Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Using the transition index district results as a quick overview, here's a summary of the 2007 to 2009 changes in each district, from strongest to weakest. (Rankings of district improvement are based on 175 districts at the elementary and middle level, and 171 districts at the high school level.)
Union County can report a 17 point increase in the elementary index, plus 7 points on the middle index and 2 points on the high school index. That puts them second in elementary improvement, 36th in middle school improvement, and 77th on high school improvement over the two years. Since Union has spent the last year in a much-publicized effort to raise performance without state assistance, it's worth noting that looking at just their 2008 to 2009 change shows their district improvement as fifth strongest at the elementary level, seventh strongest at the middle level, and fourth strongest overall.
Christian County has raised elementary results 10 points and middle and high school results 7 points each. Those growth rates are the 9th fastest among elementaries, 39th fastest among middle schools, and 25th fastest for high schools.
Covington has raised their elementary index 11 points, middle index 4 points, and high school index 1 point. That's the fifth best elementary growth in the state, 69th for middle and 85th for high schools.
Jefferson County did not improve results. There, the elementary index is down 2 points, the middle index down 1 point, and the high school index effectively flat. Among districts statewide, that puts the district's pace of change at 142nd for elementaries, 152nd for middle schools, and 108th for high schools.
To my eye, Union's great and Christian's good: the added KBE scrutiny may soon come to an end. Covington's made an important start, but has enough work ahead to warrant continuing attention. Jefferson, meanwhile, warrants not only continuing oversight but growing concern.
- A 13,000 increase overall.
- A 12,000 increase for undergraduates.
- A 10,000 increase for undergraduates just at KCTCS.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Before each class, Neiser sends the 60 students in his two sections of introductory physics two "warm up questions" to help them think through the concepts covered in the reading for that day's class. He also has an open-ended question that lets them raise further points they were curious about. These are low-pressure assignments - if they do a bunch over the term, they get a discount on the final. The grading is on a simple scale, and is based not on the correctness of the response but on how well they engaged the material. The J-I-T element comes in the hard part for the professor: he reads all of these responses before each class, and adjusts his teaching accordingly. The students' responses let him know if there are common misconceptions or pressing questions.That's from the Gruntled Center, with more on how Professor Neiser's classes at Centre College are changed by this intensive effort to understand and then change student performance here. It's the same classroom concept as the P-12 formative concept, accelerated through technology, and being propagated through collegial discussion. And, once again, it's a concept that works.
Friday, September 25, 2009
He visits classrooms daily and provided immediate feedback to teachers to improve their instruction.That's Principal Dewey Hensley, explaining the three-year push to move Atkinson Elementary up to NCLB expectations to the Courier-Journal. You can practically tick off the McKinsey report advice on raising teaching quality:
“We focus on each and every child,” he said. “We believe we have to be flexible enough to meet the needs of our kids, not that they have to be flexible to meet the requirements of our programs.”
Hensley and his staff members have also emphasized raising expectations — inspiring all students to think of college not as something they might do, but something they will do.Ask any of Atkinson's 500 students which year they will be going to college, and they'll tell you instantly. It's as ingrained as learning to count or reciting their ABCs.
- Strengthen every teacher with classroom-focused professional development and support.
- Make teacher collaboration a constant.
- Intervene quickly with any child who is struggling academically.
- Provide leadership intense enough to change the school culture.
Superintendent Sheldon Berman defended new test scores released Wednesday for Jefferson County Public Schools, describing the results as “relatively stable” and saying it will take time for several new initiatives to help raise achievement.That's from the Courier-Journal's Thursday coverage (here). Here are the details for the No Child Left Behind subjects:
- In reading at all levels, the percent of Jefferson County students at or above proficiency has gone down since 2007, even though those results are up statewide.
- In high school mathematics, Jefferson County proficiency also declined from 2007 while statewide results improved.
- In elementary and middle school math, Jefferson results are up, but the growth is roughly one-third the statewide average improvement.
