Monday, February 28, 2011

Retiring without social security

Kentucky teachers will not receive Social Security benefits for their years of service to our children. 

For most Americans, Social Security is the foundation of their retirement plans, with pensions, 401(k)s, and other forms of savings being added on top.  If the other elements fail or fall short, the federal program is the bottom layer they can count on for the basics.

For educators, the pension system is the first layer. 

Educators know that, but many non-educators don't, and this seems like a good time to point it out.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Higher education costs: the germ of a real argument

The Herald-Leader, reporting on University of Kentucky challenges, includes this:
The biology department, for example, teaches the largest number of undergraduate majors at the university, 40 percent of the students in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Last fall, 843 freshmen declared biology as a major, with 31 faculty members to teach them. Probably 500 will continue with the major.
"The challenge is that we don't have enough faculty and we don't have enough teaching space," said Vincent Cassone, the biology chairman. He came to UK from Texas A&M University with his laboratory.
From news like that, I can imagine an argument.

Say a university isn't just adding students: it's adding students in sciences that require lab work and the costs of adding lab space.  That pattern can supply a reason for costs to rise noticeably faster than the overall cost of living.

Plus, the added costs can be tied to increasing STEM capacity, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics do indeed need stronger investment here in Kentucky.

If growth in STEM majors is indeed a major cost driver at the University of Kentucky, it's a good argument for funding growth.

Only, why I am saying "if"?  Arguments like the ones above can and should flow from the universities to the public discussion, steadily.  It shouldn't depend citizens piecing them together from small clues in occasional long articles.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

NAEP Science: Jefferson County, Kentucky, and the U.S.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress does not produce scores for most school districts, but the Trial Urban District Assessment includes Jefferson County and other large districts that choose to participate.  The TUDA 2009 science results are now out.

Here are the grade 4 scale score result for all students and then a disaggregation by race and family income:

And here are the matching grade 8 results:

Finally, the table below color-codes which differences are and are not significant.

Both the scores and the analysis of statistical significance shown in this post come from the NAEP Data Explorer.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Formative-assessment: Popham pushes the process

If we are to promote use of the formative-assessment process, it’s crucial that more educators accurately understand the process in the way that empirical studies have shown it works best. If research-ratified versions of the formative-assessment process are used widely by teachers, then many more students will learn better and faster. But if formative assessment is regarded as nothing more than a specific sort of test, its impact is apt to be trivial.
That's James Popham, a nationally respected assessment expert, in a new column for Education Week.  Popham argues that a sound and helpful understanding of formative-assessment is competing with a dangerous misunderstanding of that idea.

What's the sound version? Formative-assessment, Popham argues, is a process that "involves teachers’ and/or students’ use of assessment evidence to make adjustments in what they’re doing." That evidence can be gathered in many ways.  It's the use of the evidence that makes the difference for students.

What's the mistaken idea?  It's thinking of  "a formative assessment" as something like a traditional test, maybe even one purchased from a well-known vendor.  That makes the document or the activity of filling it in central, and it loses track of the adjustment to learning step that really matters.

How important is it to put the right version to work?  Here's Popham's summary of the research:
Recent reviews of more than 4,000 research investigations show clearly that when this process is well implemented in the classroom, it can essentially double the speed of student learning. Indeed, when one considers several recent reviews of research regarding the classroom formative-assessment process, it is clear that the process works, it can produce whopping gains in students’ achievement, and it is sufficiently robust so that different teachers can use it in diverse ways, yet still get great results with their students.
That's a powerful claim, and I'm betting the full analysis behind it will appear in Popham's new book, due for release next month.

