Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hats off to Kentucky educators (how do we support them?)

The Herald-Leader's Sunday editorial connects our push for excellence and our struggle for funding:
Our hats are off to all the Kentucky educators who are scrambling, on a shoestring, to implement challenging reforms.
The new standards, adopted by 41 states and the District of Columbia, have the potential to make Kentucky's youth much better prepared for the world that awaits them.
We fear, though, that unless the state's economy perks up dramatically or, more unlikely, lawmakers decide to raise taxes, schools will slide down that funding cliff.
We really do need to pause and recognize the phenomenal effort underway. Kentucky teachers are wrestling the new standards, thinking through instructional implications, and preparing for new assessments and accountability that start next year.  They're doing that as federal stimulus funding fades away, as state funding for key programs is cut and the core SEEK formula underfunded, and as local funding continues to feel the impact of a terrible recession.

As a parent and a citizen, I'm amazed, delighted, and awed by their efforts.

With the Herald-Leader, I'm also worried, and I urge you to check out the editorial's full argument.  The financial damage is already serious, and it could easily get worse before it gets better.  If we want strong futures for our children and or state, we're going to need to do the hard work of backing up our brave educators with the resources they need.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Killing me softly

The recommendations of a government task force in 1988 and all subsequent statements of government policy have emphasized the importance of formative assessment by teachers. However, the body charged with carrying out government policy on assessment had no strategy either to study or to develop the formative assessment of teachers and did no more than devote a tiny fraction of its resources to such work. Most of the available resources and most of the public and political attention were focused on national external tests. While teachers' contributions to these "summative assessments" have been given some formal status, hardly any attention has been paid to their contributions through formative assessment. Moreover, the problems of the relationship between teachers' formative and summative roles have received no attention.
I'm reading that summary, and feeling Kentucky history.  From KERA's first pages, we knew, in one sense, that changing what happens in classrooms was going to be the important part of changing our children's futures.  In another sense, though, we have indeed allowed the summative assessments, the external tests, first KIRIS and then CATS, to hold our state policy attention.

There's more:
It is possible that many of the commitments were stated in the belief that formative assessment was not problematic, that it already happened all the time and needed no more than formal acknowledgment of its existence. However, it is also clear that the political commitment to external testing in order to promote competition had a central priority, while the commitment to formative assessment was marginal. As researchers the world over have found, high-stakes external tests always dominate teaching and assessment. However, they give teachers poor models for formative assessment because of their limited function of providing overall summaries of achievement rather than helpful diagnosis. Given this fact, it is hardly surprising that numerous research studies of the implementation of the education reforms … have found that formative assessment is "seriously in need of development." With hindsight, we can see that the failure to perceive the need for substantial support for formative assessment and to take responsibility for developing such support was a serious error.
Again, it's our story.  The best energy behind Senate Bill 1 came from educational leaders talking about the need to develop the deep, important, day-to-day versions of formative assessment practices.  We, too, have come to see "a serious error" and to work on taking new state-wide responsibility for making the real changes that matter for learning.

So, who knows all about us?    The quotes above are from Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, in their groundbreaking, constantly cited, Kappan piece, “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment.”  They think they're writing about England and Wales.

I think they're writing about Kentucky, and I'm stunned to know how completely our path can be described by scholars so very far away.

Monday, I'll be ready to take up their dare about doing the next work better this time around.

 Right now, though, I'm going to crank up some Roberta Flack, and think about someone far away "telling my whole life with his words, killing me softly with his song."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

STEM degrees holding steady

From 2008 to 2009, Kentucky held onto its percent of students earning bachelor's degrees in STEM subjects.   That is, 2,460 of the 19,996 bachelor's degrees awarded in 2008-09 were in natural sciences, computer sciences, and engineering--compared to 2,412 of 19,639 the previous year.  

Over the same period, the national STEM percentage slipped slightly, and Kentucky's ranking among the 50 states moved up slightly from 45th to 44th.  

The results below were calculated using data from the Digest of Education Statistics, using both the 2010 and 2009 editions

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Losing a little ground on college enrollment

Kentucky has slipped backward a bit in our percent of recent high school graduates going on to college, while the  nation as a whole gained ground. The chart above includes graduates of Kentucky public and private high schools who enroll in degree-granting institutions anywhere in the country.  While we were 26th among the 50 states on this indicator in 2006, these updated results put us 31st.

