Wednesday, April 28, 2010

RTTT: can we catch any of the states ahead of us?

Kentucky came in ninth in round one of Race to the Top.   The top two states received grants, leaving us seventh among those headed to round two.   Can we pull ahead of any of those states?

I think we can gain between 10 and 15 points if we don't pass a charter law.   Two-thirds of that will come from clearer, firmer intentions on teacher and leader evaluations that still claim support from those teachers and leaders.  One-third can come from tidying up confusions in other sections.

Of course, the states ahead of us could also add points in their next applications.

Two have tried for a big surge forward, and both seem to have failed:
  • Georgia (14.8 points ahead of us) has debated an evaluation bill, and it sounds like the bill just died.
  • Florida (12.6 points ahead) got evaluation changes through the legislature, only to see them vetoed by the Governor.
One more has a strategy, but I can't tell how well it's working:
  • Rhode Island (0.2 points ahead) had just 5 percent of districts supporting its first application, so it is working to raise that percentage.
For the remaining three, I found no discussion of efforts to push scores higher:
  • Illinois (5.0 ahead)
  • South Carolina (4.4 ahead)
  • Pennsylvania (1.2 ahead and right in the middle of replacing their chief state school officer)
Looking at all of that, I think we actually can pass Rhode Island and Pennsylvania--putting us fifth.

We may also be able to pass  South Carolina, Illinois, or both, putting  us third or fourth.

In this competition, states coming in between eighth and tenth may be in the money: Secretary Duncan will hand out funds starting with the state in first and keep going until the dollars run out.

 Charter schools are worth 32 points.  If we pass legislation, and claim even half of those, I think we can pass the front runners, and I think we have an actual shot at first.

Next up: can  states that have scored behind us catch up?

The Senate charter plan: how do you apply?

Under the Senate amendments to House Bill 109, a charter school would be formed this way:
  • By October 1, a person, group, or organization submits an application to a local school board
  • The board decides on the application within 75 days, after holding a public hearing and getting advice from a review committee that includes parent, teacher, principal, business, and expert members.
  • If the board approves the application, the board and the applicant negotiate a contract within 90 days, and the charter starts receiving funds on July 1.
The application itself will be no minor project.  It must list:
  • A mission statement
  • A program description
  • The length of the charter the school wants (maximum of five years)
  • A plan for how the school will be governed
  • A plan for closing the school if necessary.
  • Student achievement standards that meet or exceed the standards set by the Kentucky Board of Education.
  • A method for seeing if students meet standards (for example, testing)
  • Corrective action procedures if students do not meet standards
  • Ages and grade levels to be served
  • An enrollment and admission policy
  • Discipline, expulsion and suspension rules
  • Plans for transportation, food service, and health services
  • The school calendar and school day schedule
  • Methods and strategies for serving students with disabilities
  • Employment policies and procedures
  • A budget
  • A plan for auditing the schools books
  • Evidence both school and district will be economically sound
  • A plan for insurance coverage
  • All requests for release of the charter school from state laws and regulations and local policies and procedures
In some cases, a charter applicant might ask to use all or part of a building that is already being used.  In that case, the application must also include  a plan for the displacement of pupils, teachers, and other employees who will not become part of the charter operation.

On the one hand, all those elements are part of running a coherent school (or any other operation that delivers major services to many people through many employees).  On the other hand, if Kentucky enacts a charter law, putting all those pieces all together in an application will be a monster-size challenge for anyone brave enough to take it on.

The Senate charter plan: are these schools public schools?

Okay, Kentucky is now debating whether to debate charter schools, and the proposal that's on the table is the state Senate's amendments to House Bill 109.

That language defines a charter school as:
  • "a nonsectarian, nonreligious, non-home-based, tuition-free public school that operates within a local school district"
  • "or a statewide virtual charter school approved by the Kentucky Department of Education through collaboration with Kentucky Educational Television and local school districts."
The charter application must commit to:
  • Open enrollment to all students in the local district and contiguous districts.
  • Make admission decisions in a nondiscriminatory manner.
  • Not charge tuition. 
The charter application cannot be a plan:
  • "to convert a private school or a nonpublic home-based education program into a charter school"
  • "or to create a charter school which is a nonpublic home-based educational program."
The local school board also has important leverage in this relationship. It must approve the charter application.  It can cancel the charter contract if it decides that the school:
  • violated a material part of the contract.
  • violated a law (other than one from which it got an exemption).
  • failed to meet "meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management"
  • did not deliver the student achievement it promised.
The board can also cancel the charter if it "determines that it is not in the interest of students residing within the school district to continue the operation of the charter school."

If you can't charge tuition, aren't sectarian, can't discriminate, have to be approved by the local board, and can be closed by the local board, I think you qualify as a public school.  You may be a good version or a bad version of a public school, but on the basics, you're public.

UPDATE: I have corrected the bill number in the post above.

Monday, April 26, 2010

$176 million that doesn't change our education budgets

The Courier-Journal reports:
The U.S. Department of Education has approved an additional $176 million in federal stimulus funds that will help Kentucky save jobs of teachers in the coming year.

Without the money, “we would have laid off lots of teachers,” said Terry Holliday, the state’s education commissioner.
That money will be very helpful, and I'm very glad it's headed our way, and I don't want to seem unappreciative.

