Thursday, December 24, 2009

Easier said than done (a college teaching debate)

A Chronicle piece entitled "I Hate Myself When I'm Teaching" just caught my eye. It's a letter from a second-year professor exhausted by what she's doing and unsatisfied by the classroom results, with an answer from "Ms. Mentor" that comes way too close to telling the writer that it's fine just to accept lots of students engaging little and learning less.

No. No, no, no. No.

I delivered workshops for two years before I did a good one. I did them for five years before, handed better materials by a colleague, I finally experienced leading a great one.

Good teaching is a learnable craft, a teachable skill, a profession that requires systematic development. Settling for frustrating most of your students and never quite being happy and at ease in their company is unnecessary and unworthy.

Mercifully, the comments are better than the "mentor," by more than a mile. The first great resister says:
Changing your attitude will surely help. But learning to teach well is what will help the most. Find out who the best teachers (not the best researchers, nor the easiest teachers) are on your campus and talk with them about their methods.
For new teachers at every level, my New Year's wish is that you find great colleagues--the ones ready to collaborate, to share teaching techniques that make their students come alive, and to lure you into a lifetime of seeking and finding the methods that work for each new group of students you meet. There isn't any better work than successful teaching, and there isn't any better place to be than among educators willing to help you succeed.

Ho, ho, ho!

Signing off for the family Christmas celebration and the associated feast of conversation with my near-and-dear ones. Back on January 2.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

RTTT without charters

"Our application will not have any provision for charter schools in it because we don't think there will be adequate time or support in the legislature by the deadline we're facing," Holliday said.
The Herald-Leader has that quote and more on Kentucky's likely decision to apply for Race to the Top while being frank about the weak state interest in charter schools.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Admit fewer to remediate fewer?

Inside Higher Ed's article on rising math standards for admission has important detail on Kentucky's pending move to a higher readiness requirement on the mathematics section of the ACT and some developing responses from postsecondary institutions:

Sue Cain, coordinator of developmental education and the college readiness initiative for the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, said a number of four-year institutions in the state are considering raising their admissions standards so that they will not have to offer remedial courses. In Kentucky, she noted, each public institution must provide remedial coursework to any students it chooses to admit. Practically, this means all but the state’s two research institutions -- the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville -- offer numerous remedial options for their students because their admissions standards allow for students who need remediation.
The whole article is worth a read both for multistate perspective and for other insight on the Kentucky changes. Earlier PrichBlog reporting on this transition can be found here and here.

Sustained high school math (we're ahead)

Inside Higher Ed reports:

Aiming to improve student proficiency and achievement in mathematics, multiple systems of higher education have recently raised either their minimum standards for admission or their benchmarks for enrollment in credit-bearing courses in the subject.

The University System of Maryland made such a revision to its undergraduate admissions policy two weeks ago, when its Board of Regents approved a measure requiring that entering students take four mathematics courses in high school instead of the previously required three: algebra I, geometry and algebra II.
Kentucky decided years ago to require four years of math for every high school graduate (not just those going to college) starting with the class of 2012 students who now in their sophomore year.

Substantial: The impact of the Rose litigation

The Campaign for Educational Equity releases today the second report in its Education, Equity, and the Law series, "Substantial and Yet Not Sufficient: Kentucky's Effort to Build Proficiency for Each and Every Child" written by Susan Perkins Weston, independent consultant working on Kentucky education issues, and Robert F. Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee.

"Substantial and Yet Not Sufficient" provides an analytic overview of the origins, impact and implications of Kentucky's landmark educational adequacy litigation, Rose v. Council for Better Education. It provides important new material and insights regarding the political mobilization for school reform, legislative action, statewide implementation, and recent fiscal difficulties that have occurred over the past 20 years since the case was decided. The authors make their case that Kentucky's 1989 court ruling and 1990 legislation unquestionably led to substantive improvement for all students in the state. Based on their experience, they also share a set of thoughts about what counts as successful work to build school systems that serve all students well.

That's from the official announcement. Bob and I are delighted to be part of this important series, and the paper is available for download here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Geography of poverty

Those numbers offer a mighty clear pattern: our highest child poverty is in Southeastern Kentucky, while our lowest is ringed around Louisville, Lexington, and Cincinnati.

