Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Working conditions survey coming up

Next spring, Kentucky will undertake a comprehensive “working conditions” survey of all 44,000 certified employees in the state’s schools. State officials will use the data collected in the development of the new school accountability system, while local leaders will get school-by-school insights to use in determining resources, professional development and other decisions.
KSBA has details here.

I expect this to be an important development because I'm convinced that major change for students--the kind that raises achievement and narrows gaps--happens primarily in teams of teachers.  It happens when the educators in a school work together, looking closely at students' individual performance and hunting together for ways to adjust teaching so that every student makes steady progress.

That is, each teacher's capacity to deliver for students depends, in important ways, on that teachers' colleagues and their shared school culture.

The new TELL survey (short for "Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning") can help folks inside each school think together about how that collaboration can be made stronger.  That makes it a tool that's focused directly on supporting teaching quality, and a tool that can make an important difference for Kentucky students.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Poverty, weakness, and Jefferson County's ability to deliver more

Let's put an idea away today.

Let's put away the idea that Jefferson County schools cannot be expected to produce better results for its students from families with incomes that qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. The reality is that an overwhelming majority of Kentucky school districts deliver better results for that group of students.

In reading, for students from low-income families:

  • 94% of Kentucky school districts delivered more 2010 student proficiency in third grade than Jefferson County did
  • 95% delivered more student proficiency in fourth grade
  • 91% delivered more student proficiency in fifth grade
  • 96% delivered more student proficiency in sixth grade
  • 92% delivered more student proficiency in seventh grade
  • 86% delivered more student proficiency in eighth grade
  • 63% delivered more student proficiency in tenth grade

In mathematics, for students from low-income families:

  • 93% of Kentucky school districts delivered more student proficiency in third grade than Jefferson County did
  • 95% delivered more student proficiency in fourth grade
  • 86% delivered more student proficiency in fifth grade
  • 96% delivered more student proficiency in sixth grade
  • 91% delivered more student proficiency in seventh grade
  • 89% delivered more student proficiency in eighth grade
  • 60% delivered more student proficiency in eleventh grade

In science, for students from low-income families:

  • 95% of Kentucky school districts delivered more student proficiency in fourth grade than Jefferson 
  • 95% delivered more student proficiency in seventh grade
  • 75% delivered more student proficiency in eleventh grade

In social studies, for students from low-income families:

  • 91% delivered more student proficiency in fifth grade than Jefferson
  • 94% delivered more student proficiency in eighth grade
  • 62% delivered more student proficiency in eleventh grade

In writing, for students from low-income families:

  • 83% delivered more student proficiency in fifth grade than Jefferson
  • 85% delivered more student proficiency in eighth grade
  • 18% delivered more student proficiency in twelfth grade

Every district in our state can and should do better for students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.  Jefferson County, currently delivering some of the weakest results around for those students, can and should do much better very soon.

Data note: The table below shows the rankings behind the reporting above.  It also includes the Jefferson County  rankings for percent novice.  

Update: all results above are from 2010 results released yesterday. The original version of this post did not include that information.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