But do know this: these dollars will not change any local school district's budget for next year, nor will they change our stalled effort to pass a state budget that supports local education.

We've been expecting these dollars for more than a year.

They're part of the original State Fiscal Stabilization Fund from the original 2009 federal stimulus legislation, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or ARRA.

All the budget drafts--from the Governor, the House, and the Senate--were written already counting on them.  Every version of the state budget shows those dollars being used to maintain the SEEK guarantee.

Most importantly,  local boards and superintendents are already relying on these dollars coming to them through SEEK.   In recent weeks, when they've spoken publicly about how many teachers and support staff they will be able to keep next year and how many they may have to let go, those calculations already reflect this $176 million.

The last week's federal announcement  confirmed that we had filed the right paperwork and submitted the right evidence to get the next installment of the money.  It also reminded us  that the federal stimulus legislation really is helping our schools keep serving our students.

Last week's announcement didn't give us any money we didn't already expect, and it won't save us from any P-12 cuts that state officials and local leaders have discussed in recent weeks.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Common core testing and the current options

The common core standards need to be followed up with aligned assessments, and groups of states are preparing to compete for two $160 million federal grants to develop those assessment methods.  Two large "consortia" of states are preparing to submit applications.  Using information from NGA/CCSSO and Gadfly, here's a summary of the main differences.

The Partnership for for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (with Achieve, Inc., at the helm):
  • Includes Florida, Massachussetts, and Louisiana as "governing states."
  • Plans on multiple choice, open response, writing prompts, and performance events.
  • Aims to have a summative test ready for use in 2014 and have it almost entirely administered on-line by 2016.
  • Can do the initial summative test design within the $160 million, but thinks long-term price will be higher than current state budgets.
  • May have to limit its formative and professional development elements to fit that budget.
  • Wants data that can be used for teacher evaluations.
The SMARTER BALANCED group (with Linda Darling-Hammond on the marquis):
  • Includes West Virginia, Nebraska, and Oregon as  "governing states."
  • Plans on multiple choice, constructed response, writing prompts, performance events and computer simulations
  • Aims to have a summative test ready in 2015.
  • Has intensive plans for formative assessment, teaching tools, and professional development that may take longer to build.
  • Will seek additional funds to do all that work.
  • Promises major teacher involvement in all designs.
  • Uses capital letters in its name that do not appear to be short for anything else.
NGA and CCSSO say they:
  • Wish there could be one team to use the money better.
  • Think that’s not possible with current disagreements.
  • Plan instead to push hard to be sure the competing tests yield results that can easily be compared to one another.
Kentucky is currently involved with both of the major consortia and also with the one group competing for a separate $30 million grant for high school course assessments.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Opportunity builders and the coming common core challenges

The Kentucky Association of Educational Opportunity Program Professionals met at Jenny Wiley today, and invited me to talk about Senate Bill 1, Common Core, and Race to the Top.  My presentation was built around issues blogged here and here, but the best part of the morning was getting to hear other takes on the challenges ahead.

KAEOPP members work with federally funded TRIO programs including Talent Search, Upward Bound, Education Opportunity Centers, Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program or other educational opportunity programs like GEAR-UP, so they're thinking hard about what will work to get more students to aim high.  Among the thoughts they shared:
  • The grade-by-grade math standards could lead to frustration for students who are ready to streak ahead of their classmates.  The standards' description of a  "floor" or minimum level of work students need to master each year  should not turn a "ceiling" for those who want to go further.
  • Higher standards, even if clearer and deeper, will not by themselves help low-income and minority students achieve at higher levels.  Meeting the standards will take richer teaching and stronger support.
  • Today, some students deliberately plan to use "credit recovery" options because they think the work will be easier than in regular classrooms.  With multiple states using the same standards, we should make sure that the on-line and summer-school options are as rigorous as the school-year course work.
  • Teacher preparation programs will need major changes to equip new teachers to deliver higher standards and deeper learning. (I assured the participants that Senate Bill 1 and the Professional Standards Board do indeed see that challenge as a major support effort we'll need to meet the standards.)

Gender gaps and gender gaps in proportion

Richard Whitmire argues, in  Why Boys Fail, that "The world has gotten more verbal; boys haven't" and follows up with good thinking about how to better prepare male students for adult success.  It's a serious issue, but before I discuss it, I want to put the gender gaps into context with the other gaps I blog about more often.

Eighth grade NAEP reading scale scores do show definite gender gaps.  2009 Kentucky male students' results are behind the female students' results by:
  • 8 points (on 0-500 scale) for white students.
  • 8 points for African American students.
  • 10 points for students who participate in the federal free and reduced lunch program.
  • 8 points for students who do not participate in that program.
  • 13 points for students whose parents are not high school graduates.
  • 13 points for students whose parents finished high school.
  • 6 points for students whose parents have some college education.
  • 8 points for students whose parents graduated from college.
Those gaps are all bad news, all worth attention, and all reasons that I read the Whitmire book in two quick sittings.

The thing is, those gaps are also smaller than some others that also need our attention and concern.

