Monday, November 30, 2009

Rose on display

EdJurist has fresh video of Deb Dawahare and Ray Corns sharing the story of Rose v. Council for Better Education. Really great listening (and hat tip to KSN&C)!

RTTT will not go to all states

The final RTTT rules came with non-binding guidance on the budget amounts states should apply for. The guidance has separate amounts for five groups of states sorted by size. Category 1 has the largest states, Category 5 has the smallest states and the District of Columbia, Category 4 includes Kentucky, and here are the recommended dollar amounts:

Multiplying each low and high dollar figure by the number of states eligible for those amounts yields these results:

We already know the total grants will be $4,000 million: the original $4,350 minus the $350 that will be in the separate competition for new assessments.

As a result, we know that the feds are signaling, firmly, that they expect quite a few states will not be winners and grant recipients in the upcoming competition.

Charter facilities trouble (in New York)

As anyone in a district with rapid growth can tell you, costs are very different in places that need to add facilities. You're not looking at adding $8,000 or $9,000 in costs to handle each added pupil. Instead, you're figuring out how to borrow and pay back a cost likely to be well north of $10,000,000.

Charter schools have similar facilities struggles, first in finding initial space that meets their learning and safety requirements, and then in adding space if they are met with growing desire to enroll. The New York Times offers one version of how painful those growing pains can be:
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has made charter schools one of his third-term priorities, and that means that in New York, battles and resentment over space — already a way of life — will become even more common. He and his schools chancellor,Joel I. Klein, have allowed nearly two-thirds of the city’s 99 charter schools to move into public school buildings, officials expect two dozen charter schools to open next fall, and the mayor has said he will push the Legislature to allow him to add 100 more in the next four years.
In Harlem, parents have chafed and picketed against an expanding charter school network, the Harlem Success Academy, which is housed in several public schools. In Brownsville, Brooklyn, a plan to close a failing elementary school and let a charter take over the building was shelved after a lawsuit. At P.S. 15, teachers and parents were furious about plans for PAVE to expand next year, after having been told the school would be gone by the end of this academic year. Several hundred parents filled a middle school auditorium in Marine Park, Brooklyn, in the spring to rail against a proposal to house the new Hebrew Language Academy there. The school eventually found a home in a yeshiva.

David Brooks and how we learn

The C-J is running a David Brooks column about our "other education":
We don't usually think of this second education. For reasons having to do with the peculiarities of our civilization, we pay a great deal of attention to our scholastic educations, which are formal and supervised, and we devote much less public thought to our emotional educations, which are unsupervised and haphazard. This is odd, since our emotional educations are much more important to our long-term happiness and the quality of our lives.

In any case, over the next few decades Springsteen would become one of the professors in my second education. In album after album he assigned a new course in my emotional curriculum.

This second education doesn't work the way the scholastic education works. In a normal schoolroom, information walks through the front door and announces itself by light of day. It's direct. The teacher describes the material to be covered, and then everybody works through it.

The knowledge transmitted in an emotional education, on the other hand, comes indirectly, seeping through the cracks of the windowpanes, from under the floorboards and through the vents. It's generally a byproduct of the search for pleasure, and the learning is indirect and unconscious.
That may be how Mr. Brooks does it. For myself, it's been three decades since I engaged a scholarly book without weighing it against the Boss's deeper wisdom.

When I wrestled with Harvard's John Rawls and his political philosophy built entirely around individual choice, my objections rooted in family and community found their best voice in song:
I come from down in the valley, where mister when you're young
They bring you up to do like your daddy done.
Everything I read about Thomas Friedman's take on the global economy gets filtered through the losses that that flat world brings with it:
From the Monongaleh valley
To the Mesabi iron range
To the coal mines of Appalacchia
The story's always the same
Seven-hundred tons of metal a day
Now sir you tell me the world's changed
Once I made you rich enough
Rich enough to forget my name
Every new set of numbers on the current recession echoes for me off the early Reagan economy:
I had a job, I had a girl
I had something going mister in this world
I got laid off down at the lumber yard
Our love went bad, times got hard
Now I work down at the carwash
Where all it ever does is rain
Don't you feel like you're a rider on a downbound train
Whether I'm reading about learning styles or brain research or teaching that closes achievement gaps, I measure excellent teaching by whether it could stand its ground against this:
We busted out of class, had to get away from those fools
We learned more from a three-minute record, baby
Than we ever learned in school.
Most of all, my standard of engagement--my understanding of work worth doing and the energy it deserves--was learned from a single mighty scholar of life well lived:
You hear the voices telling you not to go,
They made their choices and they'll never know,
What it means to steal, to cheat, to lie,
What it's like to live and die
Prove it all night, prove it all night girl and call the bluff,
prove it all night, prove it all night and girl,
I prove it all night for your love.

