Monday, January 31, 2011

2009 NAEP: Fourth grade gaps by race and income

Kentucky's newest science gaps still show important achievement gaps by race and poverty.  In fourth grade, the weaknesses look like this:

As you can see, we are still allowing both race and poverty to stunt our children's futures.  The gap between white and African-American students remains large and statistically significant, as does the gap between students who do and do not qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.  Plus, we cannot use one gap to explain the other: these numbers suggest that we have a race problem separate from poverty and a poverty problem separate from race.

Our problems are not as grave as the nation's--Kentucky students in all four groups have a statistically significant lead on students from the same background nationwide--but they certainly signal that we need to do much more to ensure that all children are well and fairly prepared for the future they are all going to share.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

AP U.S. History changes slow down a little

The New York Times reports that:
While the College Board plans to unveil a sweeping revision to Advanced Placement biology courses on Tuesday, it is delaying similar changes in United States history by a year to address concerns from high school teachers.
Although the current draft got 85% support in a survey of 413 AP history teachers the College Board wants to get that up to at least 90%.  For the new Biology curriculum, a similar survey showed 95% teacher support--and that document is scheduled for release this Tuesday.

Powerful idea: "Task predicts performance"

Sometimes, you hear a phrase three times in two weeks, and realize you'd better find out where it's coming from.  Can you when you first heard Steven Covey's "Seek first to understand" or Jim Collins' "Face the brutal facts"?  For me, "task predicts performance" is quickly becoming an educational equivalent.

The main point is that simple, low-level assignments won't equip students for complex, demanding, high-level work (on tests or later in life).  Blogging about that idea a few weeks ago, I wrote:
If you ask me to peel vegetables, that's only going to give me a small step toward becoming a competent cook. If you assign me to walk around the block daily, that will never get me into shape for a marathon. And if you give me worksheets and drills and lists of facts to remember, that isn't going to equip me to analyze demanding texts, build strong arguments from credible evidence, or tackle serious math and science challenges effectively.
I've seen the idea attributed to Richard Elmore, but in an interview from last year, Elmore clearly attributed the idea to others, saying:
The seminal piece is an article written in the 80s by Walter Doyle called ‘Academic Work’ in which he makes the proposition that task predicts performance. Since that time, Fred Newmann and his group have done empirical work on intellectually challenging tasks, and operations like the Chicago Consortium for School Research have actually done these analyses in real schools – and it turns out to be a pretty robust relationship.
What Elmore and his colleagues are doing is making the idea central to important research and engagement with practicing educators.

Finally, the idea that "task predicts performance" practically radiates out of the Gates Foundation strategies for supporting the Common Core Standards in literacy and mathematics.  In the math effort, the center is student engagement with tasks that demand active struggle to find the mathematical connections and apply mathematical practices.  In the literacy approach, the center is student tasks combining demanding reading with significant writing on important academic content.  In both approaches, the students themselves are called on to do the heavy lifting and develop the important intellectual muscles they'll need to meet the expectations of higher education, good jobs, and effective civic participation.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hold onto your hats: NAEP science results by family income level

In the 2009 NAEP science results released yesterday, Kentucky student scale score performance ranked:
  • 2nd of 46 states for fourth graders eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
  • 1st of 46 states for fourth graders not eligible for those lunches.
  • 5th of 46 states for eighth graders eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
  • 9th of 46 states for eighth graders not eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
By all means, read those bullets twice, and the second bullet one more time.   If you need to see the results in their official habitat, try the NAEP Data Explorer,  run your own analysis, and then come back here.  But however long you need to let this sink in, let it sink in until you're sure that something truly good is happening in Kentucky's public schools.

As I always say, there's work still be done.   We've still got a gap between those two groups to close, and  the whole country needs to move science learning to a higher level.  

Nevertheless, we've got a leading position on figuring out those challenges.  There are just a few states with a case that we should look to them for a model, and many states with a reason to look to us. 

So, for these results and our overall scale score rankings of 4th in grade 4 and 16th in grade 8, a little celebration is surely in order: celebration of our children, and our educators, and our decades of statewide effort to keep attention on the full curriculum of knowledge and skills that each and every child will need for adult success.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

NAEP Science: Kentucky moves forward again

In NAEP science results released today, Kentucky's fourth grade results put us fourth among the states, and our eighth grade results put us sixteenth.  Our students have outscored the national average by a statistically significant margin at both levels.
These results are not enough: Kentucky unquestionable unquestionably needs to push science performance even higher.