Thus, among Kentucky male students, the 2009 eighth grade reading result show gaps of:
  • 20 points between white and African-American students.
  • 20 points between students in and out of the free-and-reduced-lunch program.
  • 29 points between students whose parents dropped out of high school and students whose parents finished college.
And among Kentucky female students, the equivalent gaps were:
  • 20 points between white and African-American students.
  • 18 points between students in and out of the free-and-reduced-lunch program.
  • 24 points between students whose parents dropped out of high school and students whose parents finished college.
In short, gender gaps, though real, are not in the same league as the other gaps we need to address.

Two source notes:  all results are from the NAEP Data Explorer, and the Kentucky eighth grade NAEP sample included so few female students with disabilities that NAEP does not publish those results.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Big new money to turn around our weakest schools

The Courier-Journal reports:
Kentucky has been awarded $56 million to help turn around its lowest-performing schools, including six in Jefferson County, with radical changes that could include replacing staff, closing or restructuring the school.

The federal school-improvement grants, announced Wednesday, represent a six-fold increase from last year — a boost funded by the federal stimulus program. They'll help 10 of Kentucky's worst-scoring schools with at least $1.5 million each over three years to implement strategies intended to turn them around.

Another 98 state schools, in slightly less dire circumstances, will get smaller amounts to be determined.

“It's a huge investment, and we've got a lot of work to do,” said Kentucky education commissioner Terry Holliday, “At some of these schools, less than 30 percent were passing 10th-grade competency requirements.”
I'll add a couple of points.

First, this push to transform the schools that are persistently low performing reflects a more targeted strategy than we saw under federal No Child Left Behind or the Kentucky Education Reform Act.  It's intensive work in a small number of schools, rather than weaker efforts with a wider group.

Second, this $56 million is separate from the other stimulus funding discussed here. It's not Race to the Top or the Race to the Top money.  It's not the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund money that is being used to maintain the SEEK guarantee.  It's not the added money for Head Start, and it's not the added money for students with disabilities. It's another set of dollars, allowing us to implement another set of innovations.

Using the common core standards in Kentucky education: the basics in a nutshell

For an upcoming presentation, I need to say more than "there will be common core standards," adding some details on the standards and explaining a bit about the "roll out" plans to help schools use the standards well.  Below is the summary I'll use on Friday, and a PDF version is available here.


The draft standards show needed knowledge and skills for each grade, organized into major sections for reading, writing, and speaking and listening. Language conventions like spelling and grammar are in a separate section because they are needed in all the other subjects. Major new emphases include:

• Informational reading and persuasive writing skills students will need in college and careers
• Reading more complex texts of all kinds, because our recent high school textbooks have stopped well short of the reading skills students need for adult success.
• Reading in science and social studies to develop background knowledge and comprehension skills needed for further work and study in those subjects.

The K-8 draft standards again show needed knowledge and skills for each grade, starting a clear statement of which skills are top priorities. For example, the draft says that “Multiplication, division, and fractions are the most important developments in Grade 3.”

This high school draft standards are organized by major concepts: number and quantity, algebra, functions, geometry, statistics and probability, and mathematical modeling. Under each concept, some elements are knowledge and skills students will need for overall adult success. Others are marked as “STEM” understanding they will need if they want careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Regional networks of teachers and leaders from each district will learn about standards and effective ways to use them, then develop district plans for how to share what they with all the schools. That work will start this summer and last at least three years. 

The statewide advice will be for teachers to begin their work with the standards by:

• Breaking down the standards into more concrete steps that can be explained to students (sometimes called “scaffolding” to suggest a structure students will be able to climb).
• Developing classroom-level methods for seeing how students are doing in relation to the standards. Those activities (called “formative assessment” or “assessment for learning”) may look like traditional tests or like a regular teaching and learning: what matters is getting evidence to plan the next learning steps.
• Adjusting instruction to keep all students on track based on the evidence.
• Giving students (and parents) good information on next steps they can take, building confidence that each student can make it all the way to each needed standard.

Strong research supports our approach, showing that students achieve at higher levels and achievement gaps close when teaching and learning are organized this way.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Scoring a generation

My Joe asks for a ride to school roughly once a week, and last night's reason was pretty good: testing begins today.

Technically, it started yesterday, but within our state "testing window," districts set their own schedules. Knowing that Mondays often have lower attendance, Danville really starts today.  Many other districts will do the same. Reading will be first on the schedule.

Do you remember hearing "It will take twenty years to know if reform worked?"  It's twenty years, my friends.

Likewise, do you remember hearing "We're aiming for proficiency by 2012?"  Joe Weston, along with Dowell Harmon and Diamond Pace and their classmates across the commonwealth, are that class of 2012, and we measure their reading skills today.

And, of course, we measure our two decades of work on their behalf, knowing we have made a difference, and knowing there is so much more still to do.

Update: Joe in shorts, backpack over his shoulder, has made his way into school, and the Boss has shown up to carry me through the emotional tide. 

The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive
Everybody's out on the run tonight
but there's no place left to hide
Together Wendy we'll live with the sadness
I'll love you with all the madness in my soul
Someday girl I don't know when
we're gonna get to that place
Where we really want to go
and we'll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us
baby we were born to run

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Assessment for learning rediscovered: what teachers do in reading groups

Tremendous energy is going into thinking about how Kentucky teachers can gather evidence of what students know and can do and quickly use that evidence to adjust their teaching.  That effort is spoken of as "formative assessment" in Senate Bill 1 and as "assessment for learning" in many educator conversations around the state.

