Friday, February 26, 2010

Speaker Stumbo's tough words on higher education costs, results

"What I'm going to tell the college presidents is that the legislature expects better management and better results," Stumbo said.

State lawmakers are looking to balance a $1.2 billion budget shortfall with a 2 percent cut to public universities and colleges in 2011 and flat funding in 2012. The move would save the state about $40 million over the biennium.

Stumbo said if the legislature restores funding to higher education, "We ought to make them hold the tuition levels at the same levels that they are right now" and require them to improve their graduation rates.

"We don't have standards of performance in higher education now, and that needs to change," he said.
The Herald-Leader is reporting those comments and more from the weekly press conference shared by House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President David Williams. 

The Speaker may have a point.  The HigherEdInfo website offers comparative data suggesting that there's room for improvement in our system.  For example, it shows Kentucky postsecondary funding as relatively strong among the states, with graphs that show us as:
  • 15th in state and local revenue per full-time equivalent student.
  • 11th in total revenue per full-time equivalent student.
  • 23rd in the share of higher education operating revenue provided by students and their families.
And yet it shows our productivity as distinctly weaker, with graphs showing us as:
  • 34th in percent of full-time students completing an associate degree in three years.
  • 35th in percent or full-time students completing a bachelor degree in six years.
Surely public concern and public discussion are in order any time a state is putting in above average resources to get back below average results.

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    Index results for students with disabilities: growth is happening

    Students with disabilities are making more rapid progress than other student groups, though not at the pace needed to reach proficiency by 2014. That result is visible in the newest "transition index" analysis released by the Council for Better Education, the Kentucky Association of School Councils, and the Prichard Committee.

    The graphs below show results for students with disabilities over the last three years, with a projection of results out to 2014 and comparison results for all students.  An index of 100 is equivalent to the average student being proficient in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, and writing.
    The central, easy-to-spot, point is that these students are far behind their peers.  A second point, though, should not be missed: results for students with disabilities are improving faster than results for all students.  For all the justified frustration this data will provoke, do notice that the results are changing.  To me, that suggests that the efforts of educators and parents matter and that steady accountability from the state and federal level matter, too.

    Results for other student groups were released last fall, but a data glitch delayed the analysis for the disability group until this week. The full statewide report and school and district results are here.

    Monday, February 22, 2010

    College readiness work: a bit more on the Gates Foundation investment

    Here are two good sources of added information on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's new investments in college readiness

    First, Vicki Phillips and Carina Wong explain the overall strategy in an article on "Tying Together the Common Core of Standards, Instruction, and Assessments"  in the February 2010 Kappan (scroll down to the "Features").  Respectively, they are the Foundation's director of education and its deputy director for College-Ready Work. 

    Second, the Foundation press release from last Thursday, begins:
    The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced 15 grants totaling more than $19.5 million to support the development and testing of prototype classroom assessments and instructional tools in math and literacy to help educators better prepare all students for success beyond high school. The investments are part of the foundation’s support of the effort to build a coherent system of consistent college- and career-ready standards, aligned assessments, and teaching tools to strengthen teacher effectiveness and dramatically improve student achievement.
    The Prichard Committee project blogged here is a piece of this larger effort.

    Prichard Committee to pilot new teaching and testing resources for math: grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help fund work

    I'm just catching up on the news from the end of the last week.  An important Prichard Committee release is below:

    LEXINGTON, KY – Teachers in six Kentucky school districts will be among the first in the nation to explore new ways to teach mathematics under a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. The ninth and tenth grade teachers will work with new teaching and testing resources that have been developed by national experts to accelerate students' mastery of mathematics.

    "We’re tremendously excited by this opportunity," said Robert F. Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee. "The new materials will help schools implement Kentucky's brand new mathematics standards, tracking each student's level of understanding and developing teaching methods that keep all students moving forward. It's an early look at the kind of professional development all Kentucky teachers will need."

    The new approach—known as "assessment for learning" or "formative assessment"—fits well with legislation passed by the 2009 General Assembly requiring that Kentucky adopt new mathematics standards and develop a new testing approach. The "assessment for learning" approach emphasizes classroom-level activities that provide teachers with better insight into student learning needs. The emphasis is on quickly helping teachers adjust their teaching to help all students reach high standards of learning.

    During intensive professional development sessions, the participating teachers will work with classroom "performance events" that provide immediate information on what part of a topic students already understand and what still needs work. In turn, that will allow teachers to adjust instruction so that all students ultimately master the mathematics being taught.

    "Each performance event will allow teachers to shape future learning," said Ann Shannon, a mathematics researcher with a leading role in the project. "We'll be working on how teachers can quickly address student difficulties, pose follow-up questions that deepen understanding, and ensure that all students end up with a strong grasp of the key concepts they need to master."

    The pilot testing in Kentucky is part of a larger nationwide effort by the Gates Foundation to support the development and testing of prototype math and literacy classroom assessments and instructional tools to help educators better prepare all students for life beyond high school.

    The Prichard Committee has selected the following high schools to participate in the project:
    • Boone County, Conner, Cooper, and Ryle high schools, Boone County
    • Apollo, Beacon, and Daviess County high schools, Daviess County
    • Doss and Iroquois high schools, Jefferson County
    • East Jessamine and West Jessamine high schools in Jessamine County
    • Dixie, Scott, and Simon Kenton high schools in Kenton County
    • Warren Central and Warren East high schools in Warren County
    Eighth-grade mathematics teachers in Daviess County also have been invited to participate in the work.

