Sunday, January 31, 2010

Higher ed rankings: Preparation, participation, and completion

I love for their great displays of comparative data. For example, in the graphs of their "success" section, it's easy to see how Kentucky compares to other states.

Under Preparation for College, Kentucky ranks:
  • 24th in number of 2007 high ACT and SAT scores (80th percentile and above) per 1,000 high school graduates.
  • 27th in 2006 public high school graduation rate (defined as public high school graduates divided by public school number of 9th graders four years earlier.
  • 31st in number of 2007 AP exam scores per 1,000 high school juniors and seniors.
Under College Participation, we rank:
  • 21st in 2007 percent of 18 to 24 year olds enrolled in college.
  • 22nd in 2007 enrollment of 25 to 49 year olds as a percent of 25 to 49 year-olds with no bachelors degree or higher.
  • 27th in 2006 college-going rates of high school graduates direct from college.
  • 28th in 2006 9th graders chance for college by age 19.
And under College Progress and Completion, we rank:
  • 9th in 2007 retention rates of first-time college freshmen returning their second year at two-year public institutions.
  • 31st in 2006 college pipeline transition and completion rates from 9th grade to college.
  • 35th in 2007 three-year graduation rates for associate students.
  • 36th in 2007 six-year graduation rates for bachelor students.
  • 38th in 2007 retention rates - first-time college freshmen returning their second year at four-year public institutions.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Common core taking added time

EdWeek updates the status of the grade-by-grade edition of the language arts and mathematics standards being developed for use in 48 states:
The first public draft of the standards, which was originally intended for a December release but was postponed until January, is now expected by mid-February.
* * *
Once state and expert feedback has been gathered and fully incorporated into the K-12 draft, it is to be posted for public comment as well, before undergoing further changes.
In addition to the grade-level work, changes are still underway on the draft already released to the public that described the end result all those grades should produce:
A set of “college and career-ready” standards, describing the proficiencies needed by the end of high school for good jobs or higher education, was released last fall after expert input, revised after it garnered more than 1,100 public comments on the CCSSO’s Web site, and is still undergoing revision.
On balance, these delays do not read to me as grounds for concern. The original timetable struck me as astonishingly ambitious, so much so that I would have expected it to be further behind that it currently is.

The same article also describes the current work as wrestling two classic challenges: trying to get the balance right between being short enough and being concrete enough to guide instruction, and getting the specifics right on the mathematics all students need as compared to those that need not be universal.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Math revolution starting in Fayette County?

"I know I'm teaching math at a much higher level now than I ever taught it before, and the students are grasping it more quickly," Cox said.

Jessica Alt, another fifth-grade teacher at Liberty who is using the Singapore method, says some students in her class who were two years below grade level on math when school started last fall scored at or above grade level on a recent test.

"That's almost two years of progress in just four or five months," Alt said.

Teachers admit that adjusting to the totally new system has been tough at times, particularly for older students who had already learned to approach math in more traditional ways. But the educators think scores should really take off in the next few years as more students learn the new system.

"I really think Singapore math is the way to go," said Cox, who has been a teacher for 20 years.
Those are early reports from Fayette County's initial use of the textbook Math in Focus and related teaching methods that have pushed Singapore's students to the top of international mathematics rankings. Read more about the exciting initial results in this great Herald-Leader report.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Speaker and Jar Jar Binks

The Courier-Journal reports that the House is considering an approach to school funding that would compel districts to draw down their fund balances:
Cutting funding that local school districts receive from the state and forcing them to spend money in their reserve funds is still an option to help balance the state budget for the next two years, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Tuesday.

School districts have a total of about $800million in their reserve funds, although Stumbo said not every district's fund would be tapped.

“There's a significant amount of money there that could be (used) to balance the budget,” the Prestonsburg Democrat said. “I'm not saying we are going to do it, but it could be used to supplement the (school funding formula) in this one-time occurrence.”

House Democrats are scrambling to find about $780million to balance the next two-year budget.
The $800 million figure is not, in fact, accurate for district reserve funds. It's roughly right for the amount districts had on hand on July 1, but that amount simply is not all reserves. Remember that districts rely heavily on property taxes that come in starting in November. As a result, they save all spring to be able to pay their bills through the summer and fall. It's part of their regular money management to have the money on hand on July 1, expecting it to be gone again by January 1.

That said, some of the money is indeed reserve money districts have saved for dangerous financial times. Surely those times are near at hand.

Or, as a famous Gungan once asked Qui-Gon Jinn and the young Obi-Wan Kenobi as they hurtled through the waters of Naboo: "What yet? Monster out dair! Leakin' in here! All sinkin' and no power! Whena yousa dinkin' wesa in trouble?"

I hate the idea of tapping districts' reserves, but I'm not sure I hate it more than than I hate the rest of this exhausting, massive fiscal crisis.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Postsecondary degrees and the missing generational progress

Yikes! The graph above shows higher education progress for many developed countries, measured by comparing adults in the 25 to 34 group to adults in the 55 to 64 group, and showing the percent in each group who have completed a degree.. The older group shown by the gray x consistently has less education than the younger group shown by the red x. For most countries, it's a big leap. For the United States, there's only been tiny progress.

I've heard summaries of these numbers before, but this one of the best visuals I've seen. I wish I could display it larger, but even with that software problem, I decided it needed sharing. If you click right on the graph, you can see it larger. (For our e-mail readers, first go to and then click.)

Do notice that the percentages shown are too high to be just bachelor's degrees. Associates must also be in the mix, and degrees in other countries are sure to be defined a bit differently we do it here. Still, it's important to see that while we've gotten many more young people into higher education in recent decades, we've done far less well at getting them to completion.

Source: The graph is from the Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success Fact Sheet, available here if you scroll partway down the third column of information.