The cards I've drawn's a rough hand darlin'
I straighten my back and I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream

Tramps like us, baby we were born to run.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Teacher recruitment boom (in England)

The BBC reports that England's teacher recruitment effort met all its targets this year for the first time, including being 8 percent above their math target and 9 percent above their science target. Graham Holley, head of the Training and Development Authority for Schools, explained the results this way:

"The recession has, of course, played a part in these excellent results.

"But we have been able to capitalise on the upsurge in interest in teaching only because of all the work we undertook beforehand and the swift targeted interventions that we made in London and throughout the country."

Most interesting to me is the basic fact that the English have a nationwide recruiting process in the first place, an idea Kentucky may want to explore.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

RTTT: more on evaluations

In Race to the Top applications, states can earn a maximum of 500 points. As I blogged earlier, that includes 58 points for work to "improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance." Here's a closer look at that part of the application.

First, 5 points will be awarded based on state plans to ensure that districts “establish clear approaches to measuring student growth … and measure it for each individual student.”

Another 15 points will rest on state plans to ensure that districts set up teacher and principal evaluation systems that “differentiate effectiveness using multiple rating categories that take into account data on student growth … as a significant factor” and “are designed and developed with teacher and principal involvement.”

An additional 10 points are available for state plans to ensure that districts “conduct annual evaluations of teachers and principals that include timely and constructive feedback; as part of such evaluations, provide teachers and principals with data on student growth for their students, classes, and schools”

Finally, 28 points are offered for state plans to ensure that districts use those evaluations to make decisions on:

  • Development work to strengthen teachers and principals.
  • Compensation, promotion and retention.
  • Tenure.
  • Removal of “ineffective tenured and untenured teachers and principals after they have had ample opportunities to improve.

In the final and official application, it's worth noting the focus on districts. The earlier draft priorities called for states to do the work on this issue. The final priorities specify instead that participating districts are to do the main work, with the state being responsible for ensuring that they do it well. That means the federal department now accepts and expects a continuation of each district doing these things a bit differently from its neighbors.

That said, the push will be on to have all districts use evaluations that go beyond pass/fail or satisfactory/unsatisfactory basics. They will each need to define a "ladder" of increasing effectiveness. The evaluation process should then identify where each person's work stands on that ladder, and those identifications should guide both professional growth activities and district decisions about individual careers.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Disability gaps (eighth grade this time)

Matching my earlier post on fourth grade results, here's how Kentucky's most recent NAEP performance stacks up when results for students with and without disabilities are shown separately:

Once again, Kentucky's gaps are major grounds for concern, with our weaknesses either in line with the nation or somewhate smaller than the national average.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Standards and achievement

Karin Chenoweth argues in her new book that American education has been organized around teachers deciding in isolation what students need to know. As a result, too many students arrive at college unready to succeed, and students who are "pegged by their schools as non-college bound" get even worse preparation:
These are the classrooms that have inspired the teacher-as-hero body of work such as Blackboard Jungle; Up the Down Staircase; To Sir, With Love; and Stand and Deliver.... The important point to note about all of them is that their plots turn on the fact that if individual teachers hadn't been willing to buck the prevailing institutional culture to hold their non-college-bound students to high standards, their students wouldn't have been expected to do more than log what is known in the education world as "seat time."
Since the 1980s, the education standards movement has tried to change that, pushing states to define what all students should know and be able to do and institute assessments that check whether the standards are being met.

In How It's Being Done, however, Chenoweth argues that some standards are more effective than others. To change classroom practice, standards must be high, clear, and short. Longer, vaguer documents mean that teachers still have to pick and choose which fractions of the total will get classroom priority. Massachusetts has become a national leader in student performance in part by providing standards brief enough to be a firm guide to instruction.

