Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Debates About What Is Really Best

Listed below are some of the topics being debated about educational reform. What are your thoughts about these?

Student Achievement - Everyone wants our students to receive a world class education and be able to compete in the global environment. Here are some of the questions being discussed and debated in this area:

• Where do we rank nationally and internationally? Is that good or bad?
• How bad are the achievement gaps? What needs to happen to close these gaps?
• Does the federal “No Child Left Behind” law help or hurt? Should there be penalties and sanctions for not making 100%?
• Should the U.S. follow what some countries do in only allowing the highest performing students to attend high schools that lead to college?
• With Finland being considered at the top of the international lists for educating students, should the U.S. model what they are doing? What are they doing differently and would that work here?
• How important is “college and career readiness” and do tests like the ACT test truly predict this? Do remedial courses in college really make a difference and are they needed?
• What is the actual and real dropout rate from high school? Is this important and how do we deal with this? What about the dropout rate from college?
• Should the age for compulsory attendance be raised from 16 to 18 years of age?
* Do we need to provide high quality pre-schools for ALL students?
• Is the culture of a school a determining factor in student achievement?
• Is more time in the day and school year needed to raise achievement?
• Should class size be significantly reduced?
• Is a solution gender based classrooms and individualized instruction for all?
• Does the leadership of the school determine the outcomes?
• How should technology and virtual learning be utilized?
• How important is early childhood education? How do we balance developmentally appropriate practices with the need for school readiness data? Should incoming kindergarten kids be assessed?
• What about dual credit courses (with high schools and colleges) and early college enrollment programs? Should they be allowed?
• Competency based or seat time credit? Should students be able to test out of classes in high school?
• Should every child make at least a year’s growth each year?
• Should students be retained if they cannot do the work? Are there a maximum number of times a student should be retained?
• Should schools be responsible for health and wellness of students including issues like obesity?

Curriculum and Standards - There are intense debates about what should be taught and what should not be taught along with the debate about high stakes testing. Listed below are some of these topics:

• Are the new Common Core Standards what we need? Do people know what these are? How do we help teachers, parents, and students understand the standards?
• Are standards needed? What levels of math and science, for example, should be required? Should topics like sex education and evolution be taught in schools?
• Should the arts and humanities be part of the accountability system?
• Is requiring proficiency in a foreign language important?
• Are textbooks needed or can online electronic books and materials be used?
• Should schools, teachers, and students be ranked and compared statewide and nationally for academics, graduation rates, etc.?
• Should homework be part of a student’s academic grade or be a separate grade?
• How should students with special needs both in areas of disabilities and giftedness be served?

Accountability and Testing - There is a lot of debate about high stakes testing. Below are some of the questions being discussed:

• How much should we be testing students using standardized tests?
• What should an accountability system look like? Do we need accountability systems?
• What does it mean to be proficient and who decides what proficiency is?
• Does testing inhibit creativity?
• Is there an alternative to standardized testing and still have accountability?
• Are teachers teaching to the test? Is teaching to the test good or bad?
• What about the Atlanta cheating scandal? Can that happen to us?
• Should statewide end of course exams be part of a student’s grade?
• What about students being required to pass a statewide proficiency test in order to graduate from high school?
• How should accountability be extended to postsecondary, particularly in the preparation of teachers?

Teachers - At the heart of our educational systems is the teacher. These are some of the major questions being debated nationally about teachers:

• How should teachers be evaluated and should those evaluations be tied to student performance and then to pay? Can evaluations be used to significantly improve instruction?
• Should teacher pay be differentiated based on the subjects taught with the highest pay going to areas in most demand or should pay be equal and based upon education and experience?
• Should schools be allowed to hire teachers and administrators from organizations like Teach for America who have not gone through formal teacher certification programs in college?
• Is the pay for teachers too low or too high? What if we changed the benefit structure to make benefits less generous and salary more generous on the front end of a teacher’s career? Would a starting salary of six figures for teachers change the profession?
• What is the impact of the U.S. teacher salaries being ranked 22nd out of 27 countries?
• Why are so many teachers leaving the profession?
• Are teacher unions a help or a hindrance?
• Should tenure for teachers and college professors be abolished?
• How much time is needed for professional development and collaboration, and what does that look like to be effective?
• How can professional development for teachers and school leaders be relevant and helpful for improving teaching and learning? What should it look like and who should decide this?
• Are colleges and universities doing a good job in preparing teachers, principals, and superintendents?