The 2008 information above comes from Digest of Education Statistics 2010, now partially available on-line.  The 2006 results are from the 2008 edition of the same publication

Monday, March 21, 2011

Call for Common Content: how the advocates want to do the work

In yesterday's post, I described a new, high-powered call to develop a shared curriculum, providing grade-by-grade steps in major subjects and going a giant step beyond the current Common Core approach to literacy and mathematics. The "Call" statement recommends seven guidelines for how that sort of curriculum should be created:
1. Developing one or more sets of curriculum guides that map out the core content students need to master the new Common Core State Standards
2. Involving teachers, content experts, and cognitive scientists — not just curriculum designers by trade — in the development of such curriculum guides.
3. Writing the common core curriculum guides with care and restraint, such that — when taught at a reasonable pace, with reasonable depth—they would account for about 50 to 60 percent of a school's available academic time.
4. Including sample lessons, examples of acceptable levels of student work, and assessments that help teachers focus instruction as well as measure student outcomes.
5. Establishing a nongovernmental quality control body, with a governance structure composed of professionals: teachers, content experts, cognitive scientists, curriculum designers, and assessment authorities.
6. Creating state teaching quality oversight bodies to work on linking student standards and curriculum guidance to teacher preparation and development, and to ensure that sufficient resources are allotted to these efforts.
7. Increasing federal investments in implementation support, in comparative international studies related to curriculum and instruction, and in evaluations aimed at finding the most effective curriculum sequences, curriculum materials, curricular designs, and instructional strategies.
Do notice the carefully limited role for the federal government in that: there is no call for the U.S. government to create the curriculum or provide incentives to adopt it.  Instead, the plan is to create an approach shared by multiple states, or even several approaches each shared by a number of states, with the feds contributing international comparison insights and evaluation research.

That recommendation, plus the clarity about using teacher expertise and an additional note in along side recommendation 4 that says "We do not, however, recommend that any specific pedagogical approach be adopted for broad-scale use," tipped the scales for me.  I've signed on, thinking that doing this work can make a significant difference for future learning

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Call for Common Content and a Core Curriculum

An array of education leaders are now arguing that the best path forward for American education lies through developing a strong shared curriculum with an explicit grade sequence for core disciplines. They want to build on the Common Core approach to literacy and math standards with a clear, specific plan for what students will learn in each year of school in other major subjects

The drafters of "A Call for Common Content: Core Curriculum Must Build a Bridge from
Standards to Achievement" expect significant learning benefits from a systematic approach shared by multiple states:
Thanks to advances in cognitive science, we now understand that reading comprehension — so essential to almost all academic learning — depends in large part on knowledge.  In experiments, when students who are "poor" readers are asked to read about a topic they know well (such as baseball), they do much better on comprehension measures than "good" readers who know less about the subject.
The systematic effort to establish common, knowledge-building content must therefore begin as early as possible. The younger we start, the greater the hope that we can boost achievement across all schools and classrooms, but especially among our most disadvantaged students. Further, by articulating learning progressions linked to a grade-by-grade sequence for how learning should build over time, a defined curriculum will better enable each teacher to build on what students have already been taught. Students will also benefit, as they will be much less likely to find themselves either struggling to overcome gaps in their knowledge or bored by the repetition of what they have already learned.
They also argue that stronger curriculum will allow stronger assessments, so that each year's teaching and testing can work together:
Countries that already enjoy the benefits of a knowledge-rich curriculum are able to design course-related assessments — tying classroom and system-wide evaluations to what students are actually being taught. Rather than waste time prepping for what might be on the test, students and teachers can be confident that mastering the course content will prepare them for what they will be asked to demonstrate and do.
Original signatories to the statement include Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Kati Haycock of the Education Trust, Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy, and scholars like Linda Darling-Hammond, Bill Schmidt, and Uri Triesman.  I also note Milton Goldberg, my boss when I worked for the U.S. Department of Education, and Checker Finn, Milt's boss in those same years.   Additional signatories are welcome to sign on here.  Overall, the early names suggest that a serious campaign is underway!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

“I want my kids to be able to open a primary document and be able to pull the meaning, read the graphs, ask questions about the procedures being done, the conclusions being drawn,” she said. “These are the literacy skills you need in science. And there is a lot of reading to get to the joy of it.”
That's NYC high school teacher Stephanie Lane, describing her sense of urgency about building science-specific literacy skills. This EdWeek article describes pilot work by Lane and her colleagues taking on the new "complex text" requirements that are central to the new Common Core State Standards.