    The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is a nonprofit citizens' organization that works to improve education for all Kentuckians.


    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    Implementing the new standards and parents with decision-makers.

    The Missing Piece report sets a high bar for schools’ work to engage parents in school decisions, expecting that: “School staff encourages, supports and expects parents to be involved in school improvement decisions and to monitor and assist school improvement.”  

    To avoid misunderstanding, let me emphasize something: the decision-making standard here is about the school’s goals, the school’s strategies, the school’s budget, and the school’s staffing. All those elements will have to be realigned as the new are moved paper to meaningful classroom implementation. Every school has big decisions ahead, distinct from the decisions about individual students that are discussed  in parent-teacher conferences and ARRC meetings.

    Including parents in those schoolwide decisions will yield strategies with better understanding, support, and energy behind them.

    The work starts with the learning opportunities discussed earlier to introduce the standards and discuss their importance.   Beyond that, parents on the council and its committees must work actively alongside educators to develop the school’s strategies. Widening the circle further, all parents must have multiple, meaningful opportunities to explore, question, and suggest improvements to those strategies as they are being developed.

    Helpfully, though, the new standards themselves can work to draw parents into the discussion. Parents are going to be excited by the clearer, shorter statement of what students need to learn at each level, and by the new commitment to equip students to succeed in college and good jobs by the time they leave high school. Our new goals for students, in short, can generate new parent motivation to join in the school’s decisions.

    Higher education funding by institution: the shrinking version and the growing version

    Here's one way to display the state budget for higher education, comparing the FY 2006 budget to the Governor's FY 2012 budget.

    Looking at the General Fund alone, every four-year institution except Kentucky State will lose ground, and the KSU gain is less than $40,000.  KCTCS is slated to gain a bit over $4 million.   If the Governor's budget or something similar is adopted, the institutions as a group will receive about 2 percent less they received 2006, and no help at all with inflation that reduces their buying power.

    Here's another way to look at the budget impact, considering all the revenue shown in state budget documents.  In this version, every institution is expected to see growth, averaging 40 percent and ranging from 12 percent at Kentucky State to 51 percent at the University of Kentucky.

    Of course, neither version accounts for enrollment changes, expanded research, or other changes in how each institution contributes to the state overall.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Advocacy for every student, college-and-career-readiness for every student

    The Missing Piece approach to parent engagement puts a high value on advocacy, setting this as the standard: "For each student, the school staff identifies and supports a parent or another adult who takes personal responsibility for understanding and speaking for each child’s learning needs."  It describes a school with that commitment as having features like these:
    • School staff ensures every student has a parent and/or another adult who knows how to advocate, or speak up for them, regarding the student’s academic goals and individual needs.
    • Most parents participate actively in student led conferences or other two-way communication about meeting their child’s individual learning needs.
    • Parents report participating actively and effectively in required planning for individual learning, for example, Individual Education Plans, Individual Learning Plans, Gifted Student Plans, 504 Plans, and intervention strategies to ensure college readiness....
    • School staff gives parents clear, complete information on the procedures for resolving concerns and filing complaints, and the council reviews summary data on those complaints to identify needed improvements.
    • School staff ensures that parents and community members are well informed about how to become educational advocates, or how to access a trained educational advocate when needed.
    • As students are identified by school staff as having disabilities or performing at the novice level, additional intentional steps are taken to ensure that parents have the option to use a trained advocate to assist them in speaking for their child’s needs.
    I've spent a lot of time talking with frustrated advocates for individual children: they're pretty much my favorite kind of folks.

    What they want, over and over, is to get a clear commitment on what a child needs to learn and a clear commitment on the steps to make that happen and then (most importantly) follow-through on what goes down in the IEP or the notes from the meeting or the e-mail to spell out what's been discussed.

    The new standards ought to make it easier for advocates to get to the specification of what a child will achieve.  They're shorter, clearer, better broken down into levels of work. Using them, it should be more possible to say students will reach the standards for the grade during the school year, or begin work with a collaborating teacher next week on the two that are proving difficult, or have summer support to get on top of any standards that aren't reached by year's end.

    More importantly, the new standards are custom-made for a different model of teaching.  They're meant to allow every classroom to be designed around meeting the same standard for every student, but doing it by varying means and constant adjustments based on fresh information about individual progress. If that becomes the regular way of doing business, then advocates will have a much simpler job.  If the school day is already  organized around responding to individual needs, the advocates will only need to discuss which particular adjustments will be the best help for a particular student.

    Earlier PrichBlog posts on parent engagement and the new standards are here, here, and here.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    Communication about students using the new college-and-career-ready standards (scaffolding needed!)

    The 2007 Missing Piece report standard for strong communication is that: "Two-way information in many forms flows regularly between school staff and parents about students’ academic achievement and individual needs."

    Kentucky has committed to new English/language arts and mathematics standards, to be shared with many other states, that will be shorter, clearer, and deeper than our past Core Content documents.  The the current drafts of those documents (and lots of other reporting about Kentucky's decision) are available here.

