1 and Bob's four testing ideas

SB 1 uses all four ideas Bob Sexton recommended on the first day of this blog (here).

Balanced Assessment
This idea for continuous classroom looks at how each student is moving toward standards, regular school/program looks at which content is being learned, and annual outside tests to be sure whole schools and districts are on track. SB 1 aims for fewer, clearer standards, which should make the classroom and school level work easier. SB 1 also expects the new statewide tests to provide stronger data on individual students--which will provide a better check on whether classrooms and schools are right about how fast students are moving. Finally, the bill specifically requires teacher preparation programs to equip new teachers to organize instruction around the new standards. It isn't the full support we need for balanced assessment, but it's an important downpayment. (Other Prich-posts on the balanced assessment idea are here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

International Benchmarking
The new standards to be developed by the end of 2010 must "focus on critical knowledge, skills, and capacities needed for success in the global economy" and "consider international benchmarks." Further, the schedule for the standards will allow the Department to participate in multi-state work aimed at a sharper, more judicious approach to developing strong standards, including consideration of competing nations.

End-of-Course Exams
They're an option. The Kentucky Board of Education can decide to use them in place of criterion-referenced tests in one or more high subjects. When good tests are available that fit our standards, SB 1 allows them to be implemented without further legislation.

Program Reviews
Bob's post spoke only to using this approach in arts and humanities, based on good discussion about pencil-and-paper testing trying to measure ability to create and perform in the arts. SB 1 will make that happen.

SB 1 pushes the same approach further, using it for practical/career studies and for the sustained writing seen in the writing portfolio. I don't know that Bob supports those other two changes.

For myself, though, I can live with both even though they aren't what I'd do if I got to make the decision on my own. Practical/career content overlaps heavily with biology and economics content, so we'll still have relevant tested learning on much of it. I'm saddened by the writing change, and I think it's a mistake, but I'm less disturbed than I'd be if I thought that the accountable portfolio was getting us very close to good writing instruction statewide (fitting the thoughts I shared here.)

These four points are an important part of why I think it's a good long-term bill. If they're implemented well, they'l provide important steps forward once we get through the next few weak-accountability years.

Great questions: SISI, NAPD, parents, low-performing schools

In a single comment (here), I spy four powerful questions:

Will the SISI document change or be eliminated?
SISI is short for the Standards and Indicators for School Improvement, the document that has guided scholastic audits and reviews since 2000. Senate Bill 1 removes the scholastic audit concept from the law. The new program reviews will overlap in some key ways with scholastic audits, especially on curriculum and instruction issues, but the requirements seem different enough to require fresh guidelines. There are sure to be similarities, because SISI and the new approach should both draw on respected learning research, but the organization may be quite different.

I have always believed that SISI was fundamentally sound and a truly valuable tool--and also weakened by some clumsy redundancies and a few worrisome holes. A new take on similar issues, building on SISI experience, if edited well and developed with broader input, could be a very nice step forward.

And how about the 'Distinguished, Proficient, Apprentice and Novice' language?
Those are the four main performance levels we have used to report students' CATS performance in each subject. I'm confident we'll see at least four performance levels, with "proficient" as the one we want for other students, at least two below that and at least one above. That makes sense and fits NCLB requirements. There may be more levels than that, and the other names could all be changed.

Also, for the most part, parents/guardians have no clue as to what happened to education in the legislature last week---how do we go about putting it in 'laymen's' terms so that everyone (especially the main stakeholders---parents and children) understand what happened and how it will influence the education that their children will receive??
It will take many written pieces, many presentations, and many conversations, won't it? As a starting point, I'd use three major points:
  • The future test will include reading, math, science, social studies and writing, with standards tied to college requirements and more support for teachers to help each student move toward those standards.
  • Program reviews will be used to make sure schools provide robust programs in the arts, practical/career studies, and sustained writing.
  • The transition test leaves out too many subjects--so you should check your child's work and attend council and PTA meetings to be sure that writing, science, history, and other social studies continue to be taught well during the next few years.
How is this going to affect the low-performing schools/children (typically, low-income and minority children)??
The weak accountability of the next few transition years will have the worst impact for those groups. Those children, so often stuck in achievement gaps, flourish in schools with high expectations, a warm collaborative culture, and strong commitment to tracking each child's progress and providing varied responses to keep all students on track. And yet, they are the ones most often stuck in schools that don't provide those things. With only reading and math accountable, I think we'll see fewer schools developing those positive traits, and some that have headed that way will lose ground. (We'll also see some great educators keep right on pushing, based on deep internal commitment to our kids.)