This data and much more is available in the the new Kentucky Kids Count Databook here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Episodic memory and effective teaching

In the body of brain research that matters for effective instruction, one of the issues is understanding how human memory works. Episodic memory is one of the most powerful kinds, attached to strong emotions and important events.

From 1963 to 2001, the simplest way to explain episodic memory was to ask a single question: "Where were you when you heard that Kennedy had been shot?" That was the great shared episode. Even people too young to have a personal answer understood how it worked from experiencing the emotions of people a bit older.

In 2001, of course, we got a new question: "Where were you when you heard that the Towers had been hit?" Some middle school and most high school students have first-hand answers, and my guess is that most elementary students can already share their parents' stories. That matters for teaching because new learning is the most effective when students can connect it to something they already know and value. Showing students how a lesson in history or geography or culture is related to 9/11 is an important way to make the lesson meaningful in that class and memorable into the future.

All of which is a roundabout approach to the photo above, now running on the Daily Dish blog. The headline is "Rebuilding," and the caption reads "The Freedom Tower is finally reaching for the sky (at the fourth of 94 floors, to be exact)." I didn't know how deep my own episodic memory went until I looked at the picture and discovered that I was, again, in tears.

(Source note: my understanding of the research discussed above comes indirectly from Jensen's Teaching with the Brain in Mind and more directly from the extraordinarily memorable Brain Research workshop Ronda Harmon developed for the Kentucky Association of School Councils.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

12 percent graduate from college? That's not true.

Jack Brammer and Beth Musgrave reported by blog today that Speaker Greg Stumbo "said he was particularly alarmed to learn Tuesday that only 12 of every 100 students in Kentucky who enter the ninth grade graduate from college."

I'd be alarmed, too, if I though the 12 of 100 was true.

Fortunately, I know it is false.

For the last four years, our colleges and universities have awarded more than 18,000 bachelor's degrees per year. That could only be 12 percent of a ninth grade class if the ninth grade class in question had 150,000 students in it.

Our total population aged 5 to 17 has been between 700,000 and 750,000 for the last two decades. Dividing that equally over 13 grades, we should not have had more than 60,000 of the right age to enter high school in any of those years.

There is simply no way to fit the numbers together.

The 12 percent figure is simply, bluntly, not true.

RTTT: repeating costs versus one time investments

According to an Associated Press wire story:

The Louisiana School Boards Association voted to oppose state participation in a bid for up to $300 million in federal dollars....LSBA said that it is concerned local school districts would have problems financing improvements when federal dollars run out in four years.
That's a valid Race to the top issue if--but only if--the state plan adds recurring expenses.

The smarter way to use RTTT funds is for one-time investments with long-term benefits. For example, to:
  • Equipping all current teachers to implement balanced assessment, the core practice we've needed but not fully supported for two decades..
  • Equipping all our teacher preparation programs to nurture the same skills in future educators.
  • Designing, piloting, and implementing a permanent data system to track student growth from early childhood to college.
  • Retooling our evaluation systems to identify multiple levels of effectiveness, making sure the system has reliable results and broad support, with the intent of having it be a routine part of school and district work by 2014.
Some federal stimulus dollars go for roads and bridges, an infrastructure investment designed to strengthen commerce an communities for many years to come.

RTTT stimulus dollars ought to do support equivalent infrastructure, allowing us to do better work with our regular education resources for a generation after the grant runs out.

RTTT an urban game? I don't see it.

EdWeek's Politics K-12 blog reports that some states think Race to the Top is tilted to heavily urban states. They cite Vermont and North Dakota, which may be planning to wait until the second round of RTTT competition. As nearly as I can tell, the argument is mainly that charters are harder to implement in rural states, which does indeed fit Kentucky. There's also a suggestion that Vermont thinks it does not need to change how it distributes highly effective teachers, but I don't see the rural connection there.

