Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kentucky continues funding higher education above national average.

For fiscal year 2009, Kentucky public higher education's funding per full-time equivalent pupil was (again) above national average. 

The amount paid by state appropriations was above average. 

The amount paid by students and their families, known as "net tuition" after financial aid, was above average. 

And the total was above average. 

These numbers come from the annual State Higher Education Finance 2009 report  issues by the State Higher Education Executive Officers group.

More exactly, the numbers graphed above are unadjusted figures from the SHEF 2009 work.  In the main report, the figures show Kentucky figures adjusted upward because of our lower cost of living and our enrollment mix.  There, Kentucky's net tuition paid by families is shown as $5,215, the appropriation figure as $7,969, and the total revenue as $13,184.  I backed out that adjustment by multiplying the Kentucky figures by the 0.895 adjustment factor shown in the report's "Technical Paper Table 2."   Graphing the adjusted numbers would make Kentucky's spending appear still further ahead of national average.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Points gained and lost on Kentucky's RTTT application

Kentucky scored 418.8 points on our round one Race to the Top application, and missed 81.2. Here's a summary of where we succeeded and fell short.

The absence of charter schools shows up at the bottom, being the source of 32 of the points we missed in the general category.

And now, on to trying to designing ways to claim more of the points in each area where we fell short.

RTTT: Kentucky ninth among Round 1 applicants, aiming to score higher in Round 2

In announcing Race to the Top Awards to Delaware and Tennessee, the federal education department also released state scores on the 0 to 500 scale.  Here are the top 10 final scores:

  1. Delaware 454.6
  2. Tennessee 444.2
  3. Georgia 433.6
  4. Florida 431.4
  5. Illinois 423.8
  6. South Carolina 423.2
  7. Pennsylvania 420.0
  8. Rhode Island 419.0
  9. Kentucky 418.8
  10. Ohio 418.6
The full list can be downloaded here (choose the "summary chart" above the list of states).

The Department also anticipates 10 to 15 grants in the second round.  Being ninth among all states in the first competition means starting out at seventh among all those going on to further competition.

Since all states will try to improve their scores, Kentucky will certainly need to study all the scoring and work to make our application stronger for the next round.  But it certainly looks as though time spent on those upgrades could bring us mighty benefits in the rest of the competition.

Kentucky on the move (with or without RTTT)

Only Delaware and Tennessee received first-round Race to the Top grants.  Kentucky, though a finalist, did not receive funding for our plans.

And yet...

Stronger standards will go forward, with Kentucky leaders committed to the common core approach and a summit to start equipping teachers to use those standards just two weeks away.

More effective evaluation methods will go forward, with new designs already under discussion and pilot districts being sought.

Better-aligned principal and teacher preparation programs will go forward, with the Education Professional Standards board already in the process of checking university programs for principals and masters degrees against higher standards and already at work on higher standards for the core teacher program as well.

More intense intervention in the state's weakest schools will go forward, with a new regulation already in place and new, more demanding audits already underway.

And better ntegrated P-16 data systems will go forward, though I don't have evidence on hand about  how quickly we'll see valuable insights coming from analysis of that combined information.

We do, indeed, have a state-wide agenda for moving our children higher, and not winning the first round of RTTT won't stop us from doing the work.

That very fact, that shared agenda and that determination to push it forward, will be our biggest asset in applying for RTTT's second round.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Our NAEP city districts: who was in the 2009 sample?

Reading blog post on how "our reading growth skipped our city districts," a commenter asked "So, what type of district is JCPS classified as? How about FCPS?"

NAEP samples each state, and usually we don't know which districts were chosen for the sample. For 2009, we know that Jefferson County was included, and I think we can be confident that its students were counted as city residents. We don't know, though, what other city districts were included (Fayette? Bowling Green? Covington?) or what districts were sampled as suburban, town, or rural locations.

How do we know about the Jefferson County part?  The  Courier-Journal reported that:
In Kentucky, 7,489 fourth- and eighth-graders from 316 schools were randomly selected to take the test.

Of that number, approximately 2,800 students in both grade levels from Jefferson County Public Schools were tested, said Bob Rodosky, director of testing and accountability for the district.

“I am really encouraged by the state’s results. and I would like to believe that Jefferson County had something to do with the rise of those scores,” he said.

NAEP typically doesn’t break down test scores by district.

However, Jefferson County is one of several urban school districts that participates in the Trial Urban District Assessment — those district’s test scores will be released in May.

Our reading growth skipped our city districts (not good)

The improved reading skills shown in 2009 NAEP results occurred mainly in our rural, town, and suburban districts.  Among city residents, scale scores:
  • went up a single point for fourth-graders who qualify for free-and-reduced-price lunches
  • went down a single point for fourth-graders who do not qualify for the lunch program
  • were flat for eight-graders from both economic situations

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reading growth even for most groups, slower for black students in grade 4

Here's a full array of disaggregated results from the fourth grade NAEP reading results released yesterday.   Most gaps stayed the same, but the race gap widened while the lunch gap narrowed slightly.

These graphs are a good illustration of a key feature of statistical significance: a change that is significant with a large sample of students may not be counted as significant for a smaller group.  For example, the four-point improvement for students without disabilities is significant, but the four-point improvement for students with disabilities is not--because fewer students with disabilities were tested.

The three-point movement for students in the free-and-reduced-lunch program is also significant, while the three-point changes for male, female, and white students are [not].  The two points for students not in the lunch program are not significant growth.  Unsurprisingly, raising black student results one point is not significant either.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wow! Kentucky reading scores above national average, rising faster than nearly all states


2009 NAEP reading scores are out, showing Kentucky students reading above national average, by a statistically significant margin, in both fourth and eighth grade.  

There's more.  From 2007 to 2009, only three states showed significant fourth grade improvement, and only nine states showed significant eight grade improvement. One state, one and only one, improved at both levels: Kentucky!