After that, though, the new laws should be good for those same students. The push for leaner standards in SB 1 is intended to make it easier for teachers to plan sustained work on the knowledge and skills students need most, including understanding how each one is progressing based on classroom work and helping students and parents understand that, too. That approach has the biggest benefits for the most vulnerable students. The attention to postsecondary expectations and global competition should yield higher standards, again important to kids whose parents may not have the power to push for that on their own.

The program review approach to the arts, if done right, should mean robust performance activities that are especially valuable to kids whose parents cannot offer them private lessons. Even on the writing portfolio, we've got a fighting chance to get teachers to focus on effective instructional methods more steadily, with program reviews looking directly at how they teach.

Really, truly, I think SB 1 is a good long-term bill tied to a bad short-term mistake.

HL on postsecondary's low-income decline

The Herald-Leader's morning editorial (here) notes the worrisome fact that a smaller share of low-income students are making it to college. Kentucky has seen a smaller decline than most states, but any decline is bad news.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why aren't parents receiving school report cards?

In the comments to an earlier post, a reader asked "As a parent, I'm concerned that I did not get a school report card this year. Can you tell me why?"

A school report card is a summary of key data on a school, including test performance, teacher qualifications, student safety, awards, parent involvement, and other factors. In the past, parents have received copies for their children's schools by mail. In the state budget bill for 2008-2010, though, districts got another option:
Notwithstanding KRS 158.6453(7), 160.463, and 424.220, public availability of the school district's complete annual financial statement and the school report card shall be made by publishing the documents in the newspaper of the largest general circulation in the county, electronically on the Internet, or by printed copy at a prearranged site at the main branch of the public library within the school district. If publication on the Internet or by printed copy at the public library is chosen, the superintendent shall be directed to publish notification in the newspaper of the largest circulation in the county as to the location where the document can be viewed by the public. The notification shall include the address of the library or the electronic address of the Web site on the Internet where the documents can be viewed.
All school report cards from 2003-04 through 2007-08 are available here, but I do understand that web access still requires parents to look for the document, rather than letting the document come to their doorstep. It's a big reduction in parent access to information about schools.

For what it's worth, the language above expires in 2010. If they don't put it in the next budget (or amend the report card law), the mailing requirement will spring back to life.

SB 1 transition accountability (before 2012)

Senate Bill 1 calls for transition testing until the new assessment can begin in 2011-12, which invites questions about how schools will be accountable during the transition.

There will be no overall CATS accountability. The Accountability Index (summing up results for all students in all subjects) will not be calculated for 2009, 2010, or 2011, so there will be no way to apply consequences like those used under CATS. For readers still searching for portfolio information, not using the Index eliminates portfolio accountability, plus SB 1 says explicitly that it cannot count.

NCLB accountability will apply in reading and math, using the percent of students who score proficient. Graduation rates will still be the NCLB "other academic indicator" for high schools. For elementary and middle schools, the 2008 Accountability Index will be the other indicator for 2009, and then Kentucky will need federal approval to use other data for that role.

SB 168 accountability for achievement gaps in core content subjects may require some adjusting. Targets based on 2008 data may have to be tweaked to remove arts, practical, and writing portfolio results. Targets based on 2010 may have to be set carefully, because only 2011 scores will be similar enough compare. Those targets are set locally, not by the state, and until 2012, they will still be set for two years at a time.

A one-page PDF, with further details, is here.

Bob Sexton: OK kids…take a breather!

Sharon Oxendine, president of KEA, says in the Louisville Courier-Journal that for the next three years we should “just give everybody a breather” from being accountable for student learning except NCLB math and reading.

So, according to a new CATS law, supported by KEA, teachers don’t have to worry so much about writing, science, history, geography, economics, civics or the arts since they don’t count for school accountability.

And I guess she thinks students should take a breather too (this is all about the kids, remember!).

Maybe she’s onto something.

Maybe we should take a breather from worrying about adequate funding for Kentucky schools and from complaining that we’re investing $1,500 per student below the national average.

Productivity at the postsecondary level

The Chamber's postsecondary report's final barrier is productivity, noting that "Kentucky produces comparatively fewer bachelor’s degrees for the level of funding than other states. " The report its conclusion with this graph.

Yes I know that's hard to look at, even with the arrows I've added to point out where Kentucky fits. I recommend that you check out the original on page 89 of the Chamber report.

The Delta Cost Project offers what may be a simpler way to see the problem, dividing institutions' educational spending by the number of completions per year, to provide numbers like these:

The community college number is startling, because completions counts certificates and diplomas as well as degrees, and KCTCS produces many of those.