New transition index results show school improvement occurring too slowly

Here's today's press release on transition index results for 2010:
Kentucky schools are improving too slowly, according to an analysis of state test scores released today by three statewide groups.
The analysis, presented in a Transition Index Report, was developed by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, the Kentucky Association of School Councils and Council for Better Education to monitor school performance during the three years that Kentucky is moving from the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System to a system based on new state standards and testing. The new system was mandated in legislation (Senate Bill 1) enacted by the 2009 General Assembly.
The Transition Index is based on a formula similar to the one used in past years by the Kentucky Department of Education to gauge school progress. The partner groups applied the formula to state test scores for 2010, which were released on September 23, along with those for 2007, 2008 and 2009. From the analysis, the groups conclude that:
• The strongest improvements over the last year came in elementary reading, mathematics and writing; middle school reading and writing; and high school writing.
• Disturbing declines were seen in elementary social studies, middle school science and high school reading.
Looking at combined results for all subjects, the analysis found:
• On a statewide basis, elementary schools are on track to get very close to the proficiency mark by 2014, but middle schools are moving too slowly and high schools much too slowly to deliver for all students on time.
• 60 percent of elementary schools have reached proficiency or are improving at a rate that would take them to that mark by 2014.
• 39 percent of middle schools have reached proficiency or would reach it by 2014 at the current pace of growth.
• Only 6 percent of high schools would reach proficiency by 2014 by continuing their current rate of improvement.
"An index provides the big picture on whether schools' strategies are working with kids," said Ronda Harmon, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Councils. "We see this transition project as a way to help schools measure their progress until the new 2012 assessment begins." Harmon added that her organization views the Transition Index project as a voluntary way for educators, parents and others to "see the big picture" in results from the Kentucky Core Content Tests.
"Remember that, for the future, our state has made a commitment to higher standards," said Daviess County Superintendent Tom Shelton, president of the Council for Better Education. "If current improvement is too slow to reach existing standards, there is great concern about how we will do when the new college-ready standards come into play."
Cindy Heine, interim executive director of the Prichard Committee, said the point of the report is to let "everyone see the issues and work on moving achievement to higher levels." Heine echoed Shelton’s thought on Senate Bill 1, adding, "For all students to be ready for college and workplace success, school improvement cannot wait for 2012. We all need to be working on quicker progress in 2010 as well as in future years."
Results for each school and district, as well as the state as a whole, are available at www.kasc.net. An additional report on achievement gap trends will be released by the same groups in early October.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Memorial Service for Bob Sexton

To download the full invitation, with directions and options for overnight accommodations, please click here.

If you have problems making reservations or questions about directions, please call the Prichard Committee at 859-233-9849.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Trends on students with disabilities (national version)

EdWeek reported recently that:
After decades of what seemed to be an inexorable upward path, the number of students classified as learning-disabled declined from year to year over much of the past decade—a change in direction that is spurring debates among experts about the reasons why.
It's worth being clear that the number in question is the "specific learning disability" category.

To look at a fuller range of numbers, from 2000-01 to 2007-08, the relevant Digest of Education Statistics table of national numbers shows four declines:
  • 10 percent decline in students identified with specific learning disabilities (from 2,868 to 2,573 thousand students)
  • 20 percent in mental retardation (from 624 to 500 thousand students)
  • 19 percent in orthopedic impairment (from 83 to 67 thousand students)
  • 8 percent in emotional disturbance (from 483 to 442 thousand students)
The same years saw increases of:
  • 216 percent in autism from 94 to 296 thousand students)
  • 112 percent in other health impairments* (from 303 to 641 thousand students)
  • 101 percent in developmental delay (from 178 to 358 thousand students)
  • 57 percent in traumatic brain injury (from 16 to 25 thousand students)
  • 4 percent in multiple disabilities (from 133 to 138 thousand students)
  • 3 precent in speech or language impairments (from 1,409 to 1,456 thousand students)
  • 1 percent in hearing impairments, visual impairments and deaf-blind (from 108 to 110 thousand students)
That adds up to a net increase of:
  • 5 percent in all disabilities (from 6,296 to 6,606 thousand students)

* The table adds this definition: "Other health impairments include having limited strength, vitality, or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems such as a heart condition, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, nephritis, asthma, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning, leukemia, or diabetes."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Transition index updates

Yes, transition index numbers for the whole state  will be available again this year, no later than:

  • October 4 for overall school results.
  • October 18 for results for disaggregated groups.
We'll start work as soon as the Department releases the data on the 23rd, and then we'll calculate, calculate, check, check, and recheck our results.  Then we'll announce their availability by e-mail, press release, and blog post, and KASC will share the full files for download at www.kasc.net.

This project is a joint effort of the Prichard Committee, the Council for Better Education, and the Kentucky Association of School Councils,  Our goal is to allow schools, districts, and the state to see the big picture trend for all subjects during Kentucky's 2009 to 2011 transitional testing system.

To see your local results more quickly, you can also enter numbers from your own school or district into this Excel calculator.  To get a single index for a whole district, do the calculation for all three levels, add up the results, and divide by three.