One more thing: Popham argues that to be clear that formative use is central to the assessment process that matters, we should all insist on hyphenating.  In this post, I'm trying out his idea that formative-assessment needs to be spelled just that way.  I'm not fully sold, but it's an interesting option to consider.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

African-American college completion: good strategy, big challenge

A new Courier-Journal editorial spotlights an important effort to increase the number of African-Americans graduating from Kentucky higher education:
The Kentucky Community and Technical College System, where many Kentuckians begin their journeys to bachelor's degrees, sees the problem and is taking up the challenge of doing more to increase the number of black college graduates.
So, starting on Feb. 27, the so-called “Super Sunday” initiative will get underway. The multi-faceted outreach effort will see all of the 16 community college presidents fan out to visit black churches across the commonwealth. The presidents will directly address the congregations and are partnering with the churches to host college fairs designed to introduce their institutions and to bring communities up to speed about the offerings at Kentucky's community colleges. Information about financial aid and student support services will be available.
The C-J contrasts African-American students earning 6.5 percent of recent Kentucky bachelor's degrees with African-American residents being 7.5 percent of Kentucky's total population.

Actually, that understates the problem.  African-American students were 10.1 percent of our 2009 high school graduates (the latest year currently available), and we should surely be aiming to see those graduates moving right on to collecting higher-level degrees in similar proportions.

Maybe states can share history standards after all!

The multi-state standards movement has results in place for reading, writing, and mathematics, and work in progress for science, but there's ongoing concern about when and how social studies will get its due. In that context, I was delighted to see the following set of history standards:
The student will demonstrate an understanding of...
…the exploration of the New World.
…the settlement of North America by Native Americans, Europeans, and African Americans and the interactions among these peoples.
…the conflict between the American colonies and England.
…the beginnings of America as a nation and the establishment of the new government.
…the westward movement and its impact on the institution of slavery.
…the Civil War and its impact on America.
…Reconstruction and its impact on racial relations in the United States.
…the continued westward expansion of the United States.
…major domestic and foreign developments that contributed to the United States’ becoming a world power.
…the economic boom-and-bust in America in the 1920s and 1930s, its resultant political instability, and the subsequent worldwide response.
…the social, economic, and political events that influenced the United States during the Cold War era.
…developments in the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in 1992.
That's a sturdy outline of main standards, and the original backs each one up with indicators in moderate detail.  I like it.  Believing that history makes most sense as the main unifying backbone for social studies, I'd be happy to see Kentucky convert to something this firmly narrative.

And now the surprises.

First, half of these standards, through the Civil War, are for fourth grade, with the other half aimed at grade five.  There's another, deeper set for the high school "core area" of "United States History and Constitution."

Second, they're from South Carolina.  Long-time blog readers will remember me cheerfully quoting of Commissioner Holliday explaining the social studies delay with a quip about his own Palmetto State roots and opinions there about the Civil War.

Well, these standards sure look like South Carolina's public schools are done playing with secession. The indicators behind these two years of standards and the high school versions are invested in being part of a great nation.  They're firm and clear about slavery, segregation and discrimination on the one hand and the struggle for liberty, equality, and inclusion on the other.  Kindergarten standards begin with the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, and eighth grade centers firmly on "South Carolina: One of the United States."

Most importantly, if South Carolina is committed to this clear a version of our shared history, that's a good sign for our chances of coming to share history standards as well.

A background note: I checked out the South Carolina standards because the Fordham Foundation's new report on history standards gave them the only A this year.  In general, I am wary of Fordham's approach to grading states: they don't distinguish standards without teeth and standards actually tied to accountability like Kentucky's; their work does not seem anchored in care about what's feasible for students at each age-level; and they take pride in a kind of acerbic wit that I find counter-productive in public discourse.  So I use their grades only as a very broad indication of what might be interesting to explore.  I'm glad to see that Kentucky's grades moved up from an F for the pre-2007 core content to a D for the current edition, but I wouldn't want Kentucky to set policy based on satisfying this particular set of critics.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

SB 1: Correcting that testing chart

My last post had an error: in grades 10 and 11, Kentucky will be testing college readiness in science, not social studies.  Here's a corrected chart, and I'll also be revising the original post.  I hope I haven't spread too much confusion!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

SB 1 Update: Moving toward new assessments [CORRECTED]

2009's Senate Bill 1 called for a new assessment system to reflect our new standards.  Yesterday's post provided an update on the standards element, and here's where we stand on the assessment element.