The results for the other schools, though, look to me like further evidence that we should be talking about how our costs relate to our results in higher education.

Monday, March 16, 2009

SB 1 accountability under the new test

Senate Bill 1 calls for the Kentucky Board of Education to establish new goals and consequences. Both schools and districts will have goals, based on assessment results, program reviews, and school improvement, plus other elements if KBE chooses to use them.

KBE will also define a new set of consequences, with the option of continuing familiar methods including improvement plans, highly skilled educators, and improvement funds.

Scholastic audits will not exist by that name. SB 1 does allow program reviews and audits to check whether a school has been classified correctly, and I think that could be a process separate from the arts, practical, and writing reviews. I hope it means that, because surely accountability decisions should reflect both those three subjects and how schools address the curriculum that will still be included in student assessments. Where current law has some details about how the audits are done, those rules will be deleted, giving KBE more flexibility about how the process will work.

Finally, SB 1 continues the process of local decisions on achievement gap targets, the one set up by 2002's SB 168, but calls for each target to be set by October and met within a year.

For a more detailed summary (yet another one-page PDF), please click here.

Still to come: a look at transition accountability, and a post that looks just at writing.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

38 months to new student tests

Senate Bill 1, if signed by the Governor, will move Kentucky to a new student assessment at the end of the 2011-12 school year. The new assessment will:
  • Assess reading, mathematics, science, social studies, and writing.
  • Use constructed-response items, multiple-choice items, and on-demand prompts.
  • Produce criterion-based and norm-referenced scores (meaning that student work will be compared both to state standards and to how a national sample of students performed).
  • Include Explore, Plan, and ACT readiness tests.
  • Be taken during five of the last fourteen days of the school year.
  • Return scores to schools within seventy-five days after the start of testing.
Writing portfolios will be required, but not used for accountability. Arts and humanities and practical/career studies will not be tested.

For further details, including grades to be tested, click here for a one-page PDF summary. For the complete bill, click here, and on that page, click the link that says "SB 1."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

22 months to leaner, better-aligned content standards

Kentucky's P-12 academic content standards will undergo a complete overhaul under SB 1, with the new edition offering fewer, clearer standards that are better aligned for college readiness and global competition. Those standards will be used:
  • Major efforts to prepare current P-12 educations, higher education faculty, and students in teacher preparation programs to use the standards well.
  • New assessments in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, and writing.
  • New program reviews for arts and humanities, practical living skills and career studies, and writing.
Kentucky's public universities and KCTCS will also set reading and mathematics core academic content standards for introductory courses. Educators from both levels will share in setting both sets of standards, along with other participants and opportunities for wide public input. Both sets of standards will be in place by January of 2011.

For a one-page PDF with a fuller description of SB 1 standards requirements, click here.

Arts, practical, writing programs under SB 1

Senate Bill 1 eliminates state testing of arts and humanities and practical living/vocational studies, and accountability for students' writing portfolio scores. Instead, program reviews and audits have been added to ensure robust learning opportunities. The new approach will begin quickly:
The Kentucky Department of Education shall develop and implement interim program assessments of writing programs, practical living skills and career studies, and arts and humanities in all schools during the transition period. The department shall finalize the process for program assessments for implementation during the 2011-2012 school year as required in Section 2 of this Act.

SB 1 Interim Testing Provisions (2009-2011)

Senate Bill 1 has been sent to the Governor for signature, and it's time to start analyzing its provisions. As a start, for 2009 through 2011, here's how we'll test:
  • In reading and mathematics, students will take our current criterion-referenced tests, better known as Kentucky Core Content Tests, and schools will be accountable for reaching NCLB proficiency goals.
  • In science and social studies, students will take our current criterion-referenced tests.
  • In writing, students will take the on-demand and multiple choice portions of our current criterion-referenced tests.
  • Students will take the Explore, Plan, and ACT readiness tests.
  • For 2009 only, the state will provide test booklets and scoring guides for testing arts and humanities and practical/vocational, and districts will decide how to use those materials.
  • For 2010 and 2011, students will take a new norm-referenced reading and mathematics test in grades 3 through 7.
For a one-page PDF with charts of the grades that will take each test, click here. For the complete bill, click here, and on that page, click the link that says "SB 1." In the bill, search for "Section 19" to see the interim testing rules.