Background basics on this project are available here, more posts on the process and results here, and the results for past years here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Happy Constitution Day!

Here's one of the best slices of one of the best texts ever:
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Finding time to engage (a potentially huge idea)

Suppose that students suddenly had 45 minutes or an hour every single day when they could work through ways to apply their knowledge and hone their skills with their teacher right there on the spot to coach their efforts. Suppose they had that much time, with that much support, in every major subject.

To me, that sounds like a hugely powerful change, and until just now, like a change that would be impossible to schedule and afford.

Well, it could be possible if students watched their teachers' lectures and demonstrations at home, and came to class ready for the activities that used to be called their "homework." That's the key impact of the idea of "flipping" a class.

Karl Fisch, a Colorado math teacher, is trying it. The Telegraph (the English one) reports:
... instead of lecturing about polynomials and exponents during class time – and then giving his young charges 30 problems to work on at home – Fisch has flipped the sequence. He’s recorded his lectures on video and uploaded them to YouTube for his 28 students to watch at home. Then, in class, he works with students as they solve problems and experiment with the concepts.
Lectures at night, “homework” during the day. Call it the Fisch Flip.
“When you do a standard lecture in class, and then the students go home to do the problems, some of them are lost. They spend a whole lot of time being frustrated and, even worse, doing it wrong,” Fisch told me.
“The idea behind the videos was to flip it. The students can watch it outside of class, pause it, replay it, view it several times, even mute me if they want,” says Fisch, who emphasises that he didn’t come up with the idea, nor is he the only teacher in the country giving it a try. “That allows us to work on what we used to do as homework when I’m they’re to help students and they’re there to help each other.”
Justin Bathon, a University of Kentucky professor and innovator, reports that he's using the same approach:
Education law is a perfect candidate to be flipped. Get the content online. Record lectures (I can help you learn how, if you like) and post them. Then build readings around them. You can still rely on the textbook (although I would discourage it), but link to the Constitution. Link to cases. Link to summaries. Link to blog posts. Link to news stories. Link, link, link. Once you get enough links, you'll realize the textbook is not as important anymore. Also, let the students have their initial discussions online. Get the basic questions out of the way. If you must, like I do, build in an online quiz to assure students do the reading and the videos.
Okay, now, all that work you would have done in class is over with. Now is when things get really fun. In the class meetings (of which you now need fewer) do the homework - the activities, the discussions, the modeling and everything else that reinforces the learning that occurred online. It is much more fun that way and the quality of the course improves. While you have them, you can build points around all those activities, so suddenly you realize you don't need an exam. There are plenty of ways to assess learning formatively in real time as the course is happening and those things add up to enough points that an exam is not necessary.
Granted, flipping the course like this is more work. Now, instead of just lecturing, assigning textbook chapters and writing and exam, you also have to plan activities, manage technology, write on discussion boards and provide more formative feedback, among other things. But, that is the kind of work that actually takes learning to another level, from consuming to engaging.
Of course, this is an idea that depends on students having strong internet access at home, something we can't quite depend on yet.  The thing is, if teachers can use the "flipped" time to engage students more effectively and move their learning to higher levels, then maybe the internet really can contribute to a truly important step up in how (and how deeply) the next generation learns.

Monday, September 13, 2010

More students in college than in high school?

203,614 students were enrolled in public school grades 9 through 12 at the end of the 2009-10 school year. That's from the SAAR Enrollment Report on the Department of Education website.

206,348 students are estimated to be now enrolled as undergraduates in Kentucky's public universities and community colleges.  That's from the new preliminary reporting from the Council on Postsecondary Education.

The comparison is imperfect, because the high school count was taken after a year of students dropping out and the college number was taken before those losses.  A fresh high school count taken today (or more exactly, compiled through Infinite Campus) might show our high schools still ahead of our colleges by a few thousand students.

Even so, the numbers are now very close, and that's an amazing development in higher education participation!

Kentucky higher education showing strong growth

Almost eight thousand additional undergraduates are studying at Kentucky public institutions this fall than a year ago. That includes more than six thousand added KCTCS undergraduates and almost two thousand more university undergraduates.

