Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Poverty and school discipline (with a puzzle)

The Kentucky Center for School Safety has just released its Ninth Annual Safe Schools Data Project, including disaggregation of which students face disciplinary actions for major infractions that violate board policy and even more severe actions that violate state law. Looking at participation in the federal lunch program, here's the pattern:

A first point is clear: students from low-income families face major disciplinary actions far out of proportion to their share of the population. That's important to know, and important to try to change.

A second point is puzzling: the proportions are much further out of whack for board violations than for the more severe law violations. What's that about?

The full report, with detailed analysis and an appendix with data for each school district, is available here.

School councils and citizenship skills

If you've ever counted or helped count the ballots of an SBDM election, you know how they look. The ballots you count are folded, rumpled, crumbled, battered, and a mess.

Now, have a look at the official picture below from the Iranian Republic News Agency. Compare what you know and what you see. More pictures here if you want them. (Hat tip to HuffPost)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Disaggregated graduations (or not)

Here's a summary of how Kentucky public institutions did with black, white, male and female students who started bachelor's programs in 2001.

The University of Kentucky had the strongest results for all four groups, with Western in second for black, male and female students and Murray in second for white graduates.

Kentucky State had the weakest results for white, male, and female students, with Northern second from the bottom. For black students, they swapped, with Northern at the bottom and Kentucky State in the next slot up.

And yet UK's numbers, topping out at 64 percent of white students and 62 percent of female students earning degrees after six years of effort, still strike me as less than completely good news for students or the state.

Stimulus, budget, hurry up and wait

EdWeek's Politics K-12 asks "So which eight states are dragging their feet, using every last hour of their time?" and answers: Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, Vermont, and Wyoming.

In Kentucky, here's the state of the bidding. The revenue forecast saw new problems, the Governor called a special session to enact solutions, the legislature cut some spending, added some spending, and cut some taxes, and now the Governor is back to designing new solutions to fit the new monetary situation.

In today's installment, the Bluegrass Politics Blog reports that:
A new fiscal year begins Wednesday but state agencies won’ t know until mid-July how deep they must cut their budgets to balance the budget, Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday.
That almost certainly means the federal application will take at least that long.
More helpfully, Bluegrass Politics adds that:
Beshear said Monday that Medicaid, K-12 and post-secondary education will not be asked to cut their budgets to make up for the additional revenue lost to the tax incentives.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Graduation rates (light on the graduations)

A high school with a four-year graduation rate below 60 percent is easily labeled a dropout factory, because we find these results clearly unacceptable.

I look at this graph and I struggle to decide what six-year graduation rate is unacceptable, and I struggle to explain why the standard should be lower for universities than the one we apply at the secondary level.

Please, do add your thoughts on this conundrum in the comments section.

Performance pay or consistent teaching

In the English reports I've been reading recently, Ofsted inspectors simply do not accept the idea that teaching quality has to vary widely from classroom to classroom. They expect teachers to work together to achieve excellent teaching schoolwide, applying the practices common to professional learning communities. They expect head teachers to give priority to developing similarly high levels of skill throughout their staffs. They describe excellence with words like "consistently, " "constantly," "not just occasionally but for a high proportion of the time," and "not ... by chance, but by highly reflective, carefully planned and implemented strategies" (all used here).

The American idea of performance pay is to figure out which teachers deliver the best results, pay them more, and hope that that added pay works as an incentive for other teachers to improve and stronger applicants to enter the teaching field.

Implicitly, performance pay accepts big differences in teaching quality. It assumes that we cannot, directly, through focused attention and systematic leadership, equip all teachers to move students forward to high standards. It assumes that big gaps between what one teacher does and what another can accomplish are unavoidable.

The English experience, backed up by rising student performance on national and international measures, says we don't need to settle for difference like that.

Beating the odds in English high schools

Few of the schools featured here were born great; they had to achieve greatness. This narrative starts in the early nineties. This was the time when many of the headteachers took up their posts, drawn to challenges which others eschewed
* * *
There should be no misconceptions: turning around the fortunes of a flagging school in challenging circumstances is very hard work and requires unwavering self-belief and perseverance. Improved results do not come easily and there can be setbacks.
And yet, Twelve Outstanding Secondary Schools have pulled it off, based on high performance in English testing and school inspections. With above average eligibility for free school meals, their work qualifies as beating the poverty odds, something we've cheered before in Kentucky.

They delivered those results at the high school level, something rare enough here that we have no systematic reports on how it can be done.

And they've done it for long enough that the report (available here) can start with how they became excellent and move on their strategies for sustaining excellence and the ways they are sharing their methods more widely.

Key elements of the schools' success include:
• They excel at what they do, not just occasionally but for a high proportion of the time.
• They prove constantly that disadvantage need not be a barrier to achievement, that speaking English as an additional language can support academic success and that schools really can be learning communities.
• They put students first, invest in their staff and nurture their communities.
• They have strong values and high expectations that are applied consistently and never relaxed.
• They fulfil individual potential through providing outstanding teaching, rich opportunities for learning, and encouragement and support for each student.
• They are highly inclusive, having complete regard for the educational progress, personal development and well-being of every student.
• Their achievements do not happen by chance, but by highly reflective, carefully planned and implemented strategies which serve these schools well in meeting the many challenges which obstruct the path to success.
• They operate with a very high degree of internal consistency.
• They are constantly looking for ways to improve further.
• They have outstanding and well-distributed leadership.
The delight, of course, is in the individual stories that litter the report. It's the tale of students who might easily have fallen short but instead are reaching high goals. Even more, it's the tale of educators who have found ways to make that happen for students over and over again. I commend it to your happy reading.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

School inspections (English-edition)

Michael Barber's presentation last Friday has me thinking about school inspections. I found the most recent published report from Ofsted, the English agency responsible for such work, here.