And yet, I only remembered yesterday afternoon that I saw this practice in work when I was five.

In my first-grade reading group, Mrs. Parsons listened as each of us read aloud.  Often she'd let us work through the entire passage, but sometimes she'd offer quick help with a troublesome word.  Or she'd have us all work with a particular consonant blend for a couple of minutes.  Occasionally, she'd move a few of us into different reading groups, based on the progress we'd been making in recent weeks. Eventually (because the school was ferociously tracked), she even arranged for me to switch from her classrom to Mrs. Bauman's.

In all of that, she was gathering evidence and using it to adjust instruction, often making decisions right in the middle of our work.

I've blogged briefly about the work on mathematics assessment for learning being done in six Kentucky districts through a Gates Foundation grant to the Prichard Committee.  There, folks are working on high school level mathematics. In some ways, the student tasks being used are very different from beginning reading.  And yet, at its heart, there's a model of teachers engaging students in active work and responding in "real time" to the strengths and weaknesses students reveal that seems remarkably like what Mrs. Parsons did so long ago.

The heart of formative assessment is gathering evidence to adjust instruction, with the adjustment part sometimes coming within minutes of the evidence emerging.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

If Kentucky had charters, which rules would they ask to have waived?

Jack Brammer blogs about what might be discussed in a special session to get us a state budget:
Williams, R-Burkesville, also said he would like to see Gov. Steve Beshear include on the call for a special session creation of charter schools to improve Kentucky’s chances of obtaining more federal funds. Such schools receive public money but are free of some rules that apply to other public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results.
That second sentence is a fine definition of charter schools elsewhere.

But after twenty years of working with Kentucky school law,  I'm perplexed:  Which of our "rules that apply to other public schools" would a charter-organizer want us to waive?

For example, we don't have requirements about how much time students spend on particular subjects.  We have rules about class size--but they only apply to schools without school councils, and we have very few of those around.

Elsewhere,  states and districts can decide that all their schools must use a particular curriculum or teaching strategy.  Here, with school-based decision making, that sort of rule can only come from within the school's own leadership.

And then, there's an important list of rules that current schools follow and that charter schools would also have to follow.  Rules about safety, health, and adequate facilities will still applu, and so will rules about services to students with disabilities.  Under the charter legislation that passed the Kentucky Senate, charters would also have to have standards as high or higher than our new state standards and assessments to show the standards being met.  In the same bill, the educators would need Kentucky certification and they'd need to pay into the Kentucky teachers retirement system.

So what might a charter ask to waive?  I've thought of a few possibilities, including the requirements that schools:
  • provide 175 six-hour instructional days or the equivalent 1,050 hours.
  • offer added instructional time for students who need it, also known as extended school services.
  • identify and provide differentiated services to gifted and talented students. 
  • make college-level courses available to high school students.
There are also some "terms and conditions of employment" that might not apply, including uniform salary schedules, continuing contracts (also known as "tenure"), and the cycle of evaluations and professional development support.

Frankly, though, I'm hard put to see any of those rules as being enough trouble to warrant the huge effort needed to create a new school from scratch.

In the end, I believe the real constraints on Kentucky school innovations come not from an external "them" but from each school's internal "us."  That is, when one or two people in a school are excited by a new way of doing things, they may not be able to energize enough other people in the same building.  Absent a consensus on the school council and something close to consensus in the staff as a whole, the individual enthusiasm never flowers into schoolwide change.  For any given person who wants a bold initiative, the main barrier isn't the mandates coming from officials in Frankfort or authorities in the district central office, but the inability to convince friends and colleagues in adjacent classrooms.

Accordingly, I think the main appeal of starting a Kentucky charter school would be the ability to break out of  that collegial log-jam. Instead of continuing to woo those who don't want to try a new approach--Core Knowledge, Success for All, Montessori, Paedeia, you name it--the two or three or five who want to try that method could pull away, find half a dozen more colleagues interested in the same approach, and start recruiting parents who also want to give something different a try.  Or, the other way around, parents who want a particular distinctive model could start recruiting teachers who find the same idea exciting.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A constitutional right to clogging? I can make that case!

Our constitution requires an efficient system of common schools. The Rose opinion filled in that requirement by saying such a system must "have as its goal to provide each and every child with at least the seven following capacities," and adding a list that includes "sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage." Here's the Celtic heritage of the Southern Highlands, and I'd happily argue that every Kentucky child is entitled to a generous helping of it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The giant text complexity challenge inside the new literacy standards

While reading demands in college, workforce training programs, and life in general have held steady or increased over the last half century, K–12 texts and reading tasks have actually declined in sophistication, leaving a serious gap between many high school seniors’ reading ability and the reading requirements they face after graduation.
That's from the draft Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies & Science, and more exactly from "Appendix A: Research Supporting Key Elements of the Standards."

To back up that important claim, the Appendix shares evidence from studies showing that:
  • Students who fall short of ACT's college readiness benchmarks have the greatest difficulty with the test items involving the most complex text.
  • K-12 reading assignments have become much less demanding in the last half-century, with an especially large drop-off in high school expectations.
  • College reading assignments have moved in the opposite direction, becoming a bit harder over the same fifty years.
  • High school teachers commonly give  students many kinds of support and coaching to help them figure out the material, but college teachers expect students to pull the knowledge from the text on their own, making the gap in practical ability even wider than the gap in the texts themselves.
Here's a single stunning sentence to remember:
Gary L. Williamson in 2004 found a 350L (Lexile) gap between the difficulty of end-of-high school and college texts—a gap equivalent to 1.5 standard deviations and more than the Lexile difference between grade 4 and grade 8 texts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). 
(Lexiles are a measure of reading difficulty, respected by educators I count on for insight and explained in further detail here.)

The draft standards aim to close that reading gap, with every grade aiming higher and the cumulative effect being teaching that equips every student to handle college-level complex text independently before graduation.

The draft pushes for that result in multiple ways.  For example:
  • Bar graphs for each grade show the proportion of student reading that should be at grade level andthe proportion that should push past that point to keep building stronger skills.  
  • "Exemplar" texts illustrate the kind of work students should be reading in each grade: schools don't need to use those exact books but will need to use material at least as challenging.
  • Though literary reading is still valued, explanatory and persuasive text gets heavy new emphasis--because those are the kinds of text most used in college and in modern workplaces.
  • Literacy in science and social studies gets direct attention for grades 6 through 12, as well as a place in the document title, pushing for coursework that builds background knowledge and systematic experience making sense of complex reading material in those fields.
I'm convinced: our students (and therefore our teachers) must rise to this new level of literacy expectation.  As we move into that effort, it is important to know that the bar is being raised far higher, and reaching that bar will be a major challenge of the coming years.

Sources: both the draft Standards and the research Appendix can be downloaded here.  Final editions are scheduled to be available in late May.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Giant Steps April Edition (SB 1, Common Core, and RTTT)

I've updated our one-page summary of Senate Bill 1, Common Core Standards, and Race to the Top.

The key new information is that Kentucky will be competing for the RTTT money in the second round. and that the math and reading standards are now scheduled to be finalized late this spring.

Otherwise, it's similar to the text we shared in late March, so I won't make the whole text into a blog post.   If you'd like the newest edition,  click here to download the PDF.

Moving the standards into classroom use: Kentucky's "Big Ask"

At Monday's "Unbridled Learning Summit," the Department launched its new model for equipping teachers to deliver on Kentucky's new standards.   Here are the main ideas:
  1. Regional networks, one set for mathematics and another for English/language arts, will include several teachers sent by each district.
  2. Superintendents, principals, and instructional supervisors will participate in separate, but related networks.
  3. Overall, network participants will make a three-year commitment to eight meeting days a year, plus study before meetings and on-line discussion between meetings.
  4. All the networks will study a sequence of core issues: how to break down the new standards, develop classroom assessments, and organize instruction to move all students to college-and-career-readiness.
  5. Over the same three years, the network participants from each district will design and implement the district effort to move those same practices into district-wide classroom application.
This is a giant initiative.  Somewhere between two and three thousand people will participate in the networks, and they'll be aiming to change the classroom practice of more than 40,000 teachers and the academic achievement of more than 600,000 students.

If Kentucky gets a Race to the Top grant in September, districts will have new money for substitutes, stipends, travel, and other costs of this work.

If Race to the Top does not happen for Kentucky, the Department is still asking them to commit to the effort, finding the resources anywhere they can.

I'm proud of the commitment that says we will go forward in spite of a terrible recession, whether the federal government sends us help or not.   Our students need to reach the new standards, and building local capacity is the best way to make that happen.  The summit began with Commissioner Holliday, Bob King of the Council on Postsecondary Education, Phil Rogers of the Professional Standards Board, Chris Minnich from the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Governor Steve Beshear all laying out how important this effort will be.  This is the right work, and getting it done is the right step forward.

I'm proud of all the district leaders at the summit who immediately began figuring out how they will make the effort succeed.

I'm confident that, in years to come, we'll all be proud of the energy that will go into this work and the growth for students that will come out of it.

And yet, just for a minute, we need to notice that what we're asking of teachers and leaders in our school systems is huge if RTTT comes through, and doubly huge if it doesn't.

I believe Kentucky educators will rise to the challenge and get the work done. As a parent and a citizen, I think it's important for my first responses to be "Wow!" and "Thank you!"

Monday, April 12, 2010

Small good news: March state revenue met expectations

This terrible recession may be starting to loosen its grip--while still being pretty terrible.

For March 2010, state General Fund revenue was higher than March 2009, and that's good news.

That's not huge good news.  For the full fiscal year (counting from last July 1), this year's revenue is still far behind last year's.

However,  a month with growth is better than continued decline.

Also, the March growth means we're on-track to meet the most recent revenue estimate.  If that continues, we won't see any more cuts to this year's funding for education and other government efforts.

Source: the March Tax Receipt Report from the Office of State Budget Development, here.

