Saturday, May 29, 2010

The cult of the library (with a bit of cultural literacy on the side)

Mostly, this is good fun for a Saturday post.

Still, I'm compelled to admit that in the original movie, I sighed with happiness at the site of the library lions and gasped in horror when the ghosts attacked the card catalog? Watching this one, I'm realizing that I find scenes shot in libraries nearly as riveting as those that feature George Clooney. 

(If the film doesn't load for you, it's also available at

Thursday, May 27, 2010

KCTCS graduation rates and Pell grants

For full-time, first-time students, here's a comparison table for the Kentucky Community and Technical System's schools.  
Pell grants go to students from low-income families. 

Jefferson has the smallest proportion of students needing Pell grants and the smallest proportion of students completing associate's degrees in three years. 

Bowling Green, the school with the highest graduation rate, has 19 percent more Pell recipients.

Southeast, the school with the highest Pell participation of all, has 24 percent more graduates.

I'm new to these numbers and will welcome any discussion of what's behind these patterns and other elements of the data.

Source note:  The information in the chart comes from the College Navigator offered by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Slow blogging ahead

Molly has finished her last college paper, her last written exam, and her last oral. 

She'll be home for the summer, improving civic websites and encouraging her dad to make his "coffee house and public life" course into a book.

After that, destiny beckons--the one obvious when she wanted to "hold the books" in her first year of primary, vivid when her fourth-grade portfolio entries were passed from hand to hand in the House education committee meeting, unmissable when she started explaining what "blogs" were in the wake of the 2000 election.  Yes, of course, my first-born is headed to law school.

But before all that, there's celebration to be done.  We'll be on the road early tomorrow, and posting wil be light or non-existent until next Tuesday.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

PD networks endangered by House cuts?

The current House budget bill provides $5,189,600 for highly skilled educators in fiscal year 2011, and $0 in fiscal year 2012.

Highly skilled educators are the Department's key agents for transforming our weakest schools. They've been successful in most schools that have needed assistance--leaving the smaller group of "persistently low performing" that seem to need a new set of strategies.

With new federal school improvement grants on the way, legislators might argue that highly skilled educators are no longer a priority for tight state funding.

It's not going to be that easy.

The Department has already taken the federal support into account, and made plans to refocus equipping schools to meet Kentucky's new college-and-career-ready standards. For the new professional development networks, the promised regional specialists in literacy and mathematics are supposed to funded out of the HSE budget.

At a legislative hearing two weeks ago, Commissioner Holliday explained his plan by noting that all schools are expected be low-performing against those higher expectations. Since the HSE mission is to assist weak schools, he argued that using those folks to tackle the standards was a legally respectable way to fund essential work.

If the HSE money also disappears, that plan can only work for the coming year, getting the networks off the ground with work on understanding and breaking down the new standards for classroom work. After the basics on the standards, though the networks are expected to spend two more years building statewide capacity to use formative assessments and other data to shape instruction. Without the HSE/specialists, that work will be close to impossible.

We know that tracking students and adjusting instruction based on individual results is what works to raise achievement and close gaps.

We know that for two decades teachers have wanted systematic support to become proficient at that core strategy.

We know that in Senate Bill 1, the legislature mandated that the Department finally, seriously, find the ways to meet the need.

We know that the Commissioner, in the face of budget devastation, had to dig deep to find any funding he could move to do what SB 1 requires, what teachers say is urgently needed, and research says will work for our students.

The HSE budget is the available funding for the most important undone work in all of Kentucky education. Are we really about to take that away?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Walter Baker

Walter Baker, former state senator and member of the state Supreme Court, one of the creators and key Republican supporters of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, has left us.  The Herald-Leader shares words from Judge Sara Combs that I can second from direct experience: "He was a great gentleman, a historian, a scholar and just consummately kind."

177 instructional days, one of them unfunded

Here's the language from the new House Bill 1:
Notwithstanding KRS 158.070, the school term for fiscal year 2010-2011 and fiscal year 2011-2012 shall include the equivalent of 177 six-hour instructional days. Districts may exceed 177 six-hour instructional days. Included in the above General Fund appropriation are sufficient funds for 176 six-hour instructional days.
So, if districts must provide 177 days with funding sufficient for 176, how will the last day be funded?

In a nutshell, the options are taking money from reserves, collecting added revenue from local taxpayers, or cutting some portion of current local budgets.