Factors Outside the classroom - There is much debate about the role of influences outside the classrooms and how they impact the educational process.

• Can students who live in poverty learn at high levels? Is poverty the problem?
• What is the role of the parent at home?
• Is parent involvement at school important and what does effective and systemic involvement look like?
• What should be the role of the business community? The faith based community? Coalitions?
• Are before and after school tutoring and enrichment programs needed?
• Should extra-curricular activities like sports, music, drama, clubs, etc. continue?

School Choice - The debate about school choice is very intense. It is very important to look at the data and research before coming to a conclusion in these areas.

* Do we need Charter schools? Do they work?
• Should public funding be used for vouchers to private schools?
• What about schools and programs of innovation within the current systems?
• Are alternative schools with different structures and approaches effective and needed?
• Should home schools be legal?
• Do you favor neighborhood schools? Magnet schools?
• What about vocational and technical schools – are they needed?
• How about having virtual schools available for all students?

Funding - Some say we are spending too much on education while others argue that we are not spending enough. This is also an intense debate.

• Is funding adequate to accomplish the goals?
• Is funding equitable between districts?
• Are schools and colleges good stewards of the funding that is currently provided?
• Is there equity/adequacy in funding for special needs—poverty, transience, disabilities, English language learning, and giftedness?
• Are employee benefits costs such as health insurance, retirement, and sick leave reasonable? What about the minimum number of years of service for full retirement for educators (27 years)? Should this be changed?
• Should Kentucky teachers be required to start paying into the social security system?
• How does Kentucky’s higher education spending compare to other states?
• Should we accept significant federal funding if it means following their guidelines?

Governance - There is also a debate about how to best govern schools in terms of boards of education, site based councils, etc.

• Should the state and federal departments of education be eliminated?
• Do we need to do away with site based councils? Boards of Education?
• Should board members be paid salaries?
• If schools follow the business model will it make a positive difference?
• Should school board members be appointed or elected?
• Should city government (mayors, judge executives) govern the schools?

As you can see from the above, education reform and teaching and learning are very complex. Before anyone makes a decision about any of these issues it is critical that the decision go beyond a general feeling. There is a lot of research and a multitude of data out there about each of these issues that must be reviewed carefully and examined before coming to any final conclusions. We at the Prichard Committee will be coming back to discuss these issues in more depth in the months ahead but would welcome you to share your thoughts at any time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Literacy, math, teaching effectiveness work expands (with Gates support)

PrichBlog readers will be delighted by this news: Kentucky is beginning a major expansion of implementation of the literacy and mathematics strategies being supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to be integrated with work linked to the Measures of Effective Teaching project.  Here's the Kentucky Department of Education's press release:

  (FRANKFORT, Ky.) – An $8.8 million, three-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will support teachers and students in 12 school districts, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) announced today. 
This investment, known as an “Integration Grant,” will support the integration of several critical streams of work – measures of effective teaching, implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the development of innovative tools and resources to help teachers deliver instruction.  
Kentucky is one of three states, including Colorado and Louisiana, to receive an Integration Grant from the foundation. 
“The 12 school districts involved in this work will be models for the rest of the state,” said Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday. “Their efforts will be crucial to Kentucky’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Students will receive meaningful and rigorous instruction, while their teachers will be supported through high-quality resources and measurement of their effectiveness.” 
Kentucky’s grant will be used to: 
  • build capacity among instructional leaders, principals and teachers to deploy high-quality literacy tasks and mathematics formative assessment lessons 
  • implement a professional growth and evaluation system to measure effective instructional practices and supports for continuous improvement 
  • implement a delivery plan for tracking and monitoring usage of the professional growth and evaluation system
This project will be implemented with 12 partner districts: Daviess County, Fleming County, Gallatin County, Jackson Independent, Jessamine County, Lee County, Owen County, Washington County, Jefferson County, Kenton County, Magoffin County and Simpson County. 
The partnership between KDE and these school districts will allow district and school leaders to collaborate on content and provide instructional support to teachers. It also will be used to validate and implement Kentucky’s teacher and principal effectiveness system. By the end of this grant period, Kentucky will have better student outcomes as a result of more effective teachers, shown by a valid and reliable evaluation model that includes multiple measures of effectiveness.  
“Kentucky is showing the nation how to accomplish thoughtful, deep integration,” said Vicki Phillips, director of College Ready Programs, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The Kentucky Integration Grant supports effective teaching in every way: professional development, development of new tools aligned to the Common Core State Standards and real-time feedback that helps teachers improve their practice.” 
The Kentucky work will focus on improving teaching and learning through literacy and math strategies in the partner districts and schools. KDE will use regional networks of English/language arts and mathematics content specialists and Effectiveness Coaches to work with teachers in partner districts to implement the instructional resources and tools in classrooms, in addition to assisting integration districts on the teacher and principal effectiveness component. 
For this school year, 12 school districts have been chosen to serve as integrated strategy districts – demonstration sites that will focus on implementing the math formative assessments and literacy tasks in selected schools. In the second year of the grant, more schools in the 12 integration districts will be added to increase teacher participation in mathematics across grade levels and engage additional content teachers in literacy implementation. In the final year of the grant, teachers from the first and second years of implementation will be videotaped so these resources may be used in professional development and training opportunities for other teachers. Model lesson plans, tasks and assignments related to literacy and mathematics will be distributed. Integrated Strategy Districts were selected in part based on the buy-in of superintendents, district leadership, teachers’ unions and school councils. Another important consideration was commitment to teacher release time and pay stipends for teacher-leader participation. In addition, other factors such as school improvement status, geographic representation and the concentration of students eligible for free/reduced-price meals were considered. 
Kentucky’s Integration Grant builds on earlier investments by the Gates Foundation, including an effort to through the Kentucky Department of Education to support the state’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards through regional networks