And yet, these results are a truly wonderful milestone in Kentucky's sustained effort to raise student achievement.

For two decades, Kentucky has pursued standards, assessments, accountability, and instructional improvement across a full curriculum, never settling for reading and mathematics as the  only subjects for statewide attention.

These science results make sense to me as a key return on that lasting commitment--and a great encouragement to move forward with even greater determination to strengthen what our students know and can do in the years ahead.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Powerful Idea: "If you can’t see it in the core, it’s not there"

I'm reading up on work by Richard Elmore and his colleagues.  Kentucky educators keep telling me that body of work is helpful, and it's time to understand some of what they've been learning.

The "instructional core" is the interaction of student, teacher, and content.  In Instructional Rounds in Education, it's shown as a triangle with those three elements at the corners and an invitation to think separately how each side is really connected: student and teacher, student and content, and teacher and content.

Defining and thinking about "the core" also sharpens some further thinking about improvement strategies:
It doesn't matter how much money you've spent.  Nor does it even really matter whether everyone thinks it's a fantastic idea (since many people like best the changes that are the least disruptive).  And, above all, it doesn't matter whether everyone else is doing it.  What matters is whether you can see it in the core.  If you can't, it isn't there.
Once you take in the idea, it's hard to figure out why someone needed to spell it out--but it really is liberating to have it stated explicitly.

The learning happens where student, teacher, and content interact.  If that interaction stays the same, the results won't vary much. If the instructional core looks the same before and after your big investment, your investment didn't make a difference.  If you can't see the change there, it isn't there.

It doesn't matter whether the investment was in textbooks, workbooks, computer programs, or iPads.  it doesn't matter whether the investment was in exciting professional development or a bold new approach to evaluations.  It doesn't matter whether the money went into classroom staff or student support services or stronger school leadership.  Unless you can see its impact by observing the instructional core, it isn't there.

Of course, there's room for theories that say the change will get to the instructional core, but it will take several steps.  For example, school leaders could research a strategy, bring in experts to share more about how it works, ask teachers to think through how to use it, and then allow a little time for them to begin actual implementation.  In those cases, there's a "theory of action" that explains how the early efforts can culminate in a meaningful change to the instructional core.  But until you can see the change in the core, you can't begin to say the theory has actually worked.

Source note: Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning, by Elizabeth City, Richard Elmore, Sarah Fiarman and Lee Teitel, was published by Harvard Education Press in 2009.  This post is drawn from pages 22 to 30 in that book.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Productivity Study: districts that beat the odds

Here's a cheer for the Kentucky districts whose results stood out as better than researchers predicted based on their spending and demographics.

The counties shown in  districts shown in the darker green above are Bell, Breathitt, Graves, Johnson, Larue, Magoffin, Marion, McLean, Oldham, Rockcastle, Russell, Trigg, Wayne, Whitley, and Wolfe.

The independent districts rated the same way (but harder to show on a map are Beechwood, Bowling Green, Cloverport, Corbin, Dawson Springs, Elizabethtown, Fort Thomas, Harlan, Ludlow, Owensboro, Paintsville, Walton Verona, and Williamsburg.

In the new Doing What Works productivity study, these districts stood out  because their 2008 achievement results were stronger than researchers expected based on their student bodies and their district spending levels. In the report, the authors use three methods to estimate educational return on investment, with these results coming from the third method explained this way:
The Predicted Efficiency rating measures whether a district’s achievement is higher or lower than would be predicted after accounting for its per-pupil spending and concentrations of low-income, non-English speaking, and special education students. Under this approach, a low-achieving district could get high marks if it performed better than predicted.
Less happily,  the counties in red, with results farthest below predictions, are Bullitt, Christian, Elliott, Franklin, Hardin, Henry, Knox, Lawrence, Livingston, Lyon, Nelson, Nicholas, Powell, Robertson, Spencer, and Union. Similar results were found for Barbourville, Berea, Covington, Frankfort, Monticello, Raceland, Russellville, Silver Grove, and Somerset independent school districts.