Chenoweth also argues that standards alone are not enough. School practice has to change to use formative assessments, analyze data, and plan effective instruction. All of her success stories involve educators figuring out how to do that work collaboratively, with school leadership playing a pivotal role in keeping that collaboration going long enough to produce major student growth.

In that analysis, I see two factors that are important to understanding Kentucky's experience since 1990. Though we have some important growth in student achievement, we don't have the scale of growth we expected, wanted, and needed from those years of effort.

First, our standards have been too long and too loose, making it unnecessarily hard for our teachers to organize standards-driven work. Senate Bill 1 and the new Common Core standards movement gives us a fresh start on that issue.

Second, we thought that if the state set standards and consequences, schools and districts would quickly figure out how to make effective changes. Some did figure that out, but too many held on to old approaches or implemented quick-fix changes too weak to create the needed student growth. What we missed was the need for direct statewide attention to teaching quality issues. We must take care not to miss that need again.

As we implement Senate Bill 1 and pursue Race for the Top, strong standards and assessments must be backed up by strong work to to build consistent teaching quality in all our schools.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Time to deliver

Penney Sanders argues for strong, quick action to change or close failing schools.

An early feast: How it's being done

I devoted today to two things: first preparation for our family's turkey meal and a wonderful book.

How It's Being Done: Urgent Lessons from Unexpected Schools
is a new exploration of the key practices of high poverty, high performance schools. With warm, credible stories, Karin Chenoweth builds her way to an explanation of what lets those schools generate success for students often expected to fail.

In the conclusion, Chenoweth shares a core answer from Molly Bensinger-Lacy, principal at Graham Road Elementary, who said:
The strategies for educating students to high standards are pretty much the same for all kids:
  • Teacher collaboration;
  • A laser-like focus on what we want kids to learn;
  • Formative assessment to see if they learned it;
  • Data-driven instruction;
  • Personal relationship-building
Chenoweth adds two further thoughts to that:
  • "It is important to note that the underlying assumption under Bensinger-Lacy's list is that there is an outside, third-party assessment for schools -in her case, a state testing system- that holds schools accountable for what their students learn."
  • "There is something else that she didn't mention...and that is leadership."
I'm struck by how, in the Chenoweth version, key ideas turn out to have manageable parts. Thus, the balanced assessment approach is there, but understood in three elements: focus on standards, formative assessement, and then (later) the outside assessment. Similarly, the professional learning community concept is found in collaboration, relationships, and leadership.

Kentucky's different (on race)

Here's what public school enrollment looks like, by race, in the United States as a whole and in our own commonwealth. It's a clear sign that Kentucky is experiencing only a small portion of a huge shift being felt across the country.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Enrollment, staff, and (possibly) teaching quality

In the fall of 2006, Kentucky enrolled 1.39 percent of all students enrolled in public schools nationwide in pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Our share of public school staff was or below that 1.39 percent level in three categories, with Kentucky having:
  • 0.92 percent of student support staff nationwide
  • 1.36 percent of teachers
  • 1.39 percent of guidance counselors
Our share of public school staff was above the nationwide level in the other categories, including:
  • 1.40 percent of district administrative support staff nationwide
  • 1.43 percent of district instruction coordinators
  • 1.55 percent of district officials and administrators
  • 1.93 percent of principals and assistant principals
  • 1.98 percent of school and library support staff
  • 2.01 percent of instructional aides
  • 2.05 percent of librarians
  • 2.08 percent of other support services staff
If instead, Kentucky schools and districts had consistently had 1.39 percent of each kind of staff, we would have had:
  • 1,190 additional student support staff
  • 702 additional teachers
  • The same number of guidance counselors
  • 23 fewer district administrative support staff
  • 29 fewer district instruction coordinators
  • 97 fewer district officials and administrators
  • 836 fewer school principals and assistant principals
  • 1,745 fewer school and library support staff
  • 4,437 fewer instructional aides
  • 360 fewer librarians
  • 7,758 fewer other support services staff
  • 13,393 fewer total staff
Back in March, I posted a similar analysis using Fall 2005 data. As I wrote then:
I’m not arguing that Kentucky should staff schools to those averages. There may be important benefits to what we do differently, and our students may have different needs. I do think, though, that this is an interesting mirror to look in, inviting us to think about how we currently staff public education.
Today, I’ll add another thought. To build teaching quality, we should want every teacher involved in professional learning community work as part of every work week. Could we change these numbers, either adding teachers or lengthening teachers’ work days, to make that collaborative time easier to find?