What is House A&R saying? (SEEK base funding)

The current House budget bill provides for an increase (a very small increase) in the SEEK base guarantee per pupil and a decrease (not such a small increase) in the state funding that pays that increase. The numbers look like this:
The state share of the SEEK base can be decreased because the local share is expected to go up yet again.

Here come the cuts (House budget bill)

The special legislative session began today. Under the budget bill filed today in the House, P-12 education will receive significantly less state funding next year. Comparing the budget for FY 2011 to the original budget for 2010, the largest reductions are:
  • $62.7 million from base SEEK funding
  • $21.0 million from textbooks
  • $12.8 million from teachers' retirement premiums for current teachers
  • $9.6 million from the Facilities Construction Commission
  • $3.7 million from early reading grants
  • $2.6 million from preschool
  • $2.5 million from family resource and youth service centers
  • $2.1 million from education technology
  • $1.3 million from the Professional Standards Board
  • $1.2 million from mathematics achievement
There are some increases, including:
  • $31.2 million to health insurance for school and district employees
  • $18.2 million to maintain benefits to retired educators
  • $7.9 million to facilities equalization
  • $2.8 million to Tier I SEEK funding
Overall, P-12 funding will decrease by $62.7 million if the current House budget bill takes effect. Of course, changes are possible as the bill moves from committee to the House floor, from there to the Senate, and quite possibly back again to resolve differences.

Note for number lovers: The facilities equalization increase above includes the line items for the Facilities Support Program of Kentucky (FSPK), equalized facility funding, growth levy equalization, and retroactive equalized facility funding. The total decrease included the budgets for the Department of Education, the Education Professional Standards Board, the School Facilities Construction Commission, and the line item to maintain benefits for educators who have already retired.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"We are better off for having one another"

There's the phrase I wanted for the Brown v. Board anniversary. It says it all, even without context.

But then, the context is worth a moment. I'm cooking brunch this morning for Katie Moore and Sarah Hargis and their families, to celebrate their Centre graduations this morning and the teaching careers they'll start this fall.

With the radio on, I was only half listening to (of all things) the international sports news.  To get the wording right,  I hunted up the story online, and here are the basics:
Archbishop Desmond Tutu says the decision by the Bulls to play their Super 14 rugby semi-final in Soweto is the “most important development in the sport since the Springboks won the World Cup in 1995”.

Tutu, the anti-apartheid campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner, said all South Africans should applaud the move by the Pretoria-based Bulls to play today’s match in the famous township, which was home to more than one million people, mainly poor blacks.

“It is one of those special South African moments that proves we are better off for having one another, and that despite the challenges we face, our society is on the right track,” said Tutu.

It’s a landmark move by the Bulls, whose supporters are generally whites, to play in Soweto – the township synonymous with black resistance to apartheid. It’s the first major rugby match to be held in a township.

“Not too long ago,” Tutu said, “Pretorians may have choked on their moustaches at the thought of kicking for posts at Orlando Stadium, Soweto. And the arrival of these giant Bulls from the north would have sent Sowetans ducking for cover.

“But this weekend Soweto will host the biggest rugby match ever held in a South African township.”

The Bulls chose to play in Soweto after handing over their Loftus Versfeld stadium to soccer World Cup organisers last week.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Degrees grow again!

Kentucky public higher eduction has again increased the number of students receiving associate and baccalaureate degrees, according to the preliminary report on graduations for the 2010 academic year from the Council on Postsecondary Education.

Compared to 2009, associates degrees are up 10.9 percent and baccalaureate degrees up 6.4 percent.

Compared to 2000, the associate increase is 89.2 percent and and baccalaureate growth 34.6 percent.

Here are the overall numbers, followed by the breakdown of each university's number of bachelor's degrees:

Friday, May 21, 2010

RTTT is still in reach

Charter schools are not on the agenda for the special legislative session, and that means it's time to get the Race to the Top competition in proportion.  Word is that eight to ten states will likely receive grants in round two.

Kentucky's round one score put us ninth overall and seventh among states that did not win that time.  All states are working on strengthening their applications, and some could surge past us.

Still, please do remember that we are improving all the small weaknesses in our application, and know that there is serious work underway to make our evaluation section clearer and stronger.

A charter bill, even a weak one, could make us a shoe-in.  Even without it, though, we're still in the running.