Marriott Primary School was inspected in January 2008 resulting in this blunt finding:
In accordance with Section 13 (3) of the Education Act 2005, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector is of the opinion that this school requires special measures because it is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and the persons responsible for leading, managing or governing the school are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvements in the school.
In that report, there's an intense expectation of consistent high teaching quality and a blunt statement that the expectation has not been met:
There is wide disparity between the best lessons, where pupils make excellent progress, and unsatisfactory lessons, where the quality and pace of learning are inadequate. In too many lessons teaching does not plan in detail what, or how, different pupils will learn, and does not make effective use of additional adult support. In weaker lessons, pupils spend too long listening for information. When the pace of learning slackens, pupils tend to become restless and inattentive, or are simply too passive to make gains in learning.... Some marking is good, but assessment and target setting are underdeveloped. Assessment information is not used consistently to set suitable learning objectives or to guide improvement. The pupils are often either unaware what they need to do to improve their work or simply ignore comments in marking.
That January 2008 report led to four follow-up monitoring reports including one earlier this month. The most recent report finds progress satisfactory on the indicators checked, and describes important improvements, but pushes for major additional work, with these priorities:
• Endeavour to appoint teachers of proven high quality with support from the local authority.
• Increase the proportion of consistently good teaching to improve rates of progress further for all pupils throughout the school.
• Continue to improve rates of attendance and punctuality further by continuing to work with pupils, parents and carers and the education welfare officer to promote good attendance.
• Continue to work with local authority officers to provide appropriate training for teachers to support better those pupils identified with learning difficulties and behavioural problems.
• Continue with efforts to secure a full complement of [Interim Executive Board] members so that the board can effectively hold the interim headteacher to account for the progress made towards school improvement.
That's short and clear, with teacher capacity-building firmly at the forefront.

I've read quite a number of Kentucky scholastic audits over the years, and similar issues are regularly. Only, the teaching quality issues have been surrounded by other issues that all seem to be equally important, so that even blunt language on instruction has not left the same impression that classroom practice is the main thing that must improve. Roughly, our reports read as though teaching matters, but not as though it overwhelmingly matters most. And, of course, we don't routinely see four further published evaluations within eighteen months.

The English model, tied as it is to England's rapid recent improvement in literacy and numeracy, probably deserves closer Kentucky attention.

Middle-skill jobs and learning to match

Roughly half of American jobs require education greater than high school and less than a full four-year degree, making them "middle-skill jobs."

For example, in the graphs to the right, the middle category includes sales and related occupations, office administrative support, construction, installation and repair, production occupations, and transportation and material moving. They're a smaller share of the total than they were in 1996, but they're still huge.

America's Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs: Education and Training Requirements for the Next Decade and Beyond (published in 2007 and available here) argues for education strategies that build a workforce ready both for high-skill and middle-skill jobs.

The Council on Postsecondary Education's big goal is to double bachelor's degrees in the workforce by 2020, without a separate target for associates and certificates.

Reports like this argue against that exclusive emphasis, contending that the economy needs workers with a range of postsecondary skills and we need education strategies to match.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Four years of math (eventually)

Blogger Dean Dad offers what he sees as "A Real Forehead-Slapper," asking "Why do so many states require only two years of math in high school?"

For this fall's tenth graders, Kentucky's got that one covered. The class of 2012 must take Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II and take a math course every year of high school.

Less happily, we don't have it covered for students in the classes of 2010 and 2011. Those students need three mathematics credits, including Algebra I, Geometry, and an elective. Especially for students who took Algebra I in middle school, it will perfectly possible for those students to take no math at all for two years and enter college with skills that have faded significantly.

When the Kentucky Board of Education agreed to raise the requirements back in 2006, members wanted students to be able prepare for the higher standards in middle school. Switching standards for students who were already in sixth grade would, they thought, be unfair.

Only, if we believe that students need Algebra II for college and the workplace, and if we believe that math every year is the best way to build lasting skills, the phase-in means that we're still sending graduates out into the world without a sound foundation. Surely that, too, is unfair to the students who will graduate in the coming two years.

On this issue, I think we're making the right move at the wrong speed.

Source: Kentucky's high school graduation regulation is 702 KAR 3:305, available here.

Top systems: teaching quality or failure

The McKinsey & Co. analysis of the world's top school systems begins with an analysis of past efforts in multiple countries, including:
• increased funding
• lowered class sizes
• standards, assessment, and accountability programs
• decentralization initiatives that include both school councils and charter schools
• and "tens of thousands of initiatives aimed at improving the quality of education in the nation’s schools."

The heart of the report is the conclusion that, as separate efforts, those approaches have not worked. Building teaching quality has to be the central strategy:
We found that high-performing school systems, though strikingly different in construct and context, maintained a strong focus on improving instruction because of its direct impact on student achievement.
I think the argument is that the other changes do not work alone. Many of them are in place in the top systems:
These systems all ensure that they put in place the necessary foundational conditions such as rigorous standards and assessments, clear expectations, differentiated support for teachers and students, and sufficient funding, facilities and other core resources.
For Kentucky, therefore, the key point may not be that we were wrong to work on all of those things, but that we were wrong to think that those efforts could, indirectly, give teachers the skills and confidence to raise student performance.

The central argument of the report is that, to get substantially higher achievement, we need a substantially stronger, far more direct approach to teaching quality, focused on the key drivers of recruiting the right people, equipping them well, and getting each child consistently strong instruction.

Monday, June 22, 2009

County-level outcomes: Christian County

As with yesterday's version (here), this graph:

• Uses data from CPE's County Profiles (here).
• Divides the target county's numbers by statewide numbers.
• Uses red for any bar that's more than 10 percent below the county's share of total population.
• Uses purple for any bar that's more than 10 percent above the population share.

That low adult education enrollment combined with the high GED completion is definitely eye-catching. Are students preparing for the exam in some other settings besides the main adult education program? Is the main program working with fewer students but serving each better?

The associate's degree result certainly reflects Hopkinsville Community College as a regional presence.

The drop-off after that, though, does look like reason for concern about whether more support is needed to increase the number of students reaching for higher attainment than that.

Again, local thoughts from Christian County and the surrounding area are heartily invited.

Prichard press release: Bold actions for education improvement

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Effective school leadership, quality teaching and globally competitive standards for students, teachers and principals have emerged as the principle areas of improvement that the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence will ask the governor to emphasize in his review of Kentucky's education system.

Meeting recently in Louisville (on June 19, 2009), members of the citizens' advocacy organization agreed that it is time for bold action to improve student achievement in Kentucky. The review that Governor Steve Beshear has said his administration plans to conduct is considered a strong opportunity for such bold action.

