Sunday, January 3, 2010

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!

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