Lean standards: Vicki Phillips makes the case

Vicki Phillips of the Gates Foundation has written a forceful piece on state content standards and why "more is not better" in those documents. Published back in October, it's still completely timely as we await public release of the grade-levels version of the common core standards:

To be ready for the challenges of college and careers, our students need a flexible mastery of the fundamentals in each academic discipline. We will not prepare young people for the unpredictable economy of the future by driving them through an endless list of disconnected topics. To be ready to compete and to change jobs often, they will need to apply their knowledge to new, unexpected situations throughout their lives.

The explosion of media and technology has added remarkable opportunities for gaining and sharing knowledge, but it also has made it all the more important that students master the core skills of gathering and evaluating evidence. Reading and writing with independence and confidence will remain master arts in the information age.

The good news is that, judging from the drafts released last week, the standards under development by the CCSSO and the NGA are on the right track.

* * *

In striving for focus, some tough choices about coverage have been made, and the result is substantially more elegant and focused than state standards today. We can all hope that in the K-12 back mapping, the working groups will continue to polish the draft standards to arrive at the diamond core of what students need most to succeed.

But there is always a fear that the opposite will happen. It is unlikely, for example, that as the work of standards development goes forward anyone will ask that anything inessential be removed. Rather, they may demand the addition of everything they themselves personally regard as essential. And if we play the usual game, we will try to quiet the critics by giving in to their demands and making sure everybody’s favorite topic shows up in the final product.

But playing the standards game as it has always been played will betray the teachers and students who are ready for a next generation of standards that builds a true ladder to college readiness. Instead, let’s listen to teachers and students—the people doing the real work—and give them standards that signal what really matters, while leaving them with the flexibility to pursue learning in diverse ways.

* * *

Common standards could become the foundation for higher achievement for all students—a beacon that leads us through the more threatening storm of unmet potential and unfulfilled dreams. As the draft standards are discussed in the coming weeks and months, many people will be looking at what has been left out, without seeing the focus that has been put in. It is worth remembering then that beacons guide not by shining in all directions, but by focusing their light.
The full analysis, available here, is definitely worth attention.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Teaching quality and content standards

Senate Bill 1's new content standards can be an important part of the teaching quality agenda I discussed on Thursday. I've been taking that connection for granted, but it seems worth spelling out how the strategies are so deeply linked that they really are parts of a single push forward.

Clearer standards are clearly better. It's easier for teachers to check student progress toward standards if they know what's wanted, and easier to adjust instruction to match.

Fewer standards will also be better, though the reasons may be less obvious. The connection is that if a list of standards is too long and asks for too many details, teachers can't teach the whole list well. They're forced to choose between quick, weak coverage of the whole list or selective coverage of a fraction of what the state has asked for. In How It's Being Done, Karin Chenoweth underlines that point. Massachusetts, she argues, has become a national leader in student performance in part by providing standards brief enough to be a firm guide to instruction. In her visits to schools that deliver high achievement for students who are often expected to fail, she offers multiple examples of how schools in other states identified a manageable, though still demanding, set of goals they wanted to reach with students.

Deeper standards make most sense in the context of the "assessment for learning" element of teaching quality. When teachers offer students a clear scaffolding of steps to climb, organizing classroom feedback so that each student sees how to succeed in the next round of effort, students learn more. Especially, students who learned to expect failure in traditional classrooms can develop legitimate new confidence when teachers give them an explicit sense of how to keep moving. That is, "assessment for learning" and its sunlit vision explain why more demanding expectations can be in reach for all students.

Better-aligned standards can also make it more possible for teachers to teach well. Especially in mathematics, American schools have a badly mistaken habit of going over key skills in multiple grades, each time in a way that's so quick and shallow that students never get a firm grip on the topic. We need to make the big transition to ensuring that students master some skills in each grade and are ready to move onto additional skills in the next grade. That's how the countries that outscore us do it, and clear standards for each grade will help American schools head in the same direction.

Consistent standards for multiple states can mean better support for effective teaching across the board. Private vendors who develop textbooks, instructional technology, and testing resources will be able to market better tools because they know they can sell in a multi-state market. The same logic will apply to professional development resources and to collaborative efforts to share assessment activities and instructional models. While the most important responses to the standards will be developed in professional learning communities of teachers who work together year-round, that local work will be stronger because it has ready access to a national web of support.

Overall, the new standards ought to be a more effective framework for the kind of teaching that produces higher performance for all students and that greatly narrows the gaps between privileged students and their less privileged peers.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Educators who deliver

Harrison Elementary on Bruce Street in downtown Lexington has long been one of Lexington's poorest schools and one of the state's poorest performing, consistently falling into the lowest categories for elementary schools. It had dedicated teachers, a health clinic for kids and an active family resource center to help parents, but it could not seem to help its children get what they needed most — education.

"We just knew it had to change," said [Principal Tammie] Franks.

Four years later, it has. When state test scores were released in the fall, Harrison not only had made its federal No Child Left Behind goals for a third straight year, it racked up double-digit gains in the Kentucky Core Content Test in social studies, writing, science and math. Harrison's index score, which was 77 two years ago, jumped to 94.

Those gains took money, a lot of it; many extra hours of work from teachers, students, and parents; and maybe, most of all, leadership that was unwilling to accept the status quo.
That's from the start of a great Herald-Leader report, showing yet again how good teachers in good teams with good leaders can take our children much higher.

The rest of us are responsible for thanking them, supporting them, and doing everything we can to help more educators do work this good. It's stories like this that should keep our whole state upright and pushing forward against every wind of recession and every wave of new excuses.