After a day of discussion and priority setting, the members identified the following top themes, or areas of focus, emphasizing that "advocacy must lead to action:"
  • Quality teaching in every classroom
  • Principal leadership in schools
  • Ongoing education for teachers, principals and superintendents
  • An expansion of early childhood education
  • Engaging parents and communities in school improvement
  • Raising expectations and changing school and community culture to reflect the changing world, and using technology as a tool in that work
The day-long committee meeting featured a presentation by Sir Michael Barber, head of McKinsey & Company's Global Education Practice and executive director of the Education Delivery Institute in Washington, D.C. Barber also is a former top advisor to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Barber said he had first heard of the committee in the 1990s when he was working with Blair to restructure Great Britain's education system, describing the Kentucky group as a "globally unique" committee engaging citizens in making change.

Such work is even more critical as the pace of change accelerates around the globe, with population growth and technological advancements creating new challenges, he said. "We are preparing students, not for a world we know, but for a world we don't know," he said. Students in the 21st century need knowledge and skills, but also the ability to think, resilience and higher aspirations.

Research by McKinsey & Company has found that big spending increases and smaller student-teacher ratios have not improved student performance in nations around the world, he said. Rather, "consistent quality of teaching is by far the most important factor driving performance, and it is missing in most systems."

Barber offered the committee four lessons on the importance of improving teaching and leadership quality in schools:
  • The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. The nation's great education systems attract great people into teaching. In Korea, it's the top 5 percent of graduates, in Finland the top 10 percent.

  • The only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction. Top-performing teachers take professional development into the classroom and make it a routine part of their work, and "this is really, really important," Barber noted. 

  • High performance requires every child to succeed. Inspections and examinations enable schools to continuously track their performance and improve. 

  • Great leadership at the school level is a key enabling factor. Top-performing countries recruit and train excellent school leaders, using courses taken from leading executive training programs, placements with major corporations, rigorous evaluations and other strategies.
Finally, Barber outlined the building blocks of a world-class education system, organized under three categories.

Standards and Accountability:
Globally-benchmarked standards
Good, transparent data
Every child is always on the agenda to challenge inequality

Human Capital:
Recruit great people and train them well
Continuous improvement of pedagogical skills and knowledge
Great leadership at the school level

Structure and Organization:
Effective, enabling central department and agencies
Capacity to manage change and engage communities at every level
Operational responsibility and budgets significantly devolved to school level

A report from the meeting will be sent to Governor Beshear and officials of his administration.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Seeing county-level outcomes

The Council on Postsecondary Education has created county profiles with key data on population, education, and related issues. You can find any county you'd like to review here, and they're a great asset for residents interested in understanding local education issues more clearly.

Skimming the reports, though, I've had a hard time picking out which numbers count as strong results and which as weak ones that citizens might want to address and improve.

So, at the left, I offer an experimental format. I took some key numbers from the Fayette County report, and divided by the matching numbers from the state report. Then I highlighted places where Fayette's share was sharply higher or lower than its share of state population, marking differences of more than 10 percent.

Thus, in red, notice that Fayette's shares of high school graduates, adult education enrollment, and GED awards are all smaller than its share of the population.

In purple, Fayette's shares bachelor's degrees, STEM degrees, and graduate and and professional degrees are all higher than its share of the population.

My goal in this experiment is to figure out a format that highlights what's unusual in any county. I've used Fayette first because many PrichBlog readers live there. For them and for others, what questions do you see in this graph? What ideas do you have about why it works this way.

Tomorrow, I'll share several more counties to continue this experiment.

Top systems and leadership

Michael Barber, a partner at McKinsey & Company, spoke on Friday at the Prichard Committee's spring meeting, giving a wonderful presentation that included the three central points of the McKinsey work I've been blogging over the last week:
  • “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”
  • “The only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction.”
  • “High performance requires every child to succeed.”
He then added an additional lesson from top-performing school systems:
  • "Great leadership at school level is a key enabling factor."
That makes perfect sense to me. Any major step up in student performance at a school has to reflect its current teachers becoming more skilled, and an excellent principal contributes mightily to that sort of change.

Indeed, Michael Barber's presentation focused intensively on how educators can work steadily on becoming more skilled and noted that it's basically impossible for any professional to sustain that sort of continuous improvement in isolation. Principals can play a pivotal role in making sure that teaching changes from a solitary to a collaborative effort and and that professional growth changes from a sporadic effort to a consistent feature of each week's work.

Top systems and teacher recruitment

The top performing school systems consistently attract more able people into the teaching profession, leading to better student outcomes. They do this by making entry to teacher training highly selective, developing effective processes for selecting the right applicants to become teachers, and paying good (but not great) starting compensation.
In the McKinsey & Co. analysis of the world's best performing school systems (quoted above, available here), teacher recruitment is a crucial element. The selectivity works by tightly limiting the number of people admitted to teaching programs, aiming to choose from the top 30 percent of their graduates and to select for communication skills and motivation to teach along with overall academics. Admitting small numbers allows these systems to spend more preparing each teacher candidate and to be more confident that all those who complete the program will be hired for teacher positions.

Of course, admitting smaller numbers will also mean that the system also needs a high success rate, with nearly every person who trains for teaching truly making it a career. I have friends in England who made career choices like that, nearly irrevocable, at 18 or 19, but I find it hard to imagine American young adults jumping in that early. To me, this approach sounds more likely to work after students complete a bachelor's degree, when they're ready to apply for an M.A.T. or an alternative certification program.

Of all the elements in the McKinsey report, this one seems the most challenging for Kentucky to consider.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Excellent Spring Meeting

The Prichard Committee's spring meeting finished earlier this afternoon. Michael Barber offered an outstanding presentation on the world's best-performing schools, complete with some thoughts on leadership that I'll share as soon as I have time to breathe, and the members have been deep in conversation about how to move Kentucky learning higher faster. Even before that, I'd love for others who were there to share what they thought was most valuable. Bring on the comments!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Little evidence of students deliberately left behind

Is the emphasis on “proficiency” shortchanging higher- and lower-achieving students?