If we accept for the moment Dr. Berman's view that NCLB asks the impossible, I think the right question is: what level of performance is possible? 90 percent proficient by 2014? 85 percent? 80 percent?
Our statewide future will be shaped by the 100,000 students enrolled in Jefferson County. Will it be as weak as the 2009 numbers, or can we expect something better- even one or two points better a year--in 2010 and 2011?
Below, I've done the comparison of the other tested subjects. In high school writing, Jefferson County students improved more rapidly than their peers statewide.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
More than half of elementary schools also improved in science and writing, and more than half of middle schools improved in science and social studies.
However, less than half of schools improved in reading at any level, and less than half of schools improved in elementary science, middle school writing, and high school science, social studies, and writing.
The graph above comes from the Transition Index Report available here. For 2007, the report used official subject index results calculated by the Kentucky Department of Education. For 2009, the report used unofficial numbers calculated using the same formula KDE used for the other years. To see the five subjects combined in a single statewide transition index number, check out the post here or check out the full reporting on individual schools and districts here.
* Those who follow state testing closely may ask how the 2008 change in high school writing performance levels contributed to the high number of improving schools. The answer is: very little. In 2007, high school writing used five performance levels: novice-nonperformance, novice, apprentice, proficient, and distinguished). For 2008 and 2009, eight levels were used: low novice, medium novice, high novice, low apprentice, medium apprentice, high apprentice, proficient, and distinguished. That definitely gave schools a boost: they now get added credit for high novices and high apprentices, and that definitely increases their index results. However, even using the old formula, treating all 2009 apprentices as worth the same weight and all 2009 high and medium novices as novices, an index calculation would still show that out of 234 high schools, 233 improved their writing results. In the graph above, 233 of 234 would still be displayed as 100 percent.
- Elementary schools would reach 100 in 2015.
- Middle schools would get there in 2017.
- High schools would not arrive until 2052.
The thing is, our children are entitled to schools that allow them to meet state standards. Since 1990, we have accepted that the constitutional mandate would not be met overnight. At first, we planned to get the job done by 2012, and then in 1999, the Kentucky Board of Education put off the deadline until 2014.
The data above and the rest of the Transition Index Report show that statewide, we are not on track to meet that 2014 target.
Of course, Senate Bill 1 removed the official 2014 timeline. Until we have new standards, new tests, and a new deadline to deliver for all students, though, 100 by 2014 is the closest thing we have to a benchmark of adequate progress. By that benchmark, we need to move faster in 2010 and 2011 than we did in 2008 and 2009.
From the official press release on the Transition Index Report:
"Remember that our state is getting ready to set even higher standards," Said Daviess County superintendent Tom Shelton, president of the Council for Better Education. "If current improvement is too slow to reach existing standards, there is great concern about how we will do when the new college-ready standards come into play."(I was the lead number-cruncher on the Transition Index Report, work that definitely slowed down my blogging over the last week.)
Cindy Heine, associate executive director of the Prichard Committee, said the point of the report is to let "every one see the issues and work on moving achievement to higher levels." Heine echoed Shelton's thought on Senate Bill 1, adding, "For all students to be ready for college and workplace success, school improvement cannot wait for 2012. We all need to be working on quicker progress in 2009 as well as in future years."
Monday, September 21, 2009
On-line comments are invited on the way to the next draft, with math standards scheduled to be complete by the end of 2009 and English/Language Arts due next year.
*An earlier edition originally meant for private reviews got wide circulation and discussion.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Using Pell grant eligibility as a proxy for low-income backgrounds, the graph above spotlights a key difference in the enrollments of different schools within the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. To me, there's a sharp pattern there, with the schools in our largest cities having the smallest proportions and the schools in our Appalachian counties clearly having the highest shares of students needing the Pell support.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The Letcher County Board of Education has voted to increase its property tax revenue by four percent, but the new rate is six cents lower than last year's assessment.
Roger Martin, director of finance, said the assessment by Letcher County Property Valuation Administrator Randy Hall is the key to understanding the tax rate.