To check out more districts, click here, and then notice that the map has three buttons at the top.  Set the map to show you Kentucky, and then choose the third button for "Predicted Index" to see results by this measure.  You'll be able individual districts either by zooming in on the map or by scrolling down to where districts are listed in alphabetical order.

Productivity study: worrying about what a dollar buys

I'm uneasy about the cost-of-living adjustments in the new productivity study from the Center for American Progress. The study looks important, but before I highlight some interesting results, I want to flag this possible concern.

When the study adjusts for cost-of-living differences, it assumes that a dollar buys a lot more in Breathitt, Knott, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Perry, Owsley, and Wolfe counties. The study treats each dollar spent there as worth $1.39 elsewhere.

 That's the biggest upward adjustment, and then there's a sliding scale of smaller adjustments showing most of the state being able to get more for a dollar than the national norm. Only a Northern Kentucky cluster in Boone, Bracken, Campbell, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton, and Pendleton have their purchasing power downgraded to show a dollar as worth 98¢.

Some costs certainly are lower in eastern Kentucky, but I'm still having a hard time thinking the proportions are right. Especially, I'm having a hard time imagining that newly-minted teachers will believe that a starting salary of  $21,583 in Wolfe County is as good a deal as $30,000 somewhere else.

I can't say with certainty that there's a mistake here, and I can't offer an alternative method, so I just want to put my uneasiness out on the table before commenting on some of the other findings.

Source note: To figure out the cost-of-living adjustment, I downloaded the complete data file offered here, and divided the "Cost of Wage Adjusted PPE" column by the original "Per Pupil Expenditure" column.

Happy second blog-birthday!

Prichblog launched two years ago today, and I'm planning a day of sharing from great new sources.  First up, a new study comparing school district achievement results with their spending and challenges.  As an appetizer, this new work from the Center on American Progress maps Kentucky this way, with red showing the lowest productivity and green showing the highest.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Quality Counts: the rest of the grading

From the 2011 Quality Counts report, I blogged K-12 achievement first because it matters most.

To round out the story, here's the full grading that went into this year's report:
I look forward to seeing that Standards and Assessment ranking rise rapidly.  Scoring us in 2010 meant we lost points for not having grade-by-grade standards in the pre-Senate Bill 1 Core Content for Assessment, and we also lost points for not having accountability beyond No Child Left Behind during the Senate Bill 1 transition.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Becoming who we ought to be

I said to my children, “I’m going to work and do everything that I can do to see that you get a good education. I don’t ever want you to forget that there are millions of God’s children who will not and cannot get a good education, and I don’t want you feeling that you are better than they are. For you will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be."
I only found those words from Dr. King a month ago, but I feel like I've known them forever. If any of my middle-school teachers reminded me that they were assigned reading on this day in 1971 or 1972, I'd believe them. If either of my Georgia-born parents told me they had whispered them over my crib as a nightly ritual, I'd believe that, too.

If I had to explain how I chose my life's work, I'd use those words as my starting point.

Most of all, that last sentence captures why our schools, uniquely among our civic undertakings, are the places where we can and must lift our children--all our children--into the larger life they were created to enjoy:
You will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be.

(The quote comes from The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson (New York: Warner Books, 1998), 352, and was used by Linda Darling-Hammond at the start of “Soaring Systems: High Flyers All Have Equitable Funding, Shared Curriculum, and Quality Teaching” in American Educator, Winter 2010-2011)

Friday, January 14, 2011

SEEK funding, the dropout age, and planning to pay the bills

The Department of Education recently notified districts that they would not receive SEEK funding this year at the promised levels.

Why?  The main reason is that average daily attendance (ADA) is higher than the state budget assumed it would be, by about 10,000 students, so there will be less money per pupil.

I've heard two further things that make sense to me. First, that we changed how we count ADA recently, and the budget could and should have taken that into account.  Second, that in past years, the SEEK line item had some extra money built in in case ADA went up, but that sort of cushion wasn't included in the current budget.  I'd rate the folks I've heard these things from as very likely to have the story straight, but should mention that I haven't heard these details directly from state officials involved in this work.

In any case, the end result is that the state is spending the same total dollars, but every student in the state will receive less than promised.

I want to link that experience to proposals to raise the dropout age, now being seriously discussed in Frankfort.

When we say we're ready to work harder with students who want to quit, we need to include the funding.  We need to get the cost estimate right, and we need a serious plan to pay that bill promptly when it comes due.