(Source note: the data for this analysis comes from the Digest of Education Statistics 2008, using tables 34 and 81. The staff analysis is based on full-time equivalents.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What should Kentucky ask for?

Placing teaching quality at the center can give Kentucky’s Race to the Top application a unified vision that stands out against other applications and a compelling explanation of how a grant of limited duration can build strength that will last for decades into the future.
Building on Rick Stiggins' conception of balanced assessment, I believe that our specific aim should be to ensure that every teacher is fully equipped and experienced in these key capacities:
  1. Converting state standards into scaffoldings of more specific skills.
  2. Tracking student progress on those skills though locally-designed assessments.
  3. Analyzing student needs with rich and accessible state longitudinal data.
  4. Developing instruction in collaborative learning communities built around the standards, scaffoldings, assessments, and data analysis noted above.
  5. Refining that instruction by tapping into outside resources: networks of practitioners, expertise from universities and other sources, online access to assessment and instruction resources tied to each standard, and additional study in university classes, teacher academies, and other settings as needed.
Kentucky is deeply ready for those initiatives, as shown by the recent locally-driven efforts to apply balanced assessment concepts, the growing clarity about the kind of professional activity that generates changed practice, and the strong bi-partisan commitments of Senate Bill 1.
Kentucky approaches to the other RTTT priorities --including state standards and assessment, data systems, and intensive intervention in weak schools-- should be built around the central process of strengthening our education workforce to provide consistent, effective teaching for all Kentucky students.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Disability gaps in perspective (fourth grade version)

Two quick thoughts on the math results shown above.

First, Kentucky must deliver much more for our students with disabilities.
Second, Kentucky is already doing a better job than the nation overall.

As shown below, the same two thoughts apply to our reading results from two years ago and our science results from two years before that. (I hope it's clear which of the two thoughts I think is the more important one.)
All scores taken from the NAEP Data Explorer.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Where the RTTT points are

Each state's Race to the Top application will be scored against a maximum of 500 possible points. Here's a quick visual of how those points are divided up:

Below is a more specific list of the elements to be considered in each category, and the points available for each element. Do note that the application form (available here) shows charters, state funding, and other reforms as parts of the "general" section: I showed them separately in the pie chart because the charter issue has received so much discussion.

Great teachers and leaders
  • 21 for providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals
  • 58 for improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance
  • 25 for ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals
  • 14 for improving the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs
  • 20 for providing effective support to teachers and principals
State success factors
  • 65 for a state’s education reform agenda and districts’ participation in it
  • 30 for statewide capacity to implement, scale, up, and sustain proposed plans
  • 30 progress in raising achievement and closing gaps
Standards and Assessments
  • 40 for developing and adopting common standards
  • 10 for developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments
  • 20 for supporting the transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments
Turning around the lowest achieving schools
  • 10 for intervening in the lowest achieving schools and districts
  • 40 for turning around the lowest achieving schools
Data systems to support instruction
  • 24 for fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system
  • 5 for accessing and using state data
  • 18 for using data to improve instruction
  • 10 for making educational funding a priority
  • 40 for successful conditions for high performing charter schools and other innovative schools
  • 5 for other significant reform conditions
Emphasis on STEM
  • 15 for emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics efforts

RTTT, teacher distribution, and Kentucky pride

Nationwide, we have a deep problem with poor and minority students being the most likely to end up with weak teachers.

There's an obvious starting reason for that. Nationwide, EdTrust reports that, on average:
  • High-poverty districts have $773 less to spend per pupil than low-poverty districts.
  • High-minority districts have $1,122 less per pupil than low-minority districts.
Kentucky, however, doesn't do it that way. Here, on average:
  • High-poverty districts have $906 more per pupil.
  • High minority districts have an average of $234 more per pupil.
The Race to the Top application asks what our state is doing to ensure equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals to schools where many students come from low-income homes or minority backgrounds.