For myself, I think a rural state--our rural state--can make up the lost charter points with a robust commitment to clear standards, strong assessments, potent data systems, effective evaluations and professional development, and a robust plan for turning around weak schools.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Evaluation complications: teachers without test scores

The District of Columbia is one of the first school systems to include student scores in individual teacher evaluations. As a sidebar to an article on Race to the Top criteria for evaluations, EdWeek shares the weights given to value-added results in D.C.'s approach, and I've graphed them above.


That's two different evaluation programs, one for teachers whose students are tested in their subject, and another for teachers whose students are not tested that way. For one group, scores loom large, while for the other they play a tiny role. That's a disturbing difference, capable of dividing a school and providing perverse incentives for teachers to seek out transfers into untested subjects.

The Race to the Top criteria call for all states to ensure that "student growth" becomes "a significant factor" in teacher evaluations. Last week, the Kentucky Board of Education indicated starting support for Commissioner Holliday's desire to do something similar here. The graph above is, to my eyes, the best demonstration I've yet seen of just how challenging that effort is going to be.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Climbing to standards, twice over

In the balanced assessment discussion, there's a regular emphasis on:
  • Short, clear, high standards that are widely shared.
  • Local, hands-on work to break each standard down into smaller steps, done locally so that the people who will implement understand how the parts fit together.
  • Helping students see--early and often-- where they stand on those steps.
  • Ensuring that students see how to climb higher.
  • Working constantly to figure out the best way to help them climb.
When I try to sort through an effective model for building teaching quality, the ideas I find most convincing emphasize:
  • Clear, high, brief statewide standards for effective teachers and leaders.
  • District-level development of specific evaluation procedures, done locally to build hand-on understanding and support for implementing those procedures.
  • Setting the system up so that all the affected educators can identify which needed strengths they currently have.
  • Setting the system up so those same educators can see clearly how to become even stronger at their craft.
  • Expecting school leaders to work pretty much continuously on helping other educators build those needed capacities.
Yes, I see a deep parallel in the two designs, and I wrote those descriptions to highlight that. With stronger teaching, we could hugely reduce our current student achievement gaps. With stronger efforts on professional growth, we could have much more consistent teaching quality.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Almost $40 million already cut from SEEK program

Kentucky is sending districts $39,723,567 less in SEEK funds this year than the state provided last year.

Five districts are receiving more than ten percent less than they received last year :
  • Murray Independent: 21 percent of its SEEK allocation and $1,065,487
  • Frankfort Independent: 15 percent and $533,212
  • Lewis County: 12 percent and $1,451,375
  • Jackson Independent: 12 percent and $268,275
  • Lyon County: 10 percent and $252,727
Eleven districts are receiving more than $1 million less:
  • Jefferson County: $5,237,711 and 2 percent of its SEEK allocation
  • Pike County: $1,615,926 and 4 percent
  • Letcher County: $1,512,569 and 9 percent
  • Lewis County: $1,451,375 and 12 percent
  • Floyd County: $1,357,355 and 5 percent
  • Harlan County: $1,303,802 and 7 percent
  • Hopkins County: $1,253,451 and 4 percent
  • Perry County: $1,253,250 and 7 percent
  • Daviess County: $1,247,349 and 3 percent
  • Christian County: $1,214,699 and 3 percent
  • Murray Independent: $1,065,487 and 21 percent
Only 36 of 174 districts received a funding increase, and sixteen of those received increases of less than one percent.

So, let's stop saying the state hasn't cut P-12 funding yet. We've actually seen cuts to the Department of Education, the Education Professional Standards Board, and to smaller state funding grants, and we've seen nearly $40 million cut from SEEK itself.

To see figures for your own school district, click here to download a complete list.

To see my original sources, download KDE's 2008 2009 Revised SEEK Final Summary (dated 3/12/09) and
2009-10 SEEK Tentative Summary.xls (dated 9-16-09). In the 2009-10 file, notice that the "adjust to appropriation" column shows dollars that are coming from the federal stimulus legislation: I've added those into the amounts I'm counting as part of state spending.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Equity litigation and politics (in New Jersey)

In 1970, four New Jersey cities challenged the constitutionality of the state’s school
funding system, arguing that large wealth-based variations in per pupil expenditures across the state’s districts deprived students in low-wealth communities like theirs of a “thorough and efficient” education. Since then, in over 20 decisions handed down over the last 35 years, through Robinson v. Cahill (1973-1976) and later Abbott v. Burke (1985-2005), the New Jersey Supreme Court has sought to ensure that all students in New Jersey, particularly in distressed urban areas, have equal access to a quality education.
“Assessing Success in School Finance Litigation: The Case of New Jersey” is a lucid new telling of of the Robinson and Abbott sequence of cases. Written by Margaret Goertz and Michael Weiss, it's part of a new series from the Campaign for Educational Equity, and available here.