Last year, I estimated that raising the dropout age would add about 9,300 students to average daily attendance, very like the recent SEEK shift.  Counting state-paid benefits as well as SEEK costs, I estimated a state price tag of about  $71.5 million to serve those additional students.

Until the legislature talks concretely about the actual costs and the plan for meeting those costs, I'm worried about repeating what just happened with SEEK: the state will provide the same total dollars and ask districts to make that amount serve many more students.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Quality Counts puts Kentucky 19th in student achievement

EdWeek released its 2011 Quality Counts report today, offering highly respected grades of states on multiple aspects of education conditions, policies, and results.

On achievement results, EdWeek is a tough grader, giving the country as a whole a D+.

On that scale, Kentucky's C- came with a score that put us 19th among the 50 states.

That score came from scores in ten areas and improvement over time in each of those areas.

So, here are Kentucky's current rankings among the states on those indicators, which come from the 2009 NAEP test unless another source is indicated:
  • 11th in percent proficient in grade 4 reading
  • 12th in gap in grade 4 reading scale scores between students who qualify for the federal lunch program and those who do not
  • 14th in gap in grade 8 mathematics scale scores between students in those same groups
  • 19th in percent proficient in grade 8 reading
  • 26th in in 2009 Advanced Placement scores of 3 or higher per 100 students in grades 11 and 12
  • 28th in 2007 high school graduation rate (calculated using the EPE Research Center’s Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) formula)
  • 35th in percent proficient in grade 4 mathematics
  • 38th in percent proficient in grade 8 mathematics
  • 40th in in percent advanced in 2009 grade 8 mathematics
And then, here are the changes, reflecting 2003 to 2009 NAEP scores unless otherwise noted:
  • 3rd in increase in percent proficient in grade 4 mathematics
  • 4th in increase in percent proficient in grade 4 reading
  • 7th in increase in high school graduation rate (2000 to 2007)
  • 21st in increase in AP scores of 3 or higher per 100 students in grades 11 and 12 (2000 to 2009)
  • 22nd in decrease in scale score gap in grade 8 mathematics
  • 26th in increase in percent proficient in grade 8 reading
  • 28th in increase percent proficient in grade 8 reading
  • 36th in decrease in scale score gap in grade 4 reading
  • 44th in increased percent advanced in grade 8 mathematics
Overall, these numbers show a state in the Top 20 in more categories than our history would lead us to expect (highlighted in green), and closing on that level in some others.  

Shown this way, they show the weakest results (highlighted in red) to be clustered heavily in mathematics, and especially grade 8 mathematics.

I'll add one new thought on seeing the numbers this time: the mathematics assessment of learning strategies that the Gates Foundation is developing for middle and high school use could be a great fit for a state with those priorities.

In teams and with tasks: Richard Elmore

Okay, so my favorite educators have been telling me to learn from Richard Elmore for years, and I finally got a start last week, starting with an excellent interview available here.  Professor Elmore is based at Harvard, working on leadership and culture issues that change student performance or keep it from changing, and in this piece, he offers "two big, bold-letter findings."

The first big finding emphasizes the need for people inside a school to pull together.  Until they do, Dr. Elmore argues, they cannot mount any effective response to outside accountability.  He argues:
You can get an organization’s attention through testing and feeding back test scores against standards. You can even reinforce that with various kinds of sanctions and support. You can categorize schools, you can penalize schools and you can provide extra resources and so on. But none of that is going to work unless the school has developed its internal capacity to hold the adults and the kids accountable to each other.
That overlaps nicely with PrichBlog's obsessive concern with professional learning communities and collaboration to build teaching quality.

The second big finding is that even excellent organization work is not enough.  Dr. Elmore sets up the problem by pointing out that:
You can have the internal capacity. You can have strong, well-informed leadership, teachers working in teams, external support and professional development, coherent curriculum, a school improvement plan – everything the literature tells us we should have – and yet not be getting the expected growth. Or, what many schools experience is that you get initial growth, but then the line goes flat.
His argument is that what's happening is that students are still being given tasks that don't allow them to develop the higher performance levels we need.  Educators chose to keep the work simple, predictable, easy to control and guide and grade–and the result is that students do not grow nearly as much as they could with greater challenges.