I respectfully submit that our answer should begin with a proud description of our statewide commitment to the equitable funding that is an obvious precondition for any sort of equitable staffing. We should describe the SEEK formula, its impact across the state, our long history of increasing the guarantee every year until this one, and the tremendous commitment involved in maintaining the guarantee even in this most difficult budget year in decades.

It's not enough to solve the teaching quality challenges, but Kentucky's school funding method is more than most states even dream of doing.

$60 to $175 million from RTTT

The federal Education Department suggests that Kentucky's Race to the Top application include a budget of $60 to $175 million total. That is a non-binding amount, and Kentucky could apply for a larger figure, but it is definitely helpful to have a ballpark idea.

Some further ways to break down those amounts:
  • Kentucky could receive $12 to $35 million per year, with the rules calling for the total grant to be spread out over the current fiscal year and the next four.
  • Districts could receive $6 to $17.5 million a year for districts, because the rules specify that half of each state's grant must be distributed that way--and the same for state-level efforts.
  • Per student, districts could receive $10 to $29 per year on average, with the caveat that the Title 1 formula driven by disadvantaged enrollment will actually be used.
One way to think about the size of these amounts is to compare them to figures from the state budget before the great recession swept in. For FY 2008, the state provided:
  • $7 million for gifted and talented services.
  • $10 million for school safety grants.
  • $15 million for professional development.
  • $32 million for extended school services.
Another way to think about the money is that our P-12 education system currently runs on about $6 billion a year in local, state, and federal dollars. Even the high end of the suggested RTTT range will add just six-tenths of one percent to that total.

That suggests that good design and good implementation are absolutely essential if the funding is to bring potent and lasting new strength to our schools.

Update: The $60 to $175 million figure is from a "Race to the Top Budget Guidance" summary shared by EdWeek's Politics K-12 blog, here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Education attainment

Combining diplomas and GEDs, Kentucky is close to national average in high school completion by our youngest adults, but further behind in bachelors' degrees. The results shown come from Census Bureau files showing the average of results from its three most recent annual American Community Surveys.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

JCPS reading plans, history

Monday night, the Jefferson County school board heard important district plans to raise reading performance. As reported by Chris Kenning in the Courier-Journal:
Changes currently, or soon to be, under way include having students more deeply analyze readings through discussion and writing; improving vocabulary instruction; adding teacher training; and restoring schools' focus on reading, which has been diluted by competing initiatives in math and science.
The district also will increase interventions for struggling students by requiring teachers to track their progress and change strategies if they're not working.
“The way instruction is being delivered now, it's at a superficial level,” the school district's literacy director, Lue Peabody, said in an interview, noting the changes are among a handful of recommendations provided by a panel of experts who reviewed the school district's practices last year.
Ms. Peabody's words are frank about current difficulties, and that's the essential foundation for building better future results.

In the same spirit, it's important to note a weakness at the end of the article:
Board member Linda Duncan said, “Our proficiency isn't where it needs to be, ” but praised the district for gains in reducing novice learners and for the changes they'd undertaken.
Jefferson County has not reduced novice readers. At the elementary level, novice reading performance increased from 2007 to 2008 and increased again from 2008 to 2009. At the middle school level, the same thing happened. At the high school level, novice reading did decline from 2008 to 2009, but the 2009 level is still higher than in 2007.
The numbers shown above come straight from the district's official Interim Performance Report from the Kentucky Department of Education, and more exactly from the reading trend pages available here.

(Yes, the district's Performance Reports for 2006 and early years showed a higher level of novice performance, but those results are not comparable. The Kentucky Core Content Test assessed different content from 1999 to 2006. It also used a different combination of testing items, was scored on a different scale, and had different cut points for separating novice and apprentice performance than the 2007-2008-2009 assessment. The word "novice" is the same, but the word is the only thing that can be validly compared.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Chamber grades the states

The United States Chamber of Commerce has released a "report card" for all fifty states, including these "grades" for Kentucky:
  • C in school management (includes standards, accountability, and charters, but not assessment)
  • C in finance
  • C in staff hiring and evaluation
  • F in removing ineffective teachers
  • B on data
  • B on pipeline to postsecondary
  • B on technology
Our best result is on the pipeline to postsecondary, where we show strength on requiring a college-ready curriculum, giving statewide college readiness tests, and diplomas with career readiness specialization options.

