Thursday, December 19, 2013

Needed: Teacher Synergy

Susan Weston, a Kentucky education consultant who often works with the Prichard Committee, talks about the need for increased teacher synergy.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Parent Engagement Development Needed

Parent Engagement Development Needed

Stay-at-home mom and active volunteer, guest blogger Amy Quinn shares her experience with an excellent parent engagement training.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The System Isn't broken!

The System Isn't broken!

Guest blogger David Cook says the system is not broken. Instead we need a new system.

Monday, December 9, 2013

No Room for the Extras - Cut Music?

No Room for the Extras - Cut Music? 

Guest Blogger Christine Holajter, Hope Street Group Kentucky Teacher Fellow and K-2 General Music Teacher at Straub Elementary in the Mason County School District discusses budget cuts causing music programs to be eliminated.

Nontraditional Gap Kid Needs Parent Engagement

Part Two: Nontraditional Gap Kid Needs Parent Engagement  

Part II - Adrienne Thakur, a practicing attorney and active parent in Lexington, Kentucky discusses how parent engagement will help the nontraditional achievement gap kid. 


Monday, November 25, 2013

Want passion? Re-think the school day.

Teacher Lauren Hill talks about the need to restructure the school day.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Startling numbers: Kentucky private school enrollment decline

Kentucky private school enrollment seems to have dropped 21% in a decade. In the same period, private school enrollment nationwide declined 9%, and Kentucky public school enrollment grew by about 32,000 students and about 5%.

The graph above is based on data from Digest of Education Statistics, and it shows a trend I truly would not have guessed without seeing the numbers.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stu Interviews KEA Executive Director, Mary Ann Blankenship

Stu interviews Mary Ann Blankenship, Executive Director of the Kentucky Education Association about Kentucky's progress and reform efforts.

Stu Interviews KEA Executive Director, Mary Ann Blankenship

Experience at Education Nation

Experience at Education Nation

Kris Gillis,a Dixie Heights High School English Teacher for Kenton County Schools, talks about three days at EducationNation.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Governor's Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership Opens Many Doors

Julie Pile is a GCIPL (Governor's Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership) graduate of the class of 2012 and talks about how this leadership training opens doors for parental engagement.

The Governor's Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership Opens Many Doors

Monday, October 21, 2013

Working the Plan and Getting Results

Debbie Wesslund is one of seven members of the Jefferson County Board of Education in Louisville - a district of more than 100,000 students. She writes about the results, released last month, of the district's progress in Kentucky's Unbridled Learning accountability system.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Just Say No" to Defining Innovation

David Cook from the Kentucky Department of Education talks about the need to build a culture for innovation.

"Just Say No" to Defining Innovation

Monday, October 14, 2013

Nontraditional Achievement Gap Kid Seeks Classroom Engagement

This is a post by Adrienne Thakur, a practicing attorney and active parent in Lexington, Kentucky.  She talks about the nontraditional achievement gap kid seeking classroom engagement.

Nontraditional Achievement Gap Kid Seeks Classroom Engagement

Monday, October 7, 2013

Which groups and subjects moved toward proficiency?

Statewide, which subjects and groups showed growth, strong growth, or decline from 2012 to 2013?

Trying to see a complex pattern fairly whole, I'm trying a format that shows just the change in scores, color-coded with red for declines, white for scores that were flat or improved less than four points, and green for scores that grew four points or more.   Here, I'll share a separate chart for each level of school.

At the elementary level, reading and science showed declines for multiple groups, and small growth for a few.  Writing and language mechanics showed showed strong growth for multiple groups and moderate growth for most others.  Math and social studies showed mainly moderate growth.

Zooming in on groups, the Gap Group and the disability group had growth in every subject, and free and reduced-price meal students had only one decline.

Zooming back out to all students, there were three declines. The writing and language mechanics growth are plusses, but they don't make the reading, science, and social studies results seem okay.

In middle school, reading and language mechanics showed strong or moderate growth for every group.  Math and science, though, showed declines or small growth for every group, and social studies and writing showed declines or small to moderate growth as well.