Comparing that story with ours, three things stand out.

First, the 2008 property tax base in the New Jersey's struggling high poverty districts was $455,794 per pupil. In 2007, Kentucky's statewide average assessment was $382,797 and only sixteen districts* had a stronger tax base than those Abbott districts. What the Garden State calls poor, the Bluegrass calls "relatively wealthy."

Second, the original Robinson ruling came in 1973, and the New Jersey court cases are still coming. Here, the Rose ruling came in 1989, and the Kentucky Education Reform Act was law less than a year later.

Finally, New Jersey is a splintered state on issues of school funding. A child in one of the original Robinson districts (East Orange) could walk out of her elementary school and be in one of the state's proudest and wealthiest districts (Glen Ridge) in less than five minutes--but that border is completely sealed if the question is how the two towns' very separate schools should be funded. In Kentucky, the SEEK formula truly has institutionalized the core concept that the state takes the lead in funding our schools, and all our districts have a shared stake in maintaining the SEEK guarantees.

We have our disagreements, our failures, and our unmet needs, but compared to New Jersey, we truly can speak of our commonwealth operating a system of common schools.

* Anchorage ($872,409), Southgate ($705,899), Fayette ($691,096), Boone ($622,251), Campbell ($609,173), Jefferson ($600,863), Lyon ($572,279), Kenton ($543,241), Beechwood ($525,020), Woodford ($524,683), Franklin ($503,754), Shelby ($471,828), Danville ($462,683), Fort Thomas ($458,687), Burgin ($458,224), and Oldham ($457,543).

Friday, December 4, 2009

Common core standards see (small) delay

Flypaper's Amber Winkler reports from a briefing this morning on the status of the Common Core language arts and mathematics standards:
  1. The K-12 back-mapped standards in reading and in math will be released for public comment on January 4th.
  2. “Early” February is still the timeline for the final draft of both the end-of-high-school standards and the back-mapped ones in both subjects.
That's not a big delay from the original timeline of being done by December 2009, but it does mean the Kentucky Board of Education will not meet the Senate Bill 1 deadline for new mathematics standards.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

College readiness benchmarks: rubber about to meet road

In 2007, the Council for Postsecondary Education voted to raise the ACT scores it counts as college readiness benchmarks. The rules now say that students need an 18 in English, a 19 in mathematics, and a 20 in reading to be counted as college-ready. Starting with the fall of 2010, if their scores are lower, they can enroll at KCTCS or a public university, but they will have to take a non-credit course or a course with added academic support during their first year to catch up in the weak subject.

Today, the Courier-Journal reports on how institutions are scrambling to get ready for those requirements. Some highlights:
  • "The new regulation will increase the number of first-time college students needing remedial math by 7 percent; and remedial reading by 10 percent, said Sue Cain, the college readiness and developmental education initiative coordinator for the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education."
  • "The state's community colleges might feel the biggest impact, with officials there estimating between 17,400 and 20,000 new students will need to take remedial courses"
  • "Officials at the state's two research institutions — the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky — say they likely will not see a large increase in students needing developmental education, in part because they have selective admissions. The average ACT score for incoming freshmen at UK this fall was 24.7, and 24.5 at UofL."
  • "Lana Jennings, director of Murray State University's developmental education program, Murray State University Community College, said students often are initially shocked to learn they need to take remedial classes."
One thing I'd add to the article is that no 2009 or 2010 Kentucky public high school graduate should be surprised by these requirements. In 2008, we began requiring every junior to take the ACT and every public high school to provide added support to every student who scored below those benchmarks. If those changes are working, every graduate this year and in future years will at least have clear information on those rules well in advance of starting college.

This is my town!

The Advocate-Messenger reports:
The brutal fact about education today is that even though Danville and Boyle County schools are doing a good job, there is a challenge ahead for teachers and administrators, and room for improvement.

Danville and Boyle County superintendents Carmen Coleman and Mike LaFavers want to get the dialogue started.

Technology, jobs and resources were among the topics discussed at a community forum Tuesday night at Inter-County Energy with the superintendents. Preparing children for the future is an ever-growing challenge as teachers work to teach students skills needed for jobs that don’t exist and technology that hasn’t been invented yet.

I was there. It was great. I couldn't be more excited about where we're headed.

Which $20 million would you cut?

Yesterday’s post worked on big picture on the cuts the Commissioner has been asked to propose. Now let’s look at some of the detail.

Here’s the 2010 enacted budget amount for each line-item Commissioner Holiday has listed as possible targets for reduction:

  • $100,000 for the Appalachian Tutoring Program
  • $200,000 for statewide teacher recruitment
  • $250,000 for the Georgia Chaffee Teenage Parent Program
  • $381,500 for the Leadership and Mentoring Fund
  • $387,500 for the Middle School Academic Achievement Center
  • $430,000 for the Partnership for Student Success
  • $484,400 for the Elementary Grade Arts & Humanities Initiative
  • $500,000 for the Every1Reads program in Jefferson County
  • $500,000 for the Save the Children rural literacy effort
  • $610,300 for the state writing program
  • $616,500 for the costs of transporting students to the School for the Blind and School for the Deaf and then home again
  • $720,900 for dropout prevention
  • $994,700 for teachers' professional growth grants
  • $1,400,000 for the Collaborative Center for Literacy Development
  • $1,507,900 for the Commonwealth School Improvement Fund, which gives weakest schools grants to implement their plans to raise student performance
  • $1,600,000 for teaching academies
  • $1,686,700 for educator quality and diversity grants
  • $2,100,000 for community education
  • $2,500,000 for education technology in coal counties
  • $6,900,000 for math achievement and the Center for Mathematics
  • $7,121,500 for gifted and talented services
  • $10,972,100 for services to children who have been placed in the care of state agency
  • $11,757,600 for locally operated vocational schools
  • $15,300,000 for the Kentucky Education Network
  • $19,500,000 for Kentucky Education Technology System grants to school districts
  • $22,558,100 for incentive grants for schools to implement early reading intervention programs
  • $26,824,800 for the Department of Education’s personnel and operation costs
  • $57,145,000 for family resource and youth service centers
  • $75,127,000 for preschool

I can't find any easy choices on that list!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

P-12 cuts pending? [UPDATED]

[UPDATE: I replaced the graphs in this post because the originals did not include KDE operating costs in the dollar amounts that are subject to the potential cuts.]

Commissioner Holliday notified superintendents Monday that he has been asked to plan for cuts of up to $20 million to P-12 education. His e-mail is here, and the Herald-Leader reporting here. In this post, I'd like to add a sense of scale to some of the Commissioner's specifics.

First, he says that "this budget reduction planning effort does not apply to SEEK, local school district health insurance or local district life insurance." Those three items are a huge part of the total, roughly like this:
The immune programs were decided by the Governor. However, it's worth noting that the Commissioner is not considering cuts to all the remaining program. He says he is not considering "flexible focus funds" and his list of possible cuts does indeed leave out extended school services, professional development, and safe schools. Beyond that, his list leaves out highly skilled educators, the School for the Blind, the School for the Deaf, state testing, the state share of school lunch costs, and the state share of Infinite Campus costs. Here's an idea of how that further reduces the possible cuts:
Source details for those who love them: This analysis started with the spending figures that the Department presented to the Kentucky Board of Education in October, using the column for the "enacted 2010 budget." Enacted means the amounts approved by the General Assembly, leaving out any cuts that have since been ordered. From that list, I eliminated one line item: the $21,700,100 originally budgeted for textbooks has already been nearly wiped out by earlier cuts. That's a sandlot method that makes the remaining amounts are a better representation of funding still vulnerable to the axe.