Standards schedule seems to have slowed

Here's a reprint of a blog post I shared on December 4:
Flypaper's Amber Winkler reports from a briefing this morning on the status of the Common Core language arts and mathematics standards:
  1. The K-12 back-mapped standards in reading and in math will be released for public comment on January 4th.
  2. “Early” February is still the timeline for the final draft of both the end-of-high-school standards and the back-mapped ones in both subjects.
That's not a big delay from the original timeline of being done by December 2009, but it does mean the Kentucky Board of Education will not meet the Senate Bill 1 deadline for new mathematics standards.
Since they're not out as of January 22nd, I'm thinking we're looking at a further delay in the draft for comment, surely affecting the dates for final release of the common edition and official Kentucky action on state adoption.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Upside-down overview of today's teaching quality binge

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Prichard Blog, and I've celebrated by spending most of the day working through different strands of teaching quality. In the nature of blogs, though, my posts on the issue are now displayed in the opposite order from the way I wrote them. The real order of my thought has been:
I'm convinced that the teaching quality challenge is a single web, but it gets described from a variety of starting points and it takes some work to see it whole.

Teaching quality and state action

Finally, after a day of addressing different angles on teaching quality at the student, classroom, and school level, I want to turn to state-level action to build that kind of instruction. Here's my list of the important next steps:

1. Teacher preparation
Teacher preparation programs must focus on standards, evaluating student progress, analyzing the resulting data, and planning effective instruction to move each student forward and on sustained classroom practice of those skills. My understanding is that having already upgraded the expectations for principal preparation and masters' degrees, the Education Professional Standards Board is getting ready to work on preparation of new teachers as the next big push forward.

2. Pre-tenure development
New teachers need sustained mentoring, expanding the current internship program to last two years and receive full funding, rather than repeated reductions, for both years. They should also see clear standards defining the quality of work needed to earn tenure, receive regular information on how close they are to those standards, and get strong support to reach that level by the end of their fourth year of work. In its Race to the Top application, the Department has proposed important work on this issue, work that should go forward with or without RTTT funding.

3. Growth beyond tenure
Tenured teachers should work with a clearly defined ladder of growing quality, with their evaluations providing credible feedback on where they are strong and how they can get stronger--again on the key process of standards, assessments, data, instruction, and collaboration. The main point should be helping the large majority of teachers who already do satisfactory work do even better work. This effort, too, is on the RTTT and KDE agenda.

4. Principals and superintendents
Top administrative leadership should be defined as fundamentally about developing teaching quality. Preparation programs should focus on that role, and properly funded two-year internships should strengthen reinforce those skills. Evaluations for educators in those roles should emphasize effectiveness in supporting classroom educators' growing effectiveness. Tasks that are not part of that primary focus should, whenever possible, not be the responsibility of the men and women we ask to be provide that central instructional leadership.

5. Persistently weak schools
Our current improvement strategies work for most schools: if schools enter state assistance, most get the right help to exit again. For the smaller group that has consistently done work that is much too weak, we need a fresh approach. House Bill 176 zipped through the legislature last week in order to strengthen our RTTT application, and I hope it signals a new readiness to push harder in the cases where past efforts have not succeeded in turning a school around.

And the fundamental thing about state leadership
Good policy is a start, but steady implementation is the only way to meaningful results. Some teachers can work in isolation and achieve excellence--but most need to think and work with supportive colleagues. Some schools become professional learning communities on their own, but many will get there sooner if their boards and superintendents make it a priority. Some districts are doing what it takes and getting rapidly stronger at that work, but experience says districts move at different paces--and Kentucky's constitution says we are to build a common system rather than accept big differences based on geography.

It will not be enough for state leaders to describe what needs to happen in classrooms. Whether that's done in stature, regulation, plans, or published advice, the words are never more than a beginning.

From state agencies and elected leaders, the big changes will need robust, persistent, demanding attention, applying sustained weight on the key levers above.
That follow-through is what makes the main difference for our children and our shared future.

Teaching quality, scaffolding, and sparking sunlight

Listen long enough to the assessment for learning discussion, and you'll hear the word "scaffolding." There, the key idea is that after we articulate a clear, deep, fairly short list of standards students should meet each year, those standards need to be broken down into more concrete steps. Those steps make up a clear ladder that students can climb.

The ladder or scaffolding is not just to be clear for teachers.

It's meant to be information they share with students. More than that, the idea is for students to get feedback on their work that says: "You're here on the ladder, and your next step is to go this step higher. It's definitely in reach, and here's what you need to do."

It's also meant to be shared with parents, so that there's a shared understanding not just of where kids are and where they're headed but of how possible it is to get there with steady effort.

Those climbable ladders, in turn, can change the whole school experience for many students. Stiggins writes, "In other words, assessment practices that permit—even encourage—some students to give up on learning must be replaced by those that engender hope and sustained effort for all students."

That hope isn't a fake thing or a willed thing. It's a valid, accurate description of where students stand, organized in a way that invites them to keep working and allows them legitimate, growing confidence in their own ability to succeed.

In the Assessment Manifesto, it's amazing to tunnel through the fairly technical description of good and bad testing and come out in the middle of what I've called the "sunlit vision" of individual students experiencing school as so much more positive and so much more successful.

The sunlit vision isn't different from the gap-closing, learning-community, assessment-for-learning model, but the description starts from a different angle--from the lived experience of individual children in their daily school-lives.

Teaching quality and assessment for learning

Assessment for learning is a phrase I'm hearing everywhere, and it's about something good for students. It looms large in Senate Bill 1 and is a big piece of Kentucky's Race to the Top application.

The core idea is the process of teachers checking steadily on student progress toward clear standards and using what they see to adjust instruction and ensure further progress. It does not have to look like formal testing, and it especially does not have to look like testing that takes time away from teaching. Ideally, students' regular learning process on one day gives teachers the information they need to plan effective work for future class periods--or even to adjust what's happening right then in the classroom. Ideally, the assessment and the learning become a seamless, unified process.