One puzzle: some media reports say that schools will be accountable for science results under NCLB. So far, I haven't been able to find any Kentucky NCLB goals for science or any federal directive on when such goals must be set. I may be missing something in my research, or others may have assumed that if there is NCLB science testing, there must also be NCLB science consequences. I'll report back when I get some more information on that issue.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A note from the Boss

Well now everything dies baby that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City
(Lyrics and audio audio available here.)

SB 1 as it happens [Updated]

4:25 The HLeader is reporting that the House and Senate have a deal on transition testing for 2010 and 2011 that uses the Kentucky Core Content Tests for reading, mathematics, science and social studies. That leaves questions about on-demand writing, transition accountability, and the start of program reviews on subjects being dropped from testing. We may well hear about those during the floor debates this evening, and I'll update if I hear anything. To watch online, go here.

5:15 The CJ adds that on-demand writing will be tested during the transition, and quotes House Education chair Rollins as saying the bill is "exactly what we wanted." [Hat tip: KSN&C]

5:47: Richard Day reports in comments that "The House just passed the amended Senate Bill 1 93-0 to a standing ovation." (That will teach me to take 20 minutes for dinner.)

5:53: Richard's further story is here, including his note thatChairman Rollins, answering a question from Rep. Wayne, said that:
We will continue to use the current ...core content test for science, math, reading, and social studies. [Schools] will be held accountable through the No Child Left Behind federal legislation for math, science and reading.
That leaves writing unassessed and social studies assessed but unaccountable for 2009, 2010, and 2011, and a question not yet asked about when we program reviews for arts, practical, and portfolio.

6:02 Senate Chairman Winters "We've established a new day."

6:09 Senator Dan Kelly "very proud of the work" on this bill,and the bill passes 38:0.

"Last dollar," KEES and private institutions

The Chamber of Commerce has proposed a college affordability approach where, after students and parents contribute what they can, and Pell grants are factored in, the state pays the remaining costs of attending a public institution. I blogged on the main idea earlier today, and now I want to add two more features of the idea.

First, KEES money could be used to meet the students' contribution. That is, while they'd need to contribute the dollar amount they could earn with summer and school-year jobs, they could raise some of that amount by meeting KEES requirements in high school.

Second, if a student chose a Kentucky private college, the state would pay the same amount there as it would contribute for going to a public program. (I'm the wife of a Centre professor and the daughter of a former Berea dean, and that caught my eye right away.)

The "last dollar" approach to college affordability

The Chamber's postsecondary report calls for a "major overhaul" of state financial aid policies. It suggests an intriguing "shared responsibility approach:
  • Students contribute an amount equivalent to minimum wage earnings from 40-hour summer jobs and 10 to 15 hours of school year employment.
  • Students’ families contribute the family contribution determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • Federal Pell grants contribute added resources for eligible students.
  • State aid covers the remaining costs of attending a public institution.
A brilliant feature in that plan is that the state pays the "last dollar." Whoever pays the final amount will ask why costs keep going up. Right now, students and parents don't get many answers, but if that bill shifts to the legislature, I think we'd quickly see a more meaningful discussion of where the money goes and how the price tag can be reduced.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

More on Tenure issue at KCTCS

The Herald Leader describes committee discussion today that ended with a recommendation to allow contracts for one year and multiple years for future professors, but no lifetime tenure at KCTCS. The full board votes tomorrow.

SB 1 question: What will an arts program review be, anyway?

Here's an important comment we received on an earlier post:
Can someone please define for me what a "program review" for the arts would entail. I'm an art teacher of grades 4th-8th (currently 2 tested grades in A&H 5th & 8th). In a discussion about our Arts & Humanities rotation schedule for next year...I said that we need to make sure that all students are provided equal opportunity in the arts classes...my administrator said to me, "Well you know that A&H is no longer going to be part of the assessment" as if it doesn't matter now because its not going to be tested. Does this mean that the Arts will no longer be a vital part of our KY students' educational requirements? Tell me it isn't so! Will the arts teachers layoffs in KY be the next headlines?
Right now, there are two versions of the bill, one approved by the Senate and another approved by the House. The Senate version calls for:
An annual evaluation by the district of each school's arts and humanities offerings for students. The evaluation shall include the number and variety of arts and humanities courses offered and how arts and humanities are incorporated into the curriculum in other classes...Findings from the assessments under this subsection shall be submitted to the Kentucky Department of Education. The department may contract with appropriate organizations to audit district assessments under this subsection.
The House version is more detailed. It starts with two definitions:
"Program review" means a systematic method of analyzing components of an instructional program including instructional practices, aligned and enacted curriculum, student work samples, formative and summative assessments, professional development and support services, and administrative support and monitoring.
"Program audit" means a form of program review that is a systematic method of analyzing components of an instructional program and areas for improvement that is conducted as a result of a program review that indicates a more in-depth process of analysis and assistance is needed.
Then the House version adds the following specifics about the art reviews:
1. The Kentucky Department of Education shall provide guidelines for arts and humanities programs and for integration of these within the curriculum to all schools.
2. The Kentucky Board of Education shall establish criteria to use in the program review and audit processes, and the procedures recommended for local district and department program reviews and program audits as defined [earlier]. The department shall distribute the criteria and procedures for program reviews and audits to all schools and teacher preparation programs.
3. Each local district shall do an annual program review and the Department of Education shall conduct a program review of every school's program within a two year period. The frequency of program audits shall be determined by the Department of Education in compliance with the requirements established by the state board.
4. Each school-based decision making council shall analyze the findings from program reviews for its school and determine how it will address program recommendations to improve the program for students.
As you can see, the House version is much more specific and provides reviews by the state as well as by the district.