Testing companies have submitted bids to provide Kentucky with a testing system that includes multiple-choice, short-answer, extended-response, and writing-prompt items in five subjects.  The Department will be choosing one or more vendors soon, so that the assessments can begin in the next school year.

Some important innovations will be:
  • Blended assessments for grades 3 through 8, meaning that students receive both a norm-referenced score comparing them to a sample group and a criterion-referenced score relating to a fixed-standard of what they should know and be able to do.
  • End-of-course assessments in high school, gauging students' understanding as they finish taking English II, Algebra II, Biology, and U.S. History.  Those tests will be given when students finish the course, which could happen any time during the high school years.
  • A new writing test for grades 4 and 6 that includes attention to writing mechanics as well as requiring students to produce their own timed writing pieces.
Here's a chart of how each grade will be tested in the years ahead [now showing a corrected edition, repairing an error in the original version of this post]:

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Stimulus, education, and what comes next in P-12 funding

    The Hechinger Report notes that:
    The economic-stimulus package that Congress passed two years ago preserved hundreds of thousands of jobs in the nation’s public schools but, with the economy still sputtering, the future of many of those positions remains in jeopardy. [Hat tip to Commissioner Holliday via Facebook]
    Here's some thinking about working through the end of the added federal education funding Kentucky has received during the current, very tough economic times.

    What are the main funding supports Kentucky has received from the federal government?

    State fiscal stabilization funds were the biggest education slice from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  States were able to use those dollars to replace general funding to education. In Kentucky, we used that money to avoid reducing total state P-12 funding in 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11.

    Title I and IDEA funds were also beefed up by the 2009 ARRA, allowing schools to add some educators to work in those important programs.

    The 2010 EduJobs bill added some further funding, designated for districts to use on keeping and adding staff.

    Will it look like as those dollars disappear in 2011-12?

    Kentucky's share of the fiscal stabilization dollars will be gone.  That means the state budget will need to rely fully on state revenue. So far, the state budget provides a slight increase in total P-12 funding for next year.

    The Title I and IDEA added resources will be likely also be gone. I haven't seen a summary of how those dollars have been expended, but it makes sense that districts would be planning to use them fully.  Ideally, districts will have understood that these were temporary dollars to allow temporary jobs and be ready to drop back to earlier funding levels.

    EduJobs funding will be going, but probably not quite gone in most districts.  All the superintendents I've talked to mention working to keep some of those dollars available to protect against trouble in future years.

    So, does that mean we're nearly out of the woods, and next year will be comfortable?

    Alas, no.

    First, while total state funding is slated to grow next year, that total (quite rightly) includes payments for educators' retirement and health care.  The dollars that reach districts for salaries, supplies, and other costs will go down a bit, and that will feel like stringency for schools, teachers, and students.

    Second, the state budget adopted last year assumed an improbably low estimate of how many students Kentucky would have in average daily attendance. As a result, the SEEK fund does not have enough money to provide full funding to all students. The resulting shortfall means districts will receive less than promised this year, and they are likely receive less than promised again in 2011-12.

    And third, local funding may still be heading into trouble.  Most districts rely heavily on property taxes, but property values are not reassessed every year.  We may still have several years where assessments decline to reflect the troubled housing market and other economic setbacks.

    Overall, I'm trying to remember that Kentucky education has not taken the devastating levels of cuts now occurring in some other states.  I'm also trying to remember that, even if we've been hurt less than some places, this economy is still hard work even here in the Bluegrass.

    SB 1 Update: Where we stand on new standards

    2009's Senate Bill 1 called for a major revision in Kentucky's approach to standards, assessment, accountability, and work to equip teachers (current and future) to move student performance to the new expected levels.  Starting today, I'll blog my way where we stand on those deliverables, starting with  new standards for what Kentucky students should know and be able to do.