An Elmore catch phrase is that "task predicts performance."  I think I understand that.  If you ask me to peel vegetables, that's only going to give me a small step toward becoming a competent cook.  If you assign me to walk around the block daily, that will never get me into shape for a marathon.   And if you give me worksheets and drills and lists of facts to remember, that isn't going to equip me to analyze demanding texts, build strong arguments from credible evidence, or tackle serious math and science challenges effectively.

In short, the team effort is necessary but insufficient: the team will not produce major achievement gains until it focuses on the "instructional core" and the changes needed to put students to work at much higher levels.

I've got more reading to do, including a book that arrived in Saturday's mail, but I heartily recommend the interview, titled "Leading the Instructional Core," and published by the Ontario Ministry of Education

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fewer, clearer, deeper: Advanced Placement edition

Next month, the [College Board] will release a wholesale revamping of A.P. biology as well as United States history — with 387,000 test-takers the most popular A.P. subject. A preview of the changes shows that the board will slash the amount of material students need to know for the tests and provide, for the first time, a curriculum framework for what courses should look like. The goal is to clear students’ minds to focus on bigger concepts and stimulate more analytic thinking. In biology, a host of more creative, hands-on experiments are intended to help students think more like scientists.
That's from the New York Times, which also reports that the College Board's timetable calls for:

  • The 2011 tests to reflect similar changes in German and French that were already announced.
  • The 2013 tests to reflect those biology and U.S. history changes.
  • The 2014 or 2015 tests to show related shifts for physics, chemistry, European history, world history, and art history.
The article shares details of an overloaded curriculum, jammed with so many details that the big picture and the key skills get crowded out.   As a mark of the skill problem, Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that even students scoring a 5 on the Biology test lacked the problem solving skills they needed for higher-level courses –and stopped offering credit based on those scores. 

Here's a thought.  As P-12 education works toward shared standards for science and history at the lower levels, could we work backward from AP's outlines?  If we planned high school, middle school, and elementary work to lay strong foundations for students to take AP courses, would we put students on track to be ready for college and career?

The full article, with more about the pending changes and multiple positive responses from practicing educators, is here.

Against revolutionary folly

Here's a bad argument: "No serious change can happen without full-blown revolution.  Until we change our whole economic structure, no important reform will be possible."

If I heard that once in my college years, I heard it a hundred times.  Maybe half the people who tried it out meant to align themselves with Marxist analysis, and the rest were offering some other form of radical thinking.

If I heard it a hundred times, I never believed it once.  I knew too much about the forward march of individual liberty, abolition, voting rights and civil rights.  I knew too much about how Jim Crow fell, and too much about the strategies of decency and solidarity that were even then eroding both white rule in South Africa and communist rule across eastern Europe.  I knew much too well that smart and steady work by committed individuals can indeed generate worthwhile change.

I haven't heard that revolution-or-bust rhetoric much in the last two decades, but I have heard something close.

The argument that comes close says this: "Schools can't change student performance unless we eliminate poverty and racism first."

The Washington Post published a piece today that tries that tired approach.  This time, Robert Samuelson points out that American white students do about as well on the PISA test as largely white countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.  Then he adds that our national weakness can be traced to the weaker performance of other American children, especially those who are black and Hispanic. His argument is that:
These persistent achievement gaps demonstrate the limits of schools to compensate for problems outside the classroom - broken homes, street violence, indifference to education - that discourage learning and inhibit teaching....What we face is not an engineering problem; it's overcoming the legacy of history and culture. 
Yet again, the claim is that educational progress is essentially impossible without radical change to other institutions.

The problem with that position is that it ignores the data.  It cannot account for all the examples of schools that deliver student progress right in the teeth of the poverty odds.   It cannot escape the systematic evidence that key changes in instructional practices can raise achievement and narrow those haunting gaps.  And it cannot explain how other countries, many with ugly history of their own, are successfully changing their futures by changing their education systems.

This kind of argument looks erudite, but it's ignorant.  It sounds sophisticated, but it's crude and false.  It mimics past version of revolutionary talk remarkable well, and its case for radical despair is just as mistaken this time as it was in decades past.

The way to defeat this sort of willful despair is by doing the work they say is impossible, educating the children they say are doomed, and building the society they say is out of reach.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Civics 101

(Posted while hearing reports that Congresswoman Gifford has come through surgery and doctors are "as hopeful as possible under the circumstances" for her recovery from the bullet wound she received today while meeting with her peacably assembled constituents.)