In both House and Senate, leaders say very clearly that their goal is to get more and better teaching in the arts, focused more on student performance and less on the kinds of core content information that has been the focus with our pencil and paper tests. They also say that any school that tries dropping the arts will be breaking the law and will face consequences from the program reviews.

I think it can work if they commit to the state part of the reviews, including both the House language and regular funding for KDE to make it happen. What I wrote earlier about program reviews for writing portfolios fits here, too:
If I believe there will be financial support and political will behind the reviews, I'll count that as a credible proposal--but that "if" is as wide as the Pacific Ocean."
(To see the two versions of the bill, go here. The link that says SCS will let you download the Senate Committee Substitute approve on that side, and the one that says HCS will give you the House version. )

Testing: conference committee looking for off-the-shelf option

SB 1 is now in a conference committee as House and Senate try to reconcile their two different versions of the bill. The CJ has posted an account of where they're struggling:

House members prefer to let the department continue using the current test during the interim to test the subject areas of science, math, reading and social studies.

The test would be used to meet federal No Child Left Behind standards but not for state accountability purposes.

The Senate wants the department to use a national off-the-shelf test so officials can begin tracking individual student progress, something the current test does not allow.

Department of Education officials said this afternoon that they were going to research how much more an off-the-shelf test would cost compared to the current test; whether there is an off-the-shelf test that matches Kentucky’s existing education standards; and whether officials would have enough time to get a new interim test approved by the federal government.

The NCLB requirement is that we use a test that is aligned with our standards for content and for level of achievement. We checked ACT two years ago and found weak alignment. We checked TerraNova some years ago, and found weakness there, too--though that be worth checking again given our Core Content revisions. Crucially, good alignment studies take weeks, not hours--but KDE is being given only hours to reply.

(Nationally, only Iowa uses just an off-the-shelf norm-referenced test to meet NCLB requirements and only twelve states use just multiple choice questions. Most states use a customized test or an NRT augmented with customized questions.)

Secretary Duncan on weak teachers

EdWeek's Politics K-12 reports on testimony to Congress today:
And, in what has to be one of Duncan's least verbose answers to a question, he said that the answer to getting ineffective teachers out of the classrooms is: "You remove them."

Regional economics, Lorax leaders, and postsecondary goals

The Chamber of Commerce task force on postsecondary education identified "weak links between postsecondary education and state and regional economic development" as a challenge, saying:
Kentucky cannot reach the 2020 goals on education attainment only by getting more students through the education pipeline to degrees. Kentucky must create stronger links between postsecondary institutions and economic development to create new jobs that attract and retain college-educated residents. Achieving this will require:
• A stronger partnership between the CPE and the Cabinet for Economic Development.
• Greater efforts to link the developing research capacity at UK and U of L to efforts to develop new jobs in all regions of Kentucky.
• Focusing the goal and mission of the comprehensive universities on the role of regional stewardship.
• Increased access through university centers to postsecondary opportunities at the bachelor’s degree and professional levels in regions distant from a public four-year institution.
In the Seuss book, the Lorax appears and announces "I speak for the trees." This part of the agenda needs champions who appear like that. Not just people who care about development or education, but people who insist on discussion and action that links them together. We need several of them in each major region of the state. We can't create Loraxes by appointing them to CPE or university boards or Chamber panels: we need to spot them already doing the work, and then invite them to do it better by working through all those groups.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sec. Grayson stands up for civics and social studies

Secretary of State Trey Grayson has released this statement to the press:
“I am disappointed to learn that the changes made by the House Education Committee to Senate Bill 1 will further erode the emphasis that civics education and social studies will receive in the next two years. By suspending the state accountability index and following the federal accountability requirements, we run the risk of marginalizing civics education. With no accountability system in place for social studies, schools will naturally place a greater focus on those subjects that are part of accountability standards of No Child Left Behind. In an age where political leaders voice their frustrations over the decline in civic participation among our youngest citizens, it is counter productive to reduce the emphasis on the subject area that helps educate and train an engaged citizenry. This step will only move our schools farther away from their original civic mission. I hope that in the remaining days of the legislative session, the legislature will reverse this action and in future decisions about educational testing will place an even higher focus on civics education."