In his 2008 Assessment Manifesto, Rick Stiggins describes how significantly higher levels of student performance emerge when schools combine:
  • That ongoing type of classroom assessment used to plan immediate instruction.
  • Interim or benchmark assessments multiple times a year used by schools and programs to figure out whether their major strategies are effective, need tweaking, or need major rethinking.
  • Annual accountability assessments used to identify schools that are reaching high standards and decide if any schools need outside assistance to get back on track to those standards.
Those three different kinds of assessment are tools for developing consistent teaching quality.

The gap-closing schools caught my eye because I looked at the annual accountability results, but when I asked how they got there, they described their own work as built on an understanding that came from classroom and benchmark assessment work as well. They also described teamwork to analyze student progress--shown in those assessments--that fits the PLC model.

Assessment for learning isn't different from the gap-closing approach or the PLC approach. It's the same process described from a third angle.

Earlier posts on the Stiggins manifesto and its three-part concept of sound assessment are here.

Teaching quality and professional learning communities

The schools that deliver consistent high achievement follow a common path: they move students to similar, high standards by teaching them in varied ways . That requires steady attention to what students are understanding, with regular adjustments to make sure the key skills and knowledge connect effectively for each one.

The crucial question is how to develop classrooms that consistently reflect that approach.

The crucial answer is in teachers working together, articulating standards, designing instruction, evaluating results, and refining instruction in response to the resulting data. That collaborative approach, and the schools that operate by it, are richly described in the literature on professional learning communities or PLCs.

At their heart, PLCs are teams where teachers are actively "getting smarter off of one another." They're trading and borrowing and strengthening each other's ideas, and they're sustaining one another's energy to keep improving what they can do for their students. As a team, they're much stronger than they would be working in professional isolation.

The PLC approach isn't different from the gap-closing approach. It's the same process described from a different angle.

Earlier posts on the professional learning community approach are indexed here.

Gap-closing schools and teaching quality

Leaders from those schools gave us powerful confirmation of some key ideas about what works to help all students succeed. Their answers seemed to us to turn repeatedly to five key principles:
  • Students have positive relationships with adults and peers.
  • Students respond to high expectations they understand.
  • Students flourish with appropriate, engaging, meaningful instruction.
  • Students are motivated through choice, ownership and energy.
  • Students' individual needs are recognized and addressed.
That's a summary of what I learned in 2002-03 from Kentucky's schools with the strongest results for students who often get "caught in the achievement gap," including low-income students, African-American students, and students with disabilities. The results of that analysis were published by the Kentucky Association of School Councils in the Spring 2003 issue of Insights.

A bit later, Steve Clements and Patty Kannapel's Black Box study saw seven consistent traits in a set of high-poverty high performance schools, from which I want to highlight just one:

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.
When I was working my way through what individual educators told me about their best work, I summarized what I heard as " we love them and teach them." When I was working my way through how whole schools did that kind of work consistently, I changed the summary to "we love the students enough to try, and we love each other enough to succeed."

The teaching quality that generates student success appears to me to come, always, from that combination of classroom focus and schoolwide collaboration.

The Insights issue on Closing the Achievement is available from KASC here. The "Black Box" study is summarized in more detail here and available for download here.

Happy blog-birthday (and teaching quality again)

To celebrate the Prichard blog's first year, I've taken a table at my beloved Hub cafe, and I'm planning to spend the day trying to integrate the different threads of the teaching quality discussion.

As an overview, I'm convinced that differentiated instruction, professional learning communities, and assessment for learning are at heart versions of the same approach. They're the recipe for getting the next generation ready for work and college and global competition and the path to closing achievement gaps.

Only, the idea is just complex enough, and just different enough from how most of us were taught, that it's hard to keep the varied threads connected the right way.

My goal for today is to describe the connections better. I'll do that with multiple posts, each starting from a different angle and working in toward the center. I want for the result will read like a single web of thinking: I'm sure the connections can be made but less sure I'm ready to explain them all.

If you want to join the celebration, please do send comments: ideas, anecdotes, opinions, hard questions, and simple questions are all valuable parts of sorting this out.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rosenwald (Act II)

Richard Day reported today on work to restore Rosenwald schools, and I can't resist chiming in.

The work of the Rosenwald Fund has a profound Kentucky connection. Edwin Embree, the Fund's 20-year president, spent most of his childhood in Berea, Kentucky, and saw his work as a continuation of the values he learned from his grandfather, John G. Fee.

For years after the great school-building investment, Embree made the Fund "the most active foundation in the United States fighting racial discrimination. " For example, Rosenwald fellowships provided crucial early support to the careers of Marion Anderson, Ralph Bunche, Charles Drew, and Ralph Ellison.

In 2006, Berea College's alumni magazine ran an article on Embree's work and the Fee connection authored by a now-retired Berea professor Alfred Perkins. It's available for download here. I recommend it heartily, with the small disclaimer that I've been hearing about the Embree work for years from Dr. Perkins, also known as my dad.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What did the Governor just say?

The Governor's budget address is live now, and he said "This budget maintains the General Fund appropriation for SEEK, the basic funding formula for teaching in the classroom which represents some 77 percent of our K-12 spending."

Maintaining the appropriation may mean that the base guarantee can go up. That's because the state share of the guaranteed amount is always the amount needed after districts raise their required 30¢ share. As long as property values rise, the 30¢ tax level brings in more money each year, and the state can fund a growing guarantee without appropriating more money.

And yet, there are two great things to worry about even as the governor offers that good news.