"The assessment is what has gone up and is what makes the tax rate come down," said Martin. "The compensating rate would have given us the same amount of revenue as last year. We chose and have in recent years to increase our revenue by four percent."
The four-percent increase on real estate is the maximum amount allowable under Kentucky law without being subject to recall by registered voters.
With simpler numbers, here's an example of how that sort of arithmetic can work:
Each year that property values rise, Kentucky school boards face options:
- They can lower tax rates enough to get the same revenue as last year. That's the "compensating rate" Mr. Martin mentioned.
- They can lower tax rates in a way that produces more revenue, up to 4 percent growth, and those changes are not subject to voter recall. That's the reason district leaders speak of "taking the 4 percent" as the maximum boards usually consider.
- They can set a tax rate that produces more than 4 percent growth, knowing that voters have the option of calling a recall election to change that rate.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
The truth is that good early literacy instruction does not inoculate students against struggle or failure later on. Beyond grade 3, adolescent learners in our schools must decipher more complex passages, synthesize information at a higher level, and learn to form independent conclusions based on evidence. They must also develop special skills and strategies for reading text in each of the differing content areas (such as English, science, mathematics and history)—meaning that a student who “naturally” does well in one area may struggle in another.Time to Act: An Agenda for Advancing Adolescent Literacy for College and Career Success begins with that core recognition and moves on to recommend classroom steps, professional collaboration around data, examples of the recommended transformation in schools and districts, and a concluding summary organized as "A Call To Action: Where To Begin."
The full report, developed by the Carnegie Foundation's Council on Advancing Adolescent
Literacy is available here, with an EdWeek overview here.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
As we begin a new school year, it is time for fresh excitement about Kentucky education. In just the past few months, key developments have positioned Kentucky for more rapid improvement than we’ve seen at any time since the early 1990s. Here’s a quick summary of what’s happened and why it matters.
First, Kentucky is developing new academic standards that will be shorter, clearer and better aligned with college readiness and global competition. Senate Bill 1, passed this spring, commits us to that major revision and to matching tests that will start in 2012.
Second, national developments will strengthen our SB 1 work. Forty-six states have committed voluntarily to develop Common Core standards in mathematics and language arts, with Kentucky poised to be one of the very first to apply those expectations in our teaching, our testing and our accountability process. Kentucky will also benefit from the federal Department of Education’s commitment of $350 million to develop robust testing based on the Common Core approach.
Third, state leadership is now unified on education in a way we have rarely seen. Leaders in both parties and both houses of the legislature backed SB 1, and they and Gov. Steve Beshear intend to see it succeed. Terry Holliday, our new commissioner of education, is off to a great start, as is Bob King, the new president of the Council on Postsecondary Education. Together, Commissioner Holliday and President King have already launched major collaborations, including a longitudinal student data system to track students’ progress from pre-k to college and beyond.
Fourth, we have growing clarity about a central fact: standards, tests, data systems and state political commitments will only yield higher achievement if they are implemented well in classrooms. At this spring’s Prichard Committee meeting, Sir Michael Barbour identified teaching quality as the essential factor in the success of top-performing school systems around the world. In his words, “The only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction.”
Barbour, a partner of McKinsey & Company and a former official in the administration of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, made a compelling case for four main strategies that work to build consistently effective teaching for all students:
In hindsight, it is easy to see that our 1990 reform often fell short on the teaching quality front. We offered rewards for success and consequences for failure, and we assumed our educators were already equipped to respond to those incentives. In reality, they needed more direct and robust support—just as athletes reaching for a major prize need sustained coaching to deliver their best performance.
- Recruiting and training strong candidates to enter the education profession.
- Strengthening current teaching through collaborative professional development that changes classroom practice.
- Using data from tests and school inspection systems to measure progress and to intervene when progress is too slow.
- Developing school leadership able to forge those three elements—new teachers, support for current teachers, and data on results—into schools that deliver rapid achievement growth for all students.