The details of their "inquiry-based" approach to digging in are helpful, and so is the central point about Common Core: our teachers will be investing a lot of hard, important work to understand and deliver on these new, demanding expectations.

Powerful fiscal comparisons!

I'm a little late spotting this "infographic" from the Center for American Progress, but it makes a potent point about the current federal budget debate!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What if teacher pay started higher?

Gadfly's Mike Petrelli offers an idea about compensation that really works best with his illustration:
Basically, the idea is here is understanding how long it takes for people in different professions to reach their peak earnings.  Doctors and lawyers moving up quickly to nearly 100% of their career peak and then staying at a plateau with little variation.  Teachers, in contrast, only get to their top pay level just before they can retire.

Petrelli makes a rapid case that it would be better for the teacher curve to look more like the others. That wouldn't be flat pay for all years: it would have a couple of steps as teachers passed key milestones that go with rising effectiveness. But it would mean a teacher who had gotten a solid mastery of classroom practice would move up more quickly in the early years.  In exchange, the peak years might not go as high, but total compensation for a career would be the same.

I think there's an idea here that could have benefits, and it's more like the way McKinsey & Company say the world's best-performing nations organize compensation.  What's harder for  me to imagine is how an American school system to move smoothly to this model.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Charter promise v. charter delivery

“No matter how you do it, the data doesn't say charters are a smashing success,” said Jonathan Plucker, an Indiana University researcher who studies charters. “They have not reached the potential that we were promised.”
That quote in the Courier-Journal strikes me as a fair summary of the charter research overall.

It still seems to me that charters have a substantial advantage: if principals, teachers, and parents are on the same page and united in supporting the school's philosophy and methods, that very unity ought to result in children succeeding at higher levels than they do at schools where some of the adults disagree with the main approach.   Instead, the studies coming out either show no advantage or small one.

The C-J also provides added detail from analysis originally done by the Indiana Star:
* Charter schools’ performance was very similar to the district’s on ISTEP, but charters ranked somewhat higher on year-over-year improvement for their students when compared to those with similar scores in English.
* Charters outperformed the district on new high school end-of-course exams begun last year, with a larger share of charter schools ranking high in the state and with fewer at the bottom.
* On the state's rating system, which considers test scores and growth for all students, the performance of charters and district schools was similar, but charters had a higher percentage of schools rated in the top category of “exemplary” and a lower percentage in the bottom category of “probation.”

Saturday, March 5, 2011

SEEK reduction: why would districts take different cuts?

A commenter on my earlier SEEK reduction post has asked "Why doesn't the cut affect every district equally?"  Here's an example, in two parts.

SEEK funding in normal times
Usually, the SEEK formula provides matching dollars for matching student needs, by combining local and state funding.  For example, here's the base funding two Kentucky districts would receive if there were no SEEK shortfall for 2011-12.

For both districts, the local portion comes from taxes that raise 30¢ for each $100 of taxable property. Jackson Independent has very little taxable property to support each student, so its local effort only raises a little money.  Fayette has more property per pupil, so its local effort yields more money.

The state portion then adds the dollars needed to get them to almost equal funding.  In the chart, Jackson Independent's base funding totals $5,058, while Fayette's is $5,009.

The amounts aren't identical, because the SEEK formula calls for added money for children with disabilities, limited English, low income families, and transportation needs.  That is, SEEK ensures that similar students qualify for similar dollars.  That's why I described the formula as about providing matching dollars for matching needs.  (Doing it that way also meets the requirements of constitutional equal protection: the children aren't treated identically, but there's a rational basis--and even pretty substantial good sense--behind the variations.)

SEEK reductions in bad times
The current SEEK regulation, set by the Kentucky Board of Education, calls for any shortfall in state SEEK funding to be covered by a "pro rata reduction."  Reducing each district's state funding by the same percent, though, means reducing each one's state funding by a different dollar amount.  For example, a 1% cut to the district above would look like this:
Added information
I've simplified this example in two ways. First, I've used a simple 1% reduction, so readers can easily see the arithmetic.  Second, I've only shown how base SEEK funding is equalized, but the total SEEK formula also includes dollars for facilities and for added equalization if districts voluntarily set higher tax rates.  