Our weakest, on removing ineffective teachers, comes from an NCES survey that asked principals which factors they saw as barriers to removing teachers. Kentucky principals were less likely to say that particular things were not barriers than their peers nationwide, as shown in the table below:

The Chamber's report focuses outside the classroom, perhaps expecting that indirect efforts are the best levers to change the direct process of how teachers work with students.

The McKinsey report's conclusion on top school systems across the globe, confirmed by Kentucky's reform experience, convinces me otherwise: the quality of teaching must be addressed directly. For that, the crucial issues are things like teacher preparation, teacher internships, professional development and collaboration, leadership development, leadership practice, intervention when individual students perform weakly (including formative use of assessment results), and intervention when whole schools perform weakly. The Chamber's effort is impressive and the specifics interesting, but the end result is not on the most important track for raising student performance.

As Michael Barber told the Prichard Committee in June, "the only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The uncertain C-J

Of particular concern to Kentucky is to ensure that educational progress is experienced throughout the state. The overall improvements that served to move Kentucky up in the rankings were not felt by all areas, or all schools, and the task force should work to see that all boats are lifted in the suggestions it makes.
That's from the Courier-Journal's Sunday editorial about the Governor's new education task force.

The editorial speaks part of the truth:"not all areas" have felt the overall improvement.

The editorial omits a central feature of that truth: The C-J's home turf is by far the largest of the "areas" that have not participated fully in the transformation all our schools need. In Jefferson County, the school system now ranks in the bottom fifth of districts statewide.

And the editorial leaves out another, closely-related truth: Jefferson County has financial, educational, and cultural wealth most Kentucky districts can barely imagine. Its schools ought to be the envy of the state. Excellence is entirely within their reach, but only with leadership that speaks frankly about current weak performance and boldly about the need for much higher achievement in the coming years. It is past time for that sort of leadership to arise and be heard in our largest school district.

"For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?"

Friday, November 6, 2009

"Tidal wave of reform" at Prichard meeting (press release)

The press release for the Prichard Committee's November 2nd meeting is headlined 'Tidal wave of reform' focus of recent Prichard Committee meeting, and reports on the event as follows.

FRANKFORT, Ky. - An in-depth look at what Kentucky's new education commissioner has called "a tidal wave of reform" was the focus of the recent fall meeting of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.
The words of Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday describe several key developments that are expected to have a significant impact on the way Kentucky prepares its children to succeed as adults. The developments coincide with the recent arrival in Kentucky of two new education leaders: Holliday at the Kentucky Department of Education and Dr. Robert King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.
King and Holliday emphasized to the committee (during its November 2, 2009, meeting in Frankfort) that they are working collaboratively to accelerate the improvement of Kentucky's schools in response to state and federal initiatives.
Robert F. Sexton, the committee's executive director, pointed out that such collaboration is both noteworthy and unprecedented. "This is the first time we've had both the commissioner of education and the president of the postsecondary education council address the committee at the same time," he said.
The committee's specific areas of interest included a groundbreaking piece of legislation enacted by the 2009 General Assembly, Senate Bill 1, and a federal funding initiative known as Race to the Top. Here is a closer look, based on presentations to the committee from Holliday, King, Rhonda Sims, director of the division of assessment support for the state Department of Education and David Cook, the department's project manager for Race to the Top:
  • Some $4.25 billion is available nationally under the Race to the Top program but how much any individual state, such as Kentucky, could receive will depend on how many grants the federal government awards.
  • Kentucky will need new strategies to improve badly failing schools to improve its prospects for receiving the federal funds.
  • In addition to turning around low-performing schools, the federal criteria emphasize how states assure quality teaching, use data systems to measure student progress and develop and use rigorous standards and tests. Senate Bill 1 has improved Kentucky's position due to its mandate for new standards, testing and other requirements.
  • The final federal guidelines are expected soon, and they could include a requirement that states allow the creation of charter-like schools. This would require legislation in Kentucky, which does not have a law on the books allowing charter schools, but state education officials are not considering a comprehensive charter-school program.
  • Although state testing will continue while a new assessment system is developed under Senate Bill 1 for implementation in 2012, schools' scores on the state test will not be part of a state accountability system during the interim.
  • Schools will continue to be held accountable for students' scores on the national No Child Left Behind test.
  • A national effort to develop new standards for math and language arts - known as "common core" standards - could also lead to the creation of common assessments. Kentucky is part of this national effort.
  • The Council on Postsecondary Education will soon develop a new strategic plan that is expected to include such elements as enhanced postsecondary support for elementary and secondary education; renewed focus on associate degrees in the community and technical college system; a greater emphasis on regional universities' areas of excellence; and more attention on research and graduate study at the state's research universities.
The committee also welcomed several new members:
  • Alva Clark of Lexington, an attorney, parent and fellow of the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership
  • Louisville attorneys Matt Breetz and Franklin Jelsma
  • Al Cornish, vice president of education and development for Norton Healthcare in Louisville
  • Paula Fryland, executive vice president for corporate banking of PNC Bank, Louisville
  • Roger Marcum of Lebanon, executive vice president of St. Catharine College and former superintendent of Marion County Public Schools.