Jefferson reading ahead of urban districts, behind state and nation

In 2009, Jefferson County joined the Trial Urban District Assessment in reading.  In that program, NAEP produces district level scores as well as state and national results, and NAEP also reports scores for large cities as a group. 
In both fourth and eighth grade, Jefferson County students are reading at higher levels than the average for urban students, but below the average for Kentucky students.  In eighth grade, Jefferson results are also below the national average.  In fourth grade, Jefferson is statistically tied with the national results.

The full report, including disaggregated results for by ethnicity and family income, is here.  Because 2009 was the first year Jefferson County participated, the report cannot say whether reading skills have improved over past years.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Look up and out and into your sister's eyes" (Brown anniversary)

For this Brown v. Board anniversary, Secretary Duncan's prose statement of the moral commitment is here and important, but I find myself wanting poetry.  I want words for the joy of sharing and building one community, embodied most of all in our common schools and the work we do there for all our children.  Maya Angelou's got what I need:
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot ...
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours--your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream
The full poem is here, ending with that perfect summary of the true delight of being/becoming an indivisible nation:
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Completely local, completely optional (Commissioner Holliday's charter bill)

Imagine that Commissioner Holliday's suggested charter legislation becomes law.

How will charters be formed?

First, someone must decide to apply.  That could be a group of parents, or teachers, or a combination.  It could be a company from out-of-state. So far,

Next, they'll complete a huge application.   They'll need to describe their school: its mission, its curriculum, its instructional approach.  They'll explain who will be in charge: what kind of board or council or senate or whatever will make the key decisions.  They'll spell out policies on enrollment, discipline. and special education.  They'll set out how they'll ensure health, safety, transportation, and adequate facilities. They'll show a multi-year budget.  They'll explain how the school can operate without doing financial harm to the surrounding schools.  They'll specify how quickly achievement will rise, what consequences will apply if results fall short, and what steps will be taken if the school has to be shut down.

Plus, the application will also have to show that they will do many things the same way as other schools.  Under the draft legislation, charters must give state accountability tests, meet state accountability goals for all students, and set and meet achievement gap targets for student subgroups.   They must employ certified teachers and principals, award tenure, and provide the health and retirement benefits that are standard for other educators.  They will not be able to discriminate in admissions, and they'll have to provide full special education services based on individual needs.

Then, what happens to the application?

The local board of education decides whether to grant the charter or not.

The board sorts out whether the applicant has an idea that's well thought out, and the board sorts out whether the new approach would be a positive addition to local education.

Elected local citizens, responsible for the well-being of the whole school system, decide whether the proposed charter should be allowed to open.

Yes, the last three paragraphs say"local option" three different ways.  Here comes one more paragraph that makes the local option point even stronger.

Once a local school board lets a charter open, the local school board can decide it needs to close. The  board can do that if the charter breaks a law, or doesn't fulfill one of its application promises, or  doesn't deliver the promised achievement.  The board can also simply decide that closing the charter is in the best interest of students.

The proposal for Kentucky is not about outsiders forcing charters into a school district.  It's about setting up an option and letting local leaders decide whether to use that option.

Sidebar for Jefferson and Fayette: The draft legislation also says that districts with magnet programs and parental choice of schools will not be required to form charters.   You can have charters in your districts, but only if your local board decides to allow them. It's a local option.  Of course, the point of this whole post is that charters will be a local option and a local choice everywhere in the state.  Saying they're optional for magnet-and-choice districts is redundant.  The idea is to reassure worried people in your territories one more time--but reading the whole bill shows that you don't really need that added round of protection.  Meanwhile, for those who think it might be interesting to try a charter school in Jefferson or Fayette, the draft bill will still allow that, using exactly the same process and requiring exactly the same work to show the local school board how the charter can be a positive contribution to local education.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Common standards for multiple legacies

Explaining why common core social studies standards may take more negotiation among the states, Commissioner Holliday pointed out that "there are people in South Carolina who still think the South won the Civil War." Our Commissioner is, of course, a native of the Palmetto state.

I'm the daughter of Georgia parents, and my first thought was that the folks who think that way in the Peach State tend to call that conflict more simply "the War."

That's not the heritage I claim.  I  call myself a "one-flag Southerner," and that flag is the Stars and Stripes.  I'm quite glad the United States won that war, openly impatient with people who even pretend they wish our Union had been sundered.  

Still, I'm Southern enough that I see every part of American history as pivoting around the struggle between North and South and the damage slavery and its aftermath did to our economy, our culture, and our politics.

That's not the only way to tell our story.