"Genius prize" economist on incentives and understanding

Roland Fryer is " an economist illuminating the causes and consequences of economic disparity due to race and inequality in American society," and a newly announced 2011 MacArthur Fellow. EdWeek blogger Sarah Sparks has a new post up on Fryer's work and thought.

In Sparks' reporting, what caught my eye was Fryer's analysis of financial incentives for students and teachers, and his explanation for why those incentives seem to have little or no net effect on achievement:
Most recently, in a series of randomized trials at more than 250 schools in 2010, Fryer found no benefit to using financial incentives for students to improve academic achievement. The studies built on his previous research that found no benefit to using financial incentives for teachers to improve student achievement.  
Fryer told me these experiments have fundamentally changed the way he thinks about the incentive structure in education.  
 "Economists always assume people know how to produce something. Incentives work if you are lazy, not if you don't know how to do something," he said. In the studies, he found teachers got excited about merit pay but still asked for professional development; students got excited about grade incentives but still called for tutors. "So that's spawned some new theoretical ideas for me. What if people don't know how to be produce something? What do optimal incentives look like in that environment?"
To me, that issue of knowing how to produce is where professional learning community work comes in.  Teachers working in teams can develop the knowledge and skill to do the "somethings" that work to raise achievement and shrink achievement gaps.  Professional development from outside experts can provide the big concept of a helpful change, but teachers will not become skilled at implementing that change until they have time to wrestle, plan, experiment, reflect, and refine that idea together.  With that engagement and mutual support, teachers can and do create important steps forward in student performance.  Incentives are never a substitute for the conditions that nurture true growth.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Flipped classrooms: New explanation, early data

Mind/Shift is sharing a new, highly visual explanation of the "flipped classroom" idea.   Here's just enough of the illustration to encourage you to check it out:

In a flipped classroom, the teacher's lectures and demonstrations become videos students study at home, and the hands-on practice that once was called "homework" becomes the main focus during the time students and teachers are together.  It's a breakthrough idea for using modern technology that can both types of learning opportunities stronger, as students can replay lectures at will and get much stronger coaching on their individual and small-group work during the school day.  I was excited about this idea last year, and it still strikes me as potentially very important.

The Mind/Shift article ends with some hopeful, if under-explained, data, saying that freshmen failing English dropped from 50% to 19%, and those failing mathematics dropped from 44% to 13% "after the flip."  That reads as though someone did at least a small systematic study, though it doesn't say who, or when, or where, or how we could find out whether it involved thousands of students or only a few dozen.  Taken with quite a lot of caution, that's at least a preliminary hint that this strategy may indeed be a technology-driven breakthrough in learning opportunities.