Long thinking about state and local reform

Together, the chapters in this volume suggest that student success is only possible in an educational environment that responds to and nourishes each child's individual curiosity, personal learning style, past experience, and cultural heritage. That environment, it is argued, is one where educators are highly flexible, free to adapt curriculum and instructional practices to particular pupils and situations, and able to inquire and deliberate systematically and regularly about how they might be yet more responsive to their students. That sort of environment can only be created by those who work within it: the staff, the students, the parents, and any actively involved citizens who voluntarily make the school part of their lives.

If that argument is correct, a good school requires a kind of yeast to rise, and people outside the school, including state officials, cannot supply that ingredient. That does not mean, however, that they cannot contribute, because inert resources like facilities and supplies remain important, and because inappropriate regulation, like too much salt in the bread dough, can cause the yeast to die. If state officials think carefully about what must be allowed to happen at each school, they can select those roles that make it possible for parents, teachers, and students to play effectively their distinctive roles in effective education.
The bread-baking metaphor should have mentioned that some warm accountability will also speed the yeasty work. Other than that, the analysis still seems sound to me sixteen years later. It's my own conclusion to an essay called "Beyond Micromanagement, Beyond Deregulation: the State Role in Effective Education Reform," published in Investing in U.S. Schools.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

FAQ: What's a charter school?

Charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each charter school's charter.
That efficient definition, offered by the National Education Association, captures three of four key charter elements: public funding, flexibility, and accountability. An additional common expectation is that parents apply to have their children attend a charter school.

Kentucky currently does not have a charter school law. States that do have charter school laws may have an advantage in applying for federal Race to the Top funds, and creating a charter school statute may be part of the Department of Education legislative agenda in the coming session, as noted in this Herald-Leader report.

For a deeper sense of how charter schools operate, here's the definition proposed in the "New Model Law" recommended by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools:
A ‘public charter school’ means a public school that:
  • Has autonomy over decisions including, but not limited to, matters concerning finance, personnel, scheduling, curriculum and instruction;
  • Is governed by an independent governing board;
  • Is established, operating, and accountable under the terms of a charter contract between the school’s board and its authorizer;
  • Is a school to which parents choose to send their children;
  • Is a school that admits students on the basis of a lottery if more students apply for admission than can be accommodated;
  • Provides a program of education that includes one or more of the following: pre-school, pre-kindergarten, any grade or grades from kindergarten through 12th grade, and adult community, continuing, and vocational education programs;
  • Operates in pursuit of a specific set of educational objectives as defined in its charter contract; and
  • Operates under the oversight of its authorizer in accordance with its charter contract.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In-state enrollment resumes (slow) growth

From 2003 to 2006, undergraduate study by Kentucky residents stopped growing, at least at public institutions. For 2007 and 2008, growth resumed, though at a much slower pace than we saw before 2003. Here's a snapshot of the overall numbers:

Of the roughly 2,700 additional in-state FTEs from 2006 to 2008, more 2,000 enrolled in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

In the same two year period, the four-year universities added just under 700 in-state FTEs.