Among student groups, the Gap Group and students with disabilities or free & reduced price meal eligibility showed growth in all subjects, while Asian students showed a worrisome decline in three subjects.

For all students, there was growth in five subjects and a decline in one, though the mathematics result is a razor-thin 0.1 percent improvement.

At the high school level, mathematics shows a decline for every group except students with disabilities, and social studies shows increases--big increases--for every student group.  Reading and writing are thoroughly mixed pictures with declines, growth, and strong growth depending the group in question.  Language mechanics shows only declines and small improvements.

Looking at group patterns, students with disabilities improved in every subject, and the Gap, free and reduced meal, and African American groups improved in all but one--with most of those results being quite strong.   Students with limited English proficiency declined in all but one subject, and Asian students declined in three of six.

For all students, the pattern is strong growth in science, social studies and writing, moderate growth in reading and a small uptick in language mechanics, but a disturbing decline in mathematics.

Looking at the whole sweeping picture, I think the spotlight developments are:
  • Successes for the Gap group, free and reduced meal students, and students with disabilities.
  • Weaknesses for students with limited English proficiency and African-American, Asian, Hispanic students.
  • Growth in elementary writing and language mechanics, middle school reading and language mechanics, and high school science and social studies.
  • Troubling declines in elementary reading and science, middle school mathematics and science, and high school mathematics.
Finally, one huge caveat about this method: it's about movement.  To make that simpler and easy to see, it leaves out the starting and ending points for each group.  That's not a small matter. In high school math, students with disabilities showed the only growth, but they still have only 11.1 percent proficiency.  Asian students, meanwhile, showed the steepest decline in that subject but have 66.4 percent proficiency after that loss.  Both change in proficiency and levels of proficiency matter, and this approach is  helpful only for seeing the change part of the story.

Engaging Common Core: Writing to Build and Share Knowledge

Susan completes her series on engaging the common core:

Friday, October 4, 2013

Some more on Kentucky graduation rates

See that relatively good-looking 2013 graduation rate and the relatively weaker ones from years past? This post is about why they differ and why the new one is such a great step up.

The 2013 rate comes from tracking a cohort of students from entering high school to leaving, even if they changed schools. That's possible with the new data system we put in place a few years ago.  At last, we can divide our number of graduates by the true number of kids entering high school, rather than by an estimate.   It's the smart way to show what proportion of kids graduate.

The 2011 and 2012 numbers are different.  AFGR is short for Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate, because that method averages together the number of ninth-graders four years back and the number of tenth-graders three years back, and then divides the number of graduates by that.

Scratching your head?  Good.  Here comes some explanation.

Grade 9 is always every state's largest single class, because more kids repeat that grade than any other.  Only, no matter how many times a kid is in that grade, he or she can only graduate once. So every graduation rate has to have some plan for making sure the repeaters aren't counted repeatedly.

AFGR was a way to estimate first-time freshmen when data systems were not able to track individual kids.  In its original form, AFGR was used for whole states, and it included a grade eight count from five years before the graduation count.  Serious research showed those estimates to be pretty good.  To use AFGR for individual schools, the grade eight data had to be dropped--and I have not found any research explaining why that produced close estimates.

In fact, I'm pretty sure that a two-grade AFGR consistently yields too high a number in grade nine,  When you divide by a number that's too big, you get a graduation percent that's too low.

That's why the 2011 and 2012 numbers are so much lower. Each was calculated using a sound number of graduates and dividing by too many ninth graders.

That's also why it's a mistake to compare this year to past years.  The comparison wouldn't be apples to oranges, but apples to marshmallows, because the old numbers were unhelpfully soft.  Again, AFGR was probably the best option with the old data system, but it wasn't as good as we needed or as good as the cohort method we now have.

In short, the new cohort rate is a better way to figure out who starts high school and who leaves with a diploma.  The 86.1% result is more accurate and having it come in higher than AFGR is reason to smile for a minute before we get back to work on moving the rate even higher for future years. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A First Look at 2013 Results

In its second year, Kentucky's new accountability system shows the state as a whole moving up about two points when elementary, middle, and high school are combined, but the three levels shown separately indicate quite different paces of improvement.