State funding cuts (some context)

SEEK funds to school districts will be cut for the remainder of this year, by roughly $50 million.

That translates to about $85 per student. It's about 2 percent of previously promised funding from the state, and about 1 percent of total funding per year.

Commissioner Terry Holliday, in announcing the cuts, pointed out that federal EduJobs funding of about $150 million dollars will enable districts to cover this loss without immediate cuts.

These cuts reflect growing local needs, rather than shrinking state revenue.  SEEK funding is allocated based on average daily attendance, and that ADA count appears to be 10,000 higher than expected.  In addition, local property tax revenue is down, and under the SEEK formula, that makes the state responsible for more of the base guarantee.

Watch closely for the impact on next school year.  The budget passed last year promised that SEEK funding would go up for 2011-12, but that assumed a lower ADA.  If ADA stays this high or goes higher, that promise will be very hard to keep.

Finally, remember that property tax revenues do not go down instantly in a recession: some properties that lose value wait one or more years before the official assessment is reduced.  If we've seen a one-year decline in property revenues, we may have several more years of decline ahead.

Thus far, Kentucky education funding has taken much less damage than some other states during this horrible recession.  This week's news suggests that the most important damage may still be to come.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

University growth (by location)

Following up on earlier posts on overall and KCTCS growth in undergraduate enrollment, here's a quick look at the public universities.  Again, I've sorted from smallest to largest growth.

Check out Western Kentucky University, growing 30 percent in full-time-equivalent undergraduate enrollment.  As shown in the pie below, Western also provides 28 percent of the total undergraduate FTE growth for the four-year institutions.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Supporting instruction: literacy modules, courses, and construction in progress

In describing the literacy tools being developed by the Gates Foundation, I've focused so far on the template tasks and on the skill and mini-task elements of the instructional design.  Those pieces are also meant to provide building blocks for some bigger efforts.

Participating teachers are asked to develop their work into modules that can be shared more widely. A full module identifies:

  • The content standards the students will be learning, both the science, history, or other topic and the literacy standards from the Common Core
  • A teaching task created by filling in one of the LDC template tasks.
  • The skills students need.
  • The mini-tasks to build those skills.
  • The needed results, showing samples of the student work that meets the expectations for the overall teaching task.

With standards shared across the country, the idea is for educators also to share their module designs from school to school and from state to state.

There's also thinking underway about full courses that include a sequence of modules, so that central elements of a year's classroom content would be taught through a series of these intensive teaching tasks.

Having shared this much from the Supporting Instruction monograph and our Kentucky experience, it's worth slowing down to clarify where this design stands.

The templates are ready for early use, and small groups of teachers are just now launching that use, filling in their own classroom content and trying out the instructional strategies, the rubrics, and the shared scoring options.  The very first modules have been taught and are being refined based on initial experiences with the methods.  That's what roughly fifty Kentucky participants are exploring right now under the Prichard Committee's grant for this work, along with teams from a handful of districts elsewhere and some related organizations that develop instructional strategies.

Building out a library of modules and an array of course designs is part of the plan, but implementing that plan has only just begun.

An LDC module, as described above and in the earlier posts, spread over about two weeks, can be a powerful investment in building science literacy in science classrooms, history literacy in history classrooms, and overall capacity to handle complex texts in middle and high school classrooms across the country.  If tackling those complex texts is the core added skill American students need for future success, this design is a serious bid to support the teaching of that exact type of skill.

KCTCS growth (by location)

Yesterday's post noted our rapid growth in undergraduate full-time equivalent enrollment, with KCTCS growing the fastest and adding fully half of the total expansion.  Below, check out the enrollment by campus, sorted from smallest to largest number of students added.  Hazard had a very small decline, while all others grew, and the Somerset and Jefferson campuses each generated 12 percent of the system-wide growth.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Seeing our higher education growth (FTE edition)

Kentucky higher education has grown rapidly in recent years. With a lot of students attending part-time, it's worthwhile to adjust to "full-time equivalents" to get a clearer idea of how much added learning activity is underway and where it's happening.

First, here are the core numbers from the Council on Postsecondary Education, broken down by type of school.