Recently, I spent a Saturday morning studying the Indiana standards for U.S. History.  The Fordham Foundation ranks the Indiana work highly, and my hunch is that they'll play a shaping role in drafting the common core approach to that subject.

What struck me first in reading the Indiana approach was that westward expansion loomed almost as large as slavery in their version of which 19th-century events should be well-known to 21st-century students. 

Next, thinking about a recent visit to California and a family trip to New Mexico, I remembered that "westward expansion" is itself a loaded interpretation.  There's a way of telling those states' history that starts from Spain and Mexico, and joins other states by reaching east and north.  There's yet another way to tell the story that starts with being on this land long before Ponce de Leon and before John Smith and before the Pilgrims.  In that version, "we" met "everyone else" as they got off their boats from wherever they started.

Weaving those threads into a single statement that works for people from many locations and legacies will not be a quick project.

A shared version of social studies is going to require a kind of work that won't be needed for math or literacy or science.  Important work, good work, work worth doing, but hard work all the same.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Common core effort moving toward science, arts, history

Mathematics and English/language arts are the first subjects being addressed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, but they won't be the last. 

Commissioner Holliday told a legislative committee today that a first draft of shared science standards may be available this summer from the National Research Council, though a final draft is many further steps away.

He expects social studies standards will be developed, but that will be harder because of the national diversity of political opinions that have to fit together.  To underline the variety, he pointed out that there are people in South Carolina who still argue that the South won the Civil War.

In separate news, the National Association of Music Educators reports that: 
On May 11 and 12, the State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADEA) held a meeting of the National Arts Education Task Force to discuss the creation of common core standards in the arts. The meeting took place at the offices of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in Washington, DC.


The group discussed what has changed in arts education since the national standards were released in 1994 and began developing an action plan to support the inclusion of the arts in the creation of the common core standards.
For Kentucky, the one problem with this work is that it's slower than we need.  Senate Bill 1 calls for all our standards to be in place by this December, but the work with other states just is not moving at that pace.  Senator Winters today described efforts he's made and urged others to keep pushing for other states to accelerate the shared effort.  Yes, it's worth it to stick with the common effort, but it's also right for Kentucky to push for the common effort to work at maximum speed.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Weakest schools: one-year limit on keeping a principal?

In recent audits of Kentucky's weakest persistently low-performing schools, four principals were found to have the strengths needed to change their high schools.   Each report has been signed by the Commissioner and the district superintendent, and the superintendent sign-offs for Caverna, Shawnee, Western, and Leslie  County include this provision:
Pending approval from the US Department of Education, the principal of [school name] may remain in this position for the 2010-11 school year.

However, after one year of implementing the intervention plan, if [school name] has not made sufficient progress toward the annual goals and implementation of the intervention plan, the principal shall be removed.
That one-year limit on keeping the principal does not appear in state law.  It was not part of House Bill 176, the intervention legislation that passed earlier this year to strengthen Kentucky's Race to the Top legislation.  There, it appears that audit approval will allow a principal to continue for many years into the future, even if the school continues to struggle.

The one-year idea also does not come from the Race to the Top models.  There, the approach that requires replacing half the staff and the approach that specifies detailed transformation rules both say the principal must be replaced--and the other two options are closing the school completely or reopening under completely different management.   Keeping the principal isn't possible under any of those options.  The federal requirements for the School Improvement Grants use matching language and, again, do not allow any added time for a principal to lead the school's improvement.

Reading those pieces, I'm puzzled.  Did KDE and USED work out a compromise, with an intervention approach that's more aggressive than Kentucky law but less aggressive than the federal grant rules? Is that where the "one more year" provision came from?   It looks that way, but I haven't yet found a source that confirms that sort of deal.

Weakest schools: audit findings now public

KDE has now posted the full reports from the audits of ten persistently low performing schools and the five districts that include those schools.  In those documents:
  • Six of ten principals were found to lack the capacity to lead the changes their schools will need.
  • Seven of nine councils were found lacking--and one had already been removed.
  • One of the five districts was found to lack the capacity to lead the needed changes.
  • The transformation option was recommended for four schools, and restaffing recommended for  five.  "Turnaround" was recommended for one, slightly puzzling since the relevant law does  not list that as one of the four possible interventions.
Here's a chart showing the results for each school:

Common core final on June 2?

That's the word from EdWeek's Curriculum Matters blog, with no additional details in that post or at the website for the common standards initiative.

Q-and-A on the new budget proposal (What did the Governor just say?)