    There's a basic--maybe too basic--level of communication that could happen just with the standards themselves. A teacher could send home a copy of the third grade math standards with notes saying which ones a student mastered, which ones are nearly mastered, and which ones need work.

    That's information, but it doesn't give parents a good idea of next steps.

    Instead, there's going to be a crucial school-level effort after the standards are finalized. The standards are written now for statewide use, but they need to be broken down and restated as a set of steps for students to climb, like a ladder or a scaffold, to reach the standards. Doing the work within each school will ensure that the teachers know their own scaffolding inside and out.

    That will allow teachers to plan their own instruction to move students up the steps. It will also allow them to show both students and parents which step a student has reached, and what work is needed to reach the next step. Parents, in turn, can ask for specifics on how to help and share information on what is and isn't working for their individual children.

    That approach to clear expectations, careful data collection, and confidence-building communication is part of the "balanced assessment" or "assessment for learning" approach that is a regular topic in this blog.

    The new standards are an important starting point, but we can't stop there.  To allow the best communication between parents and and teachers, they should be converted into a scaffolding that makes sense to each school's teachers and that forms a framework for helping both students and parents see how to climb to success.

    Readers may also want to check out Sunday's post on the main ideas in the Missing Piece report and Monday's post on parent learning opportunities and the new standards.

    Kentucky's deficit, bad as it is, is better than most states

    In the map above, white shows the two states without deficits, and blue shows the states with deficits of 19 percent or less.  Kentucky's big financial hole is actually smaller than the many states in olive green (20 to 29 percent) and the smaller group in lime green (30 percent or higher).

    The data is from a recent Center for Budget and Policy Priorities report, and the map is from FiveThirtyEight.

    KCTCS enrollment surge sweeps past university undergraduates

    The fall 2009 headcount for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System was 10 percent higher than 2008 and 69 percent higher than 2000. 

    In fact, KCTCS now serves more learners than the combined bachelor's programs of all eight public universities.  That's a pretty good benchmark of the large role the system now plays in Kentucky higher education.

    The numbers below come from the "Fall Enrollment Report" presented at the February 11 meeting of the Council on Postsecondary Education.

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    Parent learning opportunities to support college-and-career-ready standards

    The Missing Piece report counts parent  learning opportunities as one of the six ways schools ought to engage parents.   Kentucky has committed to new college-and-career-ready standards for students, and it's time to get moving on ways for parents to learn about what's changing.

    I'd suggest several steps for that effort.

    Right now, spread the word about what's coming.  In newsletters, PTA meetings, and elsewhere, it's time to talk up the pending change. As a parent, there are two features of the new standards that strike me as the most important. First, we will see a much more concrete statement of what their students should be able to do as they complete each level of education.  Second, we can see where work at each level is heading: students who move through each level of the standards will finish high school be equipped for college-level work and ready to succeed in jobs with a future.

    Soon, start designing tools for parents to explore the standards when a final edition is released:
    • For starters, the documents for each grade should be available on an accessible, widely publicized website.
    • Second, examples matter.  Right now, the English/language arts draft does a good job of displaying what sort of work students should be able to read at each level.  The mathematics draft, though, could use clearer illustrations of the work students should master.  If those examples are not built into the final edition, expert teachers should construct them quickly.
    • Third, organize it all as activities that can work at PTA meetings, school socials, and other events, and as displays that can catch a parent's eye on the way into the building.  Puzzles, checklists, posters, and videos can all be ways to draw parents into the discussion..
    Those design steps can be done by state or national level organizations.

    And, this fall, make the standards central to parent activities.    Our new expectations are the right centerpiece of all the start-up activities of a new academic year, from registration to home visits and open houses.  They should get the spotlight at multiple school board, school council, and PTA or P.T.O. meetings.

    Early college at Western High School (sounds great!)

    The Jefferson  Community and Technical College and the Jefferson County Schools are finalizing plans to offer college level work at Western High School.   

    At least initially, JCTC faculty will provide the courses that count both toward high school graduation and for credit at the college level.  An option is being built in for Western teachers to do some additional study and start also teaching some of the dual-credit classes.

    The C-J has a long, impressive report on the plan here.

    I'd add one further plus of this plan.  In a district committed to offering students and parents a choice among diverse schools, this option seems likely to get many takers.

    Kentucky education budgets looking at all sources (changes the picture a bit)

    Tthe general fund  education budgets gets lots of discussion, but the graphs below show a more complete picture of the trends by including the other revenues each level receive.  The 2012 numbers reflect the Governor's recommended budget, which is of course likely to be changed by the General Assembly.
    Restricted funds come from user fees--a small amount for P-12, but a big one when it includes the tuition and other amounts students and families pay for higher education. 

    Source notes:

    The FY 2006 numbers come primarily from the FY 2006-08 Budget of the Commonwealth.  The P-12 figures include funding budgeted to the Department of Education, the Education Professional Standards Board, the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System, and the School Facilities Construction Commission.  One exception: The estimated local portion used the Department's file for 2005-06 SEEK Final Summary Data, multiplied each district's total property assessment by its current year levied tax rate, and summed the results.

    The FY 2008 numbers were developed the same way, using the 2008-10 Budget of the Commonwealth and the 2007-08 SEEK data file.

    The FY 2010 numbers were developed the same way, using the Governor's 2010-12 budget proposal and the 2009-10 tentative SEEK data file.