First, the governor is speaking this minute on expanded gambling as the source he recommends to fund his budget--and saying that without gambling much deeper cuts will be needed.

Second, if property values slip, rather than growing, then the local share of SEEK will go down. If the local share goes down, then the state must either provide more funding for the guarantee--or cut the guarantee itself. The governor's proposal assumes that values are still rising, and I very much hope that assumption is correct.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Preschool an investment we must sustain

Pain is predicted in all quarters as budget cuts are considered inevitable in important social service, public protection and education programs. Most would agree these programs provide necessary and valuable services to Kentuckians, and the consequences of reduced spending could be dire.
But there is one area in particular that, in our view, should be spared the ax: early care and education for Kentucky's children.
That's the opening of Bob Sexton's opinion piece today in the Herald-Leader. Read the full argument, with details on the long-term returns on each dollar spent on early childhood support, here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

AFT on constructive evaluation

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, spoke last week on "A New Path Forward: Four Approaches to Quality Teaching and Better Schools." From the prepared text of the speech, here are the key points on evaluations:
Our evaluation proposal includes the following key components:

Professional Standards
First, every state should adopt basic professional teaching standards that districts can augment to meet specific community needs. Standards should spell out what teachers should know and be able to do. How else can we determine whether a teacher is performing as she should?

Standards for Assessing Teacher Practice
Second, to assess how well teachers meet these standards, multiple means of evaluation should be used, because teaching requires multiple skills and involves several kinds of work.

Classroom observations, self-evaluations, portfolio reviews, appraisal of lesson plans, and all the other tools we use to measure student learning—written work, performances, presentations and projects—should also be considered in these evaluations. Student test scores based on valid and reliable assessments should ALSO be considered—NOT by comparing the scores of last year’s students with the scores of this year’s students, but by assessing whether a teacher’s students show real growth while in his classroom.

Implementation Benchmarks
Next, implementation benchmarks must be established, because even the best ideas do little more than gather dust if we don’t put them into action. Take California. It has long-standing but little-used professional standards. At the very least, principals and superintendents charged with implementing this new evaluation system need to take responsibility—and be held responsible—for making it work.

Systems of Support
Finally, because evaluation should help teachers improve throughout their careers, not just at the beginning, every district should have ways to support and nurture teacher growth. This includes solid induction, mentoring, ongoing professional development, and career opportunities that keep great teachers in the classroom.
For the full text, click here, and scroll down the right hand column to "Additional Resources."

Some quick thoughts on these ideas:
  1. "Assessing whether a teacher’s students show real growth while in his classroom" will require trusting educators to do most of the judging of that growth or using a lot of standardized testing to get teacher-free information.
  2. The notable sharp edge is in the statement "Principals and superintendents charged with implementing this new evaluation system need to take responsibility—and be held responsible—for making it work." Indeed. Writing policy is no substitute for actually implementing it.
  3. It's a clear outline of what a strong system needs to include.

Friday, January 15, 2010

And we're off!

By way of Facebook. From all of us who have seen that application under construction to all who did the hands-on work, and especially to David "I'll laugh next week" Cook, it's time to say:

Thank you for your very very hard work
on this very very important project!

January 15, 1970

Most school assemblies fade from memory, or merge into a vague blur. Not that one.

As we walked in, every twentieth student was handed a mask from the art class and assigned to sit in two rows of chairs at the front: white masks to the front, black to the back. That, we were told, was the world our teachers grew up in, and the world we were blessed not to inherit.

We didn't just sing "We shall overcome" that day. We sang "Before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave," and we sang "Gonna keep on a walking, keep on a talking, walking up to freedom land."

And Mrs. Richards told us bluntly: "No national holiday. This is a day for learning. You belong here in school, and we all--adults and children-- belong at work building the dream."

Like your parents, your best teachers get into your bones. In big decisions and small ones, you notice what they will respect and what would make them quietly shake their heads. Only rarely do you choose a path that could draw even one of those forbidding glances.

My best teachers were men and women who walked the real walk of civil rights, talked the real talk of sharing our lives with people from different backgrounds, and taught their students not to let anyone turn us around on that long walk into beloved community.

I'm still scoring my work against their expectations today.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

SB 1, Common Core, RTTT: Three giant steps

Here's how three major initiatives that I've blogged a lot recently fit together.



Senate Bill 1, passed in 2009, requires Kentucky to upgrade its standards for what students will learn. Our new law says the standards must be shorter, clearer, and better focused on students being ready for college, work, and global competition. To match the new standards, Kentucky will use new tests starting in the spring of 2012. Current teachers will receive specialized training on how to teach the new standards well, and teacher preparation programs will equip future teachers with the same skills. Standards for language arts and mathematics will be adopted early this year, probably in February 2010, with standards for other subjects completed by December 2010.


Kentucky is not developing its new standards alone. Instead, we are working with 47 other states to develop “common core” standards in language arts and mathematics. Nationally respected experts are leading the effort, using learning research and information on how each subject is taught in the countries with the world’s highest academic results. They have already released standards for the end of high school, with more standards for each grade due out early in 2010.

Because of our Senate Bill 1, Kentucky will be one of the first states to adopt the common core standards. Our public higher education system will also endorse the new standards, and we expect to be ahead of most states in preparing current and future teachers to use the standards effectively. In the future, Kentucky and other states will be able to collaborate on developing tests, textbooks, technology, and professional development to help teachers use the new standards effectively.


Nearly all states are now competing to win Race to the Top grants from the United States Department of Education. The winning states will share $4 billion in funding to implement their plans to make their school systems among the best in the world. The plans must address:

• Standards, including classroom implementation and good tests to check student progress.
• Data systems to help teachers identify student needs and effective learning strategies.
• Evaluation and support systems to strengthen teachers and school leaders.
• Major changes to schools that repeatedly fail to deliver acceptable student performance.