There may be a thaw in our previously frozen budget process.  Yesterday, Governor Beshear offered a proposal that combines key elements of the House bill, the Senate amendments, and the priorities set in his original January budget recommendations.  At least initially, legislative reactions sound fairly positive.

What happens to the SEEK guarantee in the new proposal?
For SEEK, the proposal says:
• Primary education funding formula: Funds the House-proposed SEEK per pupil guarantee of $3,845 in FY11 and $3,881 in FY12, plus the value of one instructional day.
• Instructional days: Keeps required instructional days at 177 days in both years. The state would fund one of the two days and local school districts would fund the other.
Why is 177 days an accomplishment?
Most other states require more instructional time than we do.  For years, Kentucky has required just 175 days, and our permanent statutes still only list that low number. In 2008, our budget bills started requiring and funding two additional days.   The thing is, budget bills only apply for two years.  If we don't put the additional two days in the next budget, they disappear.

If the state funds a guarantee of $3,845 plus one instructional day, what will the total guarantee be?
I think it will be $3,866. 

The commissioner has offered $17 million as the cost of one day, which I estimate as adding $21 to the guarantee.* $3,845 plus $21 is $3,866.

$3,866 is also the guarantee amount used for the 2008-09 school year and then frozen and used again for the current 2009-10 school year.  Is that a fluke? An ironic surprise? The result of careful number-crunching by Frankfort experts?  I can't answer that part.

Bottom line: I think the plan is really to flat-line SEEK guarantee for another year.

Does that mean districts will get the same state SEEK funding next year?
No, districts will get less state funding.

For one thing, the state never pays the full guarantee amount. It only pays the difference between local revenue (the required 30¢ per $100 of taxable property) and the guarantee per pupil.  The local revenue is projected to go up, so if the guarantee is flat, that means the state payments will go down.

This year, the number of students in average daily attendance has also gone down.  That means that that keeping the same guarantee will cost the state about $14 million less next year.

What's happening to other P-12 programs, like preschool, textbooks, and professional development?
I think they'll be taking a 3.5 percent cut for 2011 and a 4.5 percent cut for 2012. That's the standard cut the Governor proposes for most agencies.  In his past proposals, when the Governor has named an overall reduction rate for the rest of state government, he's included those programs. SEEK was protected, but not the other categorical programs that serve students.  As an informed guess, I think he means the same thing this time, though I'll be delighted if it turns out otherwise.

What's happening to the universities, KCTCS, and financial aid?
Postsecondary education is slated to lose 1.4 percent for 2011 and 2.4 percent for 2012, on top of repeated cuts in the last few years.  That means there's no relief added for our need-based financial aid program, even though we know eligible students are being turned away for next year.

What about the state agencies themselves?
The Kentucky Department of Education and the Education Professional Standards Board are likely to be taking the 3.5 percent and 4.5 percent cuts to their staff and internal operating funds, along with other agencies in state government.

The Council for Postsecondary Education could be in the same boat or it might be included in the 1.4 and 2.4 percent cuts for the rest of higher education.

Any permanent lessons?
This new proposal, like its predecessors, focuses on the SEEK guarantee.  SEEK is the heart of Kentucky education funding but it's not the whole story. Beyond SEEK, education funding includes:
  • Preschool and other supports for students
  • KDE and EPSB capacity to support districts, schools, and teachers
  • Higher education and financial aid
All of those other elements will lose ground under this proposal--even if they lose less ground than other state services.

Also, within SEEK, the guarantee is always paid partly by local money. This year, the state is counting on locals to increase their share of the total.  That continues a long-term trend of the state carrying less of the load.

When you hear about SEEK, ask about other programs. When you hear about the SEEK guarantee, ask about the share of the guarantee that will be paid with local dollars.

* To get the $21 per pupil estimate for adding one day to the SEEK guarantee, I divided the $17 million by average daily attendance and the needed add-on amounts for students with special needs.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Greater Louisville pushing toward greater attainment

Aiming for 55,000 more college degrees in a decade, a new push in Louisville and surrounding counties will launch tomorrow with business, civic, educational and political backing. The Courier-Journal reports tonight that the new "Community Education Commitment" will call for steps that include:
  • Creating a “college-going culture” that would include media campaigns and advocates to push student and adults to pursue higher education.
  • Creating a community of education-oriented employers who encourage their workers to
  • return to school.
  • Ensuring that students are prepared for college and that they stay enrolled.
  • Making college affordable with scholarships and employee-paid tuition.
  • Ensuring students seamlessly transfer from one college to another.