In the graph above, the numbers are Overall Scores on a 0-100 scale.  Notice that the statewide elementary results moved a tiny 0.3 points, while high schools moved up 3.7 points. It's a difference worth a deeper look at the components that make up the Overall Score.

For elementary schools, the Overall Score has three components, shown below along with the Overall result that combines all three:
The best growth here is in Gap results, reflecting results in six tested subjects for students with low incomes, disabilities, limited English proficiency, or Hispanic or African-American backgrounds.  Because that group moved up 1.6 points, it's getting closer to the Achievement result that reflects all students.  That gap-closing element is a bright spot in an otherwise worrisome pattern.

For middle schools, the Overall Score includes the three elementary components plus a Readiness score based on the Explore test created by ACT, Inc., and results break out this way:
Again, the Gap group moved more quickly than Achievement for all students, but Achievement also showed a visible step up at this level.  Readiness moved even faster.

Finally, in high school, the state adds in Graduation results, for this set of developments:
Yet again, the Gap group moved faster than Achievement for all students, and seeing that three times makes me think the policy decision to count Gap separately may truly have encouraged some added attention to those students.  Readiness shows impressive growth.

Graduation also looks very good when shown this way, but there's a big caveat: most of that improvement comes from a change in how we measure that rate.  I'll post more on that point next.

What about Growth?  I deliberately left that until last in this analysis, because I don't think those numbers reflect real change. Growth data is based on whether each kid's scores  this year are in the top 60 percent of kids who had similar scores last year.  Kentucky defines expected growth as being in that upper 60 percent of students who scored alike last year.  So by definition, the statewide Growth score is going to be close to 60 percent every year.  It usually won't be exactly 60 percent, because the numbers of kids will rarely be right to yield precisely round percentages.  But the little variations aren't likely to show anything at all about whether there was more or less growth statewide.  For individual schools, Growth above 60 is possible and signals better progress than the state as a whole, and Growth well below 60 is also possible and a sign of less improvement.  But for the whole state, that indicator tells us very little.

Here are some questions I'm puzzling about, shared for anyone who has insight or other ways to think about the issues:
  • Why did elementary schools show so little change in Achievement for all.
  • What did all levels do that helped the Gap Group show quicker movement?
  • What part of high school Readiness is due to changed ACT results and which part to growing participation in the other tests that also count for identifying kids as ready for college, career, or both?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Stu interviews Roger Marcum, State Board of Education Chair and Prichard Committee member

Stu interviews Roger Marcum, State Board of Education Chair and Prichard Committee member