Since Kentucky is already committed to Senate Bill 1 and the common core standards, the Race to the Top competition is an opportunity to get the funding we need to implement those changes quickly and well. Kentucky plans to request $200 million to be spent over five years, with half of the funding going to school districts for local work and half being used at the state level to implement changes that will support excellence in all schools. The winners of the first Race to the Top grants will be announced in the spring of 2010, with additional grants made later in the year.

(In case it's helpful, I've also made a PDF version readers can download here.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Jefferson County presentation

Grading the Jefferson County schools was today's Louisville Forum topic. I spoke along with Kevin Noland, Ben Oldham, and Bob Rodosky. Here's the prepared version of what I said in my opening comments on the issue:
Louisville Forum Draft Remarks
Susan Perkins Weston • January 12, 2010

I want to begin with praise for your community’s commitment to education.

Yesterday, I pulled my favorite data files and compared Jefferson County to the rest of the Commonwealth: to the other 119 counties taken as a group or to 173 districts as a group.

Here are some of your strengths:
• In your adult population, Jefferson County has one third fewer high school dropouts than the rest of the state, 14 percent compared to 21.
• You have half again as many college graduates, 26 percent compared to 17.
• In 2007, you had 74 percent more taxable property per pupil than the rest of the state.
• You set yourself local school taxes 25 percent than the rest of the state. That is, you had more property to tax and you taxed your wealth at a higher rate.
• Your added effort allows your public schools to spend 19 percent more per pupil.

I’d also like to add one final number to put your population in perspective: 22 percent of your county’s children live in poverty, compared to 23 percent in the rest the state.

Seeing all that, I have no doubt that Jefferson County ought to be in a leadership position. Your schools should be delivering results in the top third of the state, and educators from elsewhere should flocking here to learn about your successful innovations.

Unfortunately, that is not what is happening academically in your schools.

The most recent state reports show reading results for seven grades, but I’m going to report to you on just one grade from each level:
• In fourth grade, 89 percent of districts delivered higher rates of reading proficiency than Jefferson County Public Schools.
• In seventh grade, 82 percent of districts delivered more reading proficiency
• In tenth grade, 57 percent of districts delivered more reading proficiency

For low-income students in the free and reduced lunch program, results were even weaker. Your proficiency and above rates were lower than:
• 92 percent of districts in fourth grade.
• 87 percent of districts in seventh grade.
• 61 percent in tenth grade.

For African American students, compared to other districts with a population large enough to report, your percent proficient and above in reading was lower than:
• 83 percent of districts in fourth grade.
• 81 percent of districts in seventh grade.
• 51 percent of districts in tenth grade.

In math, the results were mildly better. Limiting the numbers just to students overall, your percent proficient was worse than:
• 81 percent of districts for fourth grade.
• 77 percent of districts for seventh grade.
• 37 percent for eleventh grade.

To sum that up: none of those results were in the top third, and all the elementary and middle school results were in the bottom quarter of the state.

Further, the trends are not positive.

From 2007 to 2009, Jefferson County’s percent proficient or above in reading went down for white, black, Hispanic, and Asian students. It went down for students in the free lunch program. It went down for students with limited English proficiency. Statewide, those percentages went up for every group except Limited English.

In other subjects, proficiency either declined more or improved less than the state in math at all levels, in science at all levels, in social studies at all levels except high school, and in writing at all levels except high school.

In public education, Jefferson County is not where you want to be and not where you belong in light of your resources or commitment. Your children deserve more. The proud people of Jefferson County should expect more, demand more, and be about the business of creating schools that deliver more.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

QuickNotes from a busy blogger

Kentucky's preliminary draft Race to the Top application is available on-line here, with a hat tip to a tweet from Commissioner Holliday. Scroll all the way to the bottom to find the draft.

"In a major speech Jan. 12 at the National Press Club, [American Federation of Teachers] president Randi Weingarten unveiled a serious and comprehensive reform plan to ensure great teaching, taking on systems that have been ingrained in public education for more than a century." That's from the press release (with a link to the full speech) here.

Finally, the Louisville Forum tomorrow will discuss "Education by the Numbers: What's JCPS' grade." Speakers will include Kevin Noland, Robert Rodosky, Ben Oldham, and yours truly. Details are here, including how to register to attend, are here.

I'll have thoughts on all three once I dig out from an avalanche of other work.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Teacher Prep: focusing on practice

By January 5 press release, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education has:
announced the formation of an expert panel on clinical preparation and partnerships, signaling the beginning of a sea change in the preparation of the nation's teachers. The work of the Panel, called the NCATE Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation, Partnerships and Improved Student Learning, will culminate in recommendations for restructuring the preparation of teachers to reflect teaching as a practice-based profession akin to medicine, nursing, or clinical psychology. Practice-based professions require not only a solid academic base, but strong clinical components, a supported induction experience, and ongoing opportunities for learning.
That planned new intensity about teaching practice is:
This initiative thus looks like an important early 2010 step forward for the best ideas discussed here in 2009.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

RTTT and binding district agreements

Politics K-12 reports that:
Folks at two organizations that advocate for districts, the National School Boards Association and the American Association of School Administrators, tell me they've been fielding lots of questions on this issue. It sounds like in some places district officials aren't clear on whether the MOUs are supposed to be binding or not, meaning they're not sure if they have to follow through if a state gets selected for a grant.
In case that's a question for anyone in the Bluegrass State, I've read the full application. In the instructions to reviewers on scoring the 45 "state success factor" points that depend on district commitments, here's what counts:
The participating LEAs (as defined in this notice) are strongly committed to the State’s plans and to effective implementation of reform in the four education areas, as evidenced by Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) (as set forth in Appendix D) or other binding agreements between the State and its participating LEAs (as defined in this notice) that include—
(a) Terms and conditions that reflect strong commitment by the participating LEAs (as defined in this notice) to the State’s plans;
(b) Scope-of-work descriptions that require participating LEAs (as defined in this notice) to implement all or significant portions of the State’s Race to the Top plans; and
(c) Signatures from as many as possible of the LEA superintendent (or equivalent), the president of the local school board (or equivalent, if applicable), and the local teachers’ union leader (if applicable) (one signature of which must be from an authorized LEA representative) demonstrating the extent of leadership support within participating LEAs (as defined in this notice).
Bottom line: states will get those 45 points if and only if their districts sign binding commitments that accept implementation requirements. They won't get the points for anything less.