Friday, April 9, 2010

In low-performing schools, who chooses the intervention? (Caverna wants to know)

Under a new law and a new regulation passed in January, Caverna High School and a handful of other schools have been identified as  persistently low performing.  That makes each one eligible for a major school improvement grant but required to implement one of four intervention options:
  • External management, where an outside organization takes over day-to-day management.
  • Restaffing, where the principal and at least half the staff are replaced and a research-based action plan is implemented.
  • School closure, where  all students transfer to other district schools (not an option in Caverna).
  • Transformation, where the principal is replaced and "an extensive set of specified strategies" are implemented to turn the school around.
The Glasgow Daily Times reports today that the district is still waiting to hear the audit results and the intervention approach.  Caverna Superintendent Sam Dick shared a number of questions and frustrations, including this one:
One of the questions Dick had for the academic team was who chooses the intervention model.

“The team, when it was here, said it did. The commissioner, when I talked to him, said he did. The legislators, when I talked to them, said the statute said I did and somebody else said it was the site-based council,” Dick said. “So we really don’t know who gets to pick the intervention model.”
That's the sort of question that should definitely have an answer in the official rules.  I pulled up the new state regulation, 703 KAR 5:180, and found Section 5, entitled "Authority to Select an Intervention Option."

Based on the regulation, the answer depends on the results of the recent audits.  Both the school and the district leadership have been audited, checking to see if leaders at each level have the capacity to lead the transformation.  The audit may find the school weak and the district strong, the school strong and the district weak, or both weak, or both strong.  Based on those audit findings, different people decide which kind of intervention will be used at the school:
In other words, until the audit results are in, there's no way to say who will be making the big decision on next steps.

Seeing that SEEK decline (and the shifting state and local shares)

The Council for Better Education has just released new reports showing SEEK trends over the last five years.  Reports for the state and each district are available here, and the press release is here

Statewide, total SEEK funding per pupil showed small growth each year until this one.  Remember that in 2008, districts were also required to add two instructional days, explaining the largest of the earlier increases.  For 2010, the total moved downward:

The drop was created by shrinking state contributions.  The state's share of the SEEK base guarantee went down in 2009 and down again in 2010.  The state contribution to Tier I equalization went down in 2010, and the add-on funding for students with special needs also dipped this year.

Meanwhile, local funding has grown.  Until 2010, the local growth was enough to offset the state shifts.  In 2010, local growth slowed down substantially, adding only $27 per pupil to the required SEEK base, $2 to optional Tier I funding that receives state equalization, and $2 to unequalized Tier II funding.
Do notice that the largest growth has been in the unequalized Tier II portion.  "Unequalized" means that two districts can set identical tax rates, but because they have different levels of taxable property, one will receive far more revenue than the other from that taxation.  Between districts, funding from Tier II is guaranteed to be unequal, reflecting geography and wealth rather than student needs.

Repeating the earlier disclosure, I consult for the Council and contributed to the development of these reports.

SEEK funding already declining statewide, with next year's budget possibly cutting more

The Council for Better Education has just released a statement and a set of reports:

(OWENSBORO, Ky.) Kentucky schools received less money per pupil from the state’s main funding formula this year. Schools are getting $50 less per pupil in state SEEK funding for 2009-10 than they received the year before. Even with a $31 increase in average local funding, schools still have $19 less per student. The Council for Better Education (Council) finds the trend alarming and urges the General Assembly to restore SEEK funding in the new state budget.

SEEK is short for “Support Education Excellence in Kentucky,” the program that provides most of the dollars schools use to educate students from kindergarten through high school. SEEK includes both state and local dollars. The Council, which represents local districts in work on education quality and funding, released a new overview this week of SEEK trends from 2005-06 through 2009-10.

“In years past, we’ve seen meager increases in state SEEK, sometimes keeping up with inflation and sometimes not even doing that. This year is different. This year, state SEEK funding actually declined,” said Tom Shelton, the Daviess County school superintendent who serves as council president.

Factoring in inflation makes the problem even clearer. “If you adjust for rising costs, both state and local dollars lost buying power. Effectively, schools have $211 less per pupil to work with this year than they did last year,” Shelton pointed out.

Shelton sees these results as especially important in the last days of the General Assembly. “The state budget is being set right now. The House is talking about reducing the state share of SEEK funding again, and the Senate is talking about reducing it even more. That’s hard to understand. Our students need legislators to take a clear-eyed look at the harm that’s already been done, stop the SEEK cuts, and add the funding our schools need to equip all students for adult success.”

In addition to the statewide report, the Council has prepared overviews for each Kentucky school district, showing SEEK funding for the last five years both with and without inflation adjustments. The Council’s website,, offers easy access to the state and all the local versions of the two-page reports.

The Council for Better Education represents 168 of Kentucky’s 174 school districts in efforts to ensure full implementation of Kentucky’s constitutional commitment to our students and our common schools.

Disclosure: I'm deeply invested in this work as a consultant for CBE.

[UPDATE: This post originally did not include the copy of the report design.  I'm copying Richard Day's approach to showing how the document shares the data.]

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Which teams will compete in the race for federal testing funds?

The federal government has launched a $350 million competition to develop higher quality student assessments.  Today. EdWeek describes three groups of states that are expected to apply:
Leaders of the groups told Education Week that Achieve, a Washington-based organization that works with states to craft standards and accountability systems, is talking with about 30 states, led by Florida, Massachusetts, and Louisiana, about devising a system of summative assessments that would include performance tasks.