Over ten years, our public higher education system for undergraduates has grown by more than 40 percent and more than 60 thousand students.

Here's the ten year growth overall, and then the numbers for each university.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Kentucky educators part of innovative literacy initiative

Here's a press release issued Thursday by the Prichard Committee, with the added note that as a participant in this work, I'm finding it to be the most exciting education initiative I've encountered in my decades of active work on education policy.

Educators in six Kentucky school districts are part of an innovative new effort to dramatically improve students' literacy skills and their preparation for college and career.

The Literacy Design Collaborative focuses on organizing the class work that students do around reading and writing in all subject areas - a break from the traditional practice of limiting most reading instruction to English or language arts classes - and preparing them for challenging writing tasks. Teachers in Kenton, Boyle, Daviess, Fayette, Jessamine, and Rockcastle counties are developing the approach along with researchers and educators from states across the country.

The academic foundation of the work is the new standards that Kentucky has adopted, along with many other states, defining what students should know. The standards for language arts and math were drafted by nationally respected experts who used research and information on how each subject is taught in the countries with the highest academic results.

The Literacy Design Collaborative approach involves the development of components, or modules, for classroom use that specify reading and writing tasks and assignments on specific topics; "template tasks" that can be used to teach a variety of subjects to students working at different levels; and plans that set out teachers' step-by-step approach to helping students successfully prepare for and complete assignments.

In Kentucky, the collaborative work is supported by a $300,471 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, for supporting and coordinating the work in the six participating districts. The committee is a statewide citizens' organization that works to improve education at all levels. Committee associate executive director, Cindy Heine said, "The Gates Foundation is providing important new tools for teachers, supporting implementation of the newly adopted Kentucky Core Academic Standards. This kind of support was not available in the 1990s when Kentucky adopted standards for student learning and an accountability system for our schools and we believe this professional work with teachers will improve our efforts to help students become ready for success in college and career."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

RTTT and moving on

Here are the points Kentucky's Race to the Top application received (green) and missed (peach) in the recent competition:
The lowest-scoring state funded was Ohio with 440.8 of 500 points. Kentucky's score was 412.4, meaning we would have needed 28.5 more points to pull past their results and into the money.

Charter schools and other innovative only offered 40 points, and we received all eight points offered for "other" approaches.  Could Kentucky have expected more than 16 or 20 more points for charter legislation that had not yet produced any functioning charters? That looks very unlikely, which means that passing a charter bill last spring would not have changed the outcome.

What now?

We implement the standards, and we deliver for Kentucky's children. We do what's necessary, including finding the needed dollars for the needed change.  Let's get to work.

October in the red? Some basics of school district finance

Should Pennsylvania districts spend their $2.75 billion in fund balances to avoid staff cuts or tax increases?  That's the issue in this AP wire story shared by EdWeek.

The districts may need those June 30 fund balances to meet their October 31 payrolls.  Until you check the full year's cash flow issues, you can't tell whether those districts have anything to spare.

Suppose District A gets $1 million a month in state and federal funding year-round, and $4 million a month in property tax revenue in November, December, and January only.

Now suppose District A spends just about $2 million each month.

For the year, that's $24 million coming in and $24 million going out, and nicely balanced.

For July through October, though, it's $4 million in and $8 million out.

If District A starts the year without money on hand, it will be $4 million behind when October ends.

If it starts the year with $4 million, it can pay its bills on time for those first four months.

For District A, a fund balance of $4 million on June 30 is no extra money at all.  It's simply enough money to pay its bills on time.

It's just a mistake to think of that first $4 million as rainy day money or contingency funds or fiscal reserves.  For District A, that's essential operating money, and every penny will be needed during the year.  There's nothing left over that could allow lower taxes or retain current staff.

Many districts use a large portion of their fund balances to pay summer and fall bills. The amount each district needs depends on when money will come in and when it will need to go out.

Knowing the June 30 fund balance simply does not tell you whether the district can pay its October 31 bills.  It certainly does not tell you whether the district has any money set aside that it can use to meet rising costs or adjust to declining support.