Roger Marcum is Chairman of the Kentucky Board of Education and a Prichard Committee member.
Stu: Roger, congratulations on being elected as the chairman of Kentucky's State Board of Education. Would you please share a little about your background?
Roger: Thanks Stu. I consider it an honor to be selected chair of the KBE. When I consider the past chairs of KBE....individuals I greatly respect like David Karem, Helen Mountjoy, and Joe Kelly. Also, to be selected by the current KBE members means a lot to me. This board has a laser-like focus on making student-centered decisions. I consider it a privilege to serve with them.
My career in KY public education began in 1975 after receiving my BS degree from Berea College in 1974. In 3 different school districts, I served 10 years as a middle school social studies teacher, 6 years as a middle school principal and gifted talented coordinator, I year as an assistant superintendent and 10 years of service as superintendent of Marion County Public Schools. After 34 years of service in KY public education, I retired in 2009. I continued my career in education when I accepted the position of Executive Vice President of St. Catharine College in July 2009 and I continue to serve in that position today. From 2003-2009, I served as member of the St. Catharine College Board of Trustees. July 2010, Governor Beshear appointed me as a KBE member. I was selected vice chair in 2011 and served two years in that position. I have also served as a Prichard Committee member since 2010. This is my 39th year as a KY educator/administrator.
Stu: Kentucky is seen as a leader in education across our country. What do you see as the strengths and accomplishments of Kentucky's schools?
Roger: During my career there have been two major reform movements in KY....... The Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990 and now SB 1. The comprehensiveness of KERA certainly impacted all aspects of P-12 public education. This is evident in the progress made in equity of funding, improved facilities, professional growth of certified and classified staff and most importantly teaching and learning. I see the passage and implementation of KERA as the time when KY became serious about providing a high quality education for each and every child. SB I in 2009 is moving us forward in the development and implementation of the KY Core Standards for Learning (based on the Common Core Standards of 45 states), an assessment and accountability system focused on each and every student being career and college ready, and a much improved professional growth and evaluation system for the adults who serve KY's children. Because of those two major pieces of legislation, since 1990, Kentucky has been a national leader in P-12 education reform. I am very proud of our progress during the past 23 years!
Stu: With the reductions in funding for our schools what are your thoughts about continued progress and what are the priorities of the state board around funding?
Roger: While I am proud of our progress, my greatest disappointment has been the lack of adequate funding. I keep thinking....with the significant progress made, what would/could have been accomplished if KY educators had adequate resources to meet higher expectations for all children? This has been very frustrating to observe as the funding for KERA dwindled each year since 1994 and most recently with additional funding reductions during the implementation of the reforms required by SB 1.
I expect KBE in the development of a legislative agenda for the 2014 Session of the KY General Assembly will include a call for restoration of SEEK to the 2008 level, restoration of Flexible Focus Funds to the 2009 level and the necessary funding to maintain our current technology infrastructure and replacement of end devices.
KY educators have done a remarkable job during the past 23 years of taking the framework for reform provided by KERA and SB 1 and making the reforms real in the lives of KY's children. As a result, an increasing number are receiving a high quality education. The most recent evidence is the 2013 assessment/accountability results with more than 54% of KY's high school graduates demonstrating career and college readiness. Only two years ago that number was 34%. The 86% graduation rate for the Class of 2013 is one of the highest in the United States.
While KY is a leader in educational reform in the US, we are near the bottom of the 50 states in regard to per pupil expenditure. Again my question remains..."what more could be done for KY'S children, if KY educators had adequate resources to meet the needs of all children?" We cannot continue to expect more in regard to results unless we restore the funding levels and provide the resources necessary to do the important work of educating each and every child.
Stu: As you move forward as chair of the board, what are your goals and major priorities?
Roger: If we are to be successful in implementing more rigorous learning expectations with career and college readiness as our goal for all KY's children, I see two major concerns. First, adequate funding. A good beginning toward that goal would be restoration of SEEK to the 2008 level, Flexible Focus Funds to the 2009 level and providing funding to maintain our technology infrastructure and replace end devices. Second, a united education community. I know we cannot agree on all issues, but KDE/KBE must strive to build stronger working relationships with our educational partners. Those relationships must be based on mutual respect and a laser-like focus on student centered decision making.
Stu: Are there any other items about Kentucky education you would like to share?
Roger: With the passage of SB 1 in 2009, one of my expectations and hopes was we would make significant progress toward a seamless P-20 system of education in KY. While we have made progress, not as much as I hoped for or expected. As we continue to move forward, it is my hope and desire that the working relationship between postsecondary education and P-12 education will become more collaborative and cooperative with the common goal of providing all students the opportunity to receive a high quality education.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Stakeholder Involvement Needed When Developing Evaluation Systems

Douglas Hodum, a 2013 Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow from Maine, talks about involving stakeholders when developing teacher evaluation systems.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lessons From Space (Camp)

Lessons From Space (Camp)

Allison Hunt is a 2013 Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow from Kentucky and the 2013 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year. Hunt teaches Advanced Placement Human Geography at DuPont Manual High School in Jefferson County.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In Teachers We Trust - But How Much?

Following is a post from Guest Blogger Ellen Behrstock-Sherratt, a senior researcher at the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at the American Institute for Research and coauthor of “Everyone at the Table: Engaging Teachers in Evaluation Reform.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Education is Key to Realizing 50-Year-Old Dream

Guest blogger Debbie Wesslund, school board member from Jefferson County, writes about education being key to realizing 50-year-old dream.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reform 2.0 - but without funding

Reform 2.0 - but without funding

Kentucky has been a leader in education reform since the 1990s, when leaders across the nation took note of the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA). At the time Kentucky had nowhere to go but up with its 48th place national ranking on education indicators. The state’s position has improved to 33rd, based on a collection of indicators measuring achievement, and  Education Week ranked Kentucky 10th in its latest Quality Counts report. 