    The FY 2012 numbers come primarily from the Governor's 2010-12 budget proposal.  The Governor's proposed 1.6 percent SEEK guarantee increase appears to rely in part on a 5.8 percent increase in the local 30¢ contribution from FY 2010 to FY 2012, so I applied the same rate of increase to the total local revenue.

    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    Physical activity and Kentucky requirements

    On the one hand, Joan Buchar's argument for physical education in today's Herald-Leader makes an important case for schools to promote healthy habits in all our children.  The issue deserves sustained effort from our state, schools, and families.

    On the other hand, she fails to mention that in Kentucky, every school council serving students in grades K-6 is required to arrange 150 minutes of physical activity for each student.  That requirement is found in KRS 160.345(11), which says:
    Each school council of a school containing grades K-5 or any combination thereof, or if there is no school council, the principal, shall develop and implement a wellness policy that includes moderate to vigorous physical activity each day and encourages healthy choices among students. The policy may permit physical activity to be considered part of the instructional day, not to exceed thirty  minutes per day, or one hundred and fifty minutes per week. Each school council, or if there is no school council, the principal, shall adopt an assessment tool to determine each child's level of physical activity on an annual basis. The council or principal may utilize an existing assessment program. The Kentucky Department of Education shall make available a list of available resources to carry out the provisions of this subsection. The department shall report to the Legislative Research Commission no later than November 1 of each year on how the schools are providing physical activity under this subsection and on the types of physical activity being provided. The policy developed by the school council or principal shall comply with provisions required by federal law, state law, or local board policy.

    Engaging parents in the push to college-and-career-readiness

     Kentucky is moving forward with college-and-career-readiness standards.  48 states are participating in developing those standards, but Kentucky is the first state to start the regulatory process to adopt them, and we'll be among the first to move the standards into our classrooms and our assessments.

    To actually reach the standards, we'll need to add another element: sustained parent engagement.  The Missing Piece of the Proficiency Puzzle (developed in 2007 by the Commissioner's Parent Advisory Council) identifies six key elements of meaningful work to engage those crucial participants:

    1. Relationship-building
    2. Communications
    3. Decision-making
    4. Advocacy
    5. Learning Opportunities
    6. Community Partnerships

    All six elements matter, and in the coming week, I'll think out loud about how Kentucky might get started on using each one to move students toward meeting our new clearer and deeper standards.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Brilliant: Sharron Oxendine explains the new standards

    Great WKYT video here.

    New college and career ready standards launched: Kentucky on the cutting edge of education improvement

    “This is an historic moment for Kentucky,” said Kentucky Board of Education Chair Joe Brothers. “With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, teachers and administrators will have a blueprint to move the state forward in P-12 education. This is just the beginning of Kentucky’s next chapter of education reform, and it reflects the mandates of the state’s legislature – specifically, Senate Bill 1 -- and our application for federal Race to the Top funding.”

    “The Common Core Standards come at an opportune time for us at EPSB as we forge ahead to meet the charges set forth by Senate Bill 1,” said EPSB Chair Lorraine Williams. “To truly make a difference in Kentucky’s students’ ability to demonstrate what they know and are able to do and to make them more competitive in the marketplace, it is a refreshing move to narrow the number of standards taught at each level. ESPB is excited to be part of this cutting edge initiative and looks forward to working with our university partners to ensure that our undergraduate and graduate teacher preparation programs embrace the Common Core Standards and prepare a stronger workforce capable of teaching the curriculum to a deeper, more rigorous level.”

    “Kentucky is once again at the forefront in education reform,” said CPE Chair Paul Patton. “I am very pleased with the level of cooperation and commitment by Kentucky’s policy and education leaders in the development of these draft content standards. Consistent academic standards, aligned to college and work expectations, will help our students reach higher levels of success.”

    Launched in 2009, the Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia committed to developing a common core of state standards in English/language arts and mathematics for grades K-12.

    CCSSO and NGA plan to release the final version of the standards in early spring. 

    All that from the official press release out minutes ago.

    AP growth for Kentucky and Nation

    In 2009, almost 11 percent of Kentucky high school graduates earned a score of 3 or higher on at least one Advanced Placement test, likely qualifying them to receive college credit for their high school work. That puts us 3oth among the states, up from 31st in 2008 and 37th in 2004.

    $71.5+ cost to raise the dropout age to 18

    House Bill 301 would raise Kentucky's dropout age from 16 to 18 by 2014. At the current level of SEEK and benefits funding, I estimate that doing that would require more than $71.5 million in added resources.

    The dollars would well spent, yielding an important return both to the students and the state in future economic strength.

    Nevertheless, the money won't grow on trees. The costs of keeping those students in school must either be added to state P-12 funding or subtracted from services districts provide to other students.

