Sunday, May 31, 2009

What's this blog about, anyway? (May edition)

Here's a round-up of the main issues that got Prichard Blog attention this month.

Transition accountability
While Kentucky develops new standards and tests, students will continue to be assessed in reading, mathematics, science, social studies and on-demand writing, and a voluntary transition index partnership will report on school, district, and state progress toward proficiency.

New state standards
Senate Bill 1 commits Kentucky to higher, clearer academic content standards aligned with college readiness expectations. We'll do that in collaboration with other states on a tight schedule, with major postsecondary involvement. Meanwhile, postsecondary is preparing to consider even more changes to its ACT readiness requirements.

New accountability for arts, practical living and writing
For those subjects, SB 1 will replace tests with state standards, with districts checking each year and the state checking every other year that each school's programs measure up. The methods and standards used in a pilot version of the review were impressive, and should be the model for planned work on the statewide process for future use. All three subjects will continue to be required parts of P-12 education.

The educational attainment pipeline
Good news: High school diplomas are up, both in recent state data and in federal survey results, and so are college applications.

Not so good news: Students who repeat grade nine rarely graduate. Minority students are especially likely to drop out, and the drop out counts miss thousands of students who simply slip. Completion of associates's degrees declined from 2006 to 2007, and bachelor's completion showed only a tiny step up.

Some things I simply didn't know: nearly 4,000 young adults with disabilities, aged 18 to 21, are served by Kentucky P-12 programs with federal IDEA resources, and students who transfer from community colleges to universities graduate more often than those who start out in bachelor's programs.

Loans to math, science, and special education teachers
The Best in Class program promised to forgive their loans, but is not delivering, and the issue is getting Kentucky a grim kind of national attention. Check out the full sequence of posts on this issue, including the sad but important comments from many participating teachers.

Funding ups and downs, mostly downs
While some districts have been able to avoid major cuts, many are reducing staff in anticipation of declining local revenue and possible state funding cuts, with summaries here and here. Higher education has cut a number of expenses and is concerned about how enrollment will go this fall. State revenue is down, and federal stimulus funds may be limited help in offsetting that.

Instructional ins and outs
The Brown anniversary underlined the centrality of public education for all, allowing reflection on why good instruction is so important and how Fayette County has (and has not) moved forward on some key concerns.

On reading skills, a great video explained why content knowledge is essential, but a regional report offered problematic advice.

On professional learning communities, the Black Box study and Archimedes offered new leverage, and a running list will provide quick access to all the posts.

And on other issues, posts roamed through preschool strengths, math weaknesses, special education placements, higher education attitudes, and a great poster project linking arts and science.

Best in Class: why the money disappeared

From October 2001 to December 2006, the Student Loan People collected $142.8 million in "special allowance payments under the 9.5 percent floor calculation" from the U.S. Department of Education.

On Friday, the Department's Inspector General issued a report concluding that $88.5 million of that amount should not have been claimed and that at least $9 million should be repaid to the federal government.

Here are bare bones of the story. The Student Loan People had long claimed that a limited number of loans qualified for a very old, very generous version of the federal subsidy. Starting in 2004, they claimed that many more loans qualified. In early 2007, the Department announced that it would require added evidence that the loans were really eligible, and the Student Loan People were (in their own words) "unable to make such assertions and therefore lost all ... payments effective for all quarters ending on or after December 31, 2006." The graph to the left gives the basics of the sudden growth and abrupt decline of that income stream.

Those payments were one of four big losses that hit the Student Loan people, along with the transfer of millions from their reserves to the state's general fund in 2004-05 and 2005-06, federal cuts to other lender subsidies in late 2007, and the credit crisis that began in early 2008.

Seeing all four changes together, I do understand why the Student Loan People made Best in Class commitments and now cannot easily deliver all they promised.

Click here to read the full report from the Inspector General, and here to read past posts on Best in Class, including samples of publications that describing the program as a commitment that students preparing for teaching careers were encouraged to count on for the future.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Digital social studies


Joe Weston became a high school sophomore yesterday at 3:30 and sent me this "analysis" a few minutes ago. I'm pretty sure it counts for geography and civics as well.

Older special education students

In the fall of 2007, close to 4,000 Kentucky young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 received educational services under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. They made up just under 1 percent of our population aged 18 to 24, and just over 5 percent of residents that age who had not completed high school.

Below, you can see the number of young adults still in school with each type of disability reported in the IDEA child count data. The third column shows Kentucky number as a percent of the national number, worth comparing to Kentucky having an estimated 1.2 percent of the nation's overall population aged 18 to 24.

I know very little about these students, and would especially value comments from readers who know more. What are the best things happening educationally, and what are the toughest challenges they face? What more do we need to be doing?

Don't be like Kentucky!

Kentucky's teacher loan catastrophe has appeared in a third New York Times article. Back story: the Best in Class program said that teachers who went into shortage fields--math, science, and special education--could get 20% of their student loan principal paid off each year, leaving them debt-free after five years' work. Then the Student Loan People, who created the program, announced that they couldn't afford it, leaving teachers who had already borrowed deep in debt.

For this article, a reporting team called other state loan programs to find out how secure their forgiveness offers are, and here's part of what happened:
Some states ignored us or didn’t call back in time. Some were stumped entirely and said the question actually raised Constitutional issues, which left us a bit befuddled (and there was a trained lawyer in our posse). A few insisted that theirs was not a Kentucky situation, so scared were they of being tarred with that state’s taint.
There it is. We're the national model of how not to run an incentive program and how not to treat student borrowers willing to take on important public service.

One flicker of hope in the article shouldn't be missed: "Ken Winters, a Republican state senator there, said he expected the issue of financing for the program to come up in January."

(Earlier posts on this bad story are here.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Special education placements (and puzzle)


In the chart above, it's clear that Kentucky "mainstreams" students with disabilities more often than the rest of the country. More of our children are in regular classrooms more than 80% of the time. Fewer are there for shorter periods, and fewer are assigned to fully separate classrooms and facilities.

