Sunday, January 29, 2012

Teacher growth through teacher feedback

After seeing how valuable peer evaluation is, I think it should be part of every public school personnel system. Dedicating 2 percent of teachers to do this work is a large investment. It can mean raising the average class size by 2 percent or spending 2 percent more money. With budgets as tight as they are, most states will not add extra money for evaluation so we will have to make the case that it is worth the small increase in class size (of fewer than one student per class on average).
That's Bill Gates' bold proposal for a big change in how teachers invest their time, moving to a plan where a small but important fraction of the total teacher corps works full time on observing and strengthening the others.  The idea is that the feedback would strengthen their colleagues greatly in ways that, in turn, strengthen what students know and can do across the whole curriculum.   It's central to the education section of his 2012 Annual Letter.

The letter also explains key experience from the Hillsborough County (Tampa, Florida) school system, which is trying that model of feedback under a major grant from the Gates Foundation:

A key element of the agreement between the teachers’ union and the superintendent was to assign 2 percent of the teachers to become peer evaluators. These teachers were trained to observe classroom teaching and provide feedback on 22 different components. The principals have also been trained in this approach. Every teacher gets in-depth feedback from both the principal and the peer evaluator. 
Tampa has been doing this for three years now, and it is already making a big difference. Teachers told us they value having feedback from two different sources—the principal who knows the school the best and the peer who knows the challenges of their specific job. The first round of evaluation revealed that many teachers need help engaging the students to prompt critical thinking and problem solving. The district started to organize its professional development around these findings, and the teachers have seized that opportunity to become more effective in the classroom. 
When Melinda and I met with students, they told us that they had seen a big change during their time at the school. The success here required great work by Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia, Classroom Teachers Association President Jean Clements, and all of the teachers. I was particularly impressed with the peer evaluators. They all said they understood great teaching far better, having done the peer evaluation job. Some of the peer evaluators will go back to teaching and others will go into schools of education to help make sure new teachers have better preparation.
Crucially, this idea of peer evaluation is about strengthening teachers in their craft, and there isn't any good way to use test data in place of this sort of substantive feedback:
Without this investment I don’t think an evaluation system will get enough credibility with the teachers or provide enough specific feedback to help teachers improve. Looking at test scores is also valuable for most subjects, but test score data mostly just identifies who is succeeding—it doesn’t show a teacher what needs to change.
To me, this is a really big idea.  It's too big for any district or state to do it casually.  It's the kind of thing that any system should review and discuss with great care before jumping in --but it also has enough potential benefits to be worth exactly that sort of study.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kentucky students are not behind Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, or the nation

After receiving questions regarding the Kentuckians Advocating for Reform in Education's television commercials and website text we researched the data, and this post shares our findings.

The information presented by KARE in commercials here and here and website text here invites serious misunderstandings. No matter your position on charter schools, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and the nation are not doing better than Kentucky on the student performance measures KARE presents.

Fourth-Grade Reading
KARE’s commercials cite 2011 NAEP results showing:
  • 65% of Kentucky students reading below the proficient level. 
That figure is correct, but Kentucky is not scoring behind the states with charter schools listed in the KARE commercial. Instead, the same assessment shows:
  • 67% of Indiana students reading below the proficient level. 
  • 66% of Ohio students reading below the proficient level.
  • 74% of Tennessee students reading below the proficient level. 
  • 68% of students nationwide reading below the proficient level.
Fourth grade reading results do not show Kentucky scoring behind the states listed in the KARE commercial

African-American Eighth Grade Reading 
KARE’s commercials also cite 2011 NAEP results showing:
  • 42% of Kentucky African-American students reading below the basic level. 
Again, that does not mean Kentucky students are at a disadvantage compared to the states KARE cites for comparison. The same assessment shows:
  • 41% of Indiana African-American students reading below the basic level.
  • 42% of Ohio African-American students reading below the basic level.
  • 52% of Tennessee African-American students reading below the basic level.
  • 42% of African-American students nationwide reading below the basic level. 