    For number lovers, I'll explain my method after the jump. [Update: my first attempt to use the "jump" function isn't working, so instead I'll put the explanation in small print below]

    The most recent statewide dropout figures show:
    • 6,297 dropouts in 2006-07.
    • 6,729 dropouts in 2007-08.
    Students who were 16 or over in 2006-07 would be 18 two years later, so I assumed that half of those students would drop out. As a result, I assumed that under House Bill 301, Kentucky schools would have:
    • 9,878 additional students enrolled.
    Kentucky funds schools based on average daily attendance, not enrollment. For 2007-08, the statewide attendance rate was 94.12 percent. Applying that to enrollment, I estimated that Kentucky schools would have:
    • 9,302 students in average daily attendance.
    Under the 2009-10 SEEK formula, schools are guaranteed an average of:
    • $3,866 per pupil in base funding.
    • $5,285 once the add-ons for special needs and transportation are added to the base.
    • $6,078 once Tier I additional funding is added to base and add-ons.
    Those figures include both state and local funding.
    For 2009-10, Kentucky provides state funding of:
    • $362.7 million for retirement benefits for certified staff in schools and districts.
    • $577.7 million for health benefits for all staff in schools and districts.
    • $940.4 million total for benefits.
    • $1,606 for benefits per pupil in average daily attendance.
    • $7,684 per pupil adding benefits to the earlier $6,078.
    My total estimate is:
    • 9,302 students in average daily attendance, multiplied by...
    • $7,684 in per pupil funding, to get...
    • $71,474,246 in needed additional funding.
    That estimate leaves out a major facilities issue: serving 9,878 more students would require 318 additional classrooms even at the high school maximum of 31 students per class.

    The estimate includes the local contribution to the SEEK base and the local revenue needed to qualify for Tier I equalization. Most districts now raise additional revenue--called Tier II--that does not qualify for state equalization, but I do not have a good estimate of that revenue at my fingertips.

    That estimate uses only official reported dropouts. Based on comparing eighth grade student counts to graduates four years later, roughly 3,000 students a year seem to disappear without officially dropping out. My estimate assumed that those students would continue to be "lost or stolen or strayed."

    Last March, I offered an estimated cost of $29 million for a similar bill. That estimate was far too low because:
    • I assumed that raising the dropout rate by two years would only keep one year's worth of dropouts in school.
    • I used only SEEK base funding and the benefits costs, leaving out the add-ons, the Tier 1 state funding, and the Tier 1 local funding.

    Special education teacher preparation questions

    In the 2009 Teacher Quality Yearbook, the preparation of special education teachers is a report element worth noting. The report argues that:
    1. The state should require that teacher preparation programs provide a broad liberal arts program of study to elementary special education candidates. All elementary special education candidates should have preparation in the content areas of math, science, English, social studies and fine arts and should be required to pass a subject-matter test for licensure.

    2. The state should require that teacher preparation programs graduate secondary special education teacher candidates who are “highly qualified” in at least two subjects. The most efficient route for these candidates to become adequately prepared to teach multiple subjects may be to earn the equivalent of two subject area minors and pass tests in those areas.

    3. The state should customize a “HOUSSE” route for new secondary special education teachers to help them achieve highly qualified status in all the subjects they teach.
    Kentucky and 24 other states are not doing any of those things. Only six meet the elementary standard, and only 15 meet the secondary standard. Only 14 use the HOUSSE option, short for "high, objective, uniform state standard of evaluation" and defined here as allowing teachers to demonstrate subject knowledge through " a combination of proven teaching experience, professional development, and knowledge in the subject acquired over time through working in the field."

    While I'm not comfortable with the full Yearbook list of expectations, these special education standards do seem worth considering. Of course, they effectively say that special education teachers need pretty much the full background of other teachers plus the added knowledge and skills to work with students with additional needs. If we want that added preparation from teachers who are already taking on added challenge, it seems to me that we're going to have to commit to give them added compensation as well.

    Teacher policy grades from NCTQ

    The 2009 State Teacher Quality Yearbook is out, grading each state against a long, demanding set of standards that the National Council on Teacher Quality sees as needed. Here's a snapshot of how all state scores. Kentucky is in the top half of states, but clearly not doing the full array of things the Council recommends.

    I'm not sure I agree with the full set of standards in the yearbook, but it does give a good overview of what states are doing and how it compares to the authors' view of what would strengthen teaching nationwide.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    Kentucky moving forward on college ready standards

    Art Jester has great Business Lexington reporting up on tomorrow's big meeting to commit Kentucky to the common core standards for college and career readiness--and on why that step is so important. To lure you into reading the whole thing, here are just a few snippets:
    "We will be the first state in the nation to signal our leadership in education reform," said Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.
    * * *
    As Rep. Carl Rollins (D-Midway) put it, the common standards will enable "everyone coming together on the same page" nationwide to determine what students should learn at each grade level.

    Rollins, the chairman of the state House Education Committee, said the common standards are "real improvements" that should lead to the development of "new national tests with national standards."

    "We're going in the right direction," said Rollins, a state financial aid official and a former Midway mayor who has a doctorate in education.
    * * *
    "It's very exciting that Kentucky is a leader moving in this direction," said Fayette County Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman. "The narrowing and deepening of the standards is something I think is going to be good for our kids and teachers because it's going to allow us to spend more in-depth time on the core content. It feels good that Kentucky is on the forefront as a national leader again."

    Is principal selection about to change?

    The House Education Committee has reported out House Bill 322 on principal selection. Since I watched on-line, I don't yet have a copy of the substitute language added during the committee meeting, but I"m confident I've got the main idea.

    Since 1990, Kentucky law has called for school councils to select principals, with the big debate being over the role of the superintendent in deciding who could be considered for the job.