Senate Bill 1 Amended By House Committee

The House Education Committee amended and approved Senate Bill 1 this afternoon, and a House Floor vote is imminent. If the bill becomes law as amended by the House:
  • 2009 testing will include all of CATS, but no accountability index will be calculated. The only accountability will be from NCLB, for reading and math proficiency.
  • 2010 and 2011 testing will include reading, mathematics, science, social studies, and writing, but again, the only accountability will be reading and math for NCLB.
  • State academic content standards for reading, math, science, and social studies will be revised, using the detailed process from HB 508, to be complete by December 2010.
  • 2011-12 will be the first year of the new test.
  • The new test will include reading, math, science, social studies and writing, using constructed response and on-demand prompts as well as multiple choice, with criterion-referenced and norm-reference scoring.
  • Explore, Plan, and ACT will be used every year, including this year.
  • Program reviews will be used for arts, career studies, and the writing portfolio, with districts checking annually and the department checking every other year.
  • The new accountability system will include the parts of the new test, Explore/Plan/ACT, and the program reviews.
The bill does contain some other elements from HB 508 and the Senate version of SB 1, and I hope to be able to do a full bill summary once the bill is available on line. The items above look to me like the central changes people are watching.

Alignment as a postsecondary barrier

The Chamber of Commerce report on postsecondary education listed alignment as a barrier, saying in part:
Although progress has been made, appropriate connections – also called alignment – do not exist between and among all levels of education to ensure the success of students. A striking example of this is the misalignment of the state assessment for high school students, the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System or CATS, with the expectations for postsecondary-level study.
How can we answer the Chamber's concern as Kentucky moves to a new testing system?

First, postsecondary education must shape the next generation of high school academic standards. CPE and faculty members and P-12 leadership must come to a shared understanding of the knowledge and skill levels high school students should attain.

Second, assuming we test juniors in 2012, they'll graduate in the spring of 2013 and get their first grades in the fall of the same year. A systematic statistical analysis should be complete by the fall of 2014 on how well their high school scores correlate with their college grades. A similar analysis should be done annually and forever.

In between, we need a student data system that uniquely identifies each graduate, each graduate's high school grades and scores, and that graduate's college enrollment and grades. That's infrastructure we need anyway--and it's surely the kind of "shovel-ready" innovation project that the federal stimulus plan is ready to support.

State revenue (scary stuff after midnight)

The Office of State Budget Director reported today that February’s General Fund receipts fell 9.3 percent compared to February of last year, a decrease of $54.3 million.... The November 2008 revised revenue forecast by the Commonwealth’s Consensus Revenue Forecasting Group called for a 2.7 percent decline for the entire fiscal year. To meet the revenue estimate, receipts must decline 7.6 percent over the last four months of the fiscal year.
That's from the official OSBD report here. The last sentence might be clearer if it said "If March through June are down 7.6 percent or more, we will not meet the revised consensus forecast, and we'll have to make bigger cuts than the Governor has already ordered" or "If March-June look like February, painful cuts are on the way." Even if the federal stimulus protects public education, health and safety could be badly damaged.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

President Obama's five pillars

At a speech this morning, the President described the central importance of education and some key signs that we need to step up our efforts:
So let there be no doubt: The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens -- and my fellow Americans, we have everything we need to be that nation. We have the best universities, the most renowned scholars. We have innovative principals and passionate teachers and gifted students, and we have parents whose only priority is their child's education. We have a legacy of excellence, and an unwavering belief that our children should climb higher than we did.

And yet, despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we've let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us. Let me give you a few statistics. In 8th grade math, we've fallen to 9th place. Singapore's middle-schoolers outperform ours three to one. Just a third of our 13- and 14-year-olds can read as well as they should. And year after year, a stubborn gap persists between how well white students are doing compared to their African American and Latino classmates. The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, it's unsustainable for our democracy, it's unacceptable for our children -- and we can't afford to let it continue.
To make American education "once more .. the envy of the world" the President offered five priorities he spoke of as "pillars":
  • investing in early childhood initiatives
  • encouraging better standards and assessments
  • recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers
  • promoting innovation and excellence in America's schools (expanding charter schools and changing the school day and year to provide more learning time)
  • providing every American with a quality higher education
The full speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is available here.

President Pledges Support for Early Care and Education

President Obama again pledged to address early care and education as he outlined his plans for education in a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He said:

"This isn't just about keeping an eye on our children, it's about educating them. Studies show that children in early childhood education programs are more likely to score higher in reading and math, more likely to graduate from high school and attend college, more likely to hold a job, and more likely to earn more in that job. For every dollar we invest in these programs, we get nearly $10 back in reduced welfare rolls, fewer health care costs, and less crime.

That's why the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that I signed into law invests $5 billion in growing Early Head Start and Head Start, expanding access to quality child care for 150,000 more children from working families, and doing more for children with special needs. And that's why we are going to offer 55,000 first-time parents regular visits from trained nurses to help make sure their children are healthy and prepare them for school and for life.

Even as we invest in early childhood education, let's raise the bar for early learning programs that are falling short. Now, today, some children are enrolled in excellent programs. Some children are enrolled in mediocre programs. And some are wasting away their most formative years in bad programs. That includes the one-fourth of all children who are Hispanic, and who will drive America's workforce of tomorrow, but who are less likely to have been enrolled in an early childhood education program than anyone else.

That's why I'm issuing a challenge to our states: Develop a cutting-edge plan to raise the quality of your early learning programs; show us how you'll work to ensure that children are better prepared for success by the time they enter kindergarten. If you do, we will support you with an Early Learning Challenge Grant that I call on Congress to enact. That's how we will reward quality and incentivize excellence, and make a down payment on the success of the next generation. "

Read more here.

Increasing KCTCS even faster

From fall 1997 to fall 2006, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System delivered:
  • a 106% enrollment increase from fall 1997 to fall 2006.
From 2000-01 to 2005-06, KCTCS delivered:
  • a 32% increase in diplomas (from 1,609 to 2,130).
  • a 533% increase in certificates (from 1,839 to 11,647).
  • an 81% increase in associates degrees (from 3,322 to 6,028).
  • a 193% increase in all awards (from 6,770 to 19,805).
In the Chamber report on higher education, that growth stands out enough to warrant its own post!

Increasing university enrollment and degrees

The Chamber report on postsecondary education (available here) found important growth in university capacity. From 1997 to 2006, Kentucky increased the number of students enrolled by 13% and the number of degrees awarded by 23%. That's a core result of our higher education reform, worth savoring for a moment.

Western and Northern had the fastest enrollment growth, while Eastern and Louisville grew more slowly than the other institutions.

Northern and Western increased degrees more quickly than other schools, while Morehead and Kentucky State showed the slowest degree increase.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Comparing House and Senate testing bills

Both Senate and House have revised their respective proposals for changing statewide assessments. In their current forms, SB 1 and HB 508 agree that it is time for substantial changes, but disagree on important specifics.

Testing schedule starting 2011-12

Senate: five of last eight days of school, with scores back in 60 days
House: five of last fourteen days, with scores back in 75 days

Testing methods starting 2011-12
S: multiple-choice and writing prompts
H: constructed-response, multiple-choice, and writing prompts

Writing test schedule starting 2011-12
S: once in elementary, middle, and high
H: grades 4-7 and 9-10

2009-10 and 2010-11 testing
S: CATS in reading, math, and science
H: CATS in all subjects but without writing portfolio accountability

Program reviews
S: districts reviews of arts (annually) and career programs (no schedule), with possible contract audits of district reviews
H: districts reviews arts, career, and writing programs (all annually) with KDE review every other year, more systematic audits needed, and reviews discussed in administrators’ evaluations.