    The legislation called for a full revision of Kentucky's content standards in all subjects, to produce standards:
    • fewer, deeper, and clearer
    • linked to international benchmarks and economic competition
    • aligned with what students will need to succeed in higher education
    It also said that the new standards should:
    • be developed though collaboration between P-12 educators, higher education faculty, and other stakeholders
    • be available by December 2009 for reading and mathematics
    • be available by December 2010 for other subjects

    For reading, writing, and mathematics, Kentucky has adopted the Common Core State Standards, the result of a major collaboration of many states.  The specified stakeholder groups provided multiple rounds of feedback on the drafts, and the final edition of the standards became available in June 2010. (Yes, that's later than the law specified, but in return we will get tremendous benefits from being able to collaborate on tests, textbooks, technology, professional development, and other elements of putting the standards to work.)

    For science, a similar multi-state effort is underway, with the current timetable calling for a final edition in late 2011.

    For social studies, states and relevant organizations are discussing another round of collaborative development, but a firm plan of action is not yet in place–and that means there isn't a timetable available for when shared standards could emerge.

    For arts, humanities, practical living, and career studies, Kentucky has been developing its own standards, along with plans to use them in a new process called program reviews.  I'll describe that work in a separate post on the program review approach.

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    Lincoln the essential

    Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
    With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.      (Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1865)
    I note, with pleasure and pride, that this year this text is a Kentucky requirement, appearing in our reading standards (and the Common Core State Standards) as an expectation that all eleventh and twelfth grade students "Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features."

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    Reposting: My $71.5 million estimate for dropout costs

    Based on recent legislative interest in raising the dropout age, I'm re-posting my reasoning from last year about the possible costs, with slight modifications to make it easy to read in 2011. The dollar figures are still based on 2009-10 spending data.

    Raising Kentucky's dropout age from 16 to 18 by 2014 would require more than $71.5 million in added resources.

    The dollars would well spent, yielding an important return both to the students and the state in future economic strength.

    Nevertheless, the money won't grow on trees. The costs of keeping those students in school must either be added to state P-12 funding or subtracted from services districts provide to other students.

    For number lovers, here come the details.

    The most recent statewide dropout figures show:
    • 6,297 dropouts in 2006-07.
    • 6,729 dropouts in 2007-08.
    Students who were 16 or over in 2006-07 would be 18 two years later, so I assumed that half of those students would drop out. As a result, I assumed that under House Bill 301, Kentucky schools would have:
    • 9,878 additional students enrolled.
    Kentucky funds schools based on average daily attendance, not enrollment. For 2007-08, the statewide attendance rate was 94.12 percent. Applying that to enrollment, I estimated that Kentucky schools would have:
    • 9,302 students in average daily attendance.
    Under the 2009-10 SEEK formula, schools are guaranteed an average of:
    • $3,866 per pupil in base funding.
    • $5,285 once the add-ons for special needs and transportation are added to the base.
    • $6,078 once Tier I additional funding is added to base and add-ons.
    Those figures include both state and local funding.
    For 2009-10, Kentucky provides state funding of:
    • $362.7 million for retirement benefits for certified staff in schools and districts.
    • $577.7 million for health benefits for all staff in schools and districts.
    • $940.4 million total for benefits.
    • $1,606 for benefits per pupil in average daily attendance.
    • $7,684 per pupil adding benefits to the earlier $6,078.
    My total estimate is:
    • 9,302 students in average daily attendance, multiplied by...
    • $7,684 in per pupil funding, to get...
    • $71,474,246 in needed additional funding.
    That estimate leaves out a major facilities issue: serving 9,878 more students would require 318 additional classrooms even at the high school maximum of 31 students per class.

    The estimate includes the local contribution to the SEEK base and the local revenue needed to qualify for Tier I equalization. Most districts now raise additional revenue--called Tier II--that does not qualify for state equalization, but I do not have a good estimate of that revenue at my fingertips.

    That estimate uses only official reported dropouts. Based on comparing eighth grade student counts to graduates four years later, roughly 3,000 students a year seem to disappear without officially dropping out. My estimate assumed that those students would continue to be "lost or stolen or strayed."