Monday, January 4, 2010

So, what's NOT cut?

Some very important programs were spared from cuts in the current round of reductions, including:
  • Preschool
  • Professional development
  • Extended school services
  • School safety
  • The School for the Blind
  • The School for the Deaf
  • The Professional Standards Board
  • The School Facilities Construction Commission
  • Teacher health and retirement benefits
  • SEEK funding
  • KCTCS funding
  • University funding
  • Financial aid
The $10 million gone from P-12 could have been used for valuable services, but it's a small part of the $4,312 million the state budget originally included for elementary and secondary education.

Similarly, the $495 thousand cut from CPE will be missed, but it should be seen in proportion to the $1,218 million originally budgeted for postsecondary education.

These are real cuts, but they are also relatively small real cuts.

CPE takes half-million dollar hit

The Council on Postsecondary Education will lose $495,100 under budget reductions announced today.

The Governor's "Order Directing The Reduction of Certain Appropriations" shows no cuts to KCTCS or any of the universities, with the full amount coming from the line item for the Council itself.

That seems to be the standard 6 percent cut was applied the Council's operating budget of a bit less than $9 million. Financial aid was not cut, and it looks as though strategic investment and incentive funding and other grant programs were also spared.

What $30 to $40 million are districts getting?

The Governor's press release is headlined "Governor Signs Budget Reduction Order, Gives Excess Education Dollars to Districts" and subtitled "$30 to $40 million to be distributed among every school district in state."

Where did that money come from?

In April 2008, the legislature included it in the original SEEK budget for this school year.

In June 2009, the legislature changed that. It altered part of the formula, so that the money would not be sent to districts during the school year. It also added language saying that any remaining money could be sent at the end of the year. Between the lines, the message seemed to be: "We may have to cut these dollars. Don't count on them. We'll send them if we can, but no promises."

Today, the Governor's announcement seemed to say: "Do count on these dollars. We can send them. You'll get the checks in June. Revenue is bad, but not bad enough for us to hold the dollars back completely."

Accordingly, it isn't new money, extra money, or excess money. It's simply original money, promised in 2008, pulled back in 2009, now scheduled to be delivered in 2010.

State K-12 cuts

The official press release, the Herald-Leader's Bluegrass Policy Blog and the Courier-Journal all cover the big picture on the budget reductions Governor Beshear announced today, including the fact that some P-12 programs will be cut.

By e-mail, Commissioner Holliday offered this more detailed list:
  • $45,000 from assessment funding

  • $86,000 from the Partnership for Successful Schools

  • $399,900 from life insurance benefits

  • $ 765,000 from the KEN education technology network
  • $ 975,000 from the Kentucky Education Technology System

  • $1,714,300 from Family Resource and Youth Services Centers

  • $2,016,400 from textbooks

    $3,000,000 from Read to Achieve carry-forward dollars

  • $1,000,000 from Math Achievement carry-forward dollars

That's a total of just over $10 million in funding lost, and a bit more than 9 percent of the $108 million total spending reductions.

Of the total, the
the KETS, FRYSC, and textbook cuts will definitely reduce dollars scheduled to support students at the local level. The KEN and assessment dollars would have been spent at the state level. The life insurance money was budgeted as a teacher benefit at the rate of about $10 per teacher: a loss but a small one. The reading and mathematics carry-forward dollars may not been promised to specific districts yet.

The "Partnership for Successful Schools" line puzzles me. That's the name of the nonprofit group that merged with the New Cities Institute last year, but the state budget has no line item for that group. It does have a $430,000 per year line item for the Partnership for Student Success, and an $86,000 cut would be an even 20 percent of that line. As a working hunch, I think that's the program that's actually being cut. If that's right, the impact will fall on students participating in that relatively small program.

The most important news for K-12 education, though, is that $30 to $40 million in "excess" SEEK dollars are likely to be distributed to districts. That's worth its own post, coming right up.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010: Some starting ideas

Over the holidays, a college friend asked "What have you found about education, in a nutshell? And what do you think of NCLB? What changes would you make?" I answered this way:
1. Old-style schools have teachers who do the same thing for all students and (unsurprisingly) get quite different results for different kids. There's an alternative where teachers start out with a high standard, try some stuff, check who got it, try something different, and keep varying what they do to get more students to success. That model doesn't eliminate differences in kids' ability or their family backgrounds, but it makes them much smaller and raises overall achievement significantly.

2. Most teachers cannot reorganize to that model on their own. What works is collaborative teams that get together at least weekly to look at how students are going and figure out those next steps together. That's also a huge cultural shift for educators, because the default setting is that, no matter how big the building, each teacher is really working alone.

3. We (and other developed countries) have tried all kinds of indirect stuff to get teachers to make the shift. Testing, added money, consequences for testing, mandates, flexibility, offers of better jobs, threats of termination, the whole gamut. None of that works very well--including NCLB. Teachers go into their separate rooms and try things that don't work, and keep trying and keep trying and keep trying the same things that don't work. This does not make them different from most people. Watch people who open restaurants: nearly all of them do at least a couple of parts of the business so weirdly that they go bankrupt within a year or two.