Teaching quality work could be the Achilles’ heel of our new efforts as well. Senate Bill 1 did call for new attention to effective instruction, directing the state department to ensure training for current educators on implementing the new standards and directing the Education Professional Standards Board to ensure that teacher preparation programs do the same thing for teacher candidates. Unfortunately, those two agencies have endured a decade of funding cuts. Stripped to the bare bones, they will be very hard pressed to implement robust new learning activities with their current funding.
That makes the fifth and final reason for new excitement especially important. The federal government is offering $4 billion in competitive “Race to the Top” grants for states that can show the best records of past reform and the best new plans to push those reforms further. Commissioner Holliday has already mobilized his staff and an impressively representative advisory board to draft a strong Kentucky application.
Together, these developments offer Kentucky a great opportunity. If we seize the day, working together with great energy in the coming months, we can ensure that our new standards translate into new teaching strength in every classroom and new levels of achievement for all our children.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Where I grew up in New Jersey, if you went up in a tall building and looked east, you could see the cranes building the Twin Towers with the naked eye.
My best job in law school was reading wills in a state office half-way up the South Tower. From the cafeteria windows on the next floor, the Statue of Liberty looked about six inches tall.
When their grandfather called me with the terrible news, I continued working in my home office for half-an-hour before I turned the TV on and let the terrible details into my life.
For all that, my clearest memory of 9/11 isn't from 2001.
It's from 1982, and my mind's eye, there's a young man singing on his way down the hill down to lunch. Jon Randall was only a passing college acquaintance, but he was a vivid, vital presence all over campus, and his absence at reunions is the place where three thousand deaths that mattered to our shared world converge with one death that still matters to my personal one.
Another area that the book examines with its database is the relative predictive value of grades and standardized tests like the SAT and ACT on predicting college graduation rates. The overall conclusion of the section is that high school grades have more predictive value than do standardized tests, and that the additional predictive value from tests is quite small (although slightly greater at the most competitive institutions).I've added emphasis for the key point: it's way too easy to overvalue the tests and undervalue the high school work as predictors of who's likely to succeed in college.
The finding could be significant for several reasons. First the authors intentionally go to a new measure of testing validity -- graduation rates -- rather than focusing on the measure used by the College Board for predictive validity of the SAT, which is first-year grades. Bowen said that since the goal should be graduation (and on time graduation), testing should be measured in that way.
While the limited value they find for testing might be seen as an anti-testing stance, the authors are careful not to go there. They say that they don't want to focus on "to test or not to test" but on how testing could or should be used. Generally, the book offers praise for the SAT II (the subject tests) and the Advanced Placement tests, noting that both of these tests are based on what students actually learn in academic areas.
Bowen said that "we're not anti-testers," but that colleges -- especially those that aren't at the most competitive levels -- need to "think about weighting" so that it's clear that "if you have done well in high school, but not on the SAT," you can enroll, he said
While this finding is based on graduation rates, similar conclusions based on early college grades are pretty much old-hat. Indeed, when our newest Supreme Court Justice claimed that affirmative action got her into Princeton, I thought she was likely wrong. Valedictorians are a good bet even if their scores aren't stellar, and the tenacity to get there from a housing project was a further indication of readiness to go the distance.
In Kentucky's push to college readiness, I'm glad SB 1 has us moving to curriculum standards and tests linked to those standards, rather than merely assuming that existing tests measure what we need.
The Benwood Schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee offer compelling evidence of the preparation and support needed for effective teaching in high-needs schools.... Initially, reformers assumed that teachers already working in the then-struggling schools were the problem, and the solution would be to recruit “better” teachers from elsewhere. Over time, however, some of the most impressive student achievement gains were associated with the growing effectiveness of teachers who had been at the Benwood Schools even before reform efforts began. With effective leadership, improved training, quality peer assistance, and a specialized master’s degree in urban education, these teachers were able to improve their teaching. Student performance rose accordingly. It taught a powerful lesson: Great teachers can be cultivated from within high-needs schools, not just recruited to them.The "Benwood Schools" are so-called because the Benwood Foundation funded a major push to improve Chattanooga's weakest schools starting in 2000.