Graduation Rates 
KARE’s commercials and website do not give a source for the claim that 25% of Kentucky high school freshmen will not graduate on time. If they add a reference, PrichBlog will be happy to report on how other states compare.

As a first analysis, though, the federal calculations of all states’ average freshman graduation rates estimate that for ninth graders from fall 2005 who should have graduated in 2009:
  • 23% of Kentucky freshmen did not graduate on time. 
  • 25% of Indiana’s freshmen did not graduate on time.
  • 20% of Ohio’s freshmen did not graduate on time.
  • 23% of Tennessee’s freshmen did not graduate on time. 
  • 24% of freshmen nationwide did not graduate on time. 

Other NAEP Results
KARE’s website shows some additional NAEP results not included in the commercials. In context, those results show Kentucky tied or ahead of the country and the other three states far more often than Kentucky is behind.

Adding Science to the Mix
The KARE site does not share any of Kentucky's 2009 NAEP science results.  Here's an important snapshot of Kentucky students results related to the jurisdictions mentioned in KARE's commercials, further clarifying that Kentucky public schools are not falling behind the comparison group.

To restate the main point, whatever the merits of charter schools, Kentucky students are not being left behind the students of Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and the nation.

Source Notes: NAEP data downloaded from the Data Explorer on January 24, 2012.  AFGR results downloaded from the National Center for Education Statistics on January 24, 2012.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SEEK and the Governor's Budget

Here's a quick overview of how Governor Beshear's proposed budget for the next two years addresses the SEEK base guarantee.

The SEEK base guarantee per pupil will go down:
  • $3,903 was the original SEEK base guarantee per pupil for 2011-12
  • $3,850 is the average guarantee that has actually been possible for 2011-12: schools turned out have more students than the budget expected and funding for each child had to be reduced as a result.
  • $3,833 is the proposed base guarantee for 2012-13.
  • $3,827 is the proposed base guarantee for 2013-14.
The total funding for the SEEK base will be flat:
  • $2.9 billion was the budget line item for 2011-12.
  • $2.9 billion is the proposed budget line item for 2012-13.
  • $2.9 billion is the proposed budget line item for 2013-14.
Why will the per pupil will go down while the total funding remains flat?  Primarily, because the number of students in average daily attendance is expected to rise:
  • 596,858 was the final figure used for 2011-12 SEEK allocations.
  • 600,662 is the budget assumption for 2012-13.
  • 603,523 is the budget assumption for 2013-14.
It is also important to note that though the local contribution of SEEK is expected to rise again, that growth is much smaller than in most past years:

  • $856 million of the guarantee was contributed by the local 30¢ tax rate for 2011-12.
  • $866 million of the guarantee is expected to be the local 30¢ contribution for 2012-13.
  • $881 million of the guarantee is expected to be the local 30¢ contribution for 2013-14.
(The SEEK guarantee is really funded by a combination of state and local dollars. In years past, growing local property values contributed a lot to Kentucky's ability to afford a growing SEEK guarantee.  Local growth is still expected to contribute, but now it works to limit how much the guarantee will go down.)

To put these SEEK numbers in further context, do note that federal funding is dropping rapidly, from $1,215 million last year to $878 million this year, and to an estimated $782 million in 2012-13.  State funding to specific categorical programs beyond SEEK will also drop, and we can also expect inflation to further reduce the buying power of school dollars from all sources.