Second, to give you a sense of the pace, the growth rates are:

  • 27 percent overall
  • 17 percent at the public universities
  • 27 percent at independent colleges and universities
  • 47 percent (!!) at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System

Finally, to give you one more visual of the growth, notice how KCTCS takes up half of the growth pie shown below.

Supporting instruction: the teaching around the literacy tasks

The Literacy Design Collaborative strategy discusses in yesterday's post starts with the template tasks and then backs them up with an instructional design.

That instructional design provides "mini-tasks" for each of the key skills students will need.   For a particular task, the reading skills might be:

  • selecting relevant and credible texts
  • analyzing essential vocabulary
  • taking notes
  • sorting through those notes to identify central points.  

The Supporting Instruction monograph comes with examples of mini-task prompts, including four that build those four skills, followed by the kind of product students will produce:
Because the teacher applies a simple scoring rubric to each prompt, the mini-tasks have a powerful feedback loop. The student learns quickly what to improve, and the teacher also sees clearly which areas need further support.

Some key point to note about this approach:

  • The template tasks are teaching tasks: they are meant to be used in the process of classroom learning, rather than as an outside measure separate from the instructional process.  
  • In keeping with that focus, the LDC assumption is that teachers can and should make professional judgment about which skills their own students need and about which mini-tasks will build those skills most effectively.  The design offers a prototype list of skills and mini-tasks, but innovation at the classroom level is built into the expectations.
  • The design illustrates formative assessment practices in active use: both students and teachers are actively figuring out how to take the right next steps to deeper understanding and higher performance.

Further illustrations of the template tasks and the mini-task design can be downloaded here.  Earlier PrichBlog posts on the Gates Foundation's investments in supporting instruction around the Common Core Standards are here, here, here, and here, with the press releases on participation by Kentucky teachers and the Prichard Committee here and here.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Supporting instruction: the literacy tasks

To succeed in higher education and demanding future jobs, all students must be ready to work with complex texts in many subjects. The Common Core Standards emphasize this point repeatedly, including separate standards for science literacy and history/social studies literacy and using exemplar texts from multiple disciplines. To support those Standards, the Gates Foundation is investing in a Literacy Design Collaborative (or LDC) strategy designed for use across grades six to twelve and in science, history, English, and other studies. That approach is outlined in the Supporting Instruction monograph, alongside the mathematics strategy I discussed in earlier posts here and here.

The LDC strategy starts from template tasks that teachers can fill in with curriculum content from varied subjects. For example, here’s a template task that leads to an argumentative writing piece:
Task 4 Template: [Insert essential question] After reading _______ (literature or informational texts), write an _______ (essay or substitute) that compares _______ (content) and argues _______ (content). Be sure to support your position with evidence from the texts.
In turn, that task can be filled in with content from varied disciplines.  Consider these three different versions:
English Language Arts What makes something funny? After reading selections from Mark Twain and Dave Barry, write a review that compares their humor and explains which type of humor works for a contemporary audience and why. Be sure to support your position with evidence from the texts.
Social Studies Do presidential policies really make a difference in the lives of Americans? After reading primary and secondary sources, write an essay that compares John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier social policies with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society social policies and argues which had a more significant impact on Americans. Be sure to support your position with evidence from the texts.
Science Which is the better energy source? After reading scientific sources, write an essay that compares the chemistry involved in producing nuclear energy and fossil fuels and argues which is the better energy source for urban communities. Be sure to support your position with evidence from the texts.
All three tasks lead to student work that can be scored against a common rubric, allowing teachers to work together on shared scoring and ongoing discussion of how to help students move forward.  A central point of the LDC strategy is to make literacy a central issue both in classrooms and in teacher collaboration across the middle and high school years. ( Examples of other argumentative and informational template tasks are available here)

Those template tasks are the cornerstone of the LDC strategy. Around that cornerstone, there’s a further teaching strategy, and building on that foundation, there’s a vision of restructured overall curriculum—but those are topics best addressed in my next few posts.

Supporting math instruction (a bit more)

Yesterday's post focused on mathematics formative assessment lessons being developed to support the Common Core State Standards.  To put those FALs in context, here's a bit more.