Parent reports and individual plans for students with deficiencies
S: grade 3-8 reading and math reports and plans
H: grade 5 reading and math reports and plans

Achievement gaps
S: schools set gap targets by February 1 and gap reduction plans by April 1 each year
H: schools set gap targets and plans by October 1 each even-numbered year

Added House Provisions
HB 508 contains steps not found in SB 1:
  • State standards to be shorter, clearer, and aligned with college readiness
  • EPSB to ensure that future teachers develop skills in writing process, classroom assessment, and instructional strategies to help all students make progress
  • CPE, KBE, and KDE to plan steps to halve college remediation rates by 2014
  • KBE to have the option of substituting end-of-course exams for some high school testing
  • KBE to ban inappropriate testing preparation that interferes with regular instruction
Areas where Senate and House are the same or similar:
  • New state goal of preparing students to perform in the arts
  • Reading and mathematics tests in grades 3-8 and once in high school
  • Science and social studies tests once at each level
  • Writing portfolios for classroom use, but not state accountability
  • Arts and humanities and career studies not tested
  • Explore, Plan, and ACT readiness tests continued
  • Longitudinal scores to track individual students
  • Both norm-referenced reports and criterion-referenced reports from state tests

Higher education basics: 1997 reform and Chamber review

Kentucky's 1997 higher education reform legislation set a goal of reaching national average educational attainment by 2020, with strategies that included:
  • Creating the Council on Postsecondary Education to develop and carry out a strategic agenda for reaching the 2020 goals.
  • Taking a new approach to funding that includes investment and incentive funding program.
  • Creating the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
  • Setting up the Strategic Committee for Postsecondary Education (SCOPE), to ensure sustained commitment from the General Assembly.
Ten years later, a Chamber of Commerce task force undertook a mighty study of postsecondary education, releasing their report in December 2007. The report, available here, provides important insight into the implementation and impact of our higher education efforts. This week, I'll be blogging a number of its key findings (in and out of watching the assessment bills, the stimulus rollout, and statewide headlines, of course).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Those unforgiven teacher loans: sorting out the story

Roughly 4,000 Kentucky teachers are being told they'll have to pay off loans that a state agency --the Student Loan People--had promised to pay for them under its "Best in Class" program. Today's Herald-Leader editorial has the basics in a nutshell:
Beginning in the 1990s, Congress significantly upped federal subsidies to lenders who make student loans. This boosted the profits and stock prices of banks. In Kentucky, the non-profit student-loan agency pumped the excess revenue into aid to borrowers studying to work in shortage areas: teachers and counselors, nurses and public service attorneys.
When Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, Congress reduced the subsidies and put the savings into direct student aid, a better use of taxpayers' money. But the flow of dollars into non-profit lenders, including Kentucky's loan forgiveness program, was also disrupted.
About that time the Fletcher administration and legislature raided or redirected almost $90 million from the state student aid agency's reserves and revenue to balance the state budget.
That chronology, though, still leaves a puzzle.

If the Student Loan People assumed that the federal government would send the same money year after year, they were building on sand. They should have known better.

If the Student Loan People knew the feds could not be trusted, and reserved clearly labeled money each year to honor their promises, that's a more responsible story. The state officials who ran off with the money then are the ones who did the harm.

Only, that can't be the full story. The Student Loan people didn't cut off the promises until June 30, 2008. Governor Fletcher's term ended in 2007, and the last Fletcher budget passed in 2006.

How much of this sad story is about bad program planning, and how much of it was good planning undermined by bad legislation? Do we prevent repeats by watching the agency or watching the budget process? I still can't tell.

What I can tell is this. The Best in Class program asked able young adults to step up to urgent work, teaching math and science and foreign languages, and responding to the learning needs of students with disabilities and limited English proficiency. They are delivering for the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth should deliver for them.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Top 20 by 2020: A Prichard definition

The Prichard Committee has challenged Kentucky to be among the top twenty states by 2020, based on twenty measures that span preschool through college. We are currently:
  • 9th in fourth grade science
  • 15th in per pupil total higher education funding
  • 20th in fourth grade writing
  • 22nd in eighth grade science
  • 24th in preschool enrollment of children ages 3 and 4
  • 25th in share of higher education funding paid by families
  • 26th in fourth grade reading
  • 29th in eighth grade reading
  • 33rd in students earning AP college credit in high school
  • 33rd in full-time students completing associate’s degree in three years
  • 34th in eighth grade mathematics
  • 34th in average teacher salary
  • 35th in adults 18 to 24 with high school diploma or equivalent
  • 36th in eighth grade writing
  • 37th in full-time students completing bachelor’s degree in six years
  • 38th in high school graduates going on to college
  • 40th in fourth grade mathematics
  • 41st in per-pupil elementary and secondary funding
  • 44th in science, tech, engineering, math share of bachelor’s degrees
  • 44th in adults 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree or higher
It's an ambitious goal, possible only with sustained energy and leadership, but genuinely possible if we make the commitment to get it done.

(Source: The Committee's four-page can be downloaded here, summarizing some key steps forward that Kentucky has already taken, as well as some challenges still unmet, and it also shows the data for each Kentucky ranking above and for the state that is currently twentieth.)