And more.  The Prichard Committee has urged Kentucky to move its educational system into the top 20 in the country by 2020.  In reading, we've arrived.  In fourth grade, we're tied for ninth, and in eighth grade, we're tied for sixteenth.

For all the educators, parents, students, and leaders who made this happen for Kentucky, this warrants a one minute pause to celebrate--followed (of course) by getting back to work on moving achievement even higher.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Senate budget adds $55 million in P-12 cuts to the House's $56 million in reductions

An earlier post today pointed out that the Senate plan requires districts to provide two more days of instruction than the House budget--but does not provide any funding for those days.  Now, let's turn to the full set of P-12 spending plans.

The House 2012 budget offered $56 million less for P-12 education than the state's original budget for the current (2010) fiscal year.

The Senate version cuts an additional $55 million from the House approach.

The Senate plan has just one line item with a larger 2021 budget than the House plan, providing:
  • $25.5 million more for local educators’ health insurance
The Senate plan pulls back from all the other House increases, with reductions of:
  • $34 million from school facilities
  • $2 million from unidentified spending that likely includes the  state's education technology network and the operations of the state department 
  • $300 thousand from local vocational schools
  • $284 thousand from school safety
The Senate plan also cuts many other areas where the House had already cut, including taking:
  • $24 million more from SEEK base funding
  • $1.2 million more from Tier I
  • $6.5 million more from teachers retirement
  • $5 million more from intervention in weak schools using highly skilled educations and school improvement grants
  • $2 million more from preschool
  • $1.4 million more from family resource and youth service centers
  • $473 thousand more from the Read to Achieve program
  • $438 thousand more from school technology
  • $427 thousand more from state vocational schools
  • $356 thousand from the schools for the blind and deaf
  • $321 thousand more from extended school services
  • $26t thousand more from State Agency Children
  • $235 thousand more from state testing
  • $194 thousand more from the Education Professional Standards Board
  • $172 thousand more from gifted and talented
  • $151 thousand more from professional development
  • $121 thousand more from debt service on money borrowed for school technology
  • $16 thousand more from textbooks
  • $479 thousand more from other local grants
  • $356 thousand more from other state grants
The next step in the budget process will be a House vote on the Senate changes. It's essentially certain that the House reject the Senate changes, leading to a conference committee where Senators and Representatives try to negotiate a budget both houses can support. 

Senate budget requires two instructional days but does not fund them

The Senate sent its amended version of the 2010-2012 state budget back to the House yesterday, amid  reports that the Senate version keeps the two added instructional days that the House had cut.

Actually, the Senate budget requires districts to provide those instructional days, but it does not fund them.

State funding comes through the SEEK formula as “Base” and “Tier I” funding. Here’s how the Senate numbers are lower than the House ones:

The Senate version of the budget adds money to one P-12 line item: educators’ health insurance receive $31.3 million more in FY 2011 than the House budget does, and $25.5 million more in FY 2012.

The Senate version cuts every single other P-12 line item. Beyond the reductions to SEEK above, the Senate provides $14 million less for FY 2011 and $55.7 million less for FY 2012 in those other programs.

The Senate version also gives districts special permission to cut costs in ways that are not usually allowed by law, including:
  • Hiring preschool teachers do not meet current certification requirements.
  • Eliminating kindergarten aides.
  • Raising class sizes above the current legal limits
  • Using money set aside for capital improvements (for example, buildings and renovations) for current expenses instead.
In effect, the Senate budget proposes to force districts to fund the two instructional days while providing significantly less funding to cover education costs than the House version (and the House budget already provided lower funding than past state budgets). 

I'll share more on the other cuts later in the day....

Monday, March 22, 2010

Updating our giant steps: SB 1, common core, and RTTT

Can the three biggest things happening in Kentucky education fit on one page?  We shared one version in January, and now it seems like a time for an updated edition.  You can download the PDF version here, or read on.




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.


Kentucky is not developing its new standards alone. Instead, we are working with many 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. All the participating states have contributed to revisions, and public comments are now being gathered. A final draft for those subjects will be available later this spring.

On February 10, Kentucky state-level leaders responsible for K-12 education, higher education, and teacher preparation held a joint meeting and formally agreed that the language arts and mathematics standards are the right direction for our students. Because of our Senate Bill 1, 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.


Kentucky is one of sixteen finalists in the competition for Race to the Top grants from the United States Department of Education. The winning states will share $4 billion in funding to implement plans to make their school systems among the best in the world, including proposed steps on:

• 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 has asked for $200 million to use 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.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Understanding Kentucky's educational history by region

Following up on the earlier income map, here's a look Kentucky adult high school attainment.  It uses the Census Bureau's thirty "microdata" areas as the results are mapped in  a great MACED report,  The lowest attainment levels cluster heavily in Appalachian Kentucky and in urban Jefferson County, while the highest median incomes are found in northern and eastern portions of Jefferson County and both portions of Fayette County.

And here's the map for adults holding associates degrees and higher educational credentials.  Here, high attainment again clusters in our largest cities, but lower attainment is clusters in several different part of our state.