Students with disabilities are entitled to be educated with other children "to the maximum extent appropriate." The puzzle here is why Kentucky decisions on placement are clearly different from what's common elsewhere.

Are other states keeping students out of regular classrooms who could succeed there? Are they refusing to mainstream when doing so is appropriate?

Or is Kentucky is assigning students to regular classrooms that cannot meet their needs? For example, are we avoiding the added costs that might come with other placements, even when that's what would be right for the students in question?

Notes: the graphed data comes from the "Review of Special Education in Kentucky" released by the Office of Education Accountability in December, available here, with hat tip to Melanie Tyner-Wilson.

Opinion piece on loans

Gail Collins at the NYT starts out this way:

There are so many things I don’t understand in this world. Why can’t we do something about North Korea? Why are all the bees dying? How did I miss knowing about “Jon & Kate Plus Eight” until last week? None of these things, however, are nearly as confusing as student loans.
Click here for the rest of her piece, touring the current federal battles over student loans with special mention of Kentucky's Best in Class troubles.

Surprised by the national interest in the Kentucky story? I'm not. Teachers and nurses are being crushed by $100 million in debt they were told would be cancelled. That's genuine news, folks.

Transition index details

Last month, I posted the press release announcing a transition index project that will be shared by the Council for Better Education, the Kentucky Association of School Councils, and the Prichard Committee. I'm pleased to be part of the hands-on work of that project, and we're now ready to share some detail on how we'll calculate and share the index numbers.

Student scores
For 2009, 2010, and 2011 students will continue to be tested in reading, mathematics, science, social studies and on-demand writing. Their work will be identified as novice, apprentice, proficient, or distinguished, and novice and apprentice will each have three different sublevels. That part will be like the 2007 and 2008 assessments.

However, the Department of Education will not combine those scores into index results that sum up a school's performance in each subject and then combine the subjects in a single number that summarizes the school's overall progress.

That's where the transition index work will come in, giving schools, parents, and the public those snapshots of our movement toward proficiency for all students.

School subject scores
To produce an index for each subject, we will use the formula KDE used in years past. That formula produces numbers on a 0-140 scale, based on giving full credit for proficient performance, extra credit for distinguished work, and partial credit for novice and apprentice work. For number lovers, I'll list the weights at the bottom of this post.

Transition index results
The old Academic Index formula will be adjusted so that results are still on a 0-140 scale even though three past tests are no longer used. The elementary school formula gives reading and math the most weight, while the high school version treats those two as equal to science and social studies. Again, the specifics are at the end.

Year-to-year comparisons and 2014 projections
We'll calculate the transition index results for 2007 and 2008 as well as 2009, to allow sound comparisons over time.

To give a sense of who is on track for overall proficiency, we'll look at how much each school's transition index has changed since 2007, and estimate the school's 2014 index if that rate of growth continued for five more years.

Disaggregated results
For separate groups of students, KDE does not publish results for the three different novice levels and the three apprentice levels. We'll do the subject index calculations treating all novices as medium novices and all apprentices as medium apprentices, and then do a transition index using the same formula as for all students.

District results
We'll use the same formulas and share the same projections for each school district, with separate numbers for the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

The reports
From KASC's website, you'll be able to download lists showing all schools, with their 2007 through 2009 results and their 2014 projections, plus separate files showing the disaggregated information. We'll handle district data the same way, and add a summary report describing statewide trends. Once KDE lifts the embargo, we'll complete our work as quickly as possible, and we expect to share everything within two weeks.

Questions?
Please feel free to use the comments section below if you want more details, or e-mail kasc@kasc.net or call KASC at (859) 238-2188.

Those details I promised above
To calculate an index for a single subject, we'll take the percent of students performing at each level, multiply it by the matching weight below, and add up the results:

To combine all the subjects in an overall index, we'll multiply the index for each subject by a weight and add up those results. Those weights, rounded to three decimal places, will be:


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Best in Class, national coverage

Today's New York Times reports on the collapse of Kentucky's Best in Class loan forgiveness program for teachers in shortage fields, putting names and faces to the sad story and linking it to troubles in other places.

Do read the whole piece (here). It's painful and important reading.

Don't, however, take lightly the report that Ted Franzeim, head of customer relations for the Student Loan People "added that the group had never told participants that financing for forgiveness was guaranteed."

That is not true.

The program was presented all over the state as an incentive to borrow from Mr. Franzeim's organization. As an example, here's a clip from their executive director's 2002 legislative testimony:

More proof that the Student Loan People described Best in Class as a promise students could depend on is here, here, and here.

Either Best in Class was an honest promise or it was a trick to lure in borrowers. That second option is terrible to think about: dishonest incentives to student borrowers are forbidden by federal law and warrant major enforcement action by the federal Education Department.

I don't think Best in Class was a trick or a lure. I think it was a promise, made when the Student Loan People believed they would be able to afford to keep their word. The dishonest part is happening now, when they claim they made no promises and offered no guarantees.

Graduation improvement (again)

Yes, we’re making progress on getting students to graduation.

The graphs below give me increasing confidence about that. The first compares 1993 fourth grade enrollment to 2001 graduates, 1994 fourth to 2002 graduates, and so on. The others use sixth, eighth, ninth, and tenth grade enrollment the same way.



If you're wondering why ninth grade shows the smallest percentages, it's because the ninth grade enrollment is always the state's largest. That's partly because of transfers from non-public schools, and heavily because more students repeat grade nine than repeat any other year.

Starting from any grade, graduations look better now than they did a few years ago.

(Notes for readers who love the details: The numbers behind the graphs are below. Earlier posts compared students taking the CATS test to students graduating. The up-side of that method is that it’s nearly impossible to over-count tested students. One down-side is that the CATS data won’t let me reach back to 1993, which is why I used enrollment numbers for this particular post.