Federal committee hears about Kentucky parent leaders' work

Kentucky's Missing Piece report on parent engagement got new attention recently, as the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions learned that:
Kentucky is the first state to adopt and codify state standards on family and community engagement. Developed by the Commissioner’s Parent Advisory Council (CPAC) these state standards for family engagement align with the state’s academic standards, and describe what practice looks like at the novice, apprentice, proficient and distinguished levels. (National PTA drew on these standards to develop their national standards.) Schools and districts in Kentucky use these standards to guide their school improvement plans and link parent involvement strategies to student achievement. When schools fail to improve student test scores two years in a row, they undergo a scholastic audit performed by a team appointed by the state education agency. The audit protocol includes a review of school practices to engage families in improving student achievement, based on the state standards. 
That's from a great April 22nd statement to the committee from Anne T. Henderson of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, speaking at hearings on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Check out the complete PDF statement here. (Hat tip to Cindy Baumert)

Current year revenue in trouble

Fiscal year 2010 was always expected to be painful, with less revenue than the year before.  2.7 percent less, according to the estimate offered in December 2009.

On the other hand, the idea was that we'd start the year with revenue still declining in the early months, getting close to past figures in the middle of the year, and then see gains in the spring.

Just last month, it looked like that was happening: March 2010 general fund revenue was 2.2 percent higher than March 2009.  That put us in a nice situation: we could make the revenue estimate for the rest of the year even if April, May, and June each had a little drop.  If those months showed even a little growth, we would have been able to begin rebuilding a cushion for future years.

That would have been a nice step forward.

Instead, April 2010 general fund revenue was 5.4 percent lower than April 2009--and that's way off the track expected in the revenue projections.  Unless May and June show noticable growth--roughly 1.8 percent--we'll end the year well below the December estimate, and we'll end with no cushion for next year.  That report, out this week from the Office of State Budget Development, is here.

Preliminary word is that the state will not be doing another round of spending cuts. The Courier-Journal checked with Budget Director Mary Lassiter about that and reports this answer:
“It's difficult to cut operating budgets this late in a fiscal year,” she said. “But monies that otherwise would be carried forward into the next fiscal year would be at risk. So it would eat into the next fiscal year, making that year even tighter.”
We already know the House, Senate, and Governor are struggling to find a common approach to spending for the next two years.  A little extra money might have allowed everyone to get the main things they want and close the deal.  Each sign of a little less money surely makes the discussions even harder.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pictures now, ideas later

I'm just back from the Prichard Spring Meeting, with my head too full for sustained thought, but Richard Day has great pictures of the event.  Check them out!

Friday, May 7, 2010

New interventions and their SBDM implications

Cindy Baumert, veteran council member and friend of the blog, asked me for some clarifications on how the new interventions in persistently low-performing schools will interact with the school-based decision making law.

For some years now, state law has said that when a school is identified for audit scrutiny, removing the council will be an option under certain circumstances.  This January, House Bill 176 sharpened the procedures for removing councils from power.  The same legislation specifies that the council's authority will be transferred to the local superintendent or the commissioner of education.

Of course, council authority is actually a list of concrete responsibilities, rather than a blanket grant of power. so there are some details to think through.  For example:
  • Policy-making is a leading part of council power.  Whoever replaces the council will be able to revise or replace current council policies, but the principal will both responsible and accountable for operating within the policies in place on a given day.
  • Vacancies at the school will be filled by the principal consulting the "council replacer" before selecting new hires, each time following the consultation policy then in effect. 
  • Principal selection will be the direct responsibility of the  "replacer" as will decisions about numbers of staff positions and selection of textbooks and instructional materials.
  • Achievement gap targets and public plans to meet them will be the responsibility of the "council replacer" as well. 
A hunch: the principal at each school will work smoothly with the superintendent and raise few questions about the SBDM issues.  However, teachers, parents, and other citizens are entitled to a coherent public record of rules and action on SBDM issues, and there may be a few hiccups in those relationships. This blogger, for example, with definitely inquire about the gap target choices when they come due.

If a principal is removed, he or she is likely to have a "continuing contract" (also known as tenure) and be legally entitled to another position within the district.  Occasionally, the district will have a suitable position in the central office or at a school without a council, and giving the ex-principal that job is a way to obey the tenure law without breaking the SBDM law.  Often, that won't be true, and either tenure or SBDM will have to give way.  Since the early 1990s, there has been broad agreement that it is acceptable to break the SBDM law in that rare "law versus law" type of conflict.