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011

    Cynthia Heine analyzes Jefferson County results, potential

    Cindy Heine, interim executive director of the Prichard Committee, has shared this analysis:
         Recent media stories, editorials and letters-to-the editor noting the academic performance of students in Jefferson County call to mind the need to look carefully at progress in education and to remind ourselves of the importance of setting high expectations for all Kentucky schools and students.
         The clamor about the state’s low-performing schools, and the number of Jefferson County schools on the list, has drawn attention to important issues of student achievement. But it also carries implications that Jefferson County’s students are different from the rest of Kentucky’s students and that different expectations should apply in the state’s largest urban community. As a clear example, low expectations were among the deficiencies cited in the most recent school audits.
         First, it is important to note what we at the Prichard Committee have said so many times that it has almost become a cliché: Kentucky, including Jefferson County, has made significant progress in education through the years. But the progress isn’t enough, and too many students are still waiting to experience it. Fourteen percent of Kentucky’s students reside in Jefferson County, so what happens there is of great interest to the state as a whole.
         Jefferson County has fallen behind in recent years on state assessments. The percent of Jefferson County students scoring at the lowest levels (called novices) went up from 2007 to 2010 in all five elementary school subjects. At the middle and high school levels, novice performance increased in every subject except writing.
         Over the same period, the percent reaching state standards went down. That is, proficient and distinguished results declined in three of five elementary school subjects, four of five middle school subjects, and four of five high school subjects.
         The measurement that determines the state’s low-performing schools has been characterized by some as being too narrow in scope and flawed in other ways. But, whether you like the measuring stick or not, it’s the same one used to measure all schools in Kentucky. And the students in many of those schools, located in districts throughout the state, face significant challenges due to extreme poverty, rural isolation and other factors.
         But many of those schools deliver at high levels for students. For example, 46 Kentucky schools are in the top 25 percent for reading results and also in the top 25 percent for low-income enrollment. Another 47 schools are in the top 25 percent for both math results and low-income students. These schools are finding ways to deliver success despite facing the challenges of serving student populations who range from 74 percent to 98 percent participation in the federal school lunch program, a standard measure of poverty.
         The message from these schools is that all students can learn, and most at high levels, regardless of where they come from or the circumstances of their lives. This reflects the fundamental belief that framed the Prichard Committee’s early and continuing advocacy on behalf of all Kentucky students and that, in our view, should underscore the commitment of every educator and school district in the state.
         The respected Education Trust annually awards its “Dispelling the Myth” recognition to four schools that narrow achievement gaps between student groups, exceed state standards or rapidly improve student learning. Award-winning schools in the past two years have been located in New Orleans, Atlanta, East Harlem, New York, and other communities.
         In announcing the awards in 2009, the Education Trust noted that the winners “remind us that low-income students and students of color can achieve at high levels and that schools can make an enormous difference in the lives of all young people and thus in the country’s future.
         “These schools challenge the insidious belief that student achievement has more to do with who the students are than how and what they are taught. Each award-winning school is different, yet their success stories have common themes—high expectations, rigorous curricula, high-quality instruction, and regular tracking of student progress. The result: Virtually all students attending these schools meet or exceed state standards.”
         The Prichard Committee remains confident that all Kentucky students can achieve the same high goals. Expecting anything less is a disservice to our students and to our state.

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    The P-12 challenge, Elmore's explanation, and the Gates strategies

    As I read this interview with Richard Elmore, I find that the Gates Foundation literacy and mathematics strategies look like a perfect fit. With the Gates designs now slated for statewide scaling work in the next two years, that's worth explaining.  Building from Elmore's comments, I think we could sum up the last two decades as a story of theories, problematic results from trying the theory, and new theories.

    Theory 1
    If we assess schools and set consequences for results, schools will respond by raising performance dramatically.  Here, you can see the original KERA design from 1990.

    Practical Result 1
    It turns out that telling schools there will be consequences for bad scores does not enable them to produce better scores. To respond wisely to consequences, schools need to develop internal capacity to work together, analyze problems, and address them.  I've spent the last year arguing that "it happens in teams, or not at all," and I'm pretty sure Elmore is making a related argument.  Theory 1 is partly right, but incomplete.