The basic principle, though, is the same.  

Because some districts have lower property wealth, they have lower local revenue.  

Because they have lower local revenue, equalization gives them more state revenue.

Because they get more state revenue, cutting state funding by an equal percent means cutting them by unequal dollars.

Or, to take it back to basics, it means that students with matching needs do not receive matching reductions, and living in a poorer district means the students lose more state support.

Mapping well-being

The NYTimes is offering stunning maps of the 2010 Gallup well-being indicators. The shot above shows the composite map combining all 20 indicators.  Facing brutal facts, I'll point out that the lightest yellow shows respondents reporting the lowest well-being, and only one state has all its congressional districts showing that lightest, lowest level.

That said, the map set is fascinating, letting viewers choose separate indicators for learning, stress, happiness, depression, health problems, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, job satisfaction, work environment, smoking, exercise, fruits/vegetables, community satisfaction, community improvement, nighttime safety, inadequate food, inadequate shelter, dental visits, and health insurance.  Do check it out!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Senate SEEK cuts: the per-pupil impact

For the 2011-12 school year, the Kentucky Senate has voted for SEEK cuts would take away:
  • An average of $65 per pupil for each Kentucky K-12 students.
  • $28 per student in the Anchorage Independent schools.
  • $97 per student in the Owsley County schools.
  • Amounts in between the Anchorage number and the Owsley number in each other district.
Those cuts were voted on as an amendment to House Bill 305, the current legislature's effort to deal with a Medicaid funding shortfall. On Wednesday, the Senate amended the bill include across-the-board cuts to many parts of the state budget, including the SEEK formula that provides Kentucky's main funding for K-12 education. Thursday, the House rejected the amendments, which means the bill is almost certain to go to a conference committee that will work out what will actually happen.  That is, what the Senate voted on is not necessarily going to be the final outcome.

For number lovers, my figures are based on the district cut projections KSBA published yesterday, divided by the estimated  average daily attendance data KDE is currently using for 2011-12 SEEK forecasts.  I've also prepared a four-page PDF file showing the per-pupil reduction for each district in the state: to download that, click here.

For readers following school funding closely, my numbers above and in the PDF document show only the potential per-pupil cuts from to the most recent Senate action.  SEEK funding for next year will also be reduced to deal with a previous shortfall, and districts are already adjusting their budgets to handle that change.  The numbers here do not include that earlier shortfall.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Time to raise college completion rates

Over at Pure Politics, Bob King argues forcefully for greater attention to college and university graduations rates:
Only 46.5% of students are graduating in six years or less from Kentucky’s public universities, according to the newest data as of 2009 provided by the Council on Postsecondary Education.
King used the figure 48%.
“We need to do a better job with our students,” said Council president Robert King on Wednesday’s edition of Pure Politics. “We have seen significant improvements over the last decade in terms of graduation rates, in terms of the numbers of credentials, certificates, associates degrees, bachelors and higher degrees that we are producing at our universities…. but the reality is we need to do better.”
As part of a new strategic approach to higher education in Kentucky, King said Kentucky’s schools will no longer follow the tradition of taking students’ tuition money and offering education in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion.
“We do care. If you’re going to do your part as a student, then we’re going to do everything in your power to help you finish,” King said.
The full video interview with Ryan Alessi is here.

Teacher pay (two quick policy connections)

Two follow-up thoughts on the teacher pay data I shared earlier.

First, while we paid 2007-08 teachers less than national average at every level of experience, we got closest to other states for the newest teachers.  Relatively strong starting salaries help with recruiting strong new members into the profession.  That's a plus.

Second, that plus is not enough, because the starting salaries shown mostly will not support a family. The Working Poor Families Project estimates that to be able to cover family needs without relying on charity, family generosity, or government support, families need an income at twice the poverty level.  For 2008, that kind of self-sufficiency required a family income of about $44,050 for a family of four.  Kentucky teacher pay only reaches that level for folks who have earned a masters degree and worked 11 or more years.