"Sparkly People Loving Data" is a headline I couldn't possibly ignore. Brennan McMahon at the SCORE  Sheet blog reports:
This afternoon in Washington, DC, people who are instrumental to the conversations around education reform in this country—including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Tennessee’s own Governor Phil Bredesen, and neighboring Kentucky Education Commissioner, Terry Holliday—will gather to talk about the imperative of implementing and using data effectively to change student learning for the better. I am referring to the Data Quality Campaign’s “Day of Data,” during which we highlight the annual progress of the states in implementing longitudinal data systems to improve student learning and set the agenda for the coming year.  
You may have noted in my title my reference to “sparkly people”—this in no way has anything to do with the Twilight saga. Sparkly people, like Duncan, Rhee, Bredesen, and Holliday are those who get people’s attention; they galvanize people—move them to action, to excitement, perhaps even to anger.
I'm delighted to see Dr. Holliday as a marquee name, and even more delighted by McMahon's closing push to broaden data engagement:
These days anyone can be part of the changing conversations around data and education in their state, and the country as a whole. You don’t have to be sparkly—just willing to nag, ask questions, push back, and beg for more—to help effect change. Of course, the more you do that, the more people will pay attention . . . and eventually you might just be sparkly too!
I may never give another presentation in Kentucky without that quote!

[Hat tip: Myrdin Thompson]

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why Kentucky School Funding Is A Huge Concern (For This Year And The Future)

From 2007-08 to 2010-11, added federal dollars almost made up for state and local declines in funding for Kentucky schools. Add in other revenue, which is tiny in most districts and big in a few each year, and funding grew an average of $63 per pupil over those years after adjusting for inflation.

For 2011-12, we know the added federal revenue has dried up, and after several years of using federal dollars to fund the state SEEK formula, Kentucky is struggling to resume full responsibility for SEEK and unable to replace the other federal resources.  Estimating from Budget of the Commonwealth figures, the federal decline this year is likely to be more than $600 and the state increase closer to $60 per pupil after inflation.

Core point of this post: when we say that revenue per pupil grew slightly through last year, counting the temporary federal increases that are now gone, that means we know that the trend for this year and beyond will be decline unless state leaders step up in the current legislative session. We also know those funding losses will pose a grave danger to Kentucky's bold commitment to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in higher education and in the job markets of the future.

Here's a closer look at those trends for 2007-08 to 2010-11.

State funding per pupil, adjusted for inflation, declined an average of $726 from 2007-08 to 2010-11.

Local funding per pupil, adjusted for inflation, declined an average of $13 over the same years.

Federal funding per pupil, adjusted for inflation, grew an average of $615 over those years. That growth, of course, was not enough to replace the buying power of the shrinking local and state dollars.

Other revenue, adjusted for inflation, grew an average of $187 per pupil. Averages for other revenue need to be treated with care, because most districts receive very little from other sources, and a few receive quite a lot.

Combining those four categories, Kentucky schools received a total revenue increase of $63 per pupil after inflation from 2007-08 through 2010-11.

Again, looking to the current year and the future, we know our schools are now working with a federal decline and a state increase that is nowhere near enough to make up those losses. We also have reason to worry about local funding.  The newest report on state revenue says that July to December state property tax collections in 2011 dropped more than 9% from the 2010 level.  If local tax receipts show a similar trend, the results could be disastrous.  It's too early to know that will happen, but definitely time to be very concerned that it might.

The core point here is important enough to repeat: when we say that revenue per pupil grew slightly through last year, counting the temporary federal increases that are now gone, that means we know that the trend for this year and beyond will be decline unless state leaders step up in the current legislative session.  We also know those funding losses will pose a grave danger to Kentucky's bold commitment to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in higher education and in the job markets of the future.

Source notes: the main data for this analysis comes from Annual Financial Receipts and Expenditure reports per district, available here, with 2010-11 using the unaudited reports now available. Per pupil figures were calculated using December 1 preschool counts (from June 2010 and August 2011 Kentucky Board of Education briefing materials) plus K-12 average daily attendance plus growth (from SEEK files), and inflation adjustments were developed with this inflation calculator to reflect changes in what districts can buy with the money they receive.

Monday, January 9, 2012

AYP results for managed schools (including virtual options)

An education management organization (EMO) is a "private organization or firm that manages public schools, including district and charter public schools." Last year, 296 EMOs managed 1,928 schools across the United States.  The chart above shows data on their student results from a new edition of Profiles of For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management Organizations. Some key findings:
  • The weakest reported results come from for-profit virtual schools that deliver their curriculum and provide instruction through the Internet and using electronic communication.  Just 27 percent of those schools made AYP last year.
  • The next weakest results come from large for-profit EMOs running 10 or more schools, with 43 percent of those schools making AYP.
  • The strongest results, with 63 percent of schools making AYP are shown by for-profit EMOs that run three or fewer schools and by nonprofits that run four to nine schools.