    The Department long advised that the council only got to consider qualified applicants, and that only people the superintendent recommended were qualified. If a superintendent recommended only two people, the council needed to choose from that pair.

    The Kentucky Supreme Court, however, rejected that interpretation in 2004, and read the law to say that when councils ask for additional applicants, the superintendent cannot hold back applicants based on his or her judgment about whether they can be effective.

    Today's committee vote was on language that would let the superintendent submit three names to the council and give the council three weeks to choose between them.

    I'm not opposed to the change. Student success requires highly effective principals. To be effective, new principals must start work with the support both of their councils and their superintendents. The method in the amended bill will provide that shared support, so I think it's okay.

    On the other hand, I'm not excited about it. That's because I know that most principals already come in with strong support from their superintendents.

    First, the superintendents I admire most invest deeply in working with their councils, and when it's time to select principals, they have substantial influence on the results.

    Second, many potential principals know they can't succeed without strong support, so they don't even apply if they won't have the superintendent's backing. I've seen two kinds of exceptions. One is that a principal with local roots may try to wait out a superintendent who isn't from the area, The other is that in the largest districts, principals don't expect to spend much time working closely with the superintendent, so they seem to be less concerned about making sure that relationship will be a warm one. In general, though, principals only go where they're wanted, and that includes being wanted by the superintendent.

    Knowing all of that, if HB 322 becomes law, I do not think it will change the outcome in most principal selections.

    (For readers who do not already know, I worked for the Kentucky Association of School Councils from its founding until 2006.)

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    High school math strands in the core standards

    My high school math career consisted of three conventionally named courses--Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra 3--and then another course I think was called "A-cubed-T" for advanced analytic algebra and trigonometry. The high school that offered that course would happily have placed me in calculus the next year, but didn't quite want to call it "pre-calculus."

    In the new draft of core standards being developed for shared use in 48 states, I'm not seeing titles of high school courses or grades when students should take each one. Instead, the document explains early that:
    The high school standards .... are organized under headings of the College and Career Ready Standards for Mathematics: Expressions, Equations, Functions, Coordinates, Modeling, Statistics, Probability, and Geometry.... This design necessitates a future effort to develop course sequences (either traditional or integrated).
    The benefit of that approach may be that the experts did not see one clearly superior order in which the high school mathematics content should be taught, but did agree on what math students needed to master to be ready to succeed as they head to college or into the workplace. While remembering that these elements could change substantially in the next draft, here's what appears under those headings:

    Seeing structure in expressions
    The arithmetic of polynomials and rational functions

    Building equations to model relations between quantities
    Reasoning with equations and inequalities

    Interpreting functions
    Building functions
    Linear vs. exponential behavior
    Trigonometric functions

    Expressing geometric properties with equations
    Vectors and matrices
    Complex numbers

    The modeling cycle and general tools
    Modeling with geometry, equations, functions, probability, and statistics

    Summarizing and interpreting categorical, count, and measurement data
    Making inferences and justifying conclusions drawn from data

    Modeling random events with finite sample spaces
    Experimenting and simulating to model probabilities
    Using probability to make decisions

    Triangle Congruence
    Similarity, Right Triangles and Trigonometry
    Axiomatic systems
    Trigonometry of general triangles
    Geometric measurement and dimension
    As a final note, EdWeek has reported that:
    Several reviewers said writers and reviewers of the math draft were trying to work out possible differences between the skills that should be required of all students, and only of those aiming for college majors or careers in math or science.
    For some of the items listed above, I don't know enough to take an informed side in the debate, but it does seem important for the experts to work through that question with care.

    Math for each grade in the common standards

    The new grade-by-grade draft of the core standards lays out what students should master each year from kindergarten through eighth grade. Here, reformatted from the last page of the draft, is a thumbnail version of that progression:
    The full array of subjects for each grade is laid out in three pages of text, with enough detail to help parents work out what's included under those mathematical terms.

    The plan is for the final version to start each grade with a section on "Developing Coherent Understanding." That looks as though it may explain how the topics within a grade reinforce one another and build on past work, but in this draft, the text below that heading just says "[Temporarily removed for editing.]"

    Over the years, I've heard many parents wish for an overview of what to expect year by year, both to plan extra help for their children and to have a sense of whether classroom instruction is falling behind. This draft offers a pretty robust response to that desire.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010

    Enrollment surge, transfer woes for KCTCS

    On the one hand, the Kentucky Community and Technical College Sustem has 18 percent more students than it had this time a year ago. That's an impressive step step up. If the system receives no increase in state funding, it makes sense that it will have to choose between cutting enrollment or cutting services.

    On the other hand, legislation to smooth the way for students to move from two-year to o four-year schools has hit a snag. After the bill breezed through the House, concerns have surfaced in the Senate over proposed rules on transfers and degree requirements. For example, Shirley Willihnganze at the University of Louisville is quoted as anticipating "trouble with a number of accrediting agencies that require more hours than that for a degree."

    Both stories come from Herald-Leader reporting.

    Digital competence, civics, and the common core

    Vicki Phillips of the Gates Foundation wrote in October that:
    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.
    As I blogged the research skills built in to the new draft of the common core standards for writing, that comment kept going through my head.

    The current technological revolution raises the bar for citizenship: with vast information at our fingertips, our new struggle will be to evaluate and use that information well.