In fact, Kentucky and North Carolina are the two states that have made the most progress during the years since KERA’s passage. What caused the progress? The most important thing, as always, was the improvement in the quality of classroom instruction. Funding for professional development for teachers, part of Kentucky’s reforms, helped transform the educator workforce. Other supports that helped significantly included extended school services for students needing extra help, financial support for public preschool, funding for safe schools and money for textbooks. Clearly, the importance of adequate funding to the positive outcome of reform efforts cannot be overstated.

Now Kentucky is engaged in what some would call Reform 2.0 with new college and career level standards and new accountability systems. Without question, higher expectations for students are essential if we hope to be internationally competitive. In a recent article, the White House responded to the last PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) results with President Barack Obama's observation that the nation that "out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow." I contend there also must be supports in place – especially financial supports – if we are to move forward in education. Teachers need meaningful professional development, and students need extra help when they struggle. We must offer high-quality public preschool to get our kids off to a good start, and schools must have the instructional materials needed to get the job of education done the right way. We must acknowledge that teaching is truly a profession and, as a result, pay teachers a professional wage. My August 9, 2012, post elaborates on this point in the story of Driving Ms. Daisy – Away.   

Funding cuts at the federal, state and local levels over the last several years combined with the additional pressures and demands of high-level reform are creating an environment for failure. Action to change this must come soon. Would Kentucky have made the progress it has since 1990 without the supports for teachers and students? The answer, clearly, is no. And unless we find a way to support our teachers and kids this time around, we will see movement again – but this time it will be in reverse.
As an advocate in your community I urge you to talk with your state and local leaders about the need to provide the right kind of support for our schools!

Follow Stu Silberman on Twitter at

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Supporting Ms. Daisy

It is critical that we have strong support systems in place for new teachers if we expect them to be successful.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Common Core and Kentucky: Fordham says we made a big step up!

In a single year, Kentucky mathematics standards moved from a D to an A-.  We did it by adopting Common Core.

For years, the Fordham Institute has provided the most consistent ratings of state standards, issuing letter grades for each subject accompanied by often biting reviews. In their early reports, before KDE's website became a complete source for key materials they sometimes relied out-of-date Kentucky documents, but in recent years, they've checked the right materials and given blunt assessments to what they read.  

The organization of Kentucky's standards is difficult to understand and often incoherent. In addition, the standards are often vaguely stated. Arithmetic is not identified as an elementary school priority and is developed poorly. The coverage of high school content is variable.
Have I mentioned that Fordham is famed for its blunt wording?

Now, however, the Fordham rating for Kentucky reflects the strength we have gained from working with other states:
The final version of the Common Core State Standards for math is exemplary in many ways. The expectations are generally well written and presented, and cover much mathematical content with both depth and rigor. But, though the content is generally sound, the standards are not particularly easy to read, and require careful attention on the part of the reader.  
The development of arithmetic in elementary school is a primary focus of these standards and that content is thoroughly covered. The often-difficult subject of fractions is developed rigorously, with clear and careful guidance. The high school content is often excellent, though the presentation is disjointed and mathematical coherence suffers. In addition, the geometry standards represent a significant departure from traditional axiomatic Euclidean geometry and no replacement foundation is established.  
Despite some weaknesses, the Common Core standards provide a solid framework for learning rigorous mathematics.
It's worth noting that Fordham did not think the Common Core is better than the prior standards in every state.  Using the same criteria for all ratings, the Institute found that:
Eleven states plus the District of Columbia have math standards in the "too close to call" category, meaning that, overall, they are at least as clear and rigorous as the Common Core standards.
Kentucky was not one of those states.  Here's Fordham's map showing those states and making a clear point: Kentucky made a substantial step up when we adopted Common Core:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Common Core: Bringing focus to math learning