(Hat Tip: Prichard Committee Daily)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Postsecondary 2: Graduation growth statewide

Good news out today:
Since the year 2000, Kentucky’s college attainment rate (associate degrees and higher) among working-aged adults 25 to 64 years old has improved by six percentage points – from 24.5 to 30.5 percent. While Kentucky still lags many states on this measure (currently ranked 45th), it has moved two positions closer to the U.S. average, and the actual percentage change from 2000 to 2009 was the largest of any state in the nation (see Figure 1).  
More remarkable, the percentage of college degree-holders among the younger adults – those most likely impacted by many of the recent reform efforts – has improved by more than six percentage points (from 27.3 to 33.7 percent). The most notable change with respect to this age-group is the change in Kentucky’s state ranking from 44th in 2000 to 36th in 2009. Over this time period, Kentucky moved more positions in the positive direction than any state in the U.S. 
That comes from a report prepared by NCHEMS--the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems--and released today by the Council on Postsecondary Education.

The report also places Kentucky:

  • 1st for improvement in the six-year graduation rate at four-year schools. 
  • 1st for improvement in number of undergraduate credentials awarded be 1,000 18 to 44 year olds with no college degree. 
  • 3rd for improvement in the three-year graduation rate at two-year schools. 
  • 5th for improvement in number of undergraduate credentials awarded (of one-year or more in length).

Given Kentucky's historical challenges, we need that kind of progress--and more--to catch up with the nation and prepare fully for the knowledge economy.  That said, this news is well worth celebration on the way to continuing to press for further improvement.  The report comes with recommendations on how that further progress can be made, and it is well worth a full reading.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Standards, Assessments, Accountability: Quick Status Check

With a new school year moving forward full steam, it seems like a good moment to review where Kentucky stands on implementing the full Senate Bill 1 reworking of standards, assessments, and accountability.

Standards for Reading, Writing, and Mathematics
Our new standards for these subjects aim at college and career readiness for all students in reading, writing, and mathematics. Along with 45 other states, we've adopted the Common Core State Standards effort.   Many of those states are introducing Common Core to their teachers this year, aiming for implementation a year or more away.  Kentucky's out ahead on that, with Common Core already rolling in our classrooms for 2011-12.

Standards for Science and Social Studies
The older Kentucky Core Content is still in use, with hopes that multi-state efforts will bear fruit relatively soon.  For science, a framework of needed knowledge and skills is now in place, with work beginning to convert that into grade-by-grade standards. Social studies work is not as far along.

Even with those delays, science and social studies classrooms are still part of the urgent push forward. The Common Core State Standards include specific expectations for literacy in history/social studies and literacy in science and technical subjects.  To meet those expectations, students will have to move to new levels in each discipline, reading more deeply, writing more effectively, and thinking more rigorously about each subject.

Assessments of those Standards
Students will take new tests this year, all focused on the standards we now have in place, meaning Common Core for reading, writing and mathematics, and Core Content for science and social studies.  Those tests will make heavy use of assessment items developed before Common Core, so that the new level of rigor will come from how they are combined and how they are scored. 

Two groups of states are working now on shared assessments of Common Core.  Kentucky has not yet committed to either the PARCC or the Smarter/Balanced Consortium, which plan to have their designs fully operational by 2015.

Standards for Arts & Humanities, Practical Living/Career Studies, and Writing 
For other subjects, new program review rubrics are being launched this fall.  Kentucky no longer tests students on the arts, on practical/career topics, and on the sustained writing that goes into a portfolio, but schools remain responsible for providing robust learning opportunities.   Program reviews are Kentucky's new systematic approach to reviewing how well schools are meeting those expectations. Details on the program reviews are available here.

Accountability for Assessments, Program Reviews, and Other Indicators
Under Kentucky regulations, schools will be accountable for a combination of factors. "Next Generation Learner" data from the assessments will be a major part of the total, including data on overall achievement, results for students groups often caught in achievement gaps, individual student growth in scores,  scores indicating readiness for college and career, and graduation rates. "Next Generation Instructional Programs and Support" and "Next Generation Teachers and Leaders" evidence will also be factors in the total, with program review results included in the Programs and Support component.

For NCLB purposes, Kentucky has asked for a federal waiver to allow us to use the state formula in place of the current Adequate Yearly Progress (or AYP) system.

Upcoming issues
For each part of the new assessments, we will need new "cut points," specifying the scores that count as work at the proficient level, along with scores for being above and below proficiency.

For state accountability, we will also need cut points for schools and districts, identifying the combined results that qualify for each accountability element.

And for federal accountability, all eyes are on Washington waiting to see how Kentucky's waiver request will be treated.