    In response, the draft standards raise the bar for students, and call on schools to equip students for exactly that type of work. It's time to push forward on developing those "master arts" at a high level for every student.

    Research in the common core (Wow!)

    The new draft common core standards (available here) for English/language arts include a major section on "writing and research."

    The draft standards for "gathering research" caught my eye because that element that has not been a Kentucky focus in past standards.

    For kindergarten and grades 1, 2, and 3, the draft standards for expect students to:
    • Gather information from experiences or provided text sources.
    For grades 4 and 5, the expectations rise, with the draft asking students to:
    • Perform short, focused research tasks that build knowledge by exploring aspects of a single topic
    • Gather information from experience, as well as print and digital resources.
    • Determine the accuracy and relevance of the information gathered to answer specific questions.
    • Restate information from source materials in one’s own words, through summary or paraphrase
    • Provide basic bibliographic information for print and digital sources.
    The expectations rise again for grades 6 to 8 and for grades 9 and 10, and I'll move past those to the culminating expectation. In grade 11, and to be counted as college-and-career ready, the draft standards expect students to:
    • Demonstrate proficiency at performing short, focused research projects as well as more sustained inquiries that synthesize multiple authoritative sources on a subject.
    • Analyze evidence independently gathered from multiple authoritative and credible print and digital sources.
    • Assess the credibility, reliability, consistency, and accuracy of the information and sources gathered and determine their usefulness and relevance for the specific audience, purpose, and task.
    • Represent and cite accurately the data, conclusions, and opinions of others, effectively incorporating them into one’s own work while avoiding plagiarism.
    • Cite print or electronic sources correctly and document quotations, paraphrases, graphics, and other information using a standard format.
    Further, the research section is reinforced by other portions of the draft standards, including those on specifics of informative and explanatory writing and on communicating opinions and arguments.

    For college work and for career success, the ability to locate, evaluate, organize, and communicate information is an important skill to develop. In this part of the draft, the common core approach definitely brings the clearer, deeper expectations Senate Bill 1 requires.

    Earlier PrichBlog posts on the new grade-by-grade draft standards can be found here, here, and here. A quick summary of how Kentucky's Senate Bill 1 works with the multi-state common core effort and the federal Race to the Top competition is here.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010

    Literature in the common core (Yay!)

    Kentucky has had a long, wobbly relationship with literature. The 1994 Content Guidelines did not specify any novels, plays, or poems students should know. The first Core Content included authors students should know, but later revisions dropped the authors while keeping impressive lists of composers, painters, sculptors, and other artists. I've cheered each inclusive round and objected to each round of deletions.

    Reading through the new draft standards for English/language arts, I'm delighted.

    The level-by-level "illustrative texts for narrative, drama, and poetry" caught my eye first. Eastman's Are You My Mother leads the kindergarten list, and Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop For Death" finishes the list for grade 11 and career and college readiness.

    Further down, a longer "exemplar" section includes poetry from "Paul Revere's Ride" and "Captain, O My Captain," to "I, Too" and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." In the short, sweet election of other poems, I especially enjoyed spotting "The Jumblies," a truly great tale of adventure and whimsy.

    The drama includes Midsummer Night's Dream and Master Harold and the Boys, and the narratives include Pride and Prejudice, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Their Eyes were Watching God. For younger readers, there's a range from Little Bear to Little Women.

    These lists do not, at least officially, mean students have to read those works in the years where they're listed. The draft says:
    The following text samples primarily serve to exemplify the level of complexity and quality that the Standards require all students in a given grade band to engage with while additionally suggesting the breadth of text types that students should encounter. The choices should serve as useful guideposts in helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and breadth for their own classrooms.
    And yet, those guideposts are going to be hard to bypass. There's flexibility there to prefer a different Austen novel or a different Seuss book, and the lists are short enough to leave room for quite a few additional works, but there's nothing to match the depth Shakespeare or the cultural resonance of Frost and Hughes. Most of all, the central expectation that students will have a fluent sense of how and why to engage great literature is going to matter as these standards move into classroom use.

    Common core and historic reading

    Working through the common core English/language arts draft standards (available here), I spy something great!

    Starting in grade 6, the draft standards identify a handful of "seminal historical texts that all students are expected to read." Here's the complete set:
    • Preamble and First Amendment to the United States Constitution
    • "Gettysburg Address"
    • "Second Inaugural Address"
    • "Address at the March on Washington"
    • "The Declaration of Independence"
    • "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"
    There are slightly longer lists of "illustrative informational texts" for each level in the standards, with items that illustrate the sort of texts students should study and be able to read and discuss. Those six, though, are not examples that could be replaced by other examples. They're a fine, sturdy summary of our shared heritage, and it's good to see them identified as firm expectations.

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    K-12 standards draft!

    Here are the long-awaited grade-by-grade draft of the common core standards for
    These were linked in this January 28 EdWeek article, which also reports that a third document is being prepared on "the literacy skills students in middle and high school need to apply to the study of history and science."

    The website for the common core project doesn't yet have this draft, which I think means they're doing another draft before they ask for public comments. And after public comments, there will be at least one more round of revisions before the standards are finalized.

    I've got to run to meetings and then run back to another project that needs finishing before I can sit down and read carefully.

    Meanwhile, please do tell me what you think! (E-mail readers, click on the title of this post to get to the web-page version, and then scroll down to add your thoughts.)

