Thursday, July 30, 2009

Open records, citizenship, and a tiny KDE change

Since 1992, the Department of Education has had its own regulation on how to request Open Records, with the current edition here. In June, though, the state board of education voted to repeal that regulation, and instead follow a standard regulation for all state agencies, available here.

This is not a big change. Mainly, it will mean that once the change becomes final, we should all submit our requests to the Commissioner's office, rather than to "the Records Officer, Associate Commissioner, Office of Management Information Services."

If you want to inspect Department of Education, you submit a written request and you're entitled to see almost anything. The only exceptions come from a statutory list of documents that can be kept private.

If you want copies, you should expect a small fee: 10¢ a page for paper copies, and a custom fee for things like photographs and digital records that will only include copying costs and not include staff time.

As an added tip, it's always worth checking the KDE website first. If you can figure out who's got the thing you want that's not available on-line, it's also worth asking that person to send it by e-mail at no cost at all. You only need an Open Records request when both of those less formal methods fail--but it's still a helpful back-up.

The same rules--except for who you ask--apply to all Kentucky districts and schools.

About the picture: My mother taught me early that government documents are public documents, and asking to see them is as American as apple pie and Fourth of July parades. That small illustration has long been my personal reminder that asking for the documents we want is a serious bit of citizenship in action.

Shinking state SEEK funding

This school year, districts will receive $33 million less in base SEEK funding from the state than they received last year, dropping from $2,282 million to $2,249 million.

The total guaranteed amount will decline just one million. That change is driven by student counts, and although average daily attendance low-income enrollment have gone up, but students with disabilities have gone down more than enough to offset that growth.

The crucial thing, though, is that the state does not pay the full guarantee.

The state's share will go down because the local share will go up by $33 million. The local share is calculated as 30¢ for each $1,000 in taxable property, and local property values have grown statewide.

As a result, even though the state guaranteed the same amount per pupil, the amount it pays out will go down.

The table below uses figures from two KDE SEEK Forecast Summaries available here. For 2008-09, the revised final version is dated May 12, 2009. For 2009-10, the most recent version is dated July 10, 2009. The chart below includes numbers from both of those projections. It also includes what the state originally planned to provide for 2009-10 under the budget passed last year that would have used a larger guaranteed amount per pupil.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kids Count ranks Kentucky 41st (again)

The new edition of Kids Count has just come out ranking Kentucky 41st among the states based on 2007 data. Overall, that's no progress from 2006, but there is movement in many of the indicators that go into the rankings.

Compared to 2000 data, we lost ground on babies with low birthweight, infant mortality, children living in poverty, children living in single-parent families, and children living in hopes here no parent has full-time, year-round employment.

We made progress compared to 200o on the child death rate, the teen death rate, the percent of teens who are high school dropouts, and the percent of teens who are not in school and not working, while seeing no change in the teen birth rate.

You can download the full data book or explore these and other indicators here, or take a look at below at the Kentucky and national key indicators. Pink marks indicators where we lost ground and green where we made some progress.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

SISI 2.0? The English Inspection Standards

Kentucky's scholastic audits reflect our Standards and Indicators for School Improvement, a lengthy document with nine standards, each with multiple indicators--and each indicator with multiple descriptors.

By comparison, England's school inspections produce a much shorter list of judgments, focusing on the major issues of student outcomes, quality of "provision" (meaning instruction and other services), and leadership and management. Starting with this September's inspections, here's a complete list of the areas to be addressed:
1. Pupils’ achievement and the extent to which they enjoy their learning (taking into account pupils’ attainment; the quality of pupils’ learning and their progress; and the quality of learning for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities and their progress)
2. The extent to which pupils feel safe
3. Pupils’ behaviour
4. The extent to which pupils adopt healthy lifestyles
5. The extent to which pupils contribute to the school and wider community
6. The extent to which pupils develop workplace and other skills that will contribute to their future economic well-being (taking into account pupils’ attendance)
7. The extent of pupils’ spiritual,* moral,* social and cultural development

1. The quality of teaching (taking into account the use of assessment to support learning)
2. The extent to which the curriculum meets pupils’ needs, including, where relevant, through partnerships
3. The effectiveness of care, guidance and support

1. The effectiveness of leadership and management in embedding ambition and driving improvement (taking into account the effectiveness of the leadership and management of teaching and learning)
2. The effectiveness of the governing body in challenging and supporting the school so that weaknesses are tackled decisively and statutory responsibilities met
3. The effectiveness of the school’s engagement with parents
4. The effectiveness of partnerships in promoting learning and well-being
5. The effectiveness with which the school promotes equal opportunity and tackles discrimination
6. The effectiveness of safeguarding procedures
7. The effectiveness with which the school promotes community cohesion
8. The effectiveness with which the school deploys resources to achieve value for money
Each report ends final judgments on the school's "outcomes for individuals and groups of students" and "the school's capacity for sustained improvement," followed by an overall judgment of "Overall effectiveness: how good is the school?"