UPDATE TO ORIGINAL POST:  For 2007-08, a family of four qualified for the federal school lunch program if its income was  $38,203, and yes, the average starting Kentucky teacher that year had pay below that line.

Kentucky and national teacher pay (the numbers)

Depending on education and experience, Kentucky teachers earned from 82 percent to 91 percent of national average in 2007-08 (latest year available), with the newest teachers coming closest to national levels of pay. Below, the dollar figures and then the percentage comparisons.

Source note: The starting data comes from Digest of Education Statistics: 2009.  These numbers reflect base salaries (leaving out pay for extra duties and extended days), and each data file includes a note saying that it “includes regular full-time teachers only; it excludes other staff even when they have full-time teaching duties (regular part-time teachers, itinerant teachers, long-term substitutes, administrators, library media specialists, other professional staff, and support staff")

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Prichard Committee names Silberman as new executive director

Here's the press release with the big news:
Veteran educator recognized as state, national leader for student achievement, school improvement
LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 2, 2011) – Long-time school superintendent and education leader Stu Silberman was named Wednesday as executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.
Silberman, who recently announced his retirement as superintendent of the Fayette County Public Schools, has been recognized by state and national education organizations for his student-centered leadership initiatives and his successful efforts to raise student achievement.
Silberman said, “It has always been my intent to make a difference in the lives of our children through public education, and I have been blessed to serve in positions that have enabled that opportunity. It is still my intent to make this difference, and I am honored by the opportunity to do this with the Prichard Committee. I have been a believer in the work of the Prichard Committee since I arrived in Kentucky in 1995. I believe this organization has and will continue to have a huge impact on the future of Kentucky’s kids.”
Silberman succeeds Dr. Robert F. Sexton, the committee’s founding executive director who died in August 2010. Under Sexton’s leadership, the Prichard Committee became a nationally recognized model for citizen engagement on behalf of improving education at all levels. The nonprofit citizens’ organization, with members from across Kentucky, was founded in 1983.
“Since Bob Sexton’s death, we have focused on honoring his legacy by continuing the important work that framed his career of public service,” noted committee Chair Sam Corbett of Louisville. “The board is thrilled that Stu Silberman has agreed to lead that effort in the years ahead. We know he will bring his own special energy, creativity and vision to the Prichard Committee as we continue our push for the best possible education for every student in the Commonwealth.”
Silberman became superintendent in Fayette County in 2004 following nine years in Owensboro as Daviess County superintendent. His 37-year career in education also included service in Tennessee as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and deputy superintendent. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and completed post master’s studies in educational leadership at the University of Alabama.
Silberman, who will assume the Prichard Committee position on September 1, emphasized that his decision to accept the Prichard Committee position played no role in his retirement as Fayette County’s superintendent, which is effective August 31.
“When I announced my retirement I said that I was still interested in doing something where I could make a difference for kids but at the same time be more available to my family,” he said. “I had no idea that it would happen this fast. To work with an organization that has made such a difference for kids is truly a blessing, and it is my hope to be able to continue the great work that has been going on.”
Among his many honors, Silberman has been named the Kentucky Superintendent of the Year three times and a National Superintendent of the Year finalist. The University Council for Educational Administration recognized him with its National Excellence in School Leadership Award in 2010, when he also was named National Administrator of the Year for World Languages. His community and civic activities have included serving on the boards of the United Way, Boy Scouts and the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra and memberships in the Chamber of Commerce and numerous other organizations.
Stu and his wife, Kathy, have three grown daughters and one granddaughter.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Principal selection changes pass House committee

KyChamberBlog offers the first report I can find on action this morning in the House Education Committee:
SB 12, a bill to give superintendents more of a say with the hiring of school principals, passed the House Education Committee today with a vote of 23-3. The bill was amended to include the following compromise between the teachers, administrators, superintendents and school boards.
• During the principal selection process, the outgoing principal shall not serve on the school council.
• The superintendent or the superintendent’s designee shall serve as the chair of the council for the purpose of the hiring process. The superintendent shall have voting rights during the selection process.
• No principal who has been previously removed or demoted for cause within the district from a position may be considered for appointment as principal.
• The principal shall be elected on a majority vote of the membership of the school council. 
• Any meeting of three or more members of the school council shall be subject to existing open meetings laws including any necessary public notification.
More later when I can read the actual committee substitute.