The so-called MOSAIC consortium of states, which is focusing on formative assessments, is now working with what’s being called the SMARTER group, which focuses on computer-adaptive testing, and the “balanced assessment” consortium, which emphasizes curriculum-embedded, performance-based tests scored by teachers. That larger, merged group is led by Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond and leaders of states such as Maine, West Virginia, and Oregon. The group currently includes about 40 states, according to Ms. Darling-Hammond. Consortia memberships overlap and are in flux.

Another consortium, including about eight states and headed by the National Center on Education and the Economy, aims to design high school tests modeled on the British “board exams.
Under Senate Bill 1, Kentucky could benefit from all three approaches: we need a summative test for accountability, formative tools to raise achievement, and end-of-course assessments to focus high school students tightly on key subjects.

Kentucky's STEM challenge: the bachelor's degree edition

Here's an issue worth all our attention.  As a state, we're increasing the total number of bachelors' degrees we award, and that growth is basically at the same pace as the national growth--but we're not going as well in the hard sciences that make the biggest economic difference.

The graph is built from these numbers, which in turn come from the 2001 and 2009 editions of the Digest of Education Statistics:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The common core sees content as central to reading success

In the Washington Post, E.D. Hirsch explains the big strength he sees in the most recent draft of the common core literacy standards:
Note the unusual title it carries: “Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies & Science.” The title shouts that language mastery requires knowledge of history, and science, (music and fine arts I hope will be included in due course) not just fiction and poetry. It states explicitly that these non-literary subjects should be generously represented in the long classroom hours devoted to literacy.

This emphasis on non-literary content is defended on the grounds that building “a foundation of knowledge in these fields will give [students] the background to be better readers in all content areas.”

That is an especially important consideration for the early grades, which now spend up to half the school day on literacy. Here is something new under the sun. It resists the infamous narrowing of the curriculum. And it is an important reform also for helping to overcome the test-score gap, which is essentially a knowledge gap, between racial and ethnic groups.
Last year, I worked on describing the same link this way:
Finally, this idea is why I'm obsessed with serious content from the earliest days of school. I want it taught anyway that works, from seeing plants grow to building models of the solar system, from acting out the Mayflower to sharing songs about Abraham Lincoln. That work helps students begin building a mental web of reading-and-science, and reading-and-history, and reading-and-economics. The stronger that web is early, the more prepared they will be to use books later in school to get more knowledge, with depth and detail, connected to the topics they understand early on.

Two more Races to the Top start now: the assessment competition

There's been lots of discussion about the federal Race to the Top, almost always about the $4 billion competition for big shifts in state policy around standards, data, teachers and leaders, and intervention in weak schools. 

Separately,* $350 million from RTTT will be awarded in two additional competitions, and that race  launched today.

The Comprehensive Assessment process will choose a maximum of two state consortia to develop assessments of whether students are on track for college readiness, and must include mathematics and English language arts in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school.   Maximum awards for each group will be $160 million to be spent over four years.

The High School Course Assessment process will award one state consortium up to $30 million to "measure student knowledge and skills against a common set of expectations that are rigorous and designed to ensure that students who pass the course assessment are on track to being college- and career-ready."

Without trying to blog the full details now, I'll mention three things that jump out.

First, each consortium must include at least fifteen states.  Clearly, this process is a serious push to create greater unity in education goals than the U.S. has had in the past.  Kentucky has been actively involved in all the discussions about how to share this work, so we're ready to compete on that issue.

Second, each application has a "competitive priority" for approaches with public higher education backing.  That is, the proposal can get extra credit points if the member states' institutions commit to help develop the assessment and to use the results to exempt students from remedial classes.  Equally clearly, this is a push both to have the assessments  align with college expectations and to have students perceive the test as important to their own college ambitions.  With our strong collaboration on SB 1, Kentucky's ready for that.

Third, the applications want the full testing up and running in 2014-15, with part of the high school course testing due in a year earlier.  Here in the Bluegrass, where we've got a statutory commitment to a new assessment system by 2012, we're past ready: the feds are willing to wait a lot longer than we are for the transition to a new testing approach.

The application documents are here, and I'll blog more when I've had time for a deeper read.

* Really.  It's separate money.  In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act/ARRA/stimulus bill, the total RTTT entry is $4.35 billion, and very early on, Secretary Duncan set aside the $350 million part for new assessments, while the main $4 billion went for the things we've been discussing for the last seven months.

Monday, April 5, 2010

No apologies for our RTTT unity points (not even to the New York Times)

The Times reported yesterday that:
Officials from several states criticized the scoring of the [Race to the Top] contest, which favored states able to gain support from 100 percent of school districts and local teachers’ unions for Obama administration objectives like expanding charter schools, reworking teacher evaluation systems and turning around low-performing schools.
The article goes so far as to quote Colorado's governor as saying the outcome was like an "American skater with a Soviet judge from the 1980s.”


Right in the application, the scoring guide made it perfectly clear that 45 out of 500 points would be awarded based on local commitment to implementing the plan.

Those points were just as well publicized as the 32 points for charters, the 138 points for great teachers and leaders, and everything else that counted in judging the applications.

Here in Kentucky, we downloaded the application and read it.

The ones who get it done

Jay Matthews of the Washington Post writes of the passing of a mighty educator:
The stunning success at Garfield led U.S. presidents to endorse Escalante's view that impoverished children can achieve as much as affluent kids if they are given enough extra study time and encouragement to learn.

In 1987, 26 percent of all Mexican American students in the country who passed the AP Calculus exams attended a single high school: Garfield. That meant that hundreds of thousands of overlooked students could probably do as well if they got what Escalante was giving out. But what was that?

Whenever I suggested that the great teaching I was seeing at Garfield might be the reason so many students were succeeding in AP, people at parties dismissed me as romantic and naive. 
Well, yes, it's common wisdom that poor kids can't succeed, except that devoted educators rebut that wisdom, over and over, by finding a way to beat those poverty odds.  Thank you, Mr. Escalante, for being one of that glorious breed!

Classroom assessment for learning: moving toward a deeper understanding

Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing It Right - Using It Well is my new big reading project.

It's a big-but-accessible professional development book, authored by Rick Stiggins, Judith Arter, Jan Chappuis, and Steve Chappuis. 

Here's the central point, taken from the opening paragraph:
Used with skill, assessment can motivate the unmotivated, restore the desire to learn, and encourage students to keep learning, and it can actually create -not simply measure- increased achievement.
Yet again, there's that "sunlit vision" for students that drew me into Stiggins' Assessment Manifesto last year, and led me to develop posts like this one.

Around the state, this book is in very wide use.  I'll be blogging about its contents in part because it's valuable background on what's happening in our schools, and in part because any idea that offers us classrooms where students do both stronger work and happier work is exciting news.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Doing the ten books thing

There's a current blogging fad of listing ten books that had a mighty influence on your life,  and as my Friday-afternoon wind down, I'll join in.

Feminism: the Essential Historical Writings, edited by Miriam Schneir, was my real introduction to American civics, grafting debates on inclusion and responsibility right into my bones, especially Elizabeth Cady Stanton's speeches and Sarah Grimke's letters.

Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes were Watching God  was out of print when my mother' sister pushed it into my sixteen-year-old hands.  That great work on girl-becoming-woman and character-outweighing-conditions and passion-making-the-world-worth-having has gained its proper public recognition in the years since, including a place in the common core exemplars of the kind of reading students should take on in school.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn taught me most of the physics I know and put paradigms and paradigm shifts at the heart of my understanding of big ideas.  As the common core effort and the state of Kentucky move on to developing science standards, the issue of paradigms will be showing up in my blogging analysis.

On the Condition of the Working Classes was the first in a line of Catholic social encyclicals that (as a set) became my framework for thinking about economies and economic participation, with my first question always being about how many people are able to build up the world around them.  Education systems create the personal capacities and the structural supports for  large numbers to do that building for themselves, and that's why education is where I do my own work.

E.D. Hirsch's Cultural Literacy is regular blog fodder already, grounding both my understanding of reading and my energetic commitment to substantive standards in history, science, literature, and art.

Sources of the Self is Charles Taylor's great analysis of the origins of modern understandings of individuality.  I know better than to attempt a summary of his deep argument, but I'll mention that his concept of the "affirmation of everyday life" as a Reformation breakthrough shows up here every time I tuck a family detail into my writing.

Albion's Seed is one book every participant in Kentucky public affairs needs to read. David Hacket Fischer traces early immigration from the British isles to North America, pointing out how regional differences across the Atlantic became central to regional cultures here.  If you once think of Virginia plantations as Wessex and of Appalachian settlers as "Borderers," you never stop. If you add in that Daniel Boone's family had Midlands-to-Midatlantic roots but Abraham Lincoln radiated East-Anglia-to-New-England approaches, you've got a new lens for nearly everything that happens in the Bluegrass State.

Abraham Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism crossed my path a decade ago. Kuyper, both a Dutch Reformed minister and a Dutch Prime Minister, offers a bridge between those encyclicals mentioned earlier and my Presbyterianism.  His distinction between the political (dis)engagement of church institutions and the political engagement of Christians as citizens is especially helpful.

Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce rests on careful interviews backed up by systematic surveys, undergirded by author Elizabeth Marquardt's own generous and nurturing spirit.  I grew up knowing that for many in my mother's generation, a hundred inarticulate concerns suddenly clicked into clarity when Freidan published The Feminine Mystique. For a subset of adults my age and younger, Marquardt's work provides click after click after click of understanding about our own past and continuing experience.  It's not a recognized classic yet, but it should be and will be.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Adequacy and equity (India steps up)

The Associated Press, via EdWeek, reports:
A law making primary education compulsory in India came into effect Thursday, opening the door for millions of impoverished children who have never made it to school because their parents could not afford the fees or because they were forced to work instead.

The new law entitles all children between the ages of 6 and 14 to a free education, regardless of their social status, gender or income level. Some 8 million children—mostly girls—are currently out of school, according to the U.N. children's agency. The law is expected to also help educate Dalit children, who as members of India's lowest caste are treated as outcasts and are often barred from class.

"Today, our government comes before you to redeem the pledge of giving all our children the right to elementary education," India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a televised national address. "This demonstrates our national commitment to the education of our children and to the future of India."
A moment for hearty congratulations to India, and hearty gratitude that the basics of free education for all children have been settled here for generations.