The same analysis will apply to other tenured teachers if the intervention decision displaces them.  For councils with vacancies, that effectively means that some openings will be filled by someone not chosen by the principal and not chosen after consultation.

At the ten schools subject to the new interventions, at least seven councils have been found too weak to lead the needed changes--and we don't yet know the fate of the other three.

All those council members should have learned their roles from KDE-endorsed trainers. SBDM training quality is a Frankfort responsibility, and I hope there is already a Frankfort-based quality improvement strategy. What is the Department's plan for those trainers and their future work?  Will there be added support and scrutiny for trainers whose trainees have fallen so far short

Weakest schools move toward new intervention steps

January's new legislation on chronically low performing schools is now moving into full implementation. As noted earlier, each school will implement a major intervention: school closure, external management, restaffing, or school transformation.  Each school will also be eligible for a substantial federal school improvement grant.

At Lawrence County High School, the principal has resigned after the state leadership audit found that he lacked the skills to lead the school's turnaround.  The school council there was also found lacking, but the district's  superintendent, Mike Armstrong, is considered able to lead the needed changes change.  No word yet on which intervention Mr. Armstrong will recommend, but I'm willing to offer my hunch that closing the district's only high school is not something he'll consider. 

In Jefferson County, district leadership also passed its audit, but six councils and four principals did not.  At a specially-called school board meeting yesterday, Superintendent Berman recommended the school closure option at Robert Frost Middle School, with its 450 students moving to other schools in the district.  At the other five schools, the superintendent will recommend one of the other options.  The reporting has mentioned major staff changes for Western Middle School and Valley, Fern Creek, Shawnee, and Western High Schools, which sounds like those schools may be headed into the restaffing intervention. In House Bill 176, passed earlier this year, the restaffing option as requiring "screening of existing faculty and staff with the retention of no more than fifty percent of the faculty and staff at the school, development and implementation of a plan of action that uses research-based school improvement initiatives designed to turn around student performance."

Caverna High School, Metcalfe County High School, and Leslie County High School have also been audited and will implement one of the implementation approaches, but I have not seen media coverage of developments since those audit reports were finalized.

(Sources: Big Sandy News, Courier-Journal, Legislative Research Commission, and blog-friends Sande Shepherd and Cindy Baumert.)

Crossing the continent for parent empowerment

The quote was no surprise.
“It’s our responsibility as citizens to hold our schools accountable,” said Raimondo. “It’s easier to do that when parents know what is supposed to be going on.”

Thursday, May 6, 2010

EdTrust puts college data at your fingertips

Check this out! The Education Trust has organized some of the best data on higher education productivity in an easy access form.

For example, it took me under a minute to see these 2007 data points:
Pell grants are the main form of federal aid to students with low-income families, so the right-most column is sorted to give an indication of the resources available to students at different schools.  There's rough and sad correlation between high numbers of students getting Pell grants and low numbers collecting degrees. And yet, don't miss the standouts:
  • Good news that Morehead has very high Pell participation and middle of the pack graduation levels.
  • Not so good that Northern, with much lower Pell participation, still has the second lowest graduation rate.
But, to get back to the great data itself, the Ed Trust design will also let you see:
  • Disaggregated graduations by race, gender, or both
  • Percent of students graduating in four, five, and six years.
  • Enrollment data
  • Spending and financial aid information.
  • Six years of data on all those subjects.
Plus, you select schools to compare, and you can "click to sort" in order identify top and bottom results at a glance.

It's great for students and parents researching the choice of a single college to attend, and it's also great for citizens and policy wonks interested in how well important institutions are delivering overall.

Check it out!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

New leadership audits: Six Jefferson councils, four principals found weak, district found able

The Courier-Journal has obtained the reports of the recent leadership audits of the Jefferson County central office and the six schools in that district identified as the weakest of Kentucky's persistent low performers.

House Bill 176, passed in January, requires that the principals at those schools be replaced unless the audit finds that they have the skills to turn the school around.   At Western Middle, Frost Middle, Valley High, and Fern Creek High, the audit did not make that finding.   Unless the Kentucky Board of Education reverses the audit  findings on appeal, that means those principals will be departing.  At Western High and Shawnee High, the audits support continuing with the current principals.

School councils are also to be removed unless the audit grants them a reprieve--but none of the councils got those reprieves.