Do notice the basic logic of the data. In round numbers, 40,000 graduates out of 50,000 students will always divide out to 80 percent. Any claim that Kentucky public schools have a graduation rate much below the 80 percent mark must show fewer than 40,000 diplomas, more than 50,000 enrollment or both. For recent years, that will be a tough claim to sustain without using the bulging, improbably high, ninth-grade numbers as a starting point.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Art, science, glory!

You’ve got to see these posters! Full-sized, they’re stunning, and I hope the main impact comes through on the small screen.

These posters (and more than a dozen more) come from the “EYE-N-STINE and the ARTS” project developed by Yolantha Harrison-Pace, a Danville artist, dancer, actor, playwright, missionary, and parent leader, as well as my treasured friend.

Photographer Joshua Fuqua works with the Danville system, and Danville students and teachers rode the scateboards and tied them to the core content. The project was supported by Parents and Teachers as Arts Partners, a joint effort of the Prichard Committee and the Kentucky Center for the Arts Center funded by the Lucille Caudill Little Foundation.

I imagine Joe Weston, Diamond Pace and hundreds of their classmates remembering adenosine triphosphate and vertebrate backbones years from now, understanding them better because this gorgeous effort got their attention. The skateboarders themselves, having discussed the concrete connections between what they love and the science that makes it possible, will likely take the learning even deeper.

Yolantha is working on plans to expand the project further. A video component is almost ready. Beyond that, she's thinking about additional science. For myself, I'm daydreaming about how all twenty-seven constitutional amendments might look to a crew of middle school girls.

For Memorial Day


This June 22, 1945, ceremony marked the end of "organized resistance" on Okinawa. In my family, Memorial Day reflection always starts with thought of Billy Harp, my mother's cousin, who died in that place, five days too soon to see that flag go up. Memorial Day is forever about flags rising, rising proudly, rising at a cost we must not forget.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

University savings (in billion dollar context)

Ryan Alessi reports on money saved by UK and U of L in recent years:

Kentucky's two largest universities say they've saved a combined $183 million since 2002 through efficiencies, such as cutting back window-washing at the University of Louisville and taking out the phones in University of Kentucky dorm rooms.

That total also includes savings from merging academic programs, the elimination of faculty and staff positions and the altering or slashing of some employee benefits over the last seven years.

UK and U of L have outlined such cost-cutting measures, as well as ways they've tried to generate more revenue, in memos they dispatched to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education last week.

The $183 million since 2002 would seem to average out to $30.5 million saved per year over the six fiscal years in question. How big is that in the context of those two institutions?

Context, part 1
For fiscal year 2008, the current Budget of the Commonwealth shows the University of Louisville's revenue as including $186 million from the state general fund, $560 million in restricted funds, and $116 million in federal funds--for a total of $862 million.

For the University of Kentucky, the matching figures include $327 million from the state's general fund, $1,545 million from restricted funds, and $190 million from federal funds--for a total of $2,062 million.

Those figures include the reductions ordered for fiscal year 2008 by the governor. Combined, they add up to $2.9 billion. $30.5 million in savings for that year would be roughly 1.1. percent of revenue.

Context, part 2
For fiscal year 2002, the enacted budget showed the two universities receiving combined revenue of $1.7 billion. Barring changes to that enacted budget that I haven't tracked down yet, their 2008 revenue included a 58 percent increase since 2002.

Context, part 3
CPE's most recent accountability report shows that the two schools were also growing in other ways during the years that revenue was added. From fall 2001 to fall 2007, UK and U of L combined had a 12 percent increase in enrollment, and from the 2001-02 academic year to the 2007-08 academic year, they increased degrees awarded by 6 percent. Increases in research capacity, essential to that part of each university's mission, should also be considered, but I don't have an easy way to quantify that growth element.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

High school attainment


The above results show Kentucky as 36th of the fifty states in high school completion.

The last time I did this analysis, Kentucky was 35th with 80%, and South Dakota was 20th with 83%. That's an important reminder that we don't just need to improve our attainment: we need to improve faster than other states to move into the top 20.

These results are also useful in thinking about public school graduation reports and methods. The figures above include GED recipients and non-public diplomas. To me, they suggest yet again that KDE reports of graduation rates of 79 to 84 percent from 2001 to 2006 are likely a bit high, and that other reports of rates well below 80 percent are almost certainly too low.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Funding QuickNotes

Kentucky schools continue to work through the implications of shrinking local and state revenue.

Bardstown Independent expects to avoid job cuts by funding some positions through stimulus funding, but notes those dollars will only be available for two years.

Barren County is budgeting $210 thousand less next year. In addition to preparing for possible state revenue losses, the district is affected by changes in how average daily attendance is calculated. The new student data system (Infinite Campus) tracks students who arrive late or leave early by the minute, lowering the district's ADA by 48 students even though enrollment is up.

Bell County has made operational cuts and protected personnel thus far, but any cut in state funding will make staff losses inescapable, according to superintendent George Thompson.

Boone County will leave vacant positions unfilled as part of preparations for potential state reductions.

Danville Independent now anticipates cutting eight staff positions, only half the number discussed at an earlier board meeting. The district's budget assumes a $667 thousand reduction in revenue, and reflects only 95% of the state SEEK funding shown in the most recent state estimates. Finance director Patsy Clevenger explained that "I think it would be foolhardy to assume that the state is going to be in a strong position next year."

Henderson County will eliminate one or two teaching positions but preserve all-day kindergarten, maintain the district's alternative program, and cover required raises and a $150 thousand dollar increase in required classified staff retirement contributions.

Hopkins County's general fund budget includes $47.8 million in revenue, down 3% from the current $49.4 million. Approved staffing has been reduced by five certified and fifteen classified positions.

Jessamine County is cutting 44 jobs, including 16 teaching positions, saving $700 thousand in school-level costs and $300 thousand in central office expenses in order to be ready for possible state reductions.