    Theory 2
    If schools create strong internal teamwork--perhaps called professional learning communities-- they'll be able to respond effectively to consequences and raise performance dramatically.  If you look at KDE work like the Standards and Indicators for School Improvement (SISI, starting in 1999), you can see a major push toward that kind of collaboration.  If you look to Kentucky's high performance, high poverty schools, you also see major reason to support this theory.

    Practical Result 2
    Good teamwork results in some valuable improvement, but the growth seems to reach a plateau where improvement slows down.  We get some improvement, but not the dramatic change we were looking for.  Some of the educators I respect most have told me over the last few years that they're struggling to get the next big growth to happen.  Theory 2 is also partly right, but still incomplete.

    Theory 3
    School teams must focus on "the instructional core" of what happens between teachers, students, and content.  Accordingly, the right next step is to upgrade  the tasks students actually work on.  The idea that "task predicts performance" fits at this point and explains that students can't develop high-level skills if they are almost entirely limited to low-level learning activities.  The tasks must be rigorous, and they must also be organized and implemented in keeping with key formative assessment strategies, so that students enter the needed "virtuous cycle" of success after effort, confidence to make the next effort, and success again.

    Implementing Theory 3
    The Gates strategies are built on mathematics formative assessment lessons and the literacy tasks and modules.  Those approaches look to me like smart and substantial bids to implement that third theory.  That is, they help educators transform the instructional core, offer an escape from the common plateau in student learning, and and seem likely to start moving students to dramatically higher levels of performance. 

    In short, the Gates approach looks to me like a powerful approach to the next steps Elmore recommends and the next steps Kentucky needs.

    A note on sources: I've heard Literacy Design Collaborative leaders mention Elmore in discussions of their approach, and that's one reason I've been exploring his work. That said, the discussion above comes from my own comparison of the work underway in Kentucky districts to the Elmore interview and to the ideas published by Elmore and his colleagues in Instructional Rounds in Education.

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    Brawl over college for all (an opinion on the Pathways report)

    The new Pathways to Prosperity report from the Harvard School of Education has touched off intense debate. The authors argue that American P-12 education has been assuming that "four-year college is the only acceptable route to success" and should change dramatically to allow students to start moving towards other kinds of technical education and career skills as early as middle school. They propose a system more like those found in Germany and Scandinavia, with the technical programs deeply integrated into apprenticeships with actual employers.

    Kati Haycock of the Education Trust is among those rejecting this approach.  She thunders back:
    Nobody who spends much time in America’s high schools could possibly argue that they are focused on “college for all,” or that they ever have been. Most schools still resist the idea that all kids can and should be college-ready. By continuing long-standing, unfair practices of sorting and selecting, they create what is essentially an educational caste system – directing countless young people, especially low-income students and students of color, away from college-prep courses and from seeing themselves as “college material.” 
    * * *
    Americans have always valued education as “the great equalizer.” To truly live up to those ideals, we should be moving away from – not toward – a school system that automatically consigns certain groups to life on the margins.
    Here's my take on this fight.

    High school reality: Kati Haycock's got the winning side on how our high schools have operated. They have not expected most students to continue their educations, and they are not designed to get most students ready to handle complex texts, make regular use of key mathematical skills, or apply the body of content knowledge they need to be successful in college (or effective as citizens or valued employees in the jobs of the future).

    The concept of "college: If some audiences hear "education beyond high school" and assume that means "four-year college degree," they're making a mistake.  The Pathways argument is right to reject that assumption.  However, that isn't what President Obama means, or what EdTrust means, or what I mean, or what most P-12 educators mean at all.   The argument for preparing all students for college is built on understanding that many will choose technical schools and community colleges, and pursue associates degrees or career certifications.