The Benwood change story is offered as a model approach in Children of Poverty Deserve Great Teacher (report here and Prichblog posts here and here.)
The story also strikes me as consistent with a deep Kentucky principle. We operate proudly on the assumption that huge numbers of students can achieve at substantially higher levels if we provide the right support. I think we should assume the same thing about educators: nearly all can become more effective at their craft given an environment that supports their growth.
The study calculated each school district's total revenue per pupil and then compared the districts with 5th and 95th percentile funding (meaning, basically, the ones with almost the weakest and almost the strongest resources).
$8,417 was the per-pupil funding in Kentucky's 5th percentile school district.
$11,226 was the per-pupil funding in Kentucky's 95th percentile school district.
Our almost-best funded district thus had 33 percent more funding than our almost-worst one.
That's a real difference, and we shouldn't shrug it off. Nor should we ignore the fact that our median and 95th percentile districts are funded well below national average.
But 48 states have bigger differences, from West Virginia with a 36 percent gap to Nevada with a 370 percent gap--and Hawaii only has one district for the whole state. Kentucky's gap is the smallest in the nation.
That equity achievement is a point worth some pride!
[Source note for detail lovers: The figures come from the U.S. Education Department's report on Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts: School Year 2006–07 (Fiscal Year 2007) First Look available here. In Table 1, the report shows a "federal range ratio, defined as " the difference between the amount per pupil of the district at the 95th percentile of total revenues per pupil and the district at the 5th percentile divided by the amount per pupil for the district at the 5th percentile." The Kentucky ratio is shown there rounded to 0.3, but calculates out to 33 percent.]
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Once the elementary school principals receive the results of the study, there will be an individualized follow-up visit by their shadow.
For the middle and high schools, however, the principals are visited by a coach every month who helps them spend more time on instruction, [assistant superintendent for curriculum Robin] Thacker said.
"The biggest benefit I see out of (this study) is for me to stop and think, 'Am I being effective and what do I need to do to improve to make sure our kids get better?' " [Bend Gate Elementary Principal Steve] Steiner said.
The study will also give a sense of whether middle and high school principals are indeed being freed to lead by their School Administrative Managers (often called SAMs).
Henderson County's work in this area is part of a sustained collaboration with the Wallace Foundation on leadership issues.
So what will this mean? Mandatory full funding of special education may actually become a reality, for one. And Harkin will almost certainly push for a federal school facilities program.
In Children of Poverty Deserve Great Teachers, the two organizations argue that $10,000 is likely to be the needed pay increment to entice major movement, and even that will not work without other non-pay incentives like planning time, small classes, and administrative support.
- A decade ago, when South Carolina set out to recruit “teacher specialists” to work in the state’s weakest schools, an $18,000 bonus attracted only 20 percent of the 500 teachers needed in the program’s first year and only 40 percent after three years.
- More recently, Palm Beach School District in Florida eliminated its $7,500 high-needs school stipend after it failed to attract enough teachers.
- In Dallas, an offer of $6,000 to entice accomplished teachers to move to challenging schools generated little interest, so the district is now offering $10,000 plus job security.
"Working conditions matter a great deal," they advise in the report available here.
That makes sense to me. Very few people choose careers solely to maximize their earnings. Nearly all look instead for a mix of earnings and job satisfaction. To recruit teachers who are already successful in their current jobs, high-need schools must promise a similar chance to feel and be effective. Without that, pay alone will not get many people to switch jobs.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
1. Recruit and prepare teachers for work in high-needs schools. One cannot be done well without the other.The full report is available here, and I plan to spend several days blogging its specific ideas. (Hat tip: Mona Ball at KEA)
2. Take a comprehensive approach to teacher incentives. Lessons from the private sector and voices of teachers indicate that performance pay makes the most difference when it focuses on “building a collaborative workplace culture” to improve practices and outcomes.