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    Rubber meeting road (on common core)?

    Members of state boards of education in other states are now wrestling with whether they can really stick to earlier promises to adopt the common core standards for college and career readiness. EdWeek reports from their national meeting in Las Vegas:
    Nearly all the state board representatives said they worry that they lack the time and money to develop all the elements necessary to implement the standards in a meaningful way.
    In Washington state, officials are distributing information about the common standards and soliciting feedback, said Sheila Fox, a board member there. But even if adoption garners broad support, she said, other “planets need to be aligned”: good curriculum, assessments, and professional development.
    State board members also expressed many concerns about how the common standards interact with the competition for federal Race to the Top money. Under U.S. Department of Education criteria, states have a better chance of winning such grants if they support common standards.
    One member asked what would happen if a state won that economic-stimulus aid and later decided against the common standards. Another asked what would happen if a state won Race to the Top money but couldn’t adopt the standards by the Aug. 2 deadline specified by the federal government.
    Kentucky leaders are not going through that kind of struggle. Senate Bill 1 knocked down our past standards and set an aggressive standard for launching new ones. Our own state choices back in 2009 cleared the decks for us to join this new effort.
    In fact, we'll firmly sign on next week. On February 10, the Kentucky Board of Education, the Council on Postsecondary Education, and the Education Professional Standards Board will hold their first-ever joint meeting to endorse the common core English/language arts and mathematics approach as Kentucky's way forward.

    Schools on the front line

    The soldiers were en route to the opening of a girls school that had been rebuilt with American funds, the American Embassy said in a statement. The school had been destroyed by the Taliban last year as they swept through Lower Dir, and the nearby Swat Valley, where a months-long battle raged between the Pakistani army and the Taliban.
    That's from the Times account of three American soldiers killed yesterday by suicide-bomb attack in Pakistan. The reports are that those close to the situation think the soldiers were the target and the students who died were the collateral damage. And yet, we know enough about the Taliban to know that blowing up girls who want to read could also have been the main point.

    Hug your daughters, and wave to a kindergartner tomorrow.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    TEK task force convenes

    Governor Steve Beshear's task force on Transforming Education in Kentucky convened today at East Jessamine High School to begin their work.

    Governor Beshear asked the participants to look at issues to include teacher recruitment and retention, the academic portion of career and technical education, the transition from preschool to K-12, offering college credit in high school, college readiness, technology, and assessing skills that matter to employers, like the ability to analyze and communicate.

    In a panel presentation looking for future lessons from the last two decades, the most valuable phrase I heard was "we opened the cage door and the canary wouldn't come out."

    That was Joe Kelly's phrase for the puzzle of places where the KERA strategies did not take off. Kelly, a former chair of the Kentucky Board of Education, reminded participants of the intent to provide resources and freedom and ask each school to work out how to produce new, much higher results. Some schools and districts rose to the challenge, but there clearly is an important issue to understand in how some did not--how some canaries "wouldn't come out."

    That question is indeed the one that keeps me pushing on the teaching quality agenda. When I blog about professional learning communities, about schools that close gaps, or about balanced assessment and its sunlit vision, I'm always trying to articulate again what equips schools to rise to new standards. I'm always looking for the added element that equips educators--and therefore students--to fly.

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    Core Knowledge backs common core

    EdWeek reports:
    The Core Knowledge Foundation, which criticized an early version of common-core standards for putting too much emphasis on academic skills and too little on content, has decided to align its central curriculum sequence to the revised standards and make it available for free.
    The decision by the 24-year-old foundation, which is shaped by founder E.D. Hirsch Jr.’s belief that all children need a command of a specific body of knowledge to be “culturally literate,” means that later this month it will stop charging $35 per copy for its K-8 Core Knowledge Sequence and will instead give away the 218-page book, either in hard copy by mail or by download from its Web site, its officials told Education Week.
    This shift is welcome news. E.D Hirsch's core argument about literacy (summarized in earlier prichblog posts here) is a convincing one, and it's great news that he and the foundation now see the common core as a vehicle for pushing forward the knowledge students need to succeed as adult citizens.

    Will "work-and-college-ready" replace "proficient" as federal goal?

    The Obama administration has begun briefings and discussions on changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ESEA is the massive federal legislation that contains the No Child Left Behind rules and the core Title 1 funding for low-income students. According to a New York Times report, the proposals include:
    • Dropping the 2014 deadline for all students to be proficient.
    • Setting a new target of having all students be "college or career ready" at the end of high school.
    • Requiring that district teacher evaluations include the use of student data as a condition for receiving federal education money.
    Another part of the article puzzles me. Jack Jennings of the the Center on Education Policy is quoted saying:
    “Right now most federal money goes out in formulas, so schools know how much they’ll get, and then use it to provide services for poor children. The department thinks that’s become too much of an entitlement. They want to upend that scheme by making states and districts pledge to take actions the administration considers reform, before they get the money.”
    In a memorable week of early 2003, I read the current law from end to end, and I can say with confidence that it already requires state and district pledges to implement specified reforms. If the plan is to change the list of required methods, that's not a big deal. If the plan is to have more serious steps to ensure that the required approaches are well understood and well applied, that could be big news. I'll have to hear more to know whether that part is a major change or a minor one.