    Technical skills for 16-year-olds: The Pathways authors offer a serious idea about integrating the last years of high school with study of technical skills and apprenticeships for students.  I can see that working.  Suppose that students entered that study after meeting the 10th grade expectations for Common Core literacy and mathematics, backed up by mastery of equally clear standards for science, history, civics, and appreciation of the arts.  And suppose that during the next two years, they continued building to the literacy and math expectations in the Common Core, while also taking on deep study of topics with both academic content and immediate economic application, including a major component of on-the-job learning. Those students would leave high school with good options for prompt employment in growing sectors of the job market. They would also have the skills to succeed in technical schools, community colleges, and four-year degree programs if they choose those options.  And, importantly, they'd have the skills to learn new career options later on if the economy shifts or their own interests change.

    Life choices for 11-year-olds: Crucially, though, the Pathways proposal is for students to start making those choices in middle school, not after grade 10.   Splitting students into different programs that early really does raise major risks that some programs will be allowed to be deeply inferior and ineffective.  And expecting them to make wise choices that early misunderstands the age group pretty badly.

    An economy where change is the only constant: Finally, the report makes the improbable assumption that we can tell in 2011 which technical skills will be in high demand in 2017.  It imagines that we can responsibly identify career tracks that starts in grade 6 and that will still make sense when participating students leave grade 12.  Surely we know by now that the job market changes faster than that.  Some pathways that look clear now will be forgotten and grown over by weeds in 2017, and others we haven't yet imagined will be opening up.  Students need the strong, nimble capacity to adapt to that rapid change, and that is the crucial reason that all of them need educations that include the same strong core until nearly the end of their secondary careers, with variations only when they're close enough to the end to get good information about what skills will really have market value--and already equipped to adapt if the information changes again within six or twelve months.

    Bottom line: Pathways to Prosperity contains a kernel of valuable thinking, but that useful bit is wrapped in far too many layers of misunderstanding about our high schools, our job market, and the actual policy debate about equipping all students for learning beyond the high school level.

    Gates strategies to grow in Kentucky

    Having shared earlier about the Gates Foundation strategies for implementing Common Core State Standards, I'm delighted by today's announcement of a new grant for statewide work around those approaches.  Here's part of the press release issued today:
    (FRANKFORT, Ky.) – The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has received a two-year, $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support implementation of the new Common Core Academic Standards (CCAS).
    The goal of the grant is to improve classroom instruction and align content taught to the Common Core standards by developing instructional strategies and tools in mathematics and literacy. The project will build off the work already underway in Kentucky via the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) and the Mathematics Design Collaborative (MDC) and shared so that teachers throughout the state can use them to improve student learning.
    “This work is directly connected to Kentucky’s successful implementation of the Common Core Academic Standards, the development of a model curriculum framework and the mandates of 2009’s Senate Bill 1,” said Felicia Cumings Smith, associate commissioner of KDE’s Office of Next Generation Learners. “These strategies will provide immense benefits for teachers and promote students’ critical thinking skills within and across the content areas.”
    KDE will partner with the state’s school districts through its Leadership Network system during this project. The networks — comprised more than 2,500 Kentucky educators across 29 networks — are designed to build the capacity of each Kentucky school district as they implement Kentucky’s Common Core Academic Standards, develop assessment literacy among all educators and work toward ensuring that every classroom is a model of highly effective teaching and learning practices.
    Network partners, such as the regional education cooperatives, institutions of higher education, the Council on Postsecondary Education and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, also will be included in the expanded implementation of LDC and MDC. As part of an earlier, separate grant from the Gates Foundation, the Prichard Committee has been working with a group of pilot school districts on LDC and MDC implementation, and the work of those districts will be shared through the Leadership Networks.
    This will provide wonderful next steps on the efforts already underway to use:

    • The mathematics approaches in Boone, Daviess, Jefferson, Jessamine, Kenton, and Warren schools.
    • The full task-and-module version of the literacy strategy in Kenton County schools
    • The literacy tasks and elements of the literacy module design in Boyle, Daviess, Fayette, Jessamine and Rockcastle schools.

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    NAEP Science: eighth grade gaps

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

    Again, 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.  Again, these numbers suggest that we have a race problem separate from poverty and a poverty problem separate from race.

    At this level, three of the four student groups shown above have a statistically significant lead on similar students elsewhere--but white students who do not qualify for free and reduced-price lunches are only ahead by a single (and insignificant) point.