4. The thing that is working is direct effort on teaching quality. Teacher preparation programs focused directly on practice teaching. Good model lessons and good mentors. Principals selected because they're obsessed with good teaching and then given plenty of help with how to strengthen other teachers. That's what the countries that are now beating the socks off of us are doing differently. Doing that doesn't eliminate differences in teachers' ability, but it does make the differences much smaller and overall teaching more effective, and student achievement notably higher.
To drop back into the vocabulary of education policy, 1 and 2 describe balanced assessment and professional learning communities, while 3 and 4 are, respectively, summaries of the weaker and stronger achievement strategies identified in the McKinsey report on top-performing schools.

Together, they're the core ideas we need to help American students can make substantial progress in the next few years, and Kentucky is positioned to lead that progress if we focus on those key issues through the New Year.

2009 in (blog) review

Looking back on 2009, I've chosen one post from each month to represent PrichBlog's first calendar year.

January: Testing proposals
The day we launched, Bob Sexton called for Kentucky to consider balanced assessment, international benchmarking, end-of-course testing, and program reviews of subjects we can't test in a satisfactory way. With all four ideas now on the fast-track to Kentucky implementation, I'd call it a very successful set of ideas.

February: Portfolios and writing
Almost certainly the hardest post I've written, this one concluded "to create effective writers' classrooms in every school, organized around the practices that produce stronger writers and deeper understanding of core content, we need a new strategy. Portfolios alone will not make that happen."

March: Postsecondary productivity
"Kentucky produces comparatively fewer bachelor’s degrees for the level of funding than other states." That's from the Chamber of Commerce report on our higher education system, and a finding we shouldn't ignore. Later in the year FY 2008 rankings of higher education revenue per full-time equivalent student showed Kentucky to be:
  • 6th in adjusted net tuition paid by students and their families.
  • 11th in adjusted public appropriations.
  • 4th for adjusted total education revenue.
April: Best in Class, worst in Kentucky
The Student Loan People advertised high and low that people who went into teaching math and science would not have to pay back their loans. Thousands of people believed them. Then the Student Loan People hit financial hard times, and decided not to keep their promise. It's disaster. (Full sequence of posts here.)

May: Professional learning communities
Different results for students will require different practices by teachers. The PLC model is one where teachers and school leaders respond collaboratively to student performance data: "
they study the results, analyze the standards, and keep adjusting instruction to get move each student ahead."

June: Top-performing systems
McKinsey & Company's powerful report on the world's top performing systems provides a systematic, global analysis of the pivotal role of teaching quality. In Kentucky, we've tried all the best indirect levers to change what happens in the classroom: testing, funding, testing consequences, adding mandates, subtracting mandates, and both centralized and decentralized efforts to raise student achievement. Those thing have brought us some important results, but not the full change our children need. The McKinsey study makes a convincing argument that focusing directly on teaching quality --recruitment, practice-based preparation, career-long professional growth and support, and effective monitoring-- is the investment that yields the best return. (Much more on the report findings here.)

July: The state SEEK funding decline
On the one hand, Kentucky's base guaranteed funding per pupil is the same for 2009-10 as it was for 2008-09. On the other hand, the state is spending $33 million less on that guarantee, because it's counting on districts to carry more of the weight. That's because districts pay first, raising 30¢ for every $100 of taxable property, and the state pays only what's needed beyond that to complete the guarantee. Later, I added district level details here.

August: Balanced assessment's "sunlit vision"
Balanced assessment is an approach to smart, sound, effective implementation of testing approaches that support better instruction. It is also about creating classrooms where students develop legitimate new confidence in their own potential and convert that confidence into significantly higher achievement.

September: Common Core standards
New standards, designed to be fewer, clearer, higher, and focused on getting every student ready for college and work success, are being developed by a partnership that includes all but a couple of states. The first public release of standards for the end of high school came out in early fall, with grade-by-grade versions expected in January and Kentucky planning to adopt them in February.

October: Joe Brothers' mighty question
At the October KBE meeting, Chairman Brothers issued a a mighty challenge "What you just said to me is no different than what I heard in 1987. So why should I be hopeful? Why should I spend the two hundred hours I spent to come to this meeting once every two months and talk about the same thing I was talking about in 1987 at the local level?" It's an important question, and I offered a possible answer here, with some added thought here.

November: The uncertain Courier-Journal
A C-J editorial made a good point by urging the Governor's new task force to look at how education reform has worked better in some areas in some areas of the state than others, but sadly did not speak directly of the local challenges in the Jefferson County Schools (blogged here, here, here, here, and here). My response:
Jefferson County has financial, educational, and cultural wealth most Kentucky districts can barely imagine. Its schools ought to be the envy of the state. Excellence is entirely within their reach, but only with leadership that speaks frankly about current weak performance and boldly about the need for much higher achievement in the coming years.
December: 12 percent graduate from college? Nope.
Speaker Stumbo heard that only 12 percent of high school freshmen finish college, but that simply isn't true. Maybe the Speaker misunderstood someone who advised him, or maybe that someone did the arithmetic wrong. But since 1990, Kentucky has never had more than 60,000 kids the right age to be in ninth grade, and since 2000, Kentucky has never produced fewer than 15,000 bachelor's degrees per year, with impressive growth since the 1997 reform. With numbers like that, the 12 percent figure cannot possibly be sound. As I wrote in the comment section "
We've got plenty of real Kentucky kids who need us to do a better job. We don't need to spend our time weeping over how we've failed imaginary children who never lived here at all."

And now, onto 2010!