I don't want to overstate the implications of these numbers.  The report rightly calls these AYP results a "crude" measure.  I'd love to see comparisons using NAEP or another consistent assessment, and I'd love to see scores that include a full curriculum of subjects, and I'd love to see scores that give partial credit for partial student success, rather than making an "all or nothing" proficiency judgment.

On the other hand, numbers like these do invite further exploration, with two issues looking especially important:
  • What are the right steps to ensure that virtual learning options are strong options?  Teaching quality doesn't develop without work in any school  That 27 percent is a good reminder that quality isn't guaranteed on-line either.
  • How can EMOs take effective school approaches to a large scale?  Can what works at one, two, or five schools be reliably repeated in a dozen or a hundred schools?  Maybe, someday, school improvement will be as replicable as the taste of a Big Mac.  The 43% shown above suggests that "scalability" like that is not --or not-yet-- a reliable option, at least as a for-profit strategy.
Source note: The report discussed above is Profiles of For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management Organizations: Thirteenth Annual Report 2010-11, with a hat tip to the Detroit Free Press by way of EdWeek.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Growing their craft, growing their culture

Toni Konz at the Courier-Journal has a great story up on teachers at Atkinson Elementary pursuing National Board Certification. Seven teachers have already completed the extensive process of study, reflection, expert feedback, and peer review that leads to recognition as a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), and they are now mentoring two more colleagues working through the same process.

Leila Smith, one of the teachers working toward NBCT now, is quoted as saying “It’s been pretty stressful... but this is something I decided to do because I want to grow as a teacher. It’s important for me to be the very best teacher that I can be for my students.”

What stands out most in this story, though, isn't that wonderful individual push to develop deeper skills, but the team approach to changing a profession and a building in ways that work for kids.

Atkinson is moving toward a culture where NBCT-style excellence moves from being a rarity to being a familiar part of a professional career. It won't ever be a step that everyone on the faculty has to take, but it may well become a part that everyone will consider taking.

The Atkinson team is also using that team work as a direct response to the school-wide challenge of historically rapid teacher turnover.  It's a high-poverty school where it has long been common for teachers to transfer out after two or three years.  Supporting NBCT work is a way to make the school a better place to work and a more appealing place to stay.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Expectations Up, Resources Down

Kentucky’s new goal is for all students to graduate from high school and be ready for college and career. As a state, we've committed to much higher expectations, but state funding per student has declined in program after program.

The Kentucky Education Action Team, bringing together the state's key education stakeholder groups, held a press conference this morning to call attention to those losses.  The official press release is here, and added KEAT information is here.  For this post, I'd like to share the numbers themselves.

The graphs below show the key declines in per pupil funding, adjusted for inflation, and they are painful news.

First, the state contribution to SEEK base funding is down.  It's true that the SEEK base guarantee has gone up, but each year the state has counted on local districts to fund more of that guarantee. Plus, the state  budgets for 2010-11 and 2011-12 underestimated the number of pupils who would need to be funded, and the state has handled that decline by cutting funding to below the guaranteed amount.

Preschool has taken even deeper damage, with rising enrollments meaning fewer dollars for every student needing that vital preparation for school success.
And then, each of the categorical programs that supports specific student and teacher needs has been reduced, removing essential supports for meeting Kentucky's ambitious goals for all students.

The one bright spot in this sad story is the unity of Kentucky education leaders around the need to move forward on Kentucky's goals and provide the funding to make those goals a reality. KEAT includes the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, the Kentucky Association of School Councils, the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, the Kentucky Education Association, the Kentucky School Boards Association, the Kentucky PTA, and the Prichard Committee, and leaders from all seven groups stood together this morning in favor of delivering what Kentucky's children need.