Common standards and the mathematics for each grade (key information for parents)

For parents, the most helpful element of the draft common core mathematics standards may be the opening paragraph for each grade.  For example, the section for kindergarten begins this way:
In Kindergarten, instructional time should focus on two critical areas: (1) representing, comparing and ordering whole numbers and joining and separating sets; (2) describing shapes and space. More learning time in Kindergarten should be devoted to number than to other topics.
Two to four critical areas for each elementary and middle school are listed in similar paragraphs that list these elements:

Grade 1
• Developing understanding of addition, subtraction, and strategies for additions and subtractions within 20
• Developing understanding of whole number relationships, including grouping in tens and ones,
• Developing understanding of linear measurement and measuring lengths
• Composing and decomposing geometric shapes

Grade 2
• Developing understanding of base-ten notation
• Developing fluency with additions and subtractions within 20 and fluency with multi-digit addition and subtraction
• Describing and analyzing shapes

Grade 3
• Developing understanding of multiplication and division and strategies for multiplication and division within 100
• Developing understanding of fractions, starting with unit fractions
• Developing understanding of the structure of rectangular arrays and of area
• Describing and analyzing two-dimensional shapes

Grade 4
• Continuing to develop understanding and fluency with whole number multiplication, and developing understanding of multi-digit whole number division
• Developing an understanding of addition and subtraction of fractions with like denominators, multiplication of fractions by whole numbers, and division of whole numbers with fractional answers
• Developing an understanding of area
• Understanding that geometric figures can be analyzed and classified using properties such as having parallel sides, perpendicular sides, particular angle measures, and symmetry.

Grade 5
• Developing fluency with addition and subtraction of fractions, developing understanding of the multiplication of fractions and of division of fractions in limited cases (fractions divided by whole numbers and whole numbers divided by unit fractions)
• Developing understanding of and fluency with division of multi-digit whole numbers
• Developing understanding of and fluency with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of decimals
• Developing understanding of volume

Grade 6
• Connecting ratio and rate to whole number multiplication and division
• Developing understanding of and fluency with division of fractions and developing fluency with multiplication of fractions
• Developing understanding of and using formulas to determine areas of two-dimensional shapes and distinguishing between volume and surface area of three-dimensional shapes
• Writing, interpreting, and using expressions and equations

Grade 7
• Developing understanding of and applying proportional relationships
• Developing understanding of operations with rational numbers and solving linear equations
• Analyzing two- and three-dimensional space and figures using distance, angle, similarity, and congruence
• Drawing inferences about populations based on samples

Grade 8
• Solving linear equations and systems of linear equations
• Grasping the concept of a function and using functions to describe quantitative relationships
• Understanding and applying the Pythagorean Theorem

Those paragraphs are followed by a slightly longer explanation each item, and then by the full standards for the grade.  All three levels of detail are helpful, but I predict that the outline above (with any modifications made in the final edition) will be the version parents find most helpful in understanding their children's studies and in providing home support for students to succeed.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Understanding Kentucky income by region

When the Census Bureau divides Kentucky into thirty "microdata" areas and MACED maps the results, there's a clear pattern to Kentucky incomes.  The lowest median household incomes are found in rural southeastern Kentucky and in urban Jefferson County, while the highest median incomes are found in northern and eastern portions of Jefferson County and a (noncentral) portion of Fayette County.

Replacing NCLB (part 4): staying serious about achievement gaps

The Obama administration has published a "blueprint" for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replacing NCLB.  My earlier posts addressed its approaches to standards, assessment, and schoolwide accountability. Now it's time to look at the rules for student subgroups.

The "challenge school" interventions for the lowest results will apply both to schools with overall weak growth and to schools that move too slowly on achievement gaps.  Thus:
Schools that are not closing significant, persistent achievement gaps will constitute another category of Challenge schools. In these schools, districts will be required to implement data-driven interventions to support those students who are farthest behind and close the achievement gap.
Added requirements for school data systems will also make gap issues easier to track:
To foster public accountability for results and help focus improvement and support efforts, states must have data systems in place to gather information that is critical to determining how schools and districts are progressing in preparing students to graduate from high school college- and career-ready. States and districts will collect and make public data relating to student academic achievement and growth in English language arts and mathematics, student academic achievement in science, and if states choose, student academic achievement and growth in other subjects, such as history. At the high school level, this data will also include graduation rates, college enrollment rates, and rates of college enrollment without need for remediation. All of these data must be disaggregated by race, gender, ethnicity, disability status, English Learner status, and family income.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In RTTT finals, Kentucky stands alone without charter legislation

Today Kentucky sent a distinguished delegation to Washington to present our Race to the Top application, and we're now just a few weeks from the first round of awards.

While charter school rules provide only a fraction of the points that count toward winning, Kentucky is likely behind the other states on that part of the competition.  An e-mail question today led me to go check on charters in the other fifteen states who have gotten this far.  The answer I found was that all the other finalists have charter schools, though the numbers reported (here) vary pretty dramatically:
  • 416 charter schools in Florida
  • 328 in Ohio
  • 157 in Colorado
  • 144 in New York
  • 135 in Pennsylvania
  • 96 in North Carolina
  • 85 in Georgia
  • 77 in Louisiana
  • 62 in Massachusetts
  • 57 in the District of Columbia
  • 39 in Illinois
  • 39 in South Carolina
  • 22 in Tennessee
  • 18 in Delaware
  • 13 in Rhode Island

For shared prosperity, build education and job opportunities for working poor families

The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development recommends systematic attention to families that, even with hard work, are not earning enough to make their families self-sufficient.

Arguing that opportunity for those families is "a path to shared prosperity in the commonwealth,"  MACED provides an overview of their current challenges and policy proposals for education, job creation, and other supports.

Here are the education recommendations:
• Kentucky should overhaul its financial aid programs to prioritize need-based programs like CAP with increased funding, and should restructure financial aid to make it more accessible to adult students, including those attending part-time.
• Kentucky should expand its Career Pathways strategy with dedicated dollars in order to better link education and training to long-term job opportunities with career ladders based on key sectors in particular regions.
• Related to Career Pathways, Kentucky should offer more flexible delivery of edu cation so that working families can more easily access the training and credentials they need.
• Kentucky should move adult education funding to national average levels in order to close the gap in basic literacy and educational attainment and help students reach the first rung of the ladder to good jobs and stronger economic contributions.
• The state and the Council on Postsecondary Education should work to avoid unreasonable tuition increases that put an unfair burden of the cost of higher education on students and families that increasingly cannot afford it.
Two further notes:  First, I had the pleasure of working with MACED on early drafts of this report.  Second, it has wonderful maps showing how Kentucky challenges spread out across regions of the state, and I'm planning to blog several of them in the coming days.