That applies equally to the $2.75 billion in the Pennsylvania article and to the $772 million fund balances for Kentucky districts' general funds shown in the 2009-10 report (unaudited) available at the Department of Education website.

Here's the same financial analysis in a table form:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Teaching quality and our teaching workforce

In yesterday's post on teaching quality and accountability, I wrote this:
State policy has to work directly on the ways that leadership, culture, collaboration, professional development, and evaluations contribute to teachers becoming increasingly skilled at their chosen craft.
Two thoughts loaded into that sentence are worth unpacking.

First, the most important improvement for students will come from our current teachers and administrators refining their work.   The main steps forward are about them developing greater and deeper skills, about nurturing stronger teaching, not about finding stronger teachers.  

Second, the most important new strength for each individual educator must come from other educators.  Last fall, WUKY reported on a new center working on muscle health, bringing together researchers from multiple disciplines so that they can (as a participating doctor put it) "get smarter off of each other."  That's exactly what educators do in professional learning communities.  It's what great leadership enables and what healthy school cultures ensure.  The big growth we want for students is the kind "happens in teams or not at all."

Yes, actively recruiting young people of great talent into the profession is a good idea--but there's rich, deep talent already in the field.  Yes, flexible certification options and better compensation can be good investments--but amazing people come through the current system and work hard for current pay and benefits.  And sure, there are some people currently in our classrooms who should not be there--but those people are far rarer than those who are dedicated to children, already skilled in their work, and willing and able to grow more skilled as their careers progress and their schools focus more deeply on excellence.

For Labor Day weekend, here's a voice of appreciation for the thousands and thousands of Kentuckians who teach our children well now and who will find ways to teach our children even more effectively in the years ahead.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Teaching quality beats out accountability

Recently, I made a list of central K-12 education reform issues that began like this:

  • Standards
  • Assessment
  • Teaching Quality
  • Funding
And then I stopped and puzzled. 

Accountability used to be my third item.  For most of two decades, when I've put words on paper about Kentucky education reform, I've always started with standards showing what students need to know and be able to do, assessments showing whether students were moving fast enough toward the standards, and accountability as a way to ensure that student performance moves upward.

My reasoning was that accountability would be a powerful lever.  At one end of the lever, the state would press for results, and at the other end, schools would be moved to find and implement the teacher methods that worked best to strengthen student performance.  

Last year, the McKinsey & Company report on How the World's Best Performing School Systems Come Out on Top convinced me that the accountability leverage is not enough.  Teaching quality also needs direct attention.  State policy has to work directly on the ways that leadership, culture, collaboration, professional development, and evaluations contribute to teachers becoming increasingly skilled at their chosen craft.

Accountability systems still strike me as important.  Especially when a school's assessment results show that it is not pulling together quickly enough to strengthen its teachers and thereby strengthen its students,  something substantial needs to happen to turn that around.

Still, I'm now thinking of teaching quality as the thing we most need to build, and of accountability systems as mainly a tool to be used in the building effort.  

My understanding really has changed.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Strength in small faces

It's been a tough week, and I'd like to close it by thanking two tiny Kentuckians.

Last Friday, these smiling faces gave me the perfect reminder of why that day's parent workshop mattered and why the work of the Prichard Committee is so essential.

These two are Jo Jo and Penny Jolly, two of my youngest "grand-students."  Their dad, Paul, studied with my husband at Centre, and he and Mary are regular participants in our rolling "alumni seminar" that chews through important books each summer.

Jo Jo and Penny, along with their big brother Brandon, are among the Kentucky children I imagine when I think of the work ahead.

Our schools, and our efforts to strengthen them, must measure up to the energy and promise of these children and thousands of others across the commonwealth.

So, thank you, Penny and Jo Jo, for being yourselves and being right where I needed you this week.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why social studies standard are harder

Multi-state efforts to share social studies standards will be a bigger challenge than reading and mathematics.  As social animals, we're part of the process that defines geography as well as history--and xkcd.com just pushed that point home: