Saturday, November 27, 2010

A compelling vision grows clearer

In 2000, Bob Sexton authored a great piece on "Engaging Parents and Citizens in School Reform," including this clear point on Prichard Committee strategy:
After the [1990] reform passed, reminding people about the original problem became the challenge. The strategy was to remind people about Kentucky’s historically low educational level and inject into the public bloodstream a compelling new vision —that of all children learning at high levels.
For 2010, I think that strategy still fits well, with three helpful changes in the terrain in which we need to apply it:
  • With the new Common Core standards, "learning at high levels" can be defined much more specifically as "becoming college and career ready."
  • The confidence that students can learn at those high levels can now be based on more complete statements of how can happen, grounded in the "sunlit vision" of assessment for learning practices that move students toward those standards.
  • The confidence that teachers can deliver that high level of learning can now be based on more concrete statements  about how working in teams organized as professional learning communities, educators can help all teachers grow increasingly effective in their chosen craft.
Of course, achieving that vision will require that Kentucky implement the standards, apply the assessment for learning practices, and cultivate those professional learning communities: that's the work immediately ahead of us all.   Still, it's good to see the strategy as still sound and the vision as actually growing stronger after another decade of work.

Source note: Bob's essay appeared in All Children Can Learn, edited by Roger Pankratz and Joseph Petrosko and published by Jossey-Bass.  Paperback and Kindle versions are available here, and most (though not quite all) of Bob's chapter is available on-line here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Paying for Senate Bill 1 (the hard way)

Some Senate Bill 1 costs will be paid this year by cutting what Kentucky school districts receive for professional development.

SB 1 is the 2009 legislation that called for Kentucky to adopt new, college-and-career-ready standards, assessments to support those standards, and new efforts to prepare teachers to deliver on the standards for all students.  It set an important and positive overall direction for Kentucky education, but it came without added dollars for the added work that will be required.  For a little while, the federal Race to the Top competition also seemed like a way Kentucky might find the resources to implement the bill's mandates, but Kentucky did not win a grant in either the first or the second round of the competition.

According to a "Fast Five on Friday" message sent to superintendents last week, the Department reallocated state-level funds to meet most of the SB 1 costs for this fiscal year, but still found itself "short of approximately $2.6 million necessary to implement all required components."  Holding back the professional development dollars will fund those other components.

It's good to see SB 1 implementation moving forward, but this is a painful way to make it happen!

[Hat tip: KSBA]

Thinking about cost per pupil

Stretching the School Dollar is a 2010 volume that offers a set of recent proposals on "how schools and districts can save money while serving students best." One intriguing idea, from Marguerite Roza, offers a method rather an answer: she suggests analyzing districts, schools, programs, courses, and even individual sports on a per-unit or per-pupil basis. She gives many examples of how that approach helps everyone make comparisons and think more clearly about choices.

It's a convincing argument, and I'm going to try to apply it in blogging.  As a student count, I'll generally use the average daily attendance figure the Department uses for SEEK funding--though I'm open to reader arguments for using a different figure.

State K-12 funding for 2010-11, as budgeted in the spring 2010 special session, works out to per-pupil funding like this:
  • $3,763 for SEEK funding districts can use for overall schooling costs.
  • $2,011 for health insurance, life insurance, and retirement benefits for teachers and other school and district staff.
  • $371 for transportation.
  • $353 for new and renovated facilities.
  • $186 for categorical programs to provide targeted services to K-12 students: textbooks, gifted services, extended school services, family resource centers, and the like.
  • $89 for specialized schools, including the School for the Blind, the School for the Deaf, and vocational schools.
  • $37 for work that supports teaching quality, including district professional development, centers, and other programs and grants.
  • $27 for state assessments and interventions in schools with the weakest results.
  • $13 for the Education Professional Standards Board.
  • $8 for student support programs targeted for use in specific districts and regions.
  • $13 for other programs not listed above.
There's another $103 per pupil in the budget section for the Department of Education that I haven't fully figured out.  There are line items for KDE and technology and then there's an amount that isn't itemized that I'm sure includes costs of both KDE operations and technology and network expenses.

 As noted, that's a downpayment, but it does already give me a sense I didn't have before of how facilities and transportation now dwarf the funding for categorical programs to provide other services.

Feel free to download my state funding calculations and send me questions and improvement ideas, and stay tuned as I work some more on figuring out what can be learned from using this approach regularly.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Feedback for students, feedback for teachers

Yes, American public education can deliver student achievement at higher levels, with smaller achievement gaps, in the years ahead--and it won't depend on a strange visitor from another planet who comes to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.

For students, what matters most is classrooms where they get frequent, usable feedback on their progress.  They need a solid understanding of the main standards they're trying to reach, a clear picture of the next rung they need to climb on the way toward the standard, and effective tasks that let them build the skills that will get them to that next rung.  In the literature, that goes by many names, from "differentiated instruction" to "assessment for learning.  The most helpful feedback is not a grade or a score, but a concrete description of improvement seen in recent work and manageable improvement targets for the work the student will do next.   That sort of feedback produces a virtuous spiral in which success in each effort builds confidence for the next effort.  That kind of instruction has a powerful record of raising achievement for all students, but it has the biggest impact on students who are the most likely to fall behind in other settings.

For educators working to create that kind of classroom, what matters most is something very similar:  a team of colleagues who provide each other with frequent, usable feedback.  That kind of collaboration creates a "professional learning community" or a "PLC."  In those settings, teachers can analyze students' work, talk through which teaching approaches have produced improved results, and figure out next steps to raise the results even higher.  The most helpful feedback comes steadily, over many weeks and months, as part of the ongoing collaboration of a strong team: formal evaluations matter, but they alone cannot provide the steady, persistent, reliable conditions for all teachers to grow in their craft.

Notably, both the student version (assessment for learning) and the teacher version (PLCs) depend on sustained, local effort.  Whether in neighborhood schools, regional schools, magnet schools, charter schools, large schools, small schools, and even virtual schools, live people have to do the work in small teams.

Crucially,  these approaches cannot work because a legislature, a superintendent, or a principal orders them to happen.  They work only when teachers understand and commit enough to get first results, and then develop further understanding and commitment because the results keep coming.

That is why, like bloggers around the country, I'm not waiting for Superman.

Our children's academic futures will depend on dedicated, able teachers pulling together in teams that provide the feedback they need to find the ways to give students the feedback that they, too, need to achieve at the high levels they will need for adult success.  In that equation, I'm confident that an overwhelming majority of American teachers have both the commitment and the capacity needed to succeed: if they can also receive consistent collegial support, I'm confident that both they and their students can achieve truly great things and deliver results more exciting anything D.C. Comics can dream up.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hypothetical: Could keeping students in school mask progress?

Since 1992, we know that Kentucky high schools have managed to keep more students in school, and we know they've shown sluggish progress on raising proficiency, especially compared to the lower grades.  Recently, it occurred to me to wonder if the two patterns might interact.  Here's an illustration of something that could happen:
Version 1 and Version 2 both show 100 students entering ninth grade.  

In Version 1, 40 of the students are gone by eleventh grade, either as official dropouts or as students the school only knows are no longer there. In Version 2, only 20 are gone.  

Now look at proficiency on eleventh grade testing.  15 of the remaining 60 students in Version 1 get there, or 25 percent.  20 of the remaining 80 percent get there in Version 2, also 25 percent.

And yet, I hope it's obvious that Version 2 is noticeably better.  More students are still in school, and more students are proficient or distinguished.  

I've added a wrinkle by showing that of the students who are not proficient, many more are in the apprentice category in Version 2: that's another way results can be better while percent proficient and above is unchanged.

The main idea I want to share, though, is that if a school simultaneously increases the number of students reaching proficiency and the number of students staying in school, the percent proficient could stay exactly the same.  The report could be "no progress," when the reality was better results for an important number of students.  

Ans the main thing I wish I could figure out is: what approach to the data would allow us to see if that, indeed, is a factor in the sluggish improvement of high school achievement defined in percentage terms?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The ESS program: One-sixth of original size

Extended school services provides added instructional time who needed added support to reach state standards.  Created by KERA, it was originally budgeted to receive $53 million to support the program in fiscal year 1992.   That money was meant to support not only after-school tutoring, but strong summer school options.  Instead, we started pulling back almost immediately: faced with recession in 1992, the General Assembly pulled way back on that commitment and slashed the program to $29 million.  That lost funding never came back, and the robust intentions of the original program never came back either.

If we'd sustained that original buying power and kept up with inflation, the program would now have received $81 million in FY 2009, the most recent year for which we have a final spending figure.  Instead, ESS received just $14 million that year, a tiny fraction of the original plan for the program.

Source note: ESS funding numbers come from the annual supplemental information to the state's financial reports.  1992 to 2005 amounts were published in "A Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full? An Overview of the State School Funding Landscape in Kentucky, 1990-2008," a white paper Stephen Clements and I prepared for the Prichard Committee in 2008. 2006 to 2009 amounts were taken from online reports available here. The buying power of the original $53 million was worked out by adjusting upward by the Consumer Price Index each year.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Achievement gaps and formative assessment

Formative assessment is a core gap-reduction strategy.  Fairly often, my shorthand summary of the method is that it's "the kind of teaching that raises achievement and shrinks achievement gaps."

The formative assessment approach organizes classroom work around teachers and students (and often parents) understanding how current work compares to important learning standards and planning next learning steps based on that information.  The research behind that approach shows that, in addition to providing the largest gains for the students who struggle most.

In what I've call the "sunlit vision" of that kind of classroom, that strong, shared approach allows a virtuous cycle of rising results, in which students, teachers, and parents, see results that build confidence, develop confidence that promotes further results, and are able to generate impressively higher levels of achievement.

In situations where the ugliest gaps persist and deepen, I suspect an alternative, far less healthy cycle is at work.  In that version, teachers doubt that students can succeed, students and parents doubt that teachers intend to help students succeed, everyone can smell everyone else's despair, and every round of student work becomes further evidence that there's little point in hoping and aiming any higher.  

I've heard too many educators and citizens say too easily that "some kids" or "our kids" or "you know, those kids" won't be able to meet any higher standards than their current grim level of achievement.  Often, the kids in question are from minority backgrounds,  but the same phrases are applied to children from low-income homes, children with disabilities, and even children who live in "urban" settings.  Often, the people saying those things would be terribly upset to hear their words described as prejudiced, hurtful, and ignorant--but they really believe there is no basis to believe anything better is possible, and they really are mistaken in that belief.

Formative assessment, understood as a rich classroom process, is the practice I think has the best chance of breaking that cycle, stopping that talk, and sustaining the work needed to deliver on each and every child's birthright to learn and grow into adult success.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Formative assessment's basis in research

As "formative assessment" becomes an increasingly central concept in Kentucky education, we should be asking where to find the research on the strategy.  Here are some of the main sources that could help anyone looking for either basic evidence that the approach is effective or for a nuanced understanding of which approach delivers those important results.

Margaret Heritage's new report for the Council of Chief State School Officers provides a potent summary of the research on formative assessment, beginning with a research synthesis by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam:
From their review, Black and Wiliam (1998b) proposed that effective formative assessment involves
• teachers making adjustments to teaching and learning in response to assessment evidence;
• students receiving feedback about their learning with advice on what they can do to improve; and
• students' participation in the process through self-assessment.
They concluded that the student learning gains triggered by formative assessment were amongst the largest ever reported for educational interventions with the largest gains being realized by low achievers (1998b). This was, and remains, a powerful argument for formative assessment.
Later in the paper, Heritage summarizes research before and after that Black and Wiliam piece on the central role of usable feedback in accelerating student learning, giving further support to her argument that the classroom process is what allows formative assessment to make a difference in student achievement, including John Hattie and Helen Timperley's 2007 review of the research literature on the crucial role of feedback in students' learning process.

Rick Stiggins' Balanced Assessment Manifesto draws from the same body of research:
When assessment for learning practices like these play out as a matter of routine in classrooms, as mentioned previously, evidence gathered from dozens of studies conducted around the world consistently reveals a half to a full standard deviation gain in student achievement attributable to the careful management of the classroom assessment process, with the largest gains accruing for struggling learners. (Black and Wiliam, 1998; Hattie and Timperley, 2007).
For those who want the short version, there are two main takeaway points. First, there is indeed serious research behind the formative approach.  Second, that approach is rightly understood as supporting formative assessment understood as "a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning."  (Thanks to Gene Wilhoit's "Foreword" to the Heritage paper for that especially succinct definition.)

For those who want to go a step deeper, into the original articles, the relevant citations are:
  • Black, P. J., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, 5, 7-73
  • Black, P. J., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80, 139-48.
  • Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77, 81-112.

Lexile and Quantile data coming our way

Kentucky parents, teachers, and students will soon receive new and helpful insight into students' reading and math skills.  According to the Department of Education press release, the new data will feature:
  • Lexile measures for students' reading levels, which can be matched to Lexile measures of the difficulty of different texts, allowing both home and school reading activities focused on books that keep a child moving from current skill to the next level.
  • Quantile measures for math skills that use "a scientific approach to measurement that locates a student’s ability to think mathematically and solve problems in an orderly classification of math skills, concepts and applications." Like the Lexile information, the Quantile data will make it easier to provide tasks that keep each student moving upward in math work.
Lexile measurements will also help with our push toward college and career readiness.  One of the key ideas behind the Common Core Standards is that high school reading assignments, even in grade 12, have used much easier texts than students will face in college and in skilled jobs.  MetaMetrics  has revised its recommended reading range for each grade to ensure that students finish high school prepared for the real demand they'll face later on:
Having Lexile data available for each child will make it much easier to check progress against these goals and plan follow-up steps.  (MetaMetrics is the company that provides Lexile data, and the chart above is from Appendix A to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Thanks to Robyn Oatley of ReadyKentucky for alerting me to the chart.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A KIPP charter school struggling to deliver

The KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) is one of the most successful charter models nationally, making reports of trouble in its Indianapolis outpost worth attention.

The Indianapolis Business Journal account describes a program that may have embraced the KIPP vision and then missed other key elements of school operations.  The school has struggled with financial requirements, from misusing Title I funds to  poor record keeping and an imbalanced budget.  Staffing stability has also been a major problem, with five school leaders in seven years and a 55 percent staff turnover rate last year.  In past years, student performance also fell short of expectations.

The Indianapolis school may have turned a corner in the last year or two, with yet another leadership change, new financial guidance, and test scores that rose impressively last year. This year, the city's mayor will decide whether that's enough to justify another seven year charter.

The key truth under this story could be that creating a great charter school is a huge undertaking, requiring skill at recruiting staff, supporting staff, recruiting students, leading instruction, managing budgets, tracking paperwork and many other aspects of a complex endeavor.  Even the KIPP network can't guarantee that every branch it opens can combine all those skills well.

Actually, I think the key truth is that creating any great school is a huge undertaking.  

Charter legislation may make the effort slightly easier, but the main hard work of creating excellence is the same no matter who organizes, authorizes, and owns the school in question.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Getting formative assessment right

Yesterday's post shared Margaret Heritage's report, Formative Assessment and Next-Generation Assessment Systems: Are We Losing an Opportunity? She argues that the formative assessment that produces greater student learning is a process embedded in ongoing instruction, and that the testing instruments being proposed by the new multi-state assessment consortia will yield much weaker results.

Today, I want to link that argument to three running PrichBlog themes.

In Rick Stiggins' Balanced Assessment Manifesto, there's a powerful concept of students, teachers, and parents all seeing a clear path the student can climb to success on important learning standards.  That understanding creates a virtuous spiral in which students master one step, gain confidence, reach for another step, and cycle upward with growing knowledge, skill, and certainty that they can succeed.

When Margaret Heritage argues for a formative assessment process, I think she's arguing for the approach that can create that positive growth.

The professional learning community approach focuses on teachers working together to analyze student work in relation to standards and to figure out ways to keep each student moving forward.  The PLC environment is central to what works in raising teaching quality and developing consistent strong instruction for all students.

Formative assessment as a process also looks to me like the approach that will most help PLCs develop, flourish, and change student results.

Over the last year, Kentucky teachers have been developing capacity to use new mathematics resources, and another group of Kentucky educators are now exploring an innovative approach to equipping students to handle the complex texts they'll need for college and careers.  Both efforts are being supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through grants to the Prichard Committee, and I'm honored to have a role in coordinating and supporting that work.

The math effort uses formative assessment lessons designed to help reorient class work around deeper, richer, more engaged understanding of mathematical concepts and practices.  The literacy work models teaching tasks and instructional strategies for use across science, history, literature, and other classes, always focused on ensuring that students climb steadily toward higher levels of skill and confidence.

Both versions are explicitly rooted in the research Heritage cites, and both offer strong examples of the kind of formative assessment process she advocates.

Seeing those three connections, I think it's going to be important to figure out whether the consortia really are working toward the effective version of formative assessement. If not, it's going to be important to discuss whether that can be changed, and especially important to build the formative approaches that really work into the ways we teach and learn here in Kentucky.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Are the testing consortia getting formative assessment wrong?

Effective formative assessment gives students and teachers feedback they can use immediately to steer further learning.  The key is providing descriptive evidence right in the middle of the classroom learning process and putting it right to work.

Are the new multi-state consortia working on Common Core State Standards Assessments building that kind of formative capacity? Maybe not.

Margaret Heritage argues that both consortia are instead proposing much more conventional testing that will yield much less important achievement results. Dr. Heritage is Assistant Director for Professional Development at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing at UCLA.  In a new report to the Council of Chief State School Officers she argues that:
despite the pioneering efforts of CCSSO and other organizations in the U.S., we already risk losing the promise that formative assessment holds for teaching and learning. The core problem lies in the false, but nonetheless widespread, assumption that formative assessment is a particular kind of measurement instrument, rather than a process that is fundamental and indigenous to the practice of teaching and learning. This distinction is critical, not only for understanding how formative assessment functions, but also for realizing its promise for our students and our society.
The report comes with detailed research citations explaining why and how the formative assessment process can significantly raise student results, and raises an alarm about whether the two groups now working on multi-state assessments are focusing on testing instruments that cannot deliver that kind of impact.

Check out EdWeek's Curriculum Matters for a further summary or read the full argument by downloading Formative Assessment and Next-Generation Assessment Systems: Are We Losing an Opportunity?

For background on the assessment consortia, start with these earlier PrichBlog posts on Smarter/Balanced and PARCC.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Correcting a very bad headline

Earlier today, I posted the list of districts that have missed AYP for eight years running too quickly and so with a wrong headline that read "weakest districts."

Here's why I was wrong.  In the table below, the first two columns are the chart I shared in the earlier post, but I've added how the districts rank when sorted by that "combined percent proficient or distinguished in reading and math."

Covington and Jefferson are weak overall, in the bottom 30 of Kentucky's 174 districts when sorted by the combined reading and math statistic.

Campbell and Fayette, though, are in the top 30 overall, and thus strong in a pretty important sense, and Grayson, Bourbon, Simpson, and Bullitt are in the top half by the same statistic.

The sense in which all these districts are weak is that they've missed at least one NCLB goal in each of the last eight years.  It's possible, and I know it's possible, and the numbers above show that it's possible, to fall short for one group while delivering at relatively high levels for most students.

I've added an update note to that post, and I'll try to do more careful work in the future.

Districts slated for NCLB intervention [UPDATED]

UPDATE: I initially posted this information under the heading "weakest districts," but after a closer look, that was a bad choice.  My reasons for changing the headline are explained in my post here.

Thirteen Kentucky districts have fallen short of the adequate yearly progress required by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation for eight or more years.  Here's that list, sorted by each district's combined 2010 proficiency level in reading and mathematics:
According to this morning's press release from the Kentucky Department of Education, the weakest five (highlighted in pale orange above) will "receive district-level leadership assessments and targeted assistance from KDE and will work in partnership with Educational Recovery Directors and other KDE staff to develop and implement corrective action plans."

For the other eight, KDE will provide technical assistance as they "develop their corrective action plans and deferred programmatic funds budgets" and "submit quarterly progress reports to KDE."

Monday, November 8, 2010

2010 persistently-low achieving schools

Ten additional Kentucky schools will undergo a major leadership review and then implement a major school change process to raise scores.

  • East Carter County High School
  • Christian County High School
  • Greenup County High School
  • Martin County's Sheldon Clark High School
  • And six Jefferson County High Schools: Doss, Fairdale, Iroquois, Waggener, Southern, and Seneca
That news is from a Department of Education press release issued this morning.  

Schools identified as persistently low achieving have fallen short of adequate yearly progress for multiple years and then have the weakest scores this year.  

(More exactly, the list includes the five weakest schools that receive Title I money based on high enrollments of low-income students, and the five weakest schools that do not receive that funding.  On the list above, Seneca High and the four schools outside Jefferson County are in the non-Title I group, while the other five Jefferson schools compose the Title I set.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

More college students meet readiness goals

Kentucky higher education is seeing a clear decline in the percent of entering students who come with  ACT scores that could place them in developmental, rather than credit-bearing courses.   The chart above reflects recent Kentucky high school graduates (from public and private schools alike) entering Kentucky colleges and universities (both public and non-profit) in recent years.  The Council for Postsecondary included this news in a great set of high school feedback reports released today.

As an added plus, that trend happened in a period when the number of students going on to college was growing steadily: the students who met the readiness standards were a growing share of a growing group.

As an important caution, the 2010 entering class will face higher readiness standards at our public institutions.  The chart above reflects students who fell short of an 18 score on the English, mathematics, and reading portions of the ACT.  The new standards require and 18 in English, a 19 in mathematics, and a 20 in reading.

The same CPE website page now offers high school feedback reports for each school, district, and region of the state, and readers should definitely check these fresh results.

Fall Perspectives

The Prichard Committee's newest Perspectives newsletter is available now, featuring these headlines:

  • KY Moving Toward Top 20 in Many Areas
  • 'ReadyKentucky' Promotes Standards
  • Words & Influence: Robert F. Sexton, 1942-2010
  • Groups Publish Transition Index Data
  • Gates Foundation Hears Prichard Lessons
  • CIPL Institutes Enlist 57 to Start 13th Year
  • Institutes In Other States Building Traditions
  • Districts Launch Gates-Backed Literacy Work
  • Two Prichard Members Named to State Board
  • Heine Named Prichard's Interim Director
  • TEK Task Force Gathers Input at Forums
  • Business Leaders Joining Council Focused on Pre-K
  • How to Donate to the Robert F. Sexton Legacy Fund

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Quick guesses about election impacts

Here are my rapid thoughts on how the election results will affect Kentucky education.

The overall federal push to raise achievement as measured by standards-based assessments and make major changes in the very weakest schools will be sustained, but the NCLB rules will be replaced by somewhat more workable expectations.  The pressure to revise those rules is growing rapidly as the 2014 deadline approaches, and it will be strong enough to break the deadlock of the last several years.  In Kentucky and other states, the adjustments will be greeted as a constructive step as we move forward on developing our own new assessment and accountability methods.

Additional federal incentives to adopt Common Core Standards are less likely with added Republican power in Congress, and states that decide to slow down implementation may be under less pressure to move ahead.  The federal push for Common Core has been seen by a number of the winning candidates as a federal intrusion on local control.   In Kentucky, we've made our commitment, and we're using Common Core to implement Senate Bill 1, which originated under Republican sponsorship.  That change won't alter our course.  Enough other states are on board that the main momentum will continue, and opportunities for collaboration will grow.

Federal incentives to allow and expand charter schools will probably continue with the changed federal balance of power, because that strategy has strong Republican backers.  In Kentucky, where no charter bill has ever been reported out of committee, where no group of educators or parents have announced that they are working on a concrete concept for a first such school, and where no donor group has offered to provide start-up funds to get even one charter off the ground, the charter prospects will remain weak.

Federal funding to bridge another year of slow economic growth will not happen.  The 2009 stimulus bill and the 2010 EduJobs bill prevented devastating education cuts, but there won't be another installment like that.  In Kentucky, next school year will be the toughest financially in a long time, with boosted federal support running out, state SEEK funding slated for only tiny growth, and local districts very wary of voting for any additional revenue.  Used to low funding, we may not see as much disruption as some other states, but there is still significant pain ahead.  

Apart from federal initiatives, Kentucky will stay the course on implementing higher standards, supported by stronger assessments and more focused accountability rules, while struggling to provide state-level assistance for schools and districts to implement the new standards and take other steps to equip teachers with stronger skills to support students. The financial limitations on that state support will come in part from the economy and in part from state political leadership unconvinced of the need for further investment.  The election results have changed neither the strong parts of our statewide vision nor the weak parts of our commitment to make that vision into reality.

College completion puzzle (southern states edition)

Does Alabama have 14 percent or 32 percent college completion among young adults?  The State of the South 2010 report offers both numbers, just four pages apart, each time reflecting both associate's and bachelor's degrees.   For Kentucky, the choice is 18 percent or 34 percent, and the numbers for all states are shown below:

The pipeline column shows data presented using the familiar method, pioneered by Tom Mortenson, that begins with "Out of 100 ninth graders" and works through who completes high school, goes directly to college, and finishes college within 150 percent of expected time.

The adults 25 to 34 column shows data taken from the Census Bureau, and the final column shows the difference that I think genuinely deserves to be puzzled over.

Since I've been puzzling over the mismatched numbers for several years, I'll share the best clues I've found.  I think the pipeline method misses key issues in its first and last steps:

  • At the beginning, it uses the state's total reported ninth grade enrollment, including those repeating the grade. A student who is held back is counted as enrolled in two different years, but can only be counted as graduating from high school once.
  • At the end, it uses each state's reported college completion rate, which is the percent of full-time students who graduate from the school where they first enrolled.   That means that students who transfer at any point in their undergraduate careers are not counted as graduating, no matter how quickly they actually complete their degrees. 
Without saying that either column offers results I like, I think the difference matters: two respected sources produce quite different evidence about educational outcomes for young adults across the South.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cincinnati's Taft High School (it happens in teams there, too)

EdWeek is sharing commentary by Laura Pappano on big change at what was once what one of Ohio's most troubled schools:
In 2001, Anthony G. Smith became the principal of the renamed Taft Information Technology High School and began turning it around. Over the past decade, Taft’s graduation rate has risen from 25 percent to 95 percent. In 2010, the percentage of 10th graders scoring proficient or higher in math is up from 33 percent to 96 percent, and from 68 percent to 96 percent in reading. The school, once in “academic emergency,” the state’s lowest designation, has moved to “effective”—and, just recently, to “excellent,” Ohio’s highest rating.
This is real progress. How did Smith do it?
There were the obvious fixes, like ending chaotic two-hour-long lunch periods and a badly organized tutoring program. But what has defined Smith’s success is his focus on the value of relationships. When he took the job, he went door to door in the neighborhood and asked for residents’ support. “My covenant was with the community, not necessarily with the board of education,” Smith said, explaining that, yes, the school is technically part of the district, but it is more powerfully a part of a neighborhood and of people’s lives.
Smith also did something counterintuitive: He kept the staff he inherited. Old teachers, the thinking goes, resist change and prevent transformation. In many turnarounds, much of the staff is let go as a “fresh start” message. Instead, Smith met individually with teachers in their classrooms and spent an hour hearing from each of them about what was working and what wasn’t. At his first staff meeting, he laid out the reality. “I asked them, ‘How do you feel about possibly being the worst school in the entire state?’ ” he recalls.
Real turnaround may require more labor intensive relationship-building than advertised.
Before a midday break, Smith told teachers that if they weren’t ready to sign on to do what was needed to help kids succeed, they shouldn’t come back after lunch. To his surprise, they all returned. “I believe they were good teachers,” he says. “They had lost their confidence. They had lost their spirit.”
The tale from that moment of committing to try is about work in progress, yielding clear evidence of impact on student success from educators who are pulling together to make it happen.  Pappano argues from the Taft success that "real turnaround may require more labor-intensive relationship-building than advertised."

Teachers don't do this sort of great work alone, following instructions to avoid consequences.  They do it together, thinking through problems and finding solutions and building one another's skills on the way to building student performance.  Without relationships that sustain that kind of lasting effort, change will be small, fragile, and easily undone.  With those relationships and the courage to invest in them, children's lives and community possibilities flourish and grow.