Building teaching quality at the pre-school level

The Pew Center on the States rounds up research showing that preschool teachers' educational background matters:
Research indicates that higher levels of education and training can help improve teachers’ interactions with children in ways that positively affect learning. Studies suggest that skilled professionals can more effectively promote and support young children’s cognitive, social and emotional growth when they know how to capitalize on the period of critical early brain development before age five. Pre-k teachers who have earned bachelor’s degrees and have additional, specialized training in early childhood education have generally been found to be more effective than those without these qualifications. In addition to improving the quality of teaching, stronger preparation requirements may help to professionalize the early childhood workforce. The resulting higher pay, in turn, would attract a better-quality workforce, reduce turnover and provide greater incentives toward the ongoing improvement of practice.
Angela Brant at the Prichard Committee points out that Kentucky is on the right track on this issue, e-mailing me that "New teachers hired to teach in the state funded preschool programs must have a bachelor’s degree with an Interdisciplinary early childhood education certificate."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Replacing NCLB (Part 1): aiming for college and career readiness

"College and career readiness by 2020" may soon replace proficiency by 2014" as the main goal of the  federal P-12 education programs.

Friday, the U.S. Department of Education announced its "blueprint" for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the big section of federal law that includes the Title 1 program for students from low-income families, along with other sections on issues like school innovation, safe and drug free schools, children from migrant families, and many other education concerns.

The first big change is the push toward college and career readiness. Under the administration proposal, states will have will two options for reading and mathematics standards:
  • First, they can “upgrade their existing standards, working with their 4-year public university system to certify that mastery of the standards ensures that a student will not need to take remedial coursework upon admission to a postsecondary institution in the system.”
  • Second, they can adopt standards in common with other states.
Kentucky has, of course, already chosen the second option, and many states are likely to follow that approach.  However, states that prefer to continue using unique standards different from all other jurisdictions will be able to do so and able to continue receiving federal funding--provided their K-12 and postsecondary systems can agree that their home-grown standards are high enough to make remediation unnecessary.

States will also be required to set standards for science and for success in learning English.

As always, the approach the administration lists in its blueprint is sure to undergo major revisions during congressional hearings, votes, and negotiations.  This is only the start of the multi-branch discussion of how to change federal policy and funding.

Replacing NCLB (part 2): what's coming on assessments?

The proposed blueprint for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (and replacing No Child Left Behind) calls for each state to use "high quality" assessments aligned with its college-and-career-ready standards.

The blueprint expects those assessments to allow reporting on students' growth from year to year, and it proposes federal grants to support improvements in assessment methods.

Beyond that, though, it's hard to find details on what "high quality" will mean.

I have a hunch about about why those specifics are not filled in.  I think the department wants the goals for ESEA assessment to be closely related to the ones they will use for the upcoming $350 million competition to develop new assessments using money from the federal stimulus bill.   The draft specifications for that competition will be published sometime in the next few months, comments will be gathered, and then a final set of application requirements will be set.  I predict that when that application is released, the assessment goals listed there will also become the assessment specifics of the executive branch proposal for ESEA.

Two added details: The blueprint is the administration's opening bid, and it's essentially certain that what becomes final law will include important changes from the starting proposal.  Second, for those following the money, the $350 million for assessments is actually a slice of the Race to the Top program.  The total appropriation was $4.35 billion, with $4 billion already scheduled be handed out in the two rounds of the main competition that has received plenty of public attention.  As Secretary Duncan announced last fall, the rest of that pot will be distributed in a separate competition to develop new and stronger state assessments.

Replacing NCLB (part 3): accountability in three slices

Accountability will be tougher on a few schools and easier under most if the U.S. Department of Education's approach to revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act becomes law.

For the five percent of schools with the weakest growth,  states will be required to use one of four aggressive interventions:
  • closure
  • restart under outside management
  • turnaround by replacing the principal and half the staff
  • transformation that includes a new principal, strengthened staffing, a new instructional program, and other steps
That list may sound familiar.  In the RTTT competition, states could earn points by including those options in their applications.  In the separate school improvement grant section of the stimulus bill, a state's persistently low performing schools can receive added funding if they implement an approach from that same list--and the Courier-Journal reported on those options just yesterday.

For the "next weakest" five percent, there will be a watch list and some lesser required actions.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, schools with the strongest student growth will receive some type of recognition and reward.  The recognition could play a valuable role in spotlighting schools that "beat the poverty odds" and building public confidence that high goals really are in reach even for students who have often been allowed to underperform. 

For most schools—the ones delivering growth in the middle range—the proposal will allow “local flexibility to determine the appropriate improvement and support strategies.” That part sounds dramatically less prescriptive than the current law.  Under NCLB, schools can move rapidly into deeper and deeper tiers of sanctions, and it has been quite possible that nearly all schools could end up under state intervention.

So, if only the bottom 10 percent of schools will be subject to state intervention, does the "blueprint" represent a big step away from accountability for the rest?  I think not, for two reasons.

First, states will be reporting school success in keeping students on track to college-and-career-readiness, and that's a goal that's easier for parents and other citizens to understand and support.  That new clarity can increase old-fashioned pressure--the kind that comes through citizens calling elected officials and candidates explaining themselves to voters--to improve educational outcomes.  A strong spotlight on schools that are moving the fastest can also promote healthy popular expectations that others will also improve what they're doing.

Second, every state department of education has to choose its battles, and it can only keep strong pressure on a small group of schools at a time.  Otherwise, it ends up with too many elected officials pushing back on behalf of constituents.  As a result, I think the administration proposal may be setting a target that's at the high end of what's truly feasible.   My hope is for a system that presses as hard as realistically possible, but that doesn't promise more than can honestly be delivered.  The planned pressure on a short list of schools that are clearly achieving far too little strikes me as a credible approach for what truly can be done.

Let me quickly underline the word "proposal."  By the time Congress passes and the President signs new ESEA legislation, many elements will be different from this first set of administration recommendations.

Of disabilities and diplomas

On the one hand, the Enquirer has a great article on college options for students with disabilities.  Do read it, and do appreciate the report on a local district's efforts to build awareness of opportunities for those students to earn their degrees.

On the other hand, the article has a terrible, terrible mismatch of Ohio and Kentucky numbers:
In Ohio, where seniors with disabilities can qualify for diplomas if they complete individualized education plans, more than 15,000 seniors with disabilities made up 14 percent of the Class of 2008's 105,700 graduates.

Kentucky's 40,099 graduates in 2008 included 187 students who graduated after individualized education plans, said Lisa Gross, Kentucky's education department spokeswoman. Another 453 students received "certificates of completion" instead of diplomas because severe disabilities prevented them from completing the classes to qualify for a diploma, she said.
That Ohio "more than 15,000" is plausible as the number of students who finish high school and could go on to college with disabilities.

In Kentucky, 187 is the 2008 number of students with disabilities who graduated after more than four years in high school based on an IEP that called for them to spend that added time in school.   The source is Kentucky District Data Profiles: School Year 2007-2008.

Many, many more students with disabilities graduated in the regular four year span.  As a rough estimate, I'd offer the fact that 3,830 students with disabilities finished senior year writing portfolios.   Some of them may not have graduated, but most who finished that work in April surely collected diplomas in May or early June.

Of course, we should still be worried even by that number, because that class lost an amazing number of students with disabilities over its years in school. Taking numbers tested each spring, here's how the count slid downward:

Those losses are disturbing. Some may come from students whose identification legitimately changed.  Many, though, must reflect students who gave up before finishing school, and at least a few probably reflect students who still needed special services but who stopped receiving them.

We should be graduating many more students with disabilities from high school, sending many more to higher education, and cheering many more on as they complete their postsecondary studies.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A note from the Boss

Well now everything dies baby that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City
SB 1 received its final votes a year ago today.  A year on, I like the way the gamble is turning out.

(Lyrics and audio available here  and previous blog post here)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Intensive new audits starting early (with help from the federal stimulus)

The Courier-Journal is reporting on the first steps of Kentucky's new approach to schools with a multi-year history of weak performance:
Shawnee principal Keith Look said the process was “very intense.”

“They are looking at everything you do at the school through a leadership lens,” Look said.

Look, who is in his second year as principal at Shawnee, said the 11-member team of retired educators spent two days collecting test and other data before spending the rest of the week interviewing every staff member in the school.

“They also observed each teacher twice, talked to about 40-50 students and interviewed parents and community members,” he said. “They also talked to SBDM members.”
This is an early start on the audit and intervention process the legislature approved at the very start of the current session.  During the voting on the bill, the Commissioner did not expect the new rules to apply until 2010 test scores came in.

What's changed? According to the article, "the districts are being audited this year because they wanted to be eligible to receive up to $1.5 million in federal School Improvement Grants this year."  Those grants are yet another part of the federal stimulus legislation, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

That is, while state law would have allowed districts to put off the audits until next fall, the ARRA offered an incentive to start right away, and at least one eligible district has chosen to take up the offer.

$59 million in cuts to state support for current P-12 students

During this terrible recession, what kind of damage is being done to state funding for P-12 education?

Comparing the original budget for this fiscal year to the budget the House just approved for the 2012 fiscal year shows a reduction of roughly $59 million in planned state spending for current educational services.  $103 million in reductions to specific programs is only partly offset by $44 million in increases to other efforts.

The $103 million in cuts includes:
  • $56 million from base SEEK funding
  • $21 million from textbooks
  • $9 million from teachers retirement premiums
  • $3 million from reading grants
  • $3 million from SEEK Tier I equalization funding
  • $2 million from school technology
  • $1.7 million from family resource and youth service centers
  • $1.5 million from preschool
  • $1.2 million from the Education Professional Standards Board
  • $512 thousand from the schools for the blind and the deaf
  • $412 thousand from intervention in weak schools using highly skilled educations and school improvement grants
  • $264 thousand from extended school services
  • $239 thousand from testing
  • $219 thousand from state agency children
  • $142 thousand from gifted and talented
  • $125 thousand from professional development
  • $316 thousand from other local programs
  • $1.3 million from other state level services
The $44 million in added funding includes:
  • $29 million for facilities (including school construction plans described by House leaders as a way to create jobs and strengthen the state economy)
  • $12 million for educators' health insurance
  • $300 thousand for local vocational schools
  • $76 thousand for school safety
  • $3.5 million in growth that is not itemized (probably mainly costs of the KEN network and possibly also some costs of operating the Department of Education)
There's also  one other item to mention.   The House budget has a second line item for teachers retirement, used for state payments to sustain benefits for teachers who have already retired and to pay back earlier borrowing from the retirement system.  The House plans a $44 million increase in that item.  That money will go to the important state purpose of meeting commitments to those who educated past students.  However, since those dollars do not help us educate current students, they are not part of my calculation of a net $59 million loss in what will go to meet current education needs.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Changes in the new draft standards (nearly all for the better)

For readers who looked at the January 13 draft of the grade-by-grade common core standards, the new edition does show important revisions.

Grades 6, 7, and 8 now have separate standards in both documents, definitely a plus for parents trying to benchmark what their children should be doing. In the earlier edition, only kindergarten through grade 5 were broken down that way.

Both subjects now show progressions more clearly, with charts showing earlier work prepares students for later, more demanding work.

High school mathematics is now organized around six conceptual categories: number and quantity, algebra, functions, geometry, statistics and probability, and modeling. At least at a quick glance, that's easier to grasp than the previous list of ten areas.

The English/language arts standards still emphasize research and argument, but the major stands are simplified to reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language standards (which includes both formal rules and an understanding of the craft and choices involved in effective communication.)

The "exemplar" texts still offer a robust list that can give both teachers and parents an intuitive sense of the level of text complexity that students should tackle. Gone, though, is the special note saying that six specific historic texts should be read by all students. Taking that out makes it consistently clear that all the specific books, poems, and speeches are examples rather than mandates.

I do see the point of that last change, but I still find it a bit sad.  As work moves on to setting history standards, I hope we can agree that the Declaration of Independence and the "I Have A Dream" speech are not examples that can be replaced by other examples: they're giant features of our civic terrain that students need to know as well as they know the Atlantic Ocean, the Rocky Mountains, the directions of the compass, and the cycle of the seasons.

History reading, science reading, and shared responsibility for literacy

In the new draft of the common core standards, the subject formerly known as "English/Language Arts" has become "English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies & Science."

That's because the draft models a bolder, deeper understanding of what students must know and be able to do to be ready for college and careers.   The introduction to the draft explains:
Literacy standards specific to history/social studies and science for grade 6 and above are predicated on teachers in these areas using their unique disciplinary expertise to help students meet the particular challenges of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language in their respective fields.
Part of the motivation behind the interdisciplinary approach to literacy promulgated by the Standards is extensive research establishing the need for college- and career-ready students to be proficient in reading complex informational text independently in a variety of content areas. Most of the required reading in college and workforce training programs is informational in structure and challenging in content; postsecondary education programs typically provide students with both a higher volume of such reading than is generally required in K–12 schools and comparatively little scaffolding.
We said we wanted deeper, more competitive standards, and this element definitely calls on our students and schools to aim higher.

Draft K-12 standards are available now! Feedback welcome through April 2.

At last, the draft common core standards for each grade level are available for public comment.  You can:
  • download and comment on the English/language arts draft here.
  • download and comment on the mathematics document here.
  • share your thoughts with me and other readers by clicking the word comments below. (I'd love to know what readers see as pluses and minuses.)
I'll be sharing my thoughts as I work through the document.

The official press release from the National Governors Association calls for comments to be submitted by April 2 and says that "The standards are expected to be finalized in early Spring."

What did House A&R just say?

The SEEK base guarantee per pupil would go down for 2010-11 and then up a bit for 2011-12 under the bill reported out yesterday by the House Appropriation and Revenue Committee:
The bill does not mandate the two instructional days added in 2007-08.  That means that districts can drop back to 175 student learning days and 185 teacher contract days.  In the current fiscal environment, that will mean allow most districts actually must drop those two days.

Meanwhile, the state share of SEEK base funding would go down more than $200 million next year and up only $9 million the next year:

Why does the state total funding look different from the base guarantee?  It's because under the SEEK formula, the state does not pay the full guarantee.  Instead, each district must first contribute 30¢ for each $100 of taxable property. The state then adds what is needed to fund the base guarantee amount and provide "add-on" funding for students with additional learning challenges.

In effect, House A&R is counting on local revenue to rise.  If local taxes pay a larger share of the guarantee, the state can pay less.  And for next year, the budget bill that just passed out of committee does indeed plan for the state to pay less.

As always, the bill coming from the House Committee is sure to undergo multiple amendments before the budget is finalized.

Notes for detail lovers: The 2010-11 state share of SEEK base funding shown above includes $182 million that will actually come from the federal government under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act--also known as the stimulus bill. The 2008-09 and 2009-10 state shares of SEEK come from Department of Education files and reflect the total calculated SEEK base guarantee amount for all districts minus the local district 30¢ contribution.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Achievement gap targets: law or fraud on the public?

I woke up this morning to an account of brave Americans marching forty-five years ago to insist that the right to vote--long enshrined in the Constitution--would become reality rather than fraud. I decided it was time to say that Kentucky, in the past decade, had fallen painfully short of its own commitment to walk steadily toward educational equity.

In 2002, Kentucky passed Senate Bill 168 on achievement gaps.  As originally written, the law specified that:
  • The Department of Education was report to each school on disaggregated results by race, gender, disability, English proficiency, and participation in the federal free and reduced price lunch program.
  • Each school council was to agree with its superintendent and board on two-year targets to eliminate those gaps.
  • Each local board would decide if its schools met those targets two years later.
  • If a school missed a target, the superintendent would have to approve the school's plans for professional development and extended school services.
  • If a school missed the same target twice, the commissioner of education would have to approve the entire school improvement plan.
That process was to repeat in two-year cycles, so that fall 2004 would be the first time superintendents would have approval authority and fall 2006 the first time the commissioner would.   Fall 2008 would be another occasion for commissioner approval of schools that had twice fallen short.

The idea was to be impatient about solving the problem, with just one cycle of councils having independent  responsibility, one cycle of shared council and central office responsibility, and then seriously shared council, district, and KDE responsibility.

2009's Senate Bill 1 appears to ratchet up the level of impatience, calling for one-year targets and one-year cycles of moving power to higher levels.

Only, I don't believe anything in that law is happening consistently across the state.

Why not?

Because I have seen too many school plans with no gap targets and too many with targets defined in a way that would make it impossible for a school board to decide whether the target was met or not.

Realizing I might have missed a meaningful change in the last couple of years, I chose ten districts at random, and checked on-line for their high schools' school improvement plans.

Two high schools had plans available with 2010 numerical targets that allow the law to be implemented:
  • Letcher County Central High School is aiming for “a free/reduced meal student index of 76 in 2010; and a students with disabilities index of 66 in 2010”
  • Washington County High School's commitment is that "60% of the students in the Free & Reduced lunch subgroup will score Proficient or Distinguished in Math on the 2010 KCCT."
I found three more high schools that describe 2010 targets, but in unclear or unspecific ways that will not allow the law to be applied:
  • Bardstown High School's target is  that “By May 2010, 10% of students who did not meet proficiency of Bardstown High School's NCLB subgroups will reach their NCLB math proficiency target of 59.88 as measured on the Kentucky Core Content Test.”
  • Owensboro High School says it will “Reduce racial and SES achievement gaps by 10% annually.”  That could mean too many things: is it about the gap in percent proficient in each subject, by scale scores in each subject, by an index, or by another number? The multiple possible meanings end up  with no clear way to say whether the targets are met or not.
  • Fulton Independent has a district plan because they operate as a single-school district. Their plan says “To eliminate significant achievement gaps for all disaggregated categories at all grade levels as measured by the 2010 KCCT assessment.”  As with the Owensboro goals, that could mean too many different things. 
Two schools had 2010 plans that listed no gap targets at all:
  • Henry County High School
  • Russell High School
Three did not have 2010 plans or have not made them available on their websites
  • Campbellsville High School did not appear to have a plan on line.
  • Dawson Springs had a link for improvement plans, but the school plans listed were for 2004-06.
  • Meade County had a link for school plans, but the link for the high school downloaded the district plan.
What does this mean? The simple thing it means that only one-fifth of the schools I checked had published targets clear enough to allow the law to be implemented.

The larger thing it means that KDE has not taken serious responsiblity for the law getting implemented. In 2006, if the Commissioner had taken his duty to approve plans seriously, he would also have noticed how many targets were too vague, and he could have insisted on improvement. In 2008, he could have done the same thing. The fact that so many targets are too vague to enforce in 2010 is clear proof that the law has not been taken seriously since 2002.

Originally, I had my doubts about SB 168, because No Child Left Behind had already set goals for reducing gaps and Kentucky's SBDM law already required council plans to reduce gaps.  When the time for committee votes came, though, and I had to speak for the Kentucky Association of School Councils, I couldn't bring myself to speak against a sincere effort to tackle the terrible gaps that weaken so many individual students and with them our shared life as a community and our future as a state.

On the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, there were three possible roles: you could be a marcher moving forward for freedom, or you could bar the marchers' way, or you could be a by-stander who let justice go on waiting and your neighbors go on getting bloodied.

Kentucky achievement gaps are not the same as the right to vote, but they are not an entirely separate issue in the effort to live out the true meaning of our creed.  In Kentucky, now, I think we should stop being bystanders.  We should either walk forward seriously to implement SB 168 or replace it with a different but equally firm commitment on educating all children and walk forward seriously to implement that.

Side notes on the schools I selected: First, I was quite impressed by other features of the plans I found, especially in their commitment to formative assessment and collaboration around improving student work.  Letcher County Central's plan struck me as especially solid work.  Second, to choose districts,  I rolled three dice, turned up a thirteen, took Campbellsville as the thirteenth district alphabetically, counted off every 17th district after that, and looped back around at the end to select Bardstown. And finally, I'll be happy to update this post if I missed anything I should have included about the improvement plans for the schools I included.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Kentucky's RTTT status makes sense under the RTTT rules

Kentucky is one of sixteen finalists in the competition for $4 billion in Race to the Top grants.  I've spotted some bloggers who find that odd (here and here, for example). It isn't odd at all.  Consider this overview of how the 500 possible points in the RTTT scoring system are divided up, with more detail available here.

States that earned 400 or more of those points became finalists this week. 

Kentucky's score has not been published, but it's no surprise that it was above the 400 mark.

Kentucky lost some points for not having charter schools,  but there are many other areas where we likely got all or most of the points available:
  • On standards, we have the strongest commitment in the country to using the common core.
  • On assessment, we passed SB 1 and committed to revising our testing to match those standards almost a year ago. 
  • On lowest-achieving schools, we strengthened our intervention options with new legislation and regulations adopted in January.
  • On data systems, the Department committed to rapid upgrades, and higher education co-signed the commitment. 
  • On teachers and leaders, the Department offered a serious plan on more constructive evaluations, and the Education Professional Standards Board is well on its way to strengthening teacher preparation,  education masters degree programs, and principal preparation.
  • On funding, we have more stable, more equitable resources than most states in the union.
  • Under success factors, we brought maximum possible local support for the application: 174 of 174 superintendents, 174 of 174 school board chairs, and 153 of 153 local teachers' union leaders.
My guess is that among the finalists, some are considerably closer to the 500 maximum than we are--and having charters will be one of their advantages.

That means that in the upcoming presentations to win a first-round grant, Kentucky must make a strong pitch for our strengths, starting with the clarity, energy, and unity built into our plan.   Other states may have promised everything imaginable.  We've promised less--especially on charters--but we've made promises we intend to keep.

Small side note: the current competition really is for an even $4 billion. An additional $350 million budgeted for Race to the Top will be awarded in a separate competition for high quality assessments.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

HB 190: an important starting point for preschool access

On the one hand, a hard recession means a very hard state budget process.  On the other hand, good work is underway to prepare for better days ahead, especially in the area of pre-K education.

House Bill 190 sets a goal of making voluntary, quality preschool accessible for every three- and four-year-old, and creates a framework for reaching that goal.  Without asking for a current appropriation, it carefully organized the key steps Kentucky should take as revenue becomes available.

The central idea is grants to support community plans to expand preschool access, looking for cooperation between schools, Head Start programs, and "community-based child-care providers."  The grants will focus on supporting preschool for children from families with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level (currently about $44,000 for a family of four).

When it's possible to fully fund the effort, more than 21,000 additional Kentucky children will be better prepared for a strong start on their educations and their futures.

HB 190 was approved by the House of Representatives yesterday and will now move on to the Senate for consideration.  You can read the official bill summary here and--on that same page--you can download the bill itself by clicking on the blue underlined version of the bill number.  The Prichard Committee would also love to send you updates on this and related Strong Start early-childhood efforts: click here to let them know you want to participate.

Familiar vision, dramatically different approach to higher education

With first-generation learners, it is critical to connect with them personally, customize the learning to their needs, offer unwavering support, and respect their personal story and the learning that comes with it.
Thats from Inside Higher Ed's interview with Peter Smith, senior vice president for academic strategies and development at Kaplan Higher Education, and it's the kind of commitment that will always get my attention.

I'll admit that I was predisposed not to expect that sort of thinking from "one of the largest for-profit providers of postsecondary education in the United States," as the organization describes itself here.  But Smith backs it up in the interview with thinking specific to Kaplan's strategy, including this:
At Kaplan Higher Education, we do have some fairly traditional practices, but we also have the capacity to innovate, develop, and continuously improve. For instance, if we want to implement diagnostics in the post-enrollment process, we can do so and then evaluate, refine, and improve our processes. The traditional model lacks this type of nimbleness and flexibility. Without the constraints inherent in the traditional model, we can model emerging best practices, help define them and, in effect, help lead the change we seek. 
And also:
Students are rarely asked, in depth, what they want from their college education and are almost never engaged in an ongoing conversation about it with someone who can affect their higher education experience. Until institutions personally connect the learner with the curriculum and the college experience, the learner is vulnerable. And the “at risk” learner is always more vulnerable.
 Yes, the full interview is worth a read.

Kentucky is an RTTT finalist (congratulations all around)!

Fresh from Politics K-12:
And the highly anticipated Round One finalists are...

Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Next step is presentations in Washington, with first round winners announced in April.

Monday, March 1, 2010

If they aren't college-ready, why are they collecting college degrees?

Over the last five years, the ACT has consistently reported very few Kentucky students meeting their science benchmark for college readiness, which is a demanding 24 on a 0-36 scale.  As shown in the chart below, we've only once had more than 9,000 students reach that mark in a high school graduating class.  And yet, over the same five years, we've consistently given out more than 14,000 associate and bachelor degrees.
This is an imperfect method of raising the issue.  A much better way would be to use higher education data files to take each year's graduates and see how many brought a 24 on the science ACT with them when they entered.  Better still would be to show those results separating graduates based on whether they completed high school in a public or private setting in Kentucky or another state. 

However, I'm stuck using published data.  This sandlot method strongly suggests that quite large numbers of Kentucky residents who are collecting college degrees are doing it without meeting the ACT's definition of college-ready in science.

This issue begs for thoughtful discussion and would benefit greatly from sustained analysis of data on individual students.  Again, the key question is:  If Kentucky students aren't college-ready, why are they collecting so many college degrees?

Data sources: the science benchmark numbers come from the annual ACT state profiles available here, with 2005 being the first year for which I could locate the counts of students scoring 24 or above.  The degree numbers come from the CPE report on 2009 May Graduates, with the 2009 numbers being labeled as "preliminary."

Can earlier college and later dropouts fit together?

Earlier, I estimated that raising the dropout age to 18 would mean adding almost 10,000 students to our public schools, at a cost of around $75 million--plus the costs of adding classroom space to accommodate them.

Today, writing about proposals to let student test out of high school earlier, I saw a potential solution.  If 8,000 students finished high school a year early and 2,000 more finished two years early, that would free both the space and the money to serve the added students we want to keep in school.

I should, of course, add some cautions.

On the dropout side,  my estimate of 10,000 prevented dropouts is only an estimate, and it's  based only on students who are tracked as dropping out.  That is, I assumed that several thousand students who somehow evaporate between grade 8 and grade 12 will not be found and added to the count.

On the early-exit side, my numbers are just guesswork about how many students might qualify to finish early and how many of those would want to do so: I haven't seen any evidence to support those guesses.

Finally, and most important, a responsible early-exit plan requires a robust assessment, one that gives a sturdy indication that students really are college-and-career-ready.  Work has begun to create that kind of test, but it's far from ready for broad application in  major life-decisions by Kentucky teenagers.

What shall we do about senior year?

In Sunday's NYT Magazine, Walter Kirn suggests:
If senior year were to vanish from our high schools, either completely or in part, would its infamous excesses, feats of sloth, dances and stretches of absenteeism shift to junior year? To some degree. But what also might happen is that the education process, if it was shortened and compressed some, might help kids think more clearly about their paths in life and set out on them on the right foot instead of waiting to shape up later on.
That sounds familiar. The Prichard Committee's 2005 report on High Achieving High Schools argued that:
The senior year is a special problem. The last year of high school is often a time when students fall behind because, having accumulated the credits they need for graduation, they choose easy electives, outside activities and paid employment instead of challenging academic work. The system as it now exists does not link the senior year with what lies ahead. A wasted senior year means diminished chances of success in postsecondary education or work.
The Prichard recommendations to redeem senior year included:
  • Stronger high school graduation requirements, to include an added half-credit in social studies and two years of a foreign language along with firmer specification of the mathematics and science to be studied.
  • A service-learning requirement for graduation.
  • End-of-course exams to set a consistent level of rigor statewide in key courses.
  • A new push to give students credit for demonstrated proficiency, freeing them from the seat time mandate of the standard Carnegie unit.
  • Expanded opportunities for college-level work during high school, to include both dual-enrollment opportunities and Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate programs.
Click here to download the complete report.

The Kirn piece argues that students should also be allowed and encouraged to finish high school early, as soon as they have the right level of skill to move on to further education or employment.  He cites the National Center on Education and the Economy's push for board exams that would allow an early exit for high school, along with Kentucky Commissioner Terry Holliday's description of the effort as "“move on when ready.” 

As the parent of two Kentucky students who collected a semester or more of college credit while in high school and a third who's heading that way, I think it's clear that not every student needs four years of high school to be ready.

As a citizen watching the overall data on student performance, I think it's also clear that many students need a full four years of high school--and better, more rigorous, more supportive high school than we're currently offering.