For parents, the most helpful element of the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics may be the opening paragraph of the introduction for each grade.  For example, the section for kindergarten begins this way:
In Kindergarten, instructional time should focus on two critical areas: (1) representing, comparing and ordering whole numbers, initially with sets of objects; (2) describing shapes and space. More learning time in Kindergarten should be devoted to number than to other topics.
For each elementary grade, two to four critical areas are listed in similar paragraphs.  Here's are the focus points:

Grade 1
• Developing understanding of addition, subtraction, and strategies for additions and subtractions within 20
• Developing understanding of whole number relationships and place value, including grouping in tens and ones
• Developing understanding of linear measurement and measuring lengths as iterating length units
• Reasoning about attributes of, and composing and decomposing geometric shapes

Grade 2
• Extending understanding of base-ten notation
• Building fluency with additions and subtractions
• Using standard units of measure
• Describing and analyzing shapes

Grade 3
• Developing understanding of multiplication and division and strategies for multiplication and division within 100
• Developing understanding of fractions, especially unit fractions (fractions with numerator 1)
• Developing understanding of the structure of rectangular arrays and of area
• Describing and analyzing two-dimensional shapes

Grade 4
Developing understanding and fluency with multi-digit multiplication, and developing understanding of dividing to find quotients involving multi-digit dividends
• Developing an understanding of fraction equivalence, addition and subtraction of fractions with like denominators, and multiplication of fractions by whole numbers
• Understanding that geometric figures can be analyzed and classified based on their properties, such as having parallel sides, perpendicular sides, particular angle measures, and symmetry

Grade 5
• Developing fluency with addition and subtraction of fractions, and developing understanding of the multiplication of fractions and of division of fractions in limited cases (unit fractions divided by whole numbers and whole numbers divided by unit fractions)
• Extending division to 2-digit divisors, integrating decimal fractions into the place value system and developing understanding of operations with decimals to hundredths, and developing fluency with whole number and decimal operations
• Developing understanding of volume

Grade 6
• Connecting ratio and rate to whole number multiplication and division and using concepts of ratio and rate to solve problems
• Completing understanding of division of fractions and extending the notion of number to the system of rational numbers, which includes negative numbers
• Writing, interpreting, and using expressions and equations
• Developing understanding of statistical thinking

Grade 7
• Developing understanding of and applying proportional relationships
• Developing understanding of operations with rational numbers and working with expressions and linear equations
• Solving problems involving scale drawings and informal geometric constructions, and working with two- and three-dimensional shapes to solve problems involving area, surface area, and volume
• Drawing inferences about populations based on samples

Grade 8
• Formulating and reasoning about expressions and equations, including modeling an association in bivariate data with a linear equation, and solving linear equations and systems of linear equations
• Grasping the concept of a function and using functions to describe quantitative relationships
• Analyzing two- and three-dimensional space and figures using distance, angle, similarity, and congruence, and understanding and applying the Pythagorean Theorem

Those paragraphs are followed by a slightly longer explanation each item, and then by the full standards for the grade.  All three levels of detail are helpful, but I think the outline above is the version parents can find most helpful in understanding their children's studies and in providing home support for students to succeed.

[Note to long-time readers: this post updates a March 21, 2010, post that reflected the draft Common Core Standards at a point when the public was invited to comment.  After that comment period, changes were made to clarify the focus of each grade, resulting in the lists above.]

Friday, May 10, 2013

Speaking and Listening (CCSS Goes Deep)

The Common Core State Standards reach beyond reading and writing to address speaking and listening.  The anchor standards for college and career readiness come under two headings and look like this.
Comprehension and Collaboration
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.  
Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas 
4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
Through the Literacy Design Collaborative, I'm seeing lots of potent work on these skills, with students becoming more able to do this work and teachers developing new insights into what further support and challenge students will need.

I'm a bit more puzzled about whether states can and will assess these skills in a standardized way.

Maybe the answer will be that, to learn academic content and make sense of complex texts they read, students will need to use these kind of speaking and listening as part of how they sort out what they are studying, and to write their own strong pieces, they will need to use similar skills on the way to organizing their work.  I see many LDC teachers adding those steps as means to the end of strong writing about important reading and essential questions in academic fields.