First, where do FALs fit into an overall curriculum? 
The Supporting Instruction monograph emphasizes the flexible options:
The FALs are intended to be used by teachers every couple of weeks or so as part of their courses. Individual teachers or districts can decide exactly how each FAL will be used. Some teachers, for example, could use one FAL to introduce a math topic, and other teachers might use it two-thirds of the way through their teaching of the topic to raise questions and check for further understanding, or some weeks later to consolidate learning.
Second, where (literally) are the FALs being used in Kentucky? 
Under the Gates Foundation's math grant to the Prichard Committee, Boone, Daviess, Jefferson, Jessamine, Kenton, and Warren County ninth and tenth grade teachers (and some eighth grade teachers as well) spent last spring in intensive professional development around formative assessment strategies for overall classroom instruction. This fall, they have begun using the FALs directly, with plans to explore how the overall curriculum can use those lessons systematically to deliver on the Commmon Core.  Their accounts of classroom success add to my excitement about these new tools for deeper mathematics learning.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Supporting Instruction: Mathematics

The new Supporting Instruction monograph from the Gates Foundation describes the new "formative assessment lessons" being developed to help students learn and teachers teach the new Common Core mathematics standards for grades 7 through 10.  Those "FALs" are being designed by the Shell Centre in England and the University of California at Berkeley to support new and intensive attention to mathematical practice.

Each FAL starts with a rich math task and organizes a lesson that draws students into "a productive struggle with the mathematics essential for college readiness."
1) Students are given an easily administered initial assessment task. This provides teachers with a qualitative sense of their students’ grasp of the targeted mathematics.
2) Students are immersed in the mathematics of the initial assessment task through a set of collaborative activities. This part is designed as a guided inquiry. Students work in small groups, engage in discussion, take responsibility for their own learning, and learn from each other, often by examining each other’s work. Teachers provide feedback to move their students’ learning forward.
3) Students are engaged in a whole-class discussion. This is designed to pull the lesson together. Students get to strengthen their understanding while teachers get to deepen their insights into their students’ learning. It provides another opportunity to structure discussion, provide feedback, and allow students to learn from each other.
4) Students return to improve their response to the initial assessment. This gives students a look at what they’ve learned as well as more feedback, while providing teachers perspective on the effectiveness of their teaching.
Three samples of the FALs are available here.

The third sample, called "Solving Pentagons," is one I've tried: I was part of a June "class" of Kentucky educators and administrators who tried that task with guidance from one of the designers for this initiative.  I started with certainty that I'd be unable to do the work, found some starting points when I worked on my own, gained confidence as I puzzled with a team, and realized that when I went back to the task alone, I could indeed work through the challenge.

In writing about Rick Stiggins' call for balanced assessment, I've described the approach as working to create "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."  My early taste of these mathematics FALs felt exactly like moving onto that virtuous spiral.  If they work as well for students still in school as the pentagon example did for me, they will make a difference in students' confidence and skill in using the math they will need for higher education and future careers.

(Have I mentioned that I'm excited?)

Happy 2011 literacy and math possibilities

I'm delighted to kick off 2011 with great hopes for some great tools.  The Gates Foundation website now features an overview and samples of the literacy and math strategies it is developing to support the new Common Core State Standards. "Supporting Instruction" explains the overall project this way:
While the standards were being produced, we were also investing in the tools teachers will need to help their students meet them. For the last two years, we’ve been leading two design collaboratives, one in mathematics and one in literacy. These groups have been developing and piloting the formative assessments teachers need to understand where students are relative to the standards, the lessons to move students forward, and the rich classroom-based summative assessments that demonstrate student progress.
In both cases, the design teams are indeed collaboratives and involve subject-matter experts, education leaders, and classroom teachers who keep the effort grounded in real schools and students.
These tools are now being codeveloped and piloted in 14 school districts in 8 states during the current school year, along with a rigorous evaluation process to ensure that they work. It will be several months before we can report on their progress, but we expect to be ready to share “version 1.0” in the 2011–2012 school year.
Yes, Kentucky's one of the eight states doing co-development and piloting, through grants for Prichard Committee work with a small group of educators around the state, described here and here.

And, yes, I've had the privilege and delight of being right in the middle of the convenings where the participating share their early experiences with each strategy.  I think these tools have huge potential to raise student engagement, understanding and achievement in very exciting ways.

You can download the Foundation's monograph here, and I'll blog on the mathematics and the literacy details a little later in the day.