Bluntly, I think the English list is stronger than our SISI:
  • They address student performance as well as school practices, looking at key character traits and capacities for adult success as well as healthy habits and good behavior. Kentucky has some similar goals on paper, but we've had no system of monitoring and accountability for them.
  • In actual inspection reports, it's clear that the look at achievement goes beyond test scores, looking at things like arts and the writing process. These inspections seem to already do much of what we want from our new program reviews in those areas.
  • Parent engagement and student safety are unmissable in the English version. They're included in SISI, but they're hidden like a needle in a haystack of other issues.
  • Teaching quality similarly is completely central to the section on provision.
  • "Capacity for sustained improvement" as a summary judgment captures all the issues of school leadership, culture, professional development, and planning, and it the needed information for decisions about outside intervention if the school is too weak.
I'd happily see Kentucky aim for something this complete and concise as our guide to future state studies of individual schools.

For a more complete overview of the English approach, including how the inspections are conducted, check out The Framework for School Inspections here.

* England has an established church and an un-American understanding of how schools and faith can relate. In practice, though, much of what they mean is what we mean by "character education."

A funding comparison

Kentucky state and local funding for schools was 81 percent of the national per pupil average in 2006-07. Adding in federal funding, where our poverty means we get a bit more than average, our schools had 84 percent of national per pupil funding.

For a wide array of 2007 fiscal information, check out the newly released Public Education Finance report available for download here.

Another round of cuts?

On July 13, 2009, KDE received notice from the OSBD that an expected $1 billion shortfall in FY10 will require KDE to provide OSBD with plans for both a 3% and a 4% General Fund reduction. SEEK and school district health insurance are exempt from any reduction. Staff will update the Board at the August meeting concerning budget reduction effects on KDE operations and programs.
That's from the budget briefing memo in the Agenda Book for next week's meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education, available here as item XVI-B.

A "KDE cut" will not come solely from the agency based in Frankfort. In state budget definitions, the "Department" budget also includes categorical funding to districts for things like preschool, professional development, and extended school services and support programs like the School Safety Center and the Literacy Center.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Teacher preparation and Race to the Top

The Race to the Top grant's draft criteria say applications will be evaluated for the quality of their plans for "Reporting the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs."

That is, the federal Education Department will look at:
The extent to which the State has a high-quality plan and ambitious yet achievable annual targets to link a student’s achievement data to the student’s teachers and principals, to link this information to the programs where each of those teachers and principals was prepared for credentialing, and to publicly report the findings for each credentialing program that has twenty or more graduates annually.
That draft language doesn't give a year when states must tell the public about the student achievement of the graduates from each teaching program--but it does look like states with plans to get it done quickly will have a competive advantage for getting grants.

The draft also doesn't require specific consequences for the weakest programs--but it does say that public reports will let the whole state know which are weakest.

And yet, even with those caveats, the teacher preparation element of the RTTT draft looks to me like an important push in a direction that could make an important difference.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Charter schools and Race to the Top

Charter schools are a reform approach with strong support from President Obama and Secretary Duncan and no presence at all in Kentucky. Will that put us out of the running for Race to the Top funding?

In the draft released Friday, a state's approach to charters is one of nine criteria listed for current state conditions, and one of nineteen criteria total. When the applications are officially evaluated, I assume each element will be worth some points, and Kentucky will lose the ones that go for charter efforts.

However, Kentucky will be well-positioned for a number of other criteria. For example, Senate Bill 1 means we can move especially fast on implementing common standards and participating in common assessments. For another, we've seen smaller education cuts than many states, which will count in our favor as a way of showing the priority we give education.

Overall, I think our lack of charters does not put us out of the running, but it does make it especially important for us to make a strong showing on all the other criteria.

Race to the top: Criteria

Federal Race to the Top grants will go to states that combine strong current reform conditions with strong plans. This program is clearly being designed to extend existing efforts, not to help states start from scratch or merely continue work already underway.

For reform conditions already in place, here are the draft criteria the federal Department of Education released Friday:
  • Developing and adopting common standards
  • Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments
  • Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system
  • Providing alternative pathways for aspiring teachers and principals
  • Intervening in the lowest-performing schools and LEAs
  • Increasing the supply of high-quality charter schools
  • Demonstrating significant progress (on standards, data, teaching quality, struggling schools, and achievement)
  • Making education funding a priority
  • Enlisting statewide support and commitment
For the reform plan that will use the RTTT money, here's what the draft criteria say will count:
  • Supporting transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments
  • Accessing and using state data
  • Using data to improve instruction
  • Differentiating teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance
  • Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals
  • Reporting the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs
  • Providing effective support to teachers and principals
  • Turning around struggling schools
  • Raising achievement and closing gaps
  • Building strong statewide capacity to implement, scale, and sustain proposed plans
My earlier post with basics on the RTTT applications is here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Race to the top: $21 million a year?

As folks start thinking about Race for the Top applications, it's worth trying to get a ballpark idea of what Kentucky's share might be if we receive a grant.

$4.35 billion is the total competitive funding.

$4 billion is available in the main competition, with $350 million set aside for separate funding of new test development.

1.3% is roughly Kentucky's share of the country's public school enrollment.

$52 million is 1.3% of the $4 billion.

$104 million doubles that because not all states will get grants. New York and California and some other states may be ineligible because of their rules against using test scores in staff evaluations, and in a true competition, some eligible states will not win.

$21 million might be one year of that funding, which can be spent during the school year about to begin and the next four after that.

Of course, Kentucky could lose in the competition, receive more or less, and spread the spending out in a different way.

But thinking about $21 million a year for five years is a way of seeing that the funding is on a scale with state funding in recent years for professional development or extended school services.

It's not enough for massive new systems or big changes in staffing levels or compensations. It's also probably not enough incentive for states to make massive policy changes and go in directions they would not take without this money being on offer.

It is enough for a few important targeted efforts or one-time investments designed to the winning states to deliver at a higher level for years into the future.

Race to the top: draft priorities

The ARRA (stimulus) legislation includes more than $4 billion for competitive Race to the Top grants. Yesterday, the U.S. Education Department released the Race to the Top "Notice of proposed priorities, requirements, definitions, and selection criteria."

The priorities section of the draft gives the quickest overview of the kinds of work states must include to win a grant and the kinds of work they can add if they wish.

Mandatory elements
(called absolute priorities) in the draft include:
  • Standards and assessment
  • State data systems
  • Equitable distribution of effective teachers
  • Struggling schools
States already promised to work on those issues when they applied for the big fiscal stabilization funding. For Race to the Top, they'll need to go beyond promising to give a specific, systematic plan of how they'll fulfill that commitment.

Optional elements
  • Science, technology, engineering and math
  • Expansion and adaptation of state data systems
  • P-20 coordination and vertical alignment
  • School-level conditions for reform and innovation
The STEM element is called a "competitive priority," meaning that states that include a STEM plan will have a competitive edge over states that do not include that. The other three are "invitational priorities," meaning that states won't get a competitive advantage by including them.

The "school-level conditions" invitational priority is about giving schools "flexibilities and autonomies conducive to reform and innovation." The examples include power to select staff and set budgets, to change the school day or year to add learning time, and to provide "comprehensive services to high-need students"--a list that sounds to me remarkably like Kentucky SBDM, ESS, and FRYSCs. One more example includes giving students credit for performance rather than seat time, which has has been an underused option here for a decade--and might be a good target for some strategic investments.

Comments over the next thirty days will be the next step, after which USED will decide on the final rules and invite states to start writing their applications for the money.

Here, you can:
  • read Secretary Duncan's op-ed explaining the program
  • watch President Obama's official announcement
  • download a summary of the program with more details
  • download the entire 80+ page official Notice

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Teaching quality: Washington Co. invests

Washington County's board of education has approved a new job category: school administration manager. The high school will soon have the district's first SAM, a role I first heard about as a Jefferson County initiative. As reported in the Springfield Sun:

Among the possible responsibilities listed on the school board agenda for the position are supervision during hall changes and during class time, help with discipline referrals, truancy, supervising evening events, and assisting with lunchroom supervision. The person hired for the position will also offer immediate relief for principals to have time to spend instructional leadership, assessment, and support for teachers. Other administrative duties can be assigned depending on the strengths of the person hired.
In the world's top school systems, teaching quality makes the difference, and strong instructional leadership is part of what makes teaching quality happen. The SAM role can be a way to help that leadership succeed, which makes this quick story worth a bit of quick recognition. (Hat tip: KSBA)

Core knowledge and common core

The first draft (subject to considerable revision) of the common core mathematics and language arts standards were posted yesterday by the Core Knowledge blog, as part of a quite negative evaluation (here).

It's important to remember the Core Knowledge folks' distinctive view of literacy and language arts more generally. They argue that mature literacy depends on background knowledge. A reader has to understand key ideas from history, science, and literature in order to make sense of new text: he or she has to fit new material into the context of existing knowledge to make sense or "construct meaning" from the words. They argue, with evidence, that once students master phonics and basic reading strategies, they don't need more reading instruction nearly as much as they need more content learning to build their vocabulary, concepts, and "cultural literacy."

From their starting point, the draft of the common core language arts standards naturally raises concerns. The draft lists no specific poems or books students should read, no historical events they should study, no science they should engage. The draft doesn't provide a central part of what the Core Knowledge advocates think students need to read proficiently, study successfully, and participate effectively in adult economic and civic life.

I agree with the main Core Knowledge argument about how reading works, and have blogged it heavily (here, for example).

Still, I think they've chosen the wrong battle. Most people believe they can teach reading in isolation, and most state testing policies reflect that belief. Kentucky has built its assessments to include science, social studies, and the arts, but that's unusual. As a result, there's political will to build common standards in reading and math, but not for other subjects--at least not yet.

I think it makes more sense to argue for the rest of the content independently. Argue for it on its own merits, and argue for it as a method for meeting the reading standards. Don't call language arts standards a failure just because they don't list the full knowledge and cultural background students need to be well prepared for reading and writing success.

Common core: a first glimpse

The common core standards project is under way. Expert panels have created first drafts of the reading and mathematics knowledge and skills students need for entry-level college and work-force training. The draft has been sent out for review by other key players, and the Core Knowledge blog posted it yesterday. You can download the draft here, with the caveat that revisions are already underway.

My first take is that the draft is good work:
  • The expectations are stated clearly and briefly.
  • The language arts portion calls for reading work I remember as hard work in high school and writing capacities I use in every day of my own work.
  • The mathematics portion is heavy on algebra and heavy on working out how to use the equations to get things done.
  • The examples of reading and mathematics tasks strike me as especially helpful for understanding the level of work students will be expected to do.
I'd expect nearly all parents to struggle with some of the specifics, both because we didn't learn some of the skills at all and because some of that we learned has slipped away over the years. If we want future high school graduates to do higher level work than past high school graduates, we have to expect that. Most of us could make sense of a full set of sixth-grade math standards, because we're still using those skills, but the end of high school is and ought to be different.

Finally, here's something intriguing: the language arts includes listening and speaking, which implies that the designers think there are reasonable ways to measure those capacities. Remembering that ACT, Inc., and the College Board dominated the drafting groups, I'm intrigued. Are they seriously preparing to offer assessments of oral and aural capacities?

Stay tuned for future drafts, debates, and developments!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Teaching quality: Russellville on the move

As a state and a nation, we've tried many indirect ways to "leverage instruction." We've tried improved funding, testing, accountability for testing, added requirements (for instance, primary and ESS), and added freedom from requirements (including SBDM in Kentucky and charter schools elsewhere)--always hoping and expecting that teaching quality would result.

The McKinsey report on the world's top school systems makes a convincing case that improved learning only comes from direct work on improved teaching, work done in recruiting, in pre-professional programs, and on the job with the teachers of each school through collaboration, professional development, and engaged instructional leadership. Michael Barber backed that view up strongly in his June presentation to the Prichard Committee. (You can find a round-up of the June posts on these ideas here)

Russellville Independent's working on just that quality issue right now. The News-Democrat & Leader reports on the district's "Modeling Exemplary Practice Student & Teacher Academy" here, which allows new teachers (and some veterans) to observe some of the district's strongest teachers at work and think through how the effective techniques worked. the short, impressive account, worth wide attention is here, and I'd love to know, some months hence, how teachers are doing at taking great ideas from others and making them a consistent part of their own practice. (Hat tip: KSBA news service)

World's top systems: a round-up

June's Prichard Blog work took a sustained look at How the world's top-performing systems come out on top, an important report from McKinsey & Co that puts teaching quality front and center.

Michael Barber, a McKinsey partner and former key player in England's move into those top ranks, spoke to the Prichard Committee late in the month, and addeitional posts discussed his take on related ideas and included a brief look at English school inspections as a tool for developing consistent teaching quality.

Here's a one-stop list of our complete set of posts on those international models:
As with past round-ups, I plan to update this post with future items as this discussion rolls on.

Double the numbers: Morehead and U of L still aim high

Morehead and U of L are aiming high. In negotiations with CPE staff, they have agreed to increase bachelor’s degrees this year at a pace fast enough that to meet their 2020 goals, while the current mighty recession has led other schools to plan weaker growth.

The Council on Postsecondary Education will be asked to approve all schools' bachelor's degree goals for the 2010 academic year at its meeting on Thursday.

Morehead plans an 11.8 percent two-year increase, from 973 bachelor’s awards in 2008 to 1,088 in 2010. Continuing that growth rate in the years ahead will be more than enough to meet Morehead’s Double the Numbers goal of 1,799 degrees in 2020.

Louisville will seek a 6.7 percent increase, from 2,298 degrees in 2008 to 2,451 in 2009-10, again a pace strong enough to exceed its 2020 goal of 3,043.

Here’s my summary chart, with 2008 graduates and 2010 goals from taken from tomorrow’s meeting materials on key indicators (here) and 2020 goals from the Double the Numbers plan (here). I’ve added my own calculation of the resulting two-year rate of change, projection of the 2020 results of continuing that pace, and how that compares to the 2020 goals.

NKU also deserves note for aiming for a 10.3 percent increase. That’s faster growth than any school except Morehead, and, if continued, that pace will leave NKU just 84 degrees short in 2020.

Other public institutions are planning slower growth for the coming year, on trajectories that will leave them far short in 2020 unless they accelerate in the years ahead:
  • UK: 3.3 percent planned growth could mean a gap of 1,759 degrees in 2020.
  • KSU: 2.5 percent growth could mean a gap of 273 degrees.
  • EKU: 2.0 percent growth could mean a 2020 gap of 1,115 degrees.
  • Murray: 1.1 percent growth cold mean a gap of 1,091 degrees.
  • WKU: 0.4 percent growth could mean a gap of 1,878 degrees.
Statewide, those goals amount to a two-year bachelor's degree increase of 4.3 percent, from 15,036 in 2008 to 15,677 in 2010. Continuing at that rate through 2020 will mean a 5,757 degree shortfall.

It’s certainly possible to make up that gap with faster growth in future years, and I hope CPE members will ask each school how it plans to make that happen.

Monday, July 20, 2009

College funding mapped

I've just started reading a new report from the Delta Project on postsecondary productivity (here), and I can't resist sharing the map. Knowing it's small, I'll also explain. The map shows total funding per full-time equivalent student in the 2006-07 school year, with:
  • blue for states with $12,484-$18,352 in total funding per FTE.
  • green for $10,741-$12,484 per FTE.
  • amber for $9,715-$10,741.
  • red for $7,873-$9,715.
Kentucky's in the green, second highest group. I've posted on Kentucky's relatively high postsecondary funding in the past, but a good map always makes the comparison easier to see.

More on the report as I read through it...

Performance grows and gaps grow (fourth grade math)

NAEP reported last week on black-white achievement gaps and gap trends in mathematics and reading at fourth and eighth grade (here).

Within the report, fourth grade math is our weakest subject, with results that look like this:

The 2007 scores are higher than 1992 for black and white students both nationally and in Kentucky. That's good, and it's good that Kentucky's 2007 achievement gap is smaller than the national one.

The disturbing story here is that Kentucky black students' performance improved less than black students nationally, white students in Kentucky, and white students nationally.

To change that, we need to look most of all to building teaching quality in the schools and districts that serve those students. Jefferson County's major GE initiative, if successful, could make a mighty difference. I hear of energetic efforts in Fayette and Warren, and Christian County and Covington Independent engaged new, focused superintendents just last year. Those five, plus Hardin County and Paducah, are in a position to create major steps up in the learning of 75 percent of Kentucky's black students.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Councils, schools, and judging

In the implementation of school-based decision making, I eventually concluded that we'd never get done wrestling with the word "school." It turns out to be tricky to tell exactly where a given school ends and something else begins. Here are some examples:

School A serves primary to grade 12. The board decides to create a P-8 elementary and a high school under the same roof, each with a separate council. Can it do that? Answer: Yes, because the board still decides when to open schools, close schools, and change school facilities.

Elementary school B serves all the district's primary students and all the district's preschool students. The school's principal also evaluates all the primary and preschool teachers. In effect, it's a seamless preschool to grade 5 school. Do the parents of preschoolers get to vote for parent members of the council? Answer: Yes, they do, because their children are students at that school.

Elementary school C is located in the same building as a district-wide preschool program. Children from that preschool go on to all the district's elementary programs, and the district preschool program director evaluates the teachers. Do preschool parents and teachers vote for the elementary council. Answer: No, even though they share a roof, the elementary and the preschool are separate operations.

High school D is located on a large lot. The sign out front lists only the high school's name. Most classes are held in a large main building. Across the parking lot, some students of high school age study in a separate building, to which they have been assigned after discipline problems. The principal of the school evaluates the teachers of both buildings. Do teachers in the separate building get to vote for teachers on the council, and does SBDM otherwise apply to what happens there? Answer: Yes, the separate building is part of the high school. (That was in the early 1990s. Today, a similar program might be more formally and clearly defined as a separate alternative program under the 1998 School Safety Act.)

High school E is notified that the board of education wants for two classrooms to be used for a family resource center serving all the district's elementary schools. Doesn't that impinge on the high school council's policy authority over space? Answer: No, because the board is still responsible for facilities. The board can decide that the high school is locates in the whole building located at 123 Champion Lane, or that it's located in almost all of that building, but not in the two classrooms it wants for the resource center.

High school F is located on the same campus as a district alternative program. The alternative program has no cafeteria. The district wants the alternative program students to use the high school lunchroom at a time when other students are not there. Can the district do that without council consent? Answer: Yes, just as the elementary and high school carved out of school A share a cafeteria, this board can divide a facility by space and time for two operations to share it. However, the council is entitled to set schedule and space policies for all the facilities its school can use, so the board needs to set a clear timetable of when each operation gets the cafeteria.

Elementary school G has a rundown building. The district builds a new facility nearby, initially calling it a new building for school G. The plan is that all students and teachers from school G will move to that building the next fall, no other students and teachers will move there. Then the board decides to give the new building a different name. Does the council elected at school G in the spring serve the next year, or is it a new school that needs to elect a new council? Answer: No, that's the same school with a name change: the council stays.

In short, the SBDM law's provisions that schools must have councils, that the school's teachers and parents vote, and that the council's policies govern the school seem sharply defined, but the facts can make a person work to apply the law. You have to listen, get the details, get some more details, and think carefully before forming a settled view of how the law applies to specific situations.

This post is my reflection on Judge Sotomayor's confirmation hearings. The "school" questions taught me that one can be rigorously committed to the letter of law and still wrestle with the careful application of that law to complex facts, and also that in the wrestling, wide experience will help one do a better job. (The judge finished law school in 1979 and I entered in 1982, so no, we have not met.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Haselton reports

In his first public address as interim dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Blake Haselton met with reporters on July 9 to talk about how the college is faring one year after a former dean became the focus of a federal investigation.
The full press release for his report is here, and the C-J reporting here, but the video above conveys the tone of Blake's quiet but direct approach to his current rebuilding work.

Covington Montessori

Here's news of plans to offer Montessori preschool in Covington. As the parent of three former Montessori preschoolers, I'm happy to see it. The report is a fair description of Montessori, and yet leaves out the things I valued the most when my children were there.

First, I admired the extraordinary thought that went into each set of materials students could choose. They were bright, interesting objects, as engaging to children as any toy at home, but with a deeper sense of how each built important skills for reading, math, geography, or some other subject.

Second, I loved the way that, because the students found the work so engaging, they could be independent learners for long stretches of their school time. (Yes, that's my second daughter fully engrossed at Danville Montessori.)

Finally, I was delighted by the results of student choice about what to work on. One of my children was determined to start reading--and did. The other two got lots of preparation for literacy, but became readers after they entered Toliver Elementary. For children who are three and four, I think that mix of rich opportunity and flexible activity is pretty much ideal.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Stabilization and federal frustration

Politics K-12 reports Administration frustration that states aren't funding ambitious new reforms with the fiscal stabilization money (here).

What do the feds think states should do? Every penny of the education share of the stabilization money must be handed out, by formula, to school districts and public higher education. Not a nickel of it can be used as an incentive that districts receive if they make changes and not if they don't. Not a dime can be kept by state agencies for reform activities. (Earlier post with details here.)

The feds do have some leverage themselves. When governors apply for the money, they have to commit to:
  • Equity in teacher distribution
  • Improved collection and use of data
  • Higher quality academic assessments
  • Sound assessments and accommodations for students with disabilities and limited English proficient students.
  • Improved academic standards
  • Support for struggling schools
If USED isn't satisfied with states' past or planned efforts on those issues, it should not send the money until it believes the state's commitment. If USED isn't satisfied with states' work on other issues, they're entitled to our respectful consideration of their suggestions...and nothing more.

Friday, July 10, 2009

To Friends of the Prichard Blog

We wanted to let you know that the blog will be taking a brief break for the next few days, so there will be a pause in new entries. Not to worry! We’ll be back soon to give you the latest information on education developments in Kentucky and elsewhere.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Commissioner search (see other blog)

Richard Day is blogging the details on the Kentucky Board of Education's four finalists for Commissioner of Education. If you don't already read KSN&C regularly, this might be a good time to start. Here are links to his detailed analysis on individual contenders:

Charter schools and facilities again

Typically, after an Imagine-managed charter school gets approval to open, Schoolhouse Finance, Imagine's real estate arm, purchases a campus and charges the school rent. After the school begins to pay that rent, Schoolhouse sells the campus to a real estate investment trust, which then leases it back to Schoolhouse.
The charter school eventually sends rent payments – in one case upward of 40 percent of the school's entire publicly funded budget – to two for-profit companies.
That's from EdWeek reporting here on "one of the largest for-profit charter school management companies, running several dozen schools in 12 states."
School buildings are only a good investment if you can count on quite a long run in the school business in that exact location. That's hard to count on if education is a fully competitive market. It's even harder to count on if you want not just to get back not just the principle you sink into the facility but a profit on that principle for each year you wait for repayment.

Buildings are easier to plan and afford if you have a permanent obligation to serve a large majority of the students in the surrounding area and also have a permanent claim on the fiscal support of the taxpayers in that same territory. That's a major reason that schooling has so consistently been seen as a government responsibility.

Even then, securing bond funding for a twenty-year period is tough and expensive for small local entities, which is why there's also consistent pressure to make facilities a state government responsibility, along with other infrastructure requirements of similar scale.

Among private schools, the usual pattern is to use charitable donations, large and small, to build facilities. Tuition doesn't pay for bricks and mortar directly, and it doesn't provide a credible income stream to let most schools borrow money for buildings, either.

Knowing that, I don't assume that the Imagine company is doing anything dishonest or extortionate. It may merely be showing us how facilities costs would need to be calculated and covered in an education system that worked like a market.

Duncan brings the vision

Secretary Arne Duncan spoke last week to the National Education Association. I've seen lots of excerpts of his specific thoughts on policies about the teaching profession, but they lost his important starting point:
I know we won't all agree on everything—but I'm confident there will be more we agree with than not. It starts with our shared values.

We believe it is our moral obligation to give children the very best education possible. We believe every child can learn and every school can succeed. We believe teaching is a profession and good teachers and principals are essential to success.

Unlike many of you, my values and views on education were not shaped in the front of a classroom. In 1961 my mother began an after-school, inner-city tutoring program on the South Side of Chicago and raised my brother, sister and me as a part of her program.

That daily experience was an absolutely formative one for all three of us and we all tried to follow in her footsteps in various ways. It was work filled both with great heartbreak and also amazing triumph.

We experienced our share of early, violent deaths because of the community's chaos, and those experiences shape you and frankly scar you in ways that to this day are difficult to talk about.

But from the group of friends I grew up studying with and playing ball with, from one street corner at 46th and Greenwood, emerged literally a brain surgeon, a Hollywood movie star, one of my top administrators at the Chicago Public Schools, and one of IBM's international corporate leaders.

How did this happen? Because these children despite tremendous poverty, despite staggering neighborhood violence, despite challenges at home, had my mother and others in their lives who gave them real opportunities, real support and guidance over the years, and had the highest expectations for them. And because of that opportunity, their gifts and their talents, and their fierce desire to succeed, blossomed.

What I learned as a little boy, what continues to motivate my mother today 48 years after she began her work, are the same two values that motivate all of you.

It is a fundamental, unalterable belief that every child can learn, and a fundamental understanding of the tremendous urgency of our work. Simply put, we cannot wait because our children cannot wait.

I've met a thousand educators like my mother in schools all across America. I've seen them on an Indian reservation in Montana, in a West Virginia middle school, at a high school in Detroit and a charter school in Newark.

All of us remember educator or coach who changed our life. It stays with us forever. It sustains us, guides us and inspires us. They're the ones who commit those everyday acts of kindness and love and never ask for anything in return. They counsel troubled teens, take phone calls at night, and reach into their pockets for lunch money for children who are too ashamed to ask.

I've seen how much these educators want to be valued for their work and honored for what they are: dedicated, professional, compassionate, serious and responsible. These are the qualities of a great educator and we have millions of them all across America.
If you start there, and add that it's time to give each of those educators the benefits of a school culture that helps them get steadily stronger in their craft, you've got more than half of the core agenda for producing higher results for students. Subtract the daily stream of morale-sapping distractions and the steady burden of teaching in isolation rather than collaboration, and you've got two-thirds of what it will take. The other debates matter, but they matter less than developing and supporting teachers who start with that kind of dedication and continue to grow in the skill to deliver student learning.

The full speech, including the policy details that matter-but-matter-less, is here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Graduation rates (KCTCS, with transfer rates)

The differences in graduation rates below are striking, ranging from 54 percent of students completing associate degrees within three years to only 11 percent.

I included transfer rates because a student who transfers to a bachelor's program can still be fully on track for a timely degree, but I'm not confident that's what all transfers involve. The College Navigator note simply says "Transfer-out rates measure the percentage of entering students who transfer to another institution within 150% of normal time to program completion." That could also include transfers to other schools within KCTCS, and those transfers might or might not be followed by timely graduation.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The cynicism monkey

On an early morning walk many years ago with my neighbor, a journeyman carpenter, I expounded instructor funny bile for maybe a mile. My companion began shaking his head even as he laughed at my riffs on preposterous excuses and dumbfounding laziness. Finally, he said, “You know I could never be a professor. I don’t know how you do it.”

I waved off the acknowledgment of our heroic task. “You get tough and you learn to laugh.” His head shook. “No, no. I’ve listened to your jokes and complaints about students for a long time. I feel sorry for you.”

I slowed the pace. “Every day,” he went on, “I build houses. The studs are never quite straight; the nails are imperfect and the plans mistaken. Contractors screw up schedules, suppliers deliver late, clients change their plans -- I could complain about these blunders every day but I’d never build anything.”

I flushed as I saw myself through his eyes – a crabby professor, always with a funny student story flavored with blame.
At Inside Higher Education, Larry Spence describes the "Occupational Hazard" of how those addictively amusing stories of student weakness can keep one from building teaching strength, and how, to become a better teacher, he decided he had to kick the habit. It's definitely worth a read.

Math earthquake?

We've known for a long time that students from Singapore consistently outscore Americans and many others in international math scores.

We've also known that Singapore--and the other countries that outscore us--teach math differently, going deep on set of skills and master it before moving on, while American elementary school math seems to repeat similar subjects grade after grade, but without ever counting on students having fully absorbed the previous lessons.

And yet, it seems to be taking forever for our schools to rethink their math approach.

Fayette County may be making that move. The Herald-Leader reports (here) that nine elementary schools will launch a new textbook and teaching approach, using Math in Focus: The Singapore Approach this fall, and seven will use the program along with other materials.

The article quotes Natalee Feese, the Fayette schools' elementary math content specialist on some of the differences:

The new books use word problems extensively, she said. And unlike typical American textbooks, they require students to draw pictures or "bar models," showing their solutions to problems. Teaching typically flows from the concrete to the abstract, Feese said, a reverse of more traditional methods.

"The modeling is critical," she said. "Every problem in the book, they have to draw a picture to represent their solution.

"American students have been taught to approach a word problem by trying to directly convert it to an equation. In Singapore, they want the student to picture the problem, instead of going directly to a formula. They focus on the 'what' of math. That's going to be the big difference."

Common core: ACT, SAT, and friends

The Common Core Standards Initiative has made headlines for months with its invitation to states to join in developing shared mathematics and English/language arts standards and the initial commitment of 46 states to be part of the effort. The project is officially sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

So, who will do the actual drafting? A new press release (here) identifies five people who will serve on both the math and the language arts work groups:
  • Sara Clough, Director, Elementary and Secondary School Programs, Development, Education Division, ACT, Inc.
  • John Kraman, Associate Director, Research, Achieve
  • Sherri Miller, Assistant Vice President, Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) Development, Education Division, ACT, Inc.
  • Laura McGiffert Slover, Vice President, Content and Policy Research, Achieve
  • Natasha Vasavada, Senior Director, Standards and Curriculum Alignment Services, Research and Development, The College Board (creator of the SAT and AP tests)
Achieve, ACT, and the College Board also provide thirteen of the nineteen people who serve on one of the two separate work groups. That clearly adds to the project's credibility as a college-readiness effort. I think it likely also means they will be unusually effective at keeping the standards short and clear, because the folks in question will know the testing difficulties that come from piling up unmanageable levels of detail.

The full press release is here, and the new Common Core website here.

Report calls for New Pre-K Focus on Math

Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths Toward Excellence and Equity, a report released last week by the National Research Council, calls for a new focus on early math skills, which have been neglected in comparison to the strong emphasis on early literacy by early childhood programs. We should be taking advantage of children's natural curiosity about math and their ability and willingness to tackle math. Click here for more information.

Cindy Heine

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Holiday plans

I'm off to a family reunion in the morning.

Mind, it will be my family. The house was first owned by my great-grandparents, a school superintendent and a judge, and then inherited by my grandmother, a reporter-and-librarian who married a lawyer. Saturday's presiding generation will include my journalist-mother, lawyer-uncle, lawyer-aunt, and one of two teacher-aunts. My cohort will be represented by at least two teachers, three lawyers, and a journalist. I think I'll be the only lawyer who blogs about education when I arrive, but knowing my cousins, I may have competition before the day ends.

I likely won't post again until Monday, so fly your flags high, eat well, and enjoy your holiday weekend!