The audits also look at district leadership, checking for the strength to turn the schools around, and Jefferson County's central office was found to be able to provide the needed support.

Even if the audits are appealed to KBE, the six schools will end up implementing one of four interventions:
  • Closure
  • Takeover by an outside management organization
  • Restaffing that allows no more than 50 percent of the current staff to return and requires "development and implementation of a plan of action that uses research-based school improvement initiatives designed to turn around student performance"
  • Transformation that includes "instituting an extensive set of specified strategies designed to turn around the identified school."
If the audit findings stand, Superintendent Berman will recommend one of those four approaches to the Jefferson County Board.   If any of the councils win an appeal, the council will make the recommendation to the board.  Either way, one of the four approaches above will be required.

After that, the schools will receive quite large school improvement grants funded by the federal stimulus legislation to carry out the needed changes (assuming, of course, that none of them are closed).

Charters without champions

The Department's new charter school proposal confirms an insight from my favorite fictional President. Jed Barlet told an imaginary student audience that "Decisions are made by those who show up." 

The KDE revisions reflect careful consideration of feedback from those who have already shown up to lead.  Unsurprisingly, that feedback and the resulting legislative draft offer charter schools less flexibility than the earlier House Bill 109 amendments.

That's because, in this state, strong political voices in favor of charters are remarkably hard to find.

Kentucky does have a few seedling groups (mentioned here and here,  for example) that may someday become forceful charter advocates--but they haven't done it yet.   

If they've registered legislative agents, the Ethics Commission hasn't posted that information on-line.  

If they're creating membership rolls and accepting donations, they aren't doing it at websites I can find. 

If they're mobilizing to support the Senate amendments, the KDE draft, or any other charter legislation that could be considered this year, they're doing it very, very quietly.

Meanwhile, the Department is negotiating--as it should--with those who are available to negotiate.

Commissioner Holliday's new charter language

Friday, KDE released possible language for charter school legislation. The draft starts with the language from the Senate amendments to House Bill 109, and then makes changes to address concerns raised by various stakeholders.  Here's a summary of the major changes.

Jefferson exemption
New language says "A district that has, as of the date of this act, an established student assignment plan that includes school choice and magnet options shall not be required to authorize charter schools under this act."  In Kentucky, that means Jefferson County, and the change is reported to be one requested by Jefferson County superintendent Shelley Berman.

Teacher tenure
New teachers will receive "continuing contract" status on the same basis as in other public schools, meaning when their contracts are renewed after four years of service.  Teachers who already have tenure can move to the charter and get tenure there after one year.  (The Senate language called for charter applications to address all of KRS 161, which contains the tenure rules and other rules on school employment.  I can't tell whether this is really a change or only a way of underlining a requirement that was already built in.

A majority of the charter's students must come from the local district or fit under its nonresident agreements with other districts. The earlier language allowed a majority to simply be from contiguous districts.

Funding for a virtual charter
If local students enroll in a statewide virtual charter school, local districts will not be required to transfer any local funds to that school.

Testing and accountability
Under this proposal, charters will not be able to seek exemption from the main state laws on standards, assessment and accountability. For example, charter schools will:
  • Be directed by the legislature to work toward the "KERA goals" listed in KRS 158.6451.
  • Give their students the summative accountability tests required in other schools (Core Content Tests, Iowa Tests, Explore, Plan, and ACT in 2011, and new tests starting in 2012).
  • Be subject to program reviews in writing, arts, and practical living.
  • Be assigned accountability goals under state formulas.
  • Be subject to state intervention if they fall short of the goals set for them by the state.
  • Be required to provide intervention to students whose scores on Explore, Plan, and ACT indicate that they are not on track for college readiness as defined by the Council on Postsecondary Education.
  • Set achievement gap targets, plan to meet those targets, and be subject to first local and then state approval of their plans if they fall short of those targets.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

NYT's Collins on testing and teacher evaluations (Wisdom!)

Gail Collins has a new op-ed that's partly about Florida politics and partly about the role of educators in our shared life.  Here's something important said very, very well:
Can I digress, people, and say that while it’s important to make teachers accountable, telling them their jobs could hinge on their students’ grades on one test is a terrible idea? The women and men who go into teaching tend, as a group, to be both extremely dedicated and extremely risk-averse. The stability of their profession is a very important part of its draw. You do not want to make this an anything-can-happen occupation, unless you are prepared to compensate them like hedge fund traders.