These numbers provide an important update to State Auditor Crit Luallen's 2007 warning that in-state enrollment may be endangered by rising tuition. The disturbing enrollment trend she noted has improved at least slightly, though not enough to put Kentucky on track to meet our statewide 2020 target of matching national educational attainment.

Data source: "Full-Time Equivalent Enrollment by Residency and Level - Public Institutions - Fall"reports from the Council on Postsecondary Education.

Think tank pushes higher education accountability

Inside Higher Education has the story:
The Center for American Progress has impeccable credentials for the Obama era. In the same way that the right-leaning Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute had the attention of the Bush administration, the Center for American Progress, headed by the former Clinton confidante John Podesta, is the think tank for the current White House. Time magazine called the center "Obama's idea factory" after his election last year.

Which makes the center's new white paper on higher education all the more interesting -- and, perhaps, all the more concerning to some college leaders.

The document, "Putting the Customer First in College," calls on the U.S. Education Department to create an Office of Consumer Protection in Higher Education that would (1) pressure colleges to produce significantly better data on how well they serve students, (2) develop a system for making that data available for students to use in choosing a college, and (3) direct students unhappy with their colleges' educational practices to federal, state, or accrediting officials who can help them resolve their complaints.

Read the full article here, and the full report here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

King at Prichard

CPE President Bob King addressed the Prichard Committee at yesterday's fall meeting. From my notes, here are some of his thoughts on how to move forward on postsecondary achievement.

  • The Kentucky Community and Technical College System is increasingly moving toward the technical side of its combined mission. We need to get a renewed focus on getting students to stay for associate degrees.
  • The comprehensive universities have not fully engaged the 1997 call for a distinct focus at each institution. That concept could use sharper implementation, perhaps with one school being the premier place for education leadership, another arts, and another on STEM education.
  • The research universities need new attention to the goals for graduate study and research.
  • For students taking developmental courses, we have got data on how they persist, but we’re not devoting enough high quality resources to those students. We should add a much stronger push to graduate those students and to do that in fewer years.
  • Kentucky has very high performing students who are not considering Kentucky public institutions, and we need to get those students to see our schools as serious options.

Disability results?

One of my most regular readers asked, and at least one more wants to know, so I'll quickly post the answer.

When will revised Kentucky Core Content Test results for students with disabilities be available?

I still don't know. At the October 8 KBE meeting, we heard that districts would have extended time to report on students who may have been improperly counted as having disabilities (see blog-post here). There wasn't yet a schedule for announcing revised results for the state and individual schools. I haven't heard an update on that since.

Commissioner at Committee

Commissioner Terry Holliday spoke at the fall Prichard Committee meeting yesterday. From my notes on his remarks, here are some points of interest, organized by topic.

November 13 is now the scheduled date for the Common Core project to release grade-by-grade draft standards. (A draft for end-of-high-school is already available here, and under validation review as described here).

February is now the likely date for Kentucky to adopt mathematics and language arts standards.

Sixteen states can adopt the Common Core by next June, but others have legal requirements that will take longer.

The early-adopting states are looking to begin work on common assessments early in 2010, and looking to the federal $350 million as a source of support for their work. Those efforts will:
  • include a major design role for teachers in participating states.
  • include both accountability assessment and formative assessment elements.
  • look to writing, problem-solving, and teamwork as part of what higher education consistently says students need for college success.
  • aim to use technology far more effectively than past tests.
Student performance data must be part of teacher evaluations, but we should never measure anybody by a one-day one-shot view.

The evaluation process should be designed and used as a growth instrument, not to be used for dismissals. Action plans are the right tool when dismissal is being considered.

That approach should apply both to teacher effectiveness and principal effectiveness, and Kentucky's approach will also include superintendents and school boards. (No, school councils were not mentioned.)

The Commissioner expects to propose legal changes to allow very strong action for the lowest five percent of schools. The words "charter school" are likely to be included, but not as a blanket endorsement. Instead, KDE is looking for "restrictive language" to tackle the situations that most need to turned around.