Lincoln County will cut $900 thousand and 17 teaching positions for next year.

Mason County expects $1.5 million less in state funding. Cuts have already been made to plans for technology and athletics, and further reductions may be needed.

Murray Independent will avoid staff layoffs and start out with a 9% contingency reserve.

Spencer County has laid off eight or nine employees, but no classroom teachers. Bracing for further reductions, the district has increased its contingency reserve from $700 thousand to $1.4 million.

Webster County expects to be able to find cost reductions to cover an $84,000 shortfall remaining after federal stimulus funds for Title I and special education.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

PLCs inside the Black Box


Remember Inside the Black Box?

Steve Clements and Patty Kannapel produced a runaway hit in their 2003 study of high performing, high poverty schools.

The features that distinguished the eight impressive schools were a near-perfect match for the features of professional learning communities. Straight from the executive summary, here they are:
High expectations that were communicated in concrete ways. Principals held high expectations for faculty and staff, who held high expectations for themselves and the students. There was a strong belief that all students could succeed academically and that faculty and staff were capable of making this happen.

Relationships. The caring, nurturing atmosphere in each of the schools related closely to high expectations. Respectful relationships were observed among adults, between adults and students, and among students.

Academic, instructional focus. All eight schools had a strong focus on academics, instruction, and student learning.

Student assessment. All of the schools paid close attention to their performance on state assessments, but the results from the state test were just a starting point. Each school had a system in place to regularly assess the progress of individual students and to plan or change instruction to meet the students╩╝ needs.

Leadership and decision-making. Leadership styles varied greatly at the schools, but all shared a collaborative decision-making process. None of the schools had an authoritarian or dictatorial leader, and faculty and staff were involved in making most key decisions.

Faculty work ethic and morale. The faculty and staff worked very hard to meet their students╩╝ needs, regularly analyzing data on individual students and planning appropriate instruction or interventions. They helped families and students find transportation, clothing, health care, and other services, and they worked after school and on weekends to provide help with tutoring, portfolios, assessment preparation, or parent programs. They did this work with enthusiasm and dedication; there were no reports of overload or teacher burnout.

Teacher recruitment, hiring, and assignment. A contributing factor to the high morale and overall success of the schools was the careful and intentional manner in which teachers were recruited, hired, and assigned.
The literature tells us quite clearly how great learning settings work. The work is figuring out how many more schools, all schools, can work at this high level for their students.

Notes: Inside the Black Box can be downloaded here, and earlier posts on PLCs can be found here. And my congratulations to Steve and Markie Clements on Lee and Natalie's beautiful wedding.

PLC roundup (expect updates to this one)


Here's a summary of my posts to date on the concept of professional learning communities.

Professional learning communities kicked off the discussion, explaining the blend of professional development, school culture, planning and leadership that make up the PLC concept. (4/22/09)

PLCs: more on what they take noted argued that educators' collaborative work, so distinctive in learning communities, is what energizes them to do deep, effective work with students. (4/23/09)

Common assessments (SISI, PLC's) noted an EdTrust study of high schools with strong records of raising student achievement--a study that illustrated the core principles that make PLCs effective. (4/28/09)

Archimedes, assessment, and learning communities suggested that the assessment "lever" only works if it rests on something like a PLC "fulcrum." (5/11/09)

Report and dissent: Teaching quality and NGA shared concern that the National Governors Association did not list PLC practices as a main strategy for strengthening our education workforce. (5/13/09)

The Strategies counted PLCs as part of what's need to complete the high hopes launched by Brown v. Board. (May 16, 2009)

PLCs inside the black box goes back to the findings in the great Clements & Kannapel report and notes how their high performing, high poverty schools embodied PLC traits. (5/21/09)

Top systems, learning communities, and SB 1 standards notes PLC evidence built into How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top, the powerful 2007 report from McKinsey & Company. (6/14/09)

Blogger side note: this post is also the start of an experiment with blog organization. While keeping the main list of categories very short, I want a way for readers to see the sequence on topics that come up regularly. Also, when I blog on a recurring topic like this, I want a single to connect the new post to the related earlier ones. My plan is to update this post as I add thoughts about the PLC concept, so that it offers one-stop access to the whole discussion. I hope it's helpful!

ACT, CPE, and bit of Frank Baum

This story takes a little telling.

In November 2004, the Council for Postsecondary Education required all public universities and KCTCS schools to place students with an ACT English score of 18 in a credit-bearing writing course, with an ACT mathematics score of 19 in guaranteeing a credit-bearing math assignment.

In November 2007, CPE amended its admissions regulation to specify that:
  • Students would need an ACT reading score of 21 as well as the 18 in English and the 19 in mathematics.
  • Students scoring below those levels would have to take either a non-credit developmental course or a credit-bearing course with "supplementary academic support, such as extra class sessions, additional labs, tutoring, and increased monitoring of students, beyond that usually associated with an entry-level course."
  • Schools would have to provide those courses in a student's first semester.
  • The new rules would go into effect in the fall of 2009.
Only, in January 2009, CPE voted to amend that regulation again to say that:
  • Students would only need a reading score of 20.
  • Students scoring below the standards could spread their special course work over two semesters.
  • The requirement for that coursework would go into effect in the fall of 2010.
And in May 2009 (tomorrow, in fact), President Bob King will present his regular report to the Council, including an update on Senate Bill 1 work that says the next step will be:
to review the current systemwide public postsecondary placement policy in English and mathematics and, working with institutional representatives and KDE, to determine whether revisions are needed in those content standards.
That raises the possibility that by the time the new placement policy goes into effect, every number, date, and timeline will have been replaced at least once, like the memorable tin woodsman Dorothy met on her way to visit the Wizard of Oz.

Is CPE heartless, to be changing the rules so often? Probably not.

Instead, the November 2007 decision may have been made without enough active discussion, meaning that too few brains contributed to figuring out what would be needed to make the changes work.

If so, I'm glad that CPE has the courage to give each element a new round of careful attention.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The dropout gap

In 2007-08, in grades 9-12:
  • African-American students were 10.9% of students and 20.3% of reported dropouts.
  • Hispanic students were 1.9% of students and 3.4% of reported dropouts.
  • Asian students were 0.9% of students and 0.5% of reported dropouts.
  • White students were 85.1% of students and 74.3% of reported dropouts.
That's not the whole picture: beyond the official dropout numbers, thousands of other students just slip away between grade 8 and grade 12. Still, this corner of the puzzle doesn't look good.

Retain one hundred, graduate sixteen

With another year's data, retained ninth-graders seem even less likely to graduate. The latest version of a grim trend looks like this:
  • 5,615 retained ninth-graders in 2004 were followed by 893 late graduates in 2008.
That follows four previous rounds of bad news noted in last month's post on the same problem:
  • 6,176 retained ninth-graders in 2000 were followed by 1,071 late graduates in 2004
  • 5,697 retained ninth-graders in 2001 were followed by 952 late graduates in 2005.
  • 5,540 retained ninth-graders in 2002 were followed by 1,026 late graduates in 2006.
  • 5,106 retained ninth-graders in 2003 were followed by 864 late graduates in 2007.
We'd been averaging seventeen diplomas for each one hundred repeat ninth-graders. This year, only sixteen made it.

Note: the new nonacademic data from KDE, including the graduation numbers, can be found here.

Graduation improves, mysteries continue

The Kentucky Department of Education released 2008 nonacademic data today, including graduation information. I think I see good news. More Kentucky students are making it from eighth grade testing to high school graduation.

That's based on taking the number of diplomas awarded and dividing by the number of students who took our eighth-grade test four years earlier. In 2004, the diplomas were 78.7% of the test-takers. In 2008, they were 80.8%. Here are the year-by-year details.

Comparisons to eighth grade also highlights our enduring difficulty tracking students. Adding up the diplomas, certificates, and the numbers who dropped out in each year of high school does not explain where all the eighth-graders went. The "unknown" column above represents students who go missing in some other way. Because I know a group of kids seem to end up "lost or stolen or strayed" in every class, I'm not inclined to put much weight on the state's official calculations of graduation and dropout rates.

I am, however, willing to put some trust in a basic comparison of students tested to students collecting their diplomas, and I think those results do show Kentucky making some progress on an enduring problem over the last four years.

Note: the percentages above are based on the numbers below, and those numbers, in turn, come from files that can be downloaded here and here. The Milne bit can be found in context here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

SB 1 and CPE discussions [Updated]

Some of Senate Bill 1's greatest potential comes from the commitment to align college expectations and P-12 standards, with the Council on Postsecondary Education as a full partner in making that happen. So far, that work is not getting a very high profile at CPE meetings.

SB 1 didn't get distinct attention in the agenda or minutes of CPE's May 4-5 retreat and isn't scheduled for substantial discussion on the agenda of CPE's May 22 meeting. For May 22, President King's "Report to the Council" does include one paragraph:
Senate Bill 1 is a significant piece of education legislation that revises the assessment and accountability system for K-12 education in Kentucky. The bill calls on the Department of Education, in collaboration with the Council on Postsecondary Education, to plan and implement a process for revising academic content standards to increase the rigor and focus the content of K-12 education. Working collaboratively, staff members from the two agencies developed a comprehensive process to revise standards in key content areas. A planning process also was developed to reduce college remediation rates and increase graduation rates of postsecondary students with developmental education needs. The next step in SB 1 implementation is to review the current systemwide public postsecondary placement policy in English and mathematics and, working with institutional representatives and KDE, to determine whether revisions are needed in those content standards. A copy of the comprehensive revision process is included in the appendix to this meeting agenda book.
That may be enough to invite greater discussion.

Missing, though, is one of SB 1's major requirements:
Within thirty days from the effective date of this Act, each postsecondary education institution shall plan and implement a process to develop core academic content standards for reading and mathematics for introductory courses in the public postsecondary education institutions.
That thirty day requirement hit on April 24, and the bill follows up by saying that "All core academic standards for mathematics and reading in introductory courses shall be completed by December 15, 2009 ." In the CPE documents, I can't get any sense of how that work will proceed, and I admit to great curiosity about it.

Update: a commenter has alerted me that SB 1 (as I downloaded it shortly after passage contained a typo.) In the revised version now available from the LRC, the deadlines read this way: "All core academic standards for mathematics and reading in introductory courses shall be completed by December 15, 2010 with a target completion date of December 15, 2009 for the mathematics standards." That gives postsecondary more time for this important work, and is very helpful to know!

Notes: The May 4-5 agenda is here. The May 22 agenda is here, and includes downloadable versions of the May 4-5 minutes and the President's Report. Senate Bill 1 is available here: click on the highlighted phrase "SB 1" to download the whole bill.

Why is fiscal stabilization funding taking so long?

EdWeek's Politics K-12 blog is puzzling over states that haven't yet submitted their official application for the fiscal stablization dollars that will go mostly to education. Here's the question posed there:

Put another way, of the 52 applications that need to be submitted, 29 remain outstanding.

Note that the states in arguably the most dire fiscal straits—California, Florida, and Nevada—are among those that have received their funds. The stragglers include some states in comparatively good financial shape, such as Texas and Wyoming.

So is lack of need the main reason some states are taking their time? That's possible, but hard to imagine in most cases.

Any ideas?
Here's my answer (almost identical to a comment I shared over there).