3. Improve the right working conditions. We need to fully identify the school conditions most likely to serve students by attracting, developing, retaining and inspiring effective and accomplished teachers.
4. Define teacher effectiveness broadly, in terms of student learning. We need new evaluation tools and processes to measure how teachers think about their practice as well as help students learn.
Fiscal stabilization dollars are being used to fend off cuts. P-12 schools and public higher education will get shares of the total this year and next, but it won't be added money: just replacements for money the state would have sent if we didn't have a revenue crisis. ($533 million for education)
Title I and IDEA additional dollars are going to school districts for stronger services to at-risk students and students with disabilities. ($158 million for Title I grants, $158 million for IDEA school grants, $11 million for IDEA preschool, $5 million for IDEA infants and toddlers)
Improvement grant funding for the state's weakest schools have not yet been released from Washington. Commissioner Holliday has offered a good summary of the draft rules for how that money can be used here, but the rules are not final and the money has not yet been released. ($47 million)
Innovation funding will be awarded competively to districts with strong results and to partnerships of districts and nonprofits to expand best practices and share them with other schools. I haven't heard any Kentucky districts publicly announce plans to apply, though I've heard some serious thinking behind the scenes. ($650 million available to be divided among winning states, with some details here.)
Race to the Top funding will be awarded competitively to states with the best records of past reform and the best plans for future reform. I blogged the draft rules for those grants here and the NEA comments on the draft here, and the final rules should be released soon. KDE already has work underway thinking about what our application should include. ($4 billion to be divided among winning states, plus $350 million for improved assessments.)
And, beyond that:
- $10 million in technology grants
- $1 million for McKinney-Vento homeless services
- $2 million for school lunch equipment
- $11.5 million for Head Start
Thursday, September 3, 2009
At KSN&C, Richard Day brings it on, starting this way:
In the early 1990’s, then US Congressman Larry Hopkins came to Cassidy School to speak to Marcia Foster’s second grade class. It never occurred to me to ask parents if they wanted their children to be excused from the event.The rest (here) is about the President's planned address to school students, urging them to work hard and persevere in their studies.
* * *
He was our duly elected representative; he was there for all children; and we were honored.
For myself, I wish President Reagan had thought of an annual opening message and every president since had followed his example. It is not just an opportunity for a president can give voice to our shared national respect for education. It's an opportunity for the students to experience our shared national respect for the leaders chosen through our democratic process, including those for whom we (or our parents) did not vote.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The district is developing a shared vision of quality instruction and conducting meetings about the Focusing Our Vision work that has been done.The district's plans grow out of a three-year engagement with Harvard's Executive Leadership Program for Educators.
Other key elements of sharing the vision are: developing a shared vision of student results, providing effective supervision and professional development, collecting and analyzing diagnostic data and lots of collaboration.
Learning walks in which teachers observe other teachers' classrooms are a big part of the instructional change.
"That was a powerful step, getting teachers to observe other teachers," said Matthew Constant, the director of instructional technology. "Some of our teachers had never been in another teacher's class."
Using longitudinal elementary school teacher and student data, we document that students have larger test score gains when their teachers experience improvements in the observable characteristics of their colleagues. Using within-school and within-teacher variation, we further show that a teacher’s students have larger achievement gains in math and reading when she has more effective colleagues (based on estimated value-added from an out-of-sample pre-period). Spillovers are strongest for less-experienced teachers and persist over time, and historical peer quality explains away about twenty percent of the own-teacher effect, results that suggest peer learning.EdWeek provides further detail on the study methods here, which is helpful since there's a fee to read the full report.
It makes sense that teachers would routinely glean use of some basic ideas from one another, and that there would be measurable good results when a new colleague has particularly helpful thoughts to contribute.
To me, that looks like the baseline level of interaction that happens more or less naturally.
How much more can happen as teachers move up from that starting level to more robust, intentional, systematic collaboration fully focused on raising performance? Because, in the end, that's what professional learning communities do: the members learn from one another deliberately, consistently, and with powerful results for students.