First, let's note that in many places in Kentucky, important parts of that work is getting done. That kind of collaboration is what sets our high performance, high poverty schools apart. It's what makes our most exciting districts so exciting. I believe it's what has moved our students above national average in NAEP science and reading, and to national average in mathematics.
From a state perspective, the question is how we can get that to happen in many more places--in 174 districts and more than 1,200 schools--and how we can get it to happen faster.
Here are some things I think Kentucky is doing well to build that implementation:
- Networks. As we implement our new standards, the state model for capacity building is built on sustained collaboration. In regional networks, small groups of teachers from each district are coming together to explore the standards, plan ways to apply teaching strategies that can bring the standards to life, try them out, and then gather again to discuss the results, refine the approaches, and then try them again.
- Intervention. We've long had an accountability approach to low-performing schools that worked in most places, so that most schools placed in state assistance improved their work enough not to need it after two years or sometimes four. For the smaller set of persistently low-achieving schools, we've recently changes our approach. The Department has moved to more intensive assistance, focused on much deeper work with the teachers in those schools. Along with the assistance, state leaders have also dramatically increased public pressure on those schools and their districts, so that local efforts have also intensified. So far, I think we're seeing good early results from this stronger approach.
- Expansion. The regional networks reach a few teachers, but then depend on local leaders to find ways to spread the same opportunities more widely. At the Prichard Committee's fall meeting, we heard that some districts are doing that very well, but others are doing weaker work. We need additional ways to get all educators strong opportunities to build their skills.
- Time. Collaboration needs time, and time costs money. In the current fiscal situation, that's going to require courage all around. At the local level, it means doing more with less and doing the most important things first--and I believe that teacher growth is the most important priority for creating student growth. At the state level, it means restoring funding already cut, and moving beyond that to provide truly adequate funding for what we've asked teaches to do.
- Culture. We must move to a shared and intense agreement that professional learning communities are truly essential to effective educational practice. By professional learning communities, I mean the full definition: sustained shared effort that analyzes student work in relation to standards, plans effective instructional improvements, implements them, and repeats in an ongoing cycle of collaborative improvement.
That's why, to close the loop from yesterday's post, consequential accountability is both important and not enough. The central element we are working add, with some good progress and plenty more to go, is teacher implementation of sound strategies, built through sustained collaboration with colleagues.