The fiscal stabilization rules require states to:
  • maintain at least FY 2006 state funding for FY 2010 and FY 2011, for K-12 and postsecondary.
  • use the federal dollars first to put funding back to the FY 2008 level, again for K-12 and post-secondary.
  • hand out what's left to K-12 only, using Title 1 formulas.
In Kentucky, our FY 2010 budget for K-12 is well above the FY 2006 requirement, but we've got new revenue trouble that may require us to revise that. For Governor Beshear, the steps have to go like this:
  1. get revenue estimates from our forecasting group.
  2. decide how much, if anything, must be cut from the FY 2010 state education budget, whether we can continue doing better than FY 2006, and if so, by how much.
  3. plan how to hand out the stabilization dollars, based on first getting back to FY 2008 and then adding to K-12 district resources.
  4. apply to USED for the money.
Step 1 is where we are. The forecasters meet today and will report by the end of May--and then the other steps can follow. That's why it makes sense to me that Kentucky has not yet filed.

Looking at the states that have filed, their deeper revenue problems mean they already know they can't provide a penny more than FY 2006. That made their math both sadder than ours and a lot simpler to complete.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Questions to be faced

Merlene Davis writes today about achievement, race, tension, and progress in the Fayette County schools, starting with a reminder of recent history there:
Problems with our schools screamed from news pages nearly every day in the late 1990s and early part of this century. It was an "us" against "them" mentality, with "us" being nearly anyone outside Central Office.
The outcry had begun years earlier and resulted in the formation in 1993 of the Equity Task Force to examine our system's redistricting efforts that left northside schools and minority students out of the loop.
"I called it periodic civil war," said P.G. Peeples, president of the Lexington-Fayette Urban League and one of the soldiers in that battle that also included the Rev. Bob Brown, the Rev. C.B. Akins, and activists Arnold Gaither and Sam Jones.
The column marks the passing of that era and the arrival of a better one. The achievement gaps remain disturbing, but a new commitment to change them has developed.

In those earlier days Davis describes, the Fayette issues were far from unique. In every school system that serves black students, there are enduring questions about whether success for those children is truly a priority.

What stood out was that, in Fayette, the questions at last got a wide hearing, and the concerns finally got enough attention to generate substantive action.

Some other districts now seem to be moving on a similar path. I see new energy in Christian County and hear of new frankness in Covington. I get occasional updates on the developing experiences of the merged Harrodsburg/Mercer and Providence/Webster systems. My hopes for Danville are growing.

We won't close the remaining racial divide in public education until hard questions are asked and heard, early and often, as gently as possible but as bluntly as necessary. In Kentucky, Fayette County realized that first, and others are, I think, catching up.

The next step, of course, is building better answers.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Mandate

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.
--Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, May 17, 1954 (opinion here)

The Strategies

Why balanced assessment? Because when teachers can show students and parents a clear ladder to meeting core standards, students climb and the ones who have often slipped to the bottom climb the most.

Why professional learning communities? Because when teachers have the confidence and skill to nurture each child, all children flourish.

Why content knowledge to build reading skills? Because it closes cultural gaps and open doors to learning, citizenship, and success.

Why pour so much of ourselves into public education? Because our common schools embody our delight in one another's company and our knowledge that the brightest future will be one our children build together.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Quick notes: school job cuts

This has been a tough week for Kentucky educators as districts announce staffing plans for the coming year. Cuts noted by the KSBA headline service include:
  • Thirty-two teaching slots in Madison County.
  • Eighteen teaching positions in Scott County.
  • Six teaching positions and three counseling slots in Campbell County, plus plans to replace seven librarians with one itinerant library specialist and a team of paraprofessionals.
  • Eleven teaching positions in Laurel County.
Declining local revenue, preparation for possible state cuts, and a lack of information about how federal fiscal stabilization money will work all contribute to this wave of reductions.

Applications up, but enrollment may not follow

The Lane Report finds that
With the job market buffeted by economic tempests the past year, record numbers of students are applying to many Kentucky four-year colleges and universities for the fall. Larger enrollment often occurs during recessions, but some admissions directors are casting a wary eye at the numbers.

The question is whether application figures are being driven up by students applying at multiple schools. Also, in the current economy they may be shopping around for as much financial help as they can get, and looking at colleges closer to home.
Check out the full article, with a rich picture of state growth and challenges, here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Report and dissent 2: Teaching quality and NGA

The National Governors Association has released a new report on strengthening our P-12 education workforce. The proposals are thoughtful ideas about recruiting and retaining strong teachers and leaders, including differential pay for contributions in shortage areas and hard to staff schools, career ladders for teachers who want to continue working the classroom, stronger evaluations, and better data on working conditions.

This sturdy summary of major teaching quality ideas is worth close attention, and you can download it here.

That said, I think the NGA missed the most important teaching quality idea around: professional learning communities that change school cultures.

Those learning communities focus on individual student progress, with data, professional development, and leadership all reoriented to get results. They translate research-in-books into research-used-consistently-in-classrooms. They ensure that young teachers become confident long-term contributors to public education and allow devoted teachers at every stage to increasingly effective at their life's work.

The NGA ideas can make a contribution, but the central teaching quality issue is deepening the craft mastery of current educators, a deepening that happens best with the sustained, job-embedded, data-driven collaboration that characterizes the professional learning community approach.

Report and dissent 1: Reading and SREB

The Southern Regional Education Board's new report recommends "Making Adolescent Reading an Immediate Priority in SREB States."

The proposed solution is more reading instruction in the upper grades with attention to reading strategies for each academic subject. It's thoughtful work with new detail on what we all lose when students can't read successfully. Check out their ideas here.

Having given the SREB strategies a spotlight, I disagree with their approach. I submit that their action proposals are sure not to solve the main problem.

More work on decoding and spotting main points won't equip students to handle their middle and high school textbooks. The core problem is that they don't have the vocabulary and prior knowledge to make sense of what they decode. Better teaching of science and history and art and other foundational content in the early grades is the most important change we can make to prepare students to read successfully in the upper grades.

Impressive transfers!

Students who transfer to a university after completing a KCTCS associate's degree are more likely to complete their bachelor's degrees than students who spend their first three years in already in a bachelor's program. Check out this graph:

The dark purple bar shows the three-year bachelor degree graduation rate of KCTCS transfer students entering four-year institutions in summer or fall 2005 with an associate's degree. The lighter green bar shows the three-year bachelor's degree graduation rate of native students who entered three years prior and were still enrolled in fall 2005.

On Sunday, the Herald-Leader offered an editorial opinion that "A dozen years after its creation, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System is seen as one of this state's success stories." That's well supported by data like this.

Source: The graduation rates above come from CPE analysis here, redone for readability.

Kevin Noland will serve again

Fresh from a KDE press release:
At its retreat today, the Kentucky Board of Education selected Kevin Noland to serve as interim education commissioner. Noland will serve during the time between the departure of current Interim Education Commissioner Elaine Farris and the selection of a permanent commissioner.

The board is in the midst of the search process for a new commissioner, and Greenwood/Asher & Associates, Inc., of Florida is conducting the search. The timeline will culminate with the hiring of a new commissioner in August.

Farris, who has served as interim commissioner since the retirement of Education Commissioner Jon Draud in December 2008, has accepted the position of superintendent of the Clark County school district. She will begin her new duties on July 1.

Noland retired from the Kentucky Department of Education in 2008. He served as legal counsel, associate commissioner and deputy commissioner during his employment. Noland also served as interim commissioner three times previously.

Details, including salary and benefits, of Noland’s employment have not yet been finalized.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rumplestiltskin to the rescue?

Jefferson County has been wrestling mighty budget challenges, with the school board approving cuts of $26 million for 2009-10 last night. The CJ article is here, with this paragraph deserving special note:
Cordelia Hardin, the district's chief financial officer, told the school board that the district still faces a $44 million shortfall in its general fund and will use about $15 million in reserve funds to make up for the rest of the shortfall.
Spending $15 million to cover a $44 million shortfall is mighty close to spinning straw into gold. Here's hoping the governor and the legislature can do as well with the $1 billion state level challenge.

Reading and content: the video edition

Here's a great version of the argument about reading and prior content knowledge. It runs to nine minutes, which isn't ideal, but it sure does make the point well.

If you aren't seeing a video, click here for another way to view. For more about the creator's work, click here. And special thanks to the commenter who brought it to my attention!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bachelors by another route (wow!)

Close to half of those who earn Kentucky bachelor's degrees did not complete a bachelor's program within six years of entering it. Here are the basic numbers:

Who are those non-six-year people? Some are certainly people who take more than six years to finish. My hunch is that more of them are people who did not start out in a bachelor's program at all: they enrolled at KCTCS and transferred to a university later in their postsecondary careers.

This is a big shift in my understanding of how Kentucky degree attainment works.

Source note: the six-year numbers are here, and the others are calculated by subtracting that group from the bachelor's degree totals in the 2007 CPE report here.

Archimedes, assessment, and learning communities

Lunching today with one of my favorite educators, I remembered my basic Archimedean physics: "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world," he reportedly said.

We speak so often of assessment that will "leverage instruction," meaning testing that provides both data and incentives to change teaching practices in ways that will raise student achievement. We should remember to ask: where's the fulcrum?

The answer, I think, is that assessment changes instruction when it connects with a school's culture.

If teachers and leaders are collaborating in the right ways, operating as a professional learning community, they study the results, analyze the standards, and keep adjusting instruction to get move each student ahead.

If they aren't working together that way, the same test can lead to drill-and-kill reviews, excessive practice testing, and lots of external rewards for students who don't find any intrinsic value in their studies.

Rest the lever of sound assessment on the fulcrum of a collaborative learning-focused culture, and we will indeed move the world.

Transition accountability: Murray Independent

The Murray Ledger & Times reports on how local schools will address SB 1's testing changes:
Bob Rogers, MISD superintendent, said the accountability measure of students will continue through instruction, assessment, and reporting in the non-tested Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) areas. “The Murray Independent School District is not changing. We will continue to assess writing, arts and humanities and practical living vocational studies,” he said. “After meeting with our teachers and administrators, it was a unanimous decision to continue our teaching and assessment in these content areas and to report the results.”

Rogers said after meeting with their administrators it was an undivided “yes” vote that all these areas remain and nothing changes. “We also implemented our procedure to continue the assessments and report the results to the parents and citizens,” he said. “We will continue our focus of using the data for making effective decisions concerning school policies, programs and curricula.”
The full article is here, with hat tip to KSBA's great headline service here.

Revenue plummets

The state report for April is out, and it's bad.

Comparing April 2009 to April 2008, total general fund revenue dropped 12%, led by income tax revenue from individuals dropping almost 24%.

Comparing the first ten month of this fiscal year to the same months of last fiscal year, the general fund is down 1.6%, and $112 million dollars.

For those who need a silver lining on a cloud this dark, I spot one small thin thread worth noting. In November, the consensus forecast predicted a drop of 2.1%, and we're doing a bit better than grim prediction.

KCTCS tenure and accuracy

The Kentucky Community and Technical College System trustees voted in March to eliminate tenure as an option for future employees. Sunday's Herald-Leader editorial added some worrisome elements to the story.

First, the H-L reports that trustees were told that similar schools in all the surrounding states except Ohio had eliminated tenure, when that apparently is not so.

Second, the H-L reports that concern was raised about being stuck with programs that no longer attracted students (with Latin as the example) if faculty in the program had tenure. That is also untrue: postsecondary institutions with tenure can and do shed whole programs when necessary.

If the trustees did indeed rely on those two pieces of misinformation, there's a third problem. A sustained public discussion allows accurate information on key points to develop. It isn't enough to have staff research the issues, even if they spend three years considering it as KCTCS officials reportedly did. Other people, with other concerns and sources, can clear up the basic facts and identify additional issues that need discussion. The trustees should have realized that a decision this significant needed that level of public engagement.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

20,000 older freshmen to find?

The Council on Postsecondary Education wants to raise the six-year completion rate from 45 percent in 2004 to 56 percent in 2020. If we're aiming for roughly 31,000 bachelor's degrees in 2020, we'll need a bit more than 55,500 entering students in 2014.

Some of those students will come from raising high school and GED completion. In 2020, CPE wants 41,000 entering students from those two sources. In 2014, if we're on track for that target, that could mean that 31,500 first-year students will enter directly from high school, with 4,000 coming from GED completion.

That leaves roughly 20,000 freshmen to come from other situations. They will be 58 or younger in 2014, so that they will still be in the workforce 64 and under in 2020. Within that age group, they can include anyone who isn't in college or holding a bachelor's degree already.

Roughly, the 2020 graduating class --and the 2014 entering class-- will look roughly like this:
Notes: The 56% six-year-completion rate comes from the CPE "Double the Numbers" plan here. The 31,000 degrees in 2020 is a rounded version of my estimate from numbers in that report, shared here. The 41,000 entering students in 2020 is also a rounding of my calculation from those numbers, shared here. The 36,000 in 2014 is a matter of estimating 16 equal steps from 2004 to 2020, and then rounding.

Double the numbers, pipeline basics

CPE's "double the numbers" plan calls for 397,000 bachelor's degrees to be awarded between 2005 and 2020. It also identifies changes we'll need to make further back in the "pipeline" that leads to those degrees, including these:
The plan also calls for increasing postsecondary enrollment from 3.6 percent to 4.5 percent of the adult population. I haven't yet worked out how to put numbers on that part of the change.

Note: The diploma and GED numbers above are listed in the plan document (here). Moving the high school direct to college rate from 62% to 74% and the GED to college rate from 19% to 36% produces the other numbers.

Double the numbers, attempting specifics

The Council on Postsecondary Education's plan to "Double The Numbers" aims to move Kentucky adults age 25 to 64 up from 402,000 bachelor's degrees in 2000 to 791,000 bachelor's degrees in 2020.

According to the plan document (here), the 2020 total should include:
  • 235,000 degrees received before 2000 by people who will still be under 65 in 2020.
  • 65,000 degrees received between 2000 and 2004.
  • 94,000 degrees from net migration (people moving in minus those moving out).
  • 397,000 degrees earned from 2005 to 2020.
So far, I have not been able to find an official timetable of year-by-year targets for bringing the 397,000 new degrees to fruition.

The chart at the right is my own, based on 3.9% increases each year on top of the 16,902 reported 2004 bachelor's degrees shown in CPE's newest accountability report (here).

CPE's intent with this goal is to match the national bachelor's attainment for adults 24 to 64, while assuming that the national rate will also be rising over the years of the plan.

KSB summer program (again)

The Department of Education has authorized partial restoration of the summer program at the School for the Blind. The program will last two weeks rather than four and begin after July to qualify for next fiscal year's funding. (CJ story here, earlier posts here and here.)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Perspectives: accountability and more

The Spring 2009 Perspectives from the Prichard Committee is available now. You can download the full newsletter here, or choose any of the articles listed below:


Program review: pilot standards

Here, KDE shares the scoring rubric from the 2007-08 pilot program reviews of arts and humanities programs, organized around four standards:
Standard 1: The school develops and implements an arts and humanities curriculum that is rigorous, intentional, integrated and aligned to state and local standards.

Standard 3: The school uses multiple evaluation and assessment strategies to continuously monitor and modify instruction to meet student needs and support proficient student work.

Standard 2: The school‘s instructional program actively engages all students by using effective, varied, and research-based practices in the arts to improve student academic performance.

Standard 4: School instructional decisions are student centered and decisions about the organization of the school focus on maximizing available resources to provide the highest quality arts and humanities education for all students.
The SB 1 move to program reviews for arts, practical living, and writing portfolio can be a positive step for student achievement. These rubrics, with their detailed descriptions of performance levels and potential evidence fore each standard, illustrate of what a serious process can include.

Program reviews: the arts pilot version

Under SB 1, testing will be replaced with “program reviews” for arts and humanities, practical living/career studies, and portfolio writing.

In 2007-08, the Department organized a pilot version of the review process for arts and humanities. From every account I've heard, it was a serious process, requiring a meaningful investment of school and district time and pushing toward an important upgrade in the quality of arts teaching and learning. Here's a description (taken from "Preliminary Information--Part 1" here):
The program evaluation/review process involved a year-long self-evaluation conducted by a team representing all stakeholders at the school. The school team followed a protocol provided by the Kentucky Department of Education that included guidelines for establishing the school program review team, training the team, how to create the mandatory evidence files, and the definition of acceptable evidence along with the process for collecting it.

Teams used a program evaluation/review tool to measure the level of program implementation against standards and indicators of quality. During the school year the team was assigned the collection of hard evidence that demonstrated how the school’s instructional program compared to the quality descriptions provided in the program review tool. Ratings of Performance describe implementation at four levels: little or no implementation, limited or partial implementation, full implementation, and exemplary implementation.

The evaluation team met regularly to compare evidence and work toward consensus on a rating for their school program. They decided on a level and the corresponding number for the rating was automatically assigned to the raw score. In this manner the evaluation tool and review process generated a raw score that can be converted into the school accountability score, or accountability index.

The program review process enabled schools to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Immediate feedback was provided to the school, providing direction for creating plans to improve the program as the school learned exactly what was needed to make improvement. The process included support for job embedded professional development while also providing a road map for improvement of the instructional program.

A system of audits was used to support the validity of the review process. Audit teams had access to the school evidence file and program review results, and made comparisons between the school’s determined score and the hard evidence collected to support those decisions. Audit teams followed a prescribed process to determine whether or not the school accountability score was accurate.
Nothing in that sounds like a soft or easy process. Here's hoping the official versions we implement in the coming years match it in rigor and attention to staff capacity.