That's the provocative question that leads off this year's NCLB reporting from the Center for Education Progress. The report (available here) explains why it's a worry:
Because the percentage proficient is so crucial to a school’s AYP status, there are incentives for educators to make sure they teach what students should know to meet state standards for proficiency and to focus on raising test scores for students who perform slightly or somewhat below proficient—actions that could end up shortchanging higher- or lower-performing students.
Looking at the data they assembled, the Center reports that there is "no strong evidence" of that practice, saying:
But state test scores provide little evidence that NCLB is having such an effect. Gains far outnumbered declines at the basic, proficient, and advanced levels of achievement —which suggests that the achievement of higher- and lower-performing students has not been harmed to an obvious extent. Still, gains were more numerous and larger at the proficient than at the basic or advanced levels, which might be interpreted as an effect of NCLB’s emphasis on proficiency.
For myself, I still see important benefit in the index approach Kentucky has used in years past. That method gives credit for moving students to proficiency, but also gives partial credit for moving students from lower to higher levels short of proficiency and extra credit for moving them to distinguished. That incentive system matches what we want schools to do for our children.

The all-or-nothing NCLB approach provides an incentive to value only the work that moves a student from apprentice to proficient. In this case, it's good news that CEP does not think the incentive system is working.

NCLB trends: good for nation, gone for Kentucky

The Center for Education Policy reports annually on state level progress under the federal No Child Left Behind testing and accountability requirements. The report for 2007-08 is just out (download here), showing overall improvement for most states with three or more years of comparable data.

Kentucky, unfortunately, is not one of the states. Our 2008 test results can only be compared to 2007. In 2006 and before, we used a version of CATS based on different Core Content, with a different balance of multiple-choice and open-response items, and with different "cut points" to separate novice, apprentice, proficient, and distinguished work.

Next year, more helpfully, we'll be eligible for analysis again, because the tests students took in the spring of 2009 matched the 2007 and 2008 editions.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A wrinkle on that SEEK base cut

For 2009-10, the budget amendments being considered in House Bill 1 provides a smaller SEEK base guarantee than the budget adopted last year (as discussed here).

But there's a twist.

House Bill 1 does not cut total SEEK funding.

So, what happens to the dollars that aren't going to the guarantee, and to the other parts of SEEK that are calculated from the guarantee?

House Bill 1 also says:
If excess funds are available after the final SEEK calculation in fiscal year 2009-2010, these and all available funds shall be distributed to school districts in accordance with KRS 157.310 to 157.440, as amended by 2009 Ky. Acts ch. 53, secs. 1 and 2, ch. 74, secs. 1 and 2, and ch. 88, sec. 4, notwithstanding KRS 157.360(2)(c).
Living dangerously, I'll venture a guess about how that's supposed to work:
  1. The remaining dollars won't be paid out month-by-month over the whole year.
  2. If the economy turns out even worse than forecast, those dollars won't ever be paid.
  3. If the economy and state revenue do work out as predicted, then districts will receive the added funding sometime close to the end of the 2009-10 fiscal year.
It also seems like a good time to mention that House Bill 1, like all legislation, is a work in progress, subject to many, many changes before it becomes law. It is far from settled that what I've described above will be in the final version.

Cutting state P-12 funding

House Bill 1 is the special session's budget amendment bill.

For the SEEK base guarantee, it sets a 2009-10 per pupil amount of $3,866. That matches the 2008-09 guarantee, but cancels the scheduled increase to $3,909.

Understand that those words mean a cut in the state contribution to SEEK base funding.

That's because the base guarantee is paid partly by local funds and partly by state funds.

In 2008-09, the average district share was $1,399, so the state paid $2,467.

In 2009-10, the average district share will be $1,454, so the state will pay $2,412.

That's a $55 cut per pupil in the state share, translating to $31.5 million cut in total state spending on the base guarantee.

(State spending will go up on the SEEK add-ons for special student needs--because those needs are growing, but go down on the SEEK Tier 1 program, which provides matching funds for districts that voluntarily raise more than the minimum district share of funding.)

Total spending in top systems

Most of the world's best-performing school systems spend 18 to 20 percent of gross domestic product per capita on education, as shown above.

As a sandlot estimate, Kentucky is at the low end of that zone, based on the following analysis:
  • $7,662 is the Census Bureau's report of our 2006 per pupil current spending, including state payments for health and retirement benefits for school district employees.
  • $1,022 is my estimate of the employee and retiree health care portion of that 2006 spending, which is not likely to be in the education costs of the other systems.
  • $6,640 per pupil is my estimate of our apples-to-apples education spending, after subtracting out the health portion.
  • That's 18.3 percent of our $36,352 gross state product for 2007.
To do a better estimate, I'd need more information about the report. I've assumed that only current spending is included, but maybe long-term facilities and borrowing for facilities should be part of the estimate. I've also assumed that they're counting all pupils equally, but they might use a full-time equivalent count adjusting for part-time students, or they might use average daily attendance. And I'd also want to learn a more about school responsibilities in the comparison systems, to see what social and health services to students are included in their figures.

Sources: The graph above comes from How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top, introduced here. The spending figure is from Public Education Finance 2006, available here. The health estimate takes the 2006 state budget figure for health insurance plus half of the 2006 state budget contribution to the Kentucky teacher retirement system, and divides by the enrollment figure from the Finance report. I have not added anything to reflect district contributions for classified retirement or for employees paid with federal funds.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Top systems, starting teacher pay [with updated link]

All of the top-performing systems we benchmarked (except for one) paid starting salaries that were above the OECD average relative to their GDP per capita. What is interesting, however, is that the range of starting salaries offered by the top performers is narrow: most systems pay a starting salary between 95 percent and 99 percent of GDP per capita (across the OECD as a whole, starting salaries range from 44 percent to 186 percent of GDP per capita).
That's one part of How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top.

Kentucky's 2007 gross domestic product per capita was $36,352, so we'd need to pay at least $34,534 to match that top-performing strategy. That's 12 percent more than our average 2007 teacher starting salary of $30,862.

The Best-performing report is my major subject for this week, introduced here, along with a link to download. The GDP figure is here, and the salary figure in OEA's District Data Profiles report here. [Update: the GDP report will not download from the link in the previous sentence. Instead, go here and download the "Gross State Product" report.]

School intervention, Duncan-style

In a new commentary for Ed Week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan puts the spotlight on effective work to change the nation's lowest-performing schools. He summarizes the Chicago efforts this way:
In Chicago, the most successful interventions we implemented when I led that city’s school system were complete turnarounds. ...
The change was never easy. We created an arduous process for the selection and development of new school leaders to open a new school. We recruited existing administrators from within the Chicago public schools, and we worked in partnership with nonprofit entrepreneurs, such as the Academy for Urban School Leadership and New Leaders for New Schools, to identify potential leaders from outside the system. We needed the best people with the capacity to take on the challenges of fixing schools that had been failing for decades. Once selected, they worked for six months, deciding which of the teachers from the building to rehire and recruiting new ones.
The new school leaders ran intensive efforts to prepare their new teams, sometimes spending more than five weeks in the summer in workshops and planning sessions to get ready for the school year. They extended learning time for students while also creating extra planning time for principals and teachers. The hard work paid off: We saw immediate and sustained results. In every elementary and middle school we turned around, attendance rates improved and the percentage of students scoring above proficient on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, or ISAT, increased in the first year. Almost all of them sustained that growth every subsequent year. Dodge Elementary School, one of the first schools we turned around, became the Illinois school with the greatest gains on the ISAT. Five years after it reopened, 72.5 percent of Dodge students scored proficient or above on the ISAT, 55 percentage points higher than the year before its turnaround.
Chicago’s success proves that we as a nation can expect dramatic and quick turnarounds in our lowest-performing schools.
Kentucky's assistance to weak schools has enable most of them to move out of state intervention, but a short list of schools have been chronically unable to change their direction. For that limited group, is it time for Kentucky to consider action as aggressive as this Chicago model?

Old schools, new gambling money?

The Herald-Leader reports online that "House Democrats hope to use gambling proceeds from slots at racetracks to fund a large-scale program that would spend up to $700 million replacing dozens of the state’s oldest school buildings," including the sixteen schools over 40 years old and some of the 142 that are between 30 and 40 years old. The article also reports a chilly reception from Republicans in both houses.

Still, I went looking for lists of the schools, and found them here. The buildings identified as more than forty years old are:
  • Anderson Co: Early Childhood Center
  • Carter Co: Carter Elementary
  • Clark Co: Central, Fannie Bush, and Pilot View Elementaries
  • Fleming Co: Ewing and Hillsboro Elementaries
  • Johnson Co: Mead Memorial Elementary
  • Leslie Co: W.B. Muncy Elementary
  • Letcher Co: Beckham Bates Elementary
  • Metcalfe Co: North Metcalfe and Summer Shade Elementary
  • Paducah Ind: Paducah Middle
  • Perry Co: D.C. Wooten Elementary
  • Pike Co: Phelps Elementary
  • Robertson Co: Deming Elementary/High
I'm confident that buildings that were originally built more than 40 years old have had substantial renovations and been moved from that list.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Top systems and teacher debt (yes, this one hurts)

In addition to developing alternative ways of recruiting alternative ways of recruiting fresh graduates, top-performing systems have also found ways to recruit more experienced graduates. Typically, teacher training requirements create barriers to recruiting such people. Applicants to teaching who have already completed their university studies and started work generally have to undertake a year of training, during which they use a year’s earnings, as well as often having to bear the cost of the course in addition. This makes entry into the profession unattractive to experienced hires, particularly those with families or other financial commitments. Opening up alternative routes into teaching in which entrants are relieved of this financial burden increases significantly the pool of potential applicants into the profession.
Of all the thoughts in How the worlds best-performing school systems make it to the top, only that one made me sad.

Kentucky already applied this great lesson, and we got great new teachers by promising to forgive their loans. The participants included many talented people who already had established careers and family responsibilities. It was a brilliant, world-class idea.

Except, the loans aren't being forgiven, the teachers are being crushed by debts they were coaxed to take on, and we're still looking for ways to say promises weren't made and don't have to be kept. Details on the Best in Class debacle are here, and a perfect illustration of how not to prepare for global competition.

Top systems and pre-service teacher training

Worldwide, some of the systems with the strongest results are pushing hands-on, practice oriented approaches to preparing teacher-candidates for their careers. How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top offers examples:
On the one-year Teacher Residency program in Boston, for example, trainees spend four days each week in a school. IN England, two thirds of the time on one-year training courses is devoted to teaching practice. In Japan, teachers spend up to two days a week in one-on-one coaching in their classrooms, during their first year of training.
Especially noteworthy is the aggressive approach taken in England:
England has placed all funding for teacher training under the control of a new agency, the Training and Development agency for schools (TDA). The TDA set strict standards for teacher training institution, including a minimum of 24 weeks of practical experience on most courses (two thirds of the total course time on one year programs) with the requirement that this classroom experience provide a good learning environment for trainee teachers. Providers are inspected by an independent inspectorate; the TDA reduces funding or closes down providers which do not meet the standards. England has also introduced an induction year, during which new teachers are given increased support and supervision, a reduced teaching load that allows extra time for planning and training, and a regular performance review to highlight areas requiring improvement.
Kentucky's Education Professional Standards Board has struggled with limited results to change how Kentucky's teacher programs equip their students, though our internship for first-year teachers is an important plus.

Senate Bill 1 demands that EPSB do more, with special emphasis on "use of the academic standards in the pre-service education programs and ... experience planning classroom instruction based on the revised standards."

To my mind, that's the second most-vulnerable, least-resourced element of the new legislation. It's not as worrisome as the required professional development for current educators, but it's close. But it's not at all clear that EPSB has the leverage to create meaningful change at the pace our students need.

Perhaps it's worth a closer look at the scale of power granted to England's TDA?

How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top
is available here, and earlier PrichBlog posts on the report are here, here, and

Sunday, June 14, 2009

$350 million for new tests

One of the best things about the multi-state push for common standards is the possibility of sharing test development. Here's reporting from Politics P-12 of planned federal support for stronger testing efforts:
The U.S. Department of Education will use a portion of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund to help states work on developing assessments, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told governors in North Carolina tonight.... The details are still being worked out, but he said $350 million of the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top money set aside for states will go to the project.... And it sounds like Duncan is hoping that at least some states will work together on creating the tests.

Really good tests will cost more than the fill-in-the-bubble variety, Duncan told the governors, and it'll be too much money for any one state to do on its own. So the feds are going to put up part of the funding and Duncan is hoping that states will choose to collaborate with one another.

Top systems, learning communities, and SB 1 standards

“The notion that external ideas by themselves will result in changes in the classroom and school is deeply flawed as a theory of action.”
Richard Elmore in School Reform from the Inside Out, quoted in How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top.
Teacher development methods are a central part of what the world's best-performing school systems do well. After discussing initial training for new teachers, the McKinsey analysis identifies three major strategies for strengthening current educators:
  • Providing one-on-one coaching where expert teachers observe in classrooms, model strong instruction, and help teachers reflect on their own practice.
  • Making instructional leadership the core role of principals by changing recruitment, training, and work expectations for that key role.
  • Creating a collaborative culture in which teachers regularly learn from one another, sorting through data, revising strategies, and planning lessons in teams
In essence, these highly successful systems rely on versions of professional learning communities. We know that from Kentucky and national research (including blog posts here), and this report adds international confirmation. Teachers change their practice when they receive coherent support on an on-going basis from colleagues, coaches, and school leaders. In contrast, shorter "set-and-get" sessions and "drive-by" workshops do not change results.

As Kentucky moves to higher and clearer standards, how will we equip teachers to meet those standards? Senate Bill 1 says KDE must provide professional development, but it does not offer methods or funding or staffing or vision for that work.

This global report thus offers us an important warning: without school-level, sustained coaching, leadership, and collaboration for our teachers, our students will not meet the new, ambitious standards we are about to create.

McKinsey & Company's report on How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top is available here, and earlier PrichBlog posts on the report are here and here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Local moment: Go Kaitlin!

Here is how dominant a season Kaitlin Snapp had: The Danville freshman did not even get to finish her spring sport, and was still good enough to be named the 2008-09 Kentucky Advocate Female Athlete of the Year.
Full report here.

Monitoring schools in top performing systems

How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top has chapters on recruiting teachers, training and professional development, and then ensuring "the best possible instruction for every child." In the middle of that third chapter, the report notes that:
The high-performing systems use two mechanisms for monitoring the quality of teaching and learning:

Examinations: Examinations test what students know, understand and can do, providing an objective measure of actual outcomes at a high level of detail. Examinations also have a powerful effect in driving the performance of any school system. In the words of one Australian educationalist, “What gets tested is what gets learnt, and how it is tested determines how it is learnt.”

School review: School reviews, or inspections, assess the performance against a benchmark set of indicators. Unlike examinations, they measure both outcomes and the processes that drive them, and as a results, can help schools and systems identify specific areas that are in need of improvement. School reviews also enable systems to measure some of the more subtle and complex desired outcomes of a school system, which are difficult or impossible to measure in examinations.”
Under Senate Bill 1, Kentucky is moving to a similar combination. The accountability system that launches in 2011-12 will combine assessments of student work in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, and on-demand writing with program reviews of arts & humanities, practical/career studies, and portfolio writing.

For Kentucky, the arts really have been an area where performance is "difficult or impossible to measure in examinations." In writing, the big issue has been about the process schools used, too often creating exhausted students without nurturing increasingly skilled writers. This international analysis shows that other school systems with some strong results have found inspections a useful strategic tool in similar circumstances.

Meanwhile, I would love to see the standards other countries use for their inspections, and to know about the time, staffing, and funding those systems think are required to get good results. Our new reviews can be a big improvement or a giant fraud depending on whether we invest in them properly. Looking at these other nations is one way we can benchmark what serious inspections look like.

I introduced this important report and outlined its overall approach here.

Top-performing systems (worldwide)

Here's a 2007 publication from McKinsey & Company with potent lessons for Kentucky.

The full World's Best Performing School Systems report is available here, reflecting analysis of school systems across the globe with top scores on the PISA assessment, adding in Singapore for top TIMSS results, and also looking at a set of systems with strong improvement results.

That research found a set of key things those systems did more often than lower performing schools, with these main headings:

Getting the right people to become teachers:
• Mechanisms for selecting teachers for teacher training
• Good starting compensation
• The importance of teacher status

Developing them into effective instructors:
• Building practical skills during the initial training
• Placing coaches in schools to support teachers
• Selecting and developing effective instructional leaders
• Enabling teachers to learn from each other

Ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child:
• Setting high expectations for what students should achieve.
• Monitoring and intervening at the schools level.
• Monitoring and intervening at the students level.

Some of the key ideas are familiar ones we're ready to apply more systematically. Others may be difficult to apply here or even not quite right for us. I plan to wrestle them over the next week, not quite in the original order, but connect all the elements to Kentucky's current efforts and future options.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Inside School Research reports on work comparing the eye motions of new and experienced teachers:
The newcomers, for instance, tend to engage more often in "cognitive tunneling." That is, they focus longer and more often on a single student. The veterans, in contrast, tend to take in the entire room most of the time. In one such pair of expert-novice teachers, the younger teacher spent 20 percent of her time focusing on one of the 27 children in the class. The more experienced teacher, in comparison, never focused on a single student more than 9 percent of the time.
I'd love to know a bit more, especially about how the researchers handled differences between teachers standing traditionally at the front of classrooms and teachers circulating among smaller groups of students.

And yet, what leapt to mind for me was on-line teaching. If classroom experience builds up the ability to take in quick visual indications of how students are doing, what changes when all that visual information is replaced by e-mail and completed classwork?

Fiscal stabilization quick update

The federal stimulus legislation makes Kentucky eligible for $651 million for fiscal stabilization, with most of that money slated for public schools and public postsecondary education.

Kentucky is one of fourteen states that have not yet filed initial applications for those dollars, along with Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Here, you can see the approved applications of 27 states and Puerto Rico, plus the initial applications of nine states and the District of Columbia.

Revenue shrinks (a bit less than expected)

From the May revenue announcement:
The Office of State Budget Director reported today that May’s General Fund receipts were down 2.7 percent compared to May of last year. Total revenues for the month were $617.4 million, compared to $634.3 million during May 2008. Through the first 11 months of the fiscal year, receipts are down 1.7 percent.

The official revenue estimate calls for a 2.1 percent decline for the entire fiscal year. To meet the revenue estimate, receipts would need to decline 6.0 percent or $52.1 million, over the last month of the fiscal year compared to June, 2008.
To review the story to date:
  • The 2008-09 budget was written using based on forecasting general fund revenue to grow compared to 2007-08.
  • The November forecast said revenue would shrink by 2.1 percent.
  • This report saying revenue shrank by 1.7 percent for the year.
  • In short, the decline is both bad and not quite as bad as the forecasting group predicted.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

High school rankings (Go Holmes!)

Newsweek has published its 2008 data analysis of public high schools by the college-level work they offer. Their headlines focus on what they see when they divide Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Cambridge tests given by of seniors graduating, with their full lists available here. Those results puzzle me because they count tests taken but not passed.

The chart above draws on another part of the Newsweek data, showing the percent of all seniors who had at least one score of 3 or above on at least one AP test sometime in high school. As is my habit, I looked first to see which schools with high poverty were producing important results, and Covington's Holmes High School definitely stands out this time.

Newsweek's discussion how and why they did their analysis is here, along links to a variety of supporting articles about the schools and their strategies.

National work on college remediation

Helpful news from EdWeek's Inside School Research Blog:
Along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, Carnegie is investing $2.5 million to form a research network focused around a single educational problem. The problem the foundation wants to solve is how to improve the success rates of community college students in remedial, or developmental, math courses. Taken by 60 percent of community college students, the noncredit courses are designed for students whose academic skills are not up to par. Students have to take and pass them before they can enroll in the courses that count toward their degrees. The problem is that many students get stuck there, with some taking as many as four or five courses before giving up on college altogether.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Garden State Pie (with a big problem)

In EdWeek's new Dropout Counts, New Jersey is projected to have the highest graduation rate of any state this year. I'm comfortable with the public graduates, but I think the nonpublic slice above simply will not do.

The 2008 Digest of Education Statistics has 2004-05 as its most recent year for private school graduations. It reports 12,810 private school graduates, and there must be home school graduates and at least a few private and home-schooled nongraduates beyond that.

Accordingly, I'll venture an informed guess: 15,700 nonpublic graduates and nongraduates. That's the Digest private school graduation number, increased one-sixth for home-school completions, plus nongraduates based on assuming a 95 percent nonpublic graduation rate. Here's how that bakes up:

Once again, my argument is that most graduation reports assume that an impossible number of young residents is missing from each state's public graduation total. By trying to fit public numbers, nonpublic estimates and total population figures into a single crust, I'm working to correct that.

P.S. My mouth now waters for coconut custard pie, one of the finest treats offered in the New Jersey diners of my youth. If anyone's spotted that option on a menu in the greater Bluegrass, please do let me know.

The graduation pie bake-off (updated)

Public and nonpublic graduates and nongraduates, when combined, should add up to a credible estimate of that year's eighteen-year-olds. Starting today, I plan to use pie charts to push that point. On finding fresh counts or estimates of public graduates and nongraduates, I'll combine them in a single graph with total eighteen-year-olds and private-school and home-school figures. All numbers will be rounded just enough for easier consumption.

My first pie comes from Education Week's 2009 Dropout Counts report, being released this morning, which estimates Kentucky will have 41,556 public school graduates and 16,193 public school nongraduates in 2008-09. Here's the resulting pie:

That tiny nonpublic piece isn't one I'd want to serve to company. The last estimate I saw had close to 3,800 private school graduates, and I saw no sign that home-schoolers or nongraduates were included. I think EdWeek included far too many public nongraduates in its recipe.

EdWeek's national estimates offers 2,889,430 graduates and 1,286,915 nongraduates, which I'm trying to match to a Census count of roughly 4,344,000 reaching age 18 at the right time. Again, the nonpublic slice seems highly unlikely: the most current private-only, graduates-only number I can find is over 300,000.

Finally, here's my own 2007-08 pie, using ingredients from the Department's most recent nonacademic briefing. This one leaves a credible helping for the nonpublic sector.

Why am I spending all this time in a hot kitchen? I'm doing it because I think most approaches to public school graduation rates make the same big mistake. Specifically, they assume that many students who spend two years in ninth-grade can across the stage with their first freshman class and with their second freshman class, collecting diplomas both times.

Those approaches either result in implausibly low nonpublic school numbers or implausibly high numbers old enough to graduate. The pies are my way of pointing out which numbers come out of the oven making sense, and which ones seem, even on brief inspection, to be half-baked.

Update: below is the pie I originally included above. It uses the EdWeek 2009 graduation estimate and the Census Bureau's estimate of 2008 17-year-olds. I regret the error. The pie now shown above is the one I should have displayed originally. I apologize for the error.

Monday, June 8, 2009

SB1 in a nutshell

Here's a one-page summary of the main provisions of Senate Bill 1, Kentucky's new legislation calling for major changes in Kentucky standards, testing, accountability, teacher preparation, and professional development.

To go with it, here's a roundup of my posts about SB 1 since the bill was voted out of the legislature:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

IQ and education

Nicholas Kristof argues here that "what we think of as intelligence is quite malleable and owes little or nothing to genetics." The NYT column draws on Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count, a recent book by Richard Nisbett that looks at the cultural heritage and learning strategies of three immigrant groups that frequently out-achieve their peers.

Kristof takes this message away from Nisbett's analysis:
What’s the policy lesson from these three success stories?
It’s that the most decisive weapons in the war on poverty aren’t transfer payments but education, education, education. For at-risk households, that starts with social workers making visits to encourage such basic practices as talking to children. One study found that a child of professionals (disproportionately white) has heard about 30 million words spoken by age 3; a black child raised on welfare has heard only 10 million words, leaving that child at a disadvantage in school.
The next step is intensive early childhood programs, followed by improved elementary and high schools, and programs to defray college costs.
Perhaps the larger lesson is a very empowering one: success depends less on intellectual endowment than on perseverance and drive. As Professor Nisbett puts it, “Intelligence and academic achievement are very much under people’s control.”
You can "look inside" the Nisbett book here.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thinking about taxes

Kentucky schools need stable funding, and funding requires a healthier tax system. So, where my brain refused to pay attention to taxes a few years ago, articles are starting to catch my eye.

This piece in the Herald-Leader has an extra short, extra clear description of the challenges:
Kentucky has an income tax, but its limited range reflects 1950s income levels. That means low-income people pay too much and high-income people pay too little. Kentucky has a sales tax, but it covers mostly goods and not services, the fastest-growing part of the economy.
It's also got a sharp statement of two proposals from tenacious legislators, worth everyone's attention, and the author's view of how to choose between them.

Friday, June 5, 2009

More degrees (again)

In the statewide growth in bachelor's degrees, here's the recent breakdown by school:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What did the Governor just say?

Today's budget press release from the Governor's office includes highlights that begin with:
Preserving the same amount in the coming year as last year in per pupil spending in classrooms across the state – the basic formula known as SEEK -- and funding for higher education at the same levels as the 2009 budget. “I’ll say it again and again – we cannot move forward if we take significant steps backward in spending in our classrooms,” Gov. Beshear said of his proposal.
I read that as saying the Governor is prepared to cut education funding at least four ways compared to the 2010 budget currently in place.

1. In the two-year budget enacted last year, higher education was scheduled to receive $1,303 million for FY 2009 and $1,324 million for FY 2010. Sticking to FY 2009 will be a $21 million cut.

2. In the same two-year budget, SEEK funding for P-12 education was scheduled to receive $2,958 million for FY 2009 and $2,974 million for FY 2010. There, sticking to FY 2009 total SEEK funding will be a $16 million cut.

3. The total education budget for P-12 education is more than $4 billion dollars. SEEK is close to $3 billion of that, but education also gets funding for preschool, textbooks, school technology, ESS tutoring, teacher professional development, testing, and other needs. The failure to mention those other P-12 dollars is likely to be a signal that some of them are also in danger.

4. Some state money slated for P-12 and postsecondary in the 2010 budget will be replaced with federal fiscal stabilization funds. For the coming year, the source may not matter much. For future years, though, when the stabilization funds are gone, it means there may be a major struggle just to get state funding back up to recent levels.

Sources: Today's press release is here. Here, the CPE budget is in volume 1d and the KDE budget in volume 1b.

Viewpoint: The genius of common standards

The new NGA/CCSSO approach to academic content standards has truly impressive possibilities. Voluntarily, forty-six states have agreed to ask a team of recognized experts to draft strong math and language arts standards, with a commitment to make that "common core" central to their own state standards. EdWeek offers project details here, and Kentucky will be an active partner in the work.

With many states working together, we can greatly reduce the inefficiency of separate state standards, and yet not risk the gridlock so common to federal efforts.

Once the standards are defined, other benefits seem nearly certain to follow.

For example, groups of states may be able to share a single accountability test if their standards fully match. Even if they have a few differences, they may be able to share a pool of well-crafted test items. Overall, states may be able to get something close to the "off-the-shelf" price for assessments that fit their expectations as well as current customized editions that often cost noticably more.

As related possibilities:
  • Excellent approaches to teacher preparation and professional development may find a wider market and attract more innovative providers.
  • Technology applications to teach key concepts should also grow more quickly when designers can see which topics many states want to address at each grade level.
  • Classroom assessment methods--so important for guiding students' learning and teachers' planning--may also develop in stronger directions once a single design can fit the goals set in many different jurisdictions.
If this project works, it may well be a positive turning point of historic proportions for American education, with Kentucky as a charter participant.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Raising standards (with 46 states)

The multi-state effort to develop common academic standards aligned with college readiness is picking up steam. Organized by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the plan now has 46 states on board with commitments from their own governors and chiefs. Kentucky committed early and will use the mathematics and language arts standards as the foundation of our new SB 1 standards.

According to new reporting in Ed Week:
The groups plan to pursue their aggressive timeline of getting college- and career-readiness standards—those things students should know by the time they finish high school—in draft form for states and eventually the public to review in July. Grade-by-grade standards—which the organizers are also calling “learning progression standards”—are set to be done in December.

Working groups composed of representatives from the Washington-based group Achieve, the New York City-based College Board, and ACT Inc., the Iowa City, Iowa-based organization that administers the college-entrance test of that name, will develop the standards.

Both the NGA and the CCSSO plan to create a “validation” committee made up of independent national and international experts in content standards to review and comment on the drafts. The experts will be nominated by states and organizations, but ultimately chosen by those two organizations.

Once the standards are agreed to, it will be up to the states to get them adopted. The signed memo stipulates that the common core must represent at least 85 percent of a state’s standards, and that the common core needs to be adopted within three years.

That method, starting with achievement and testing experts and then bringing in a validation committee, looks great to me. When practitioner committees have advocates for many different details, they far too often settle for including everything, producing lists that are unmanageable at the classroom level. The NGA/CCSSO approach seems far more likely to produce something lean, clear, and capable of supporting rich instruction and balanced classroom assessment.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Throwing numbers around: $500 million

How big is the real hole in the state budget, and the problem state leaders really have to solve? Senator Williams is right that the hole is less than the $1 billion drop in revenue, but I think it's still pretty large.

Here are the very round numbers I'm thinking about:
  • $1 billion missing from revenue assumed in 2008.
  • +$200 million added in new costs from health benefits and other troubles.
  • -$400 million from the stimulus fiscal stabilization.
  • -$300 million in revenue and savings that will repeat from the 2009 legislature's work.
  • $500 million as the real hole that requires further action.
I had to add some assumptions there. Kentucky will receive $650 million in stabilization money for two years, and that's spending more than half of it in the first of those years. The state plugged a $456 million hole in this year's budget, and that's assuming that about two thirds of those efforts will work again. And the $200 million in new costs rounds off a Page One report that they've sourced to Senator Williams' staff.

Taking $500 million out of general fund spending, if that's what's ahead, will involve serious losses in services to current Kentuckians and investment in future strength.

$651 million over two years

The federal fiscal stabilization fund will bring more than $651 million to Kentucky, with more than 80% of it required to go to elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education.

When Senator Williams says that the $996 state shortfall for the coming fiscal year can easily be managed, I can't tell if his plan is to spend the full $651 million as part of the solution.

Still, I'm worried. The $651 million is a two-year amount. It's what Kentucky gets for FY 2010 and FY 2011. If we do spend it all starting this July 1, we'll hit next July 1 with no cushion at all.

I'll be listening and reading for clarification, and I'll share when I get a clearer sense of what's being considered.