 Or, possibly, innovative districts like my own Danville Independent will work out richer ways for students demonstrate this sort of skill, moving us beyond what "pencil and paper" or "keyboard and screen" assessments can measure well.

Or, perhaps, some other approach is already being developed for these issues.  Part of the genius of Common Core is that, because many states have the same goals, an innovative approach can be used many places.  For all kinds of organizations working to support schools and students, that means each effort that works can spread farther and make a bigger difference.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Writing Many Ways, For Many Reasons

10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Ultimately, writing is a skill for adult life, growing steadily more important in an information age.  This last Common Core writing standard calls for writing to become a reliable, flexible habit for all students by the time they complete high school, so that they are ready for college and career success. 

That writing won't all be sonnets and it won't all be work memos: the writing the next generation will do will have varied goals and styles and deadlines, but Common Core aims for them to be ready to participate, contribute, and write in the ways that are valuable for their future and ours.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here. They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 46 states (47 for the mathematics standards).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Writing to Build and Share Knowledge (CCSS 7-9)

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.  
8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.  
9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Here are three more Common Core anchor standards for writing.  These focus on what goes into the writing, expecting students to gather and organize evidence, rather than just invent their pieces by imagining or imitating adult debates.   They build on the three kinds of writing (argumentation, explanation, and narrative) and the three skills for producing and distributing those writings, and again, I think they're the right thing to work on.

Standard 8 is especially valuable.   Assessing sources has always been key to well-informed citizenship, and it's become even more important as the Internet makes so many texts available with so little filtering for quality.  The next generation will need to be able to use those resources wisely, and Common Core calls for us to equip them to do that well.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here. They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 46 states (47 for the mathematics standards).

Monday, May 6, 2013

Teacher Salaries, Dropout Rates, Length of School Term, Functional Illiteracy.....

Teacher Salaries, Dropout Rates, Length of School Term, Functional Illiteracy.....

Writing to Argue, Explain, or Tell a Story (CCSS 1-3)

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. 
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content. 
3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
The Common Core State Standards for Writing call for students to produce three kinds of texts: the words above are the anchor standards for college and career readiness for "text types and purposes."

Common Core also shows grade-by-grade steps on the way to each of those anchor standards. For instance, Standard 2 is expanded to ask first graders students to "Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure."  That's right for that age group, and then growth is added year by year.  By fifth grade, students are asked to:
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
a. Introduce a topic clearly, provide a general observation and focus, and group related information logically; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
b. Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.
c. Link ideas within and across categories of information using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., in contrast, especially).
d. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
e. Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented.
I've lived pretty much my whole life with college professors, and I'm pretty sure I understand what they hunt for in student writing and don't always find.  That fifth grade standard, halfway through the school progression, already aims to move students higher than what postsecondary programs currently see from some high school graduates.   Students who move past that to meet the grade 11-12 version of the standards will be ready for excellent work and robust futures.

Common Core is about giving students a shot at that level of skill.  It's the right bar, and I'm glad we're aiming to lift all Kentucky students to that level.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here. They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 46 states (47 for the mathematics standards).

Friday, May 3, 2013

Reading for Literature AND Information (CCSS 10)

10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
Above, the tenth and last of the Common Core anchor standards for reading.

This standard sums up the three "key ideas and details" standards,  the three "craft and structure" standards, and the three "integration of knowledge and ideas" standards I blogged earlier this week.   It adds that students need to be able to handle the complexity of documents they will have to use on the job and in higher education.

It also carries two additional points central to Common Core:

  • First, "complex texts" are what students must master.  Appendix A to the Common Core lays out the key reasons, giving evidence that students who can handle simple readings may not be ready for the reading that matters for adult success, and plenty of evidence that the reading needed for adult success is getting more demanding as technology and global competition expand.
  • Second, reading literary texts--both fiction and eloquent non-fiction--is part of what students should be able to do, but not all of what they need.  They also must be able to read about community, national, and global issues, political challenges, scientific discoveries, and technical applications of those discoveries.  Recently, there's been an odd worry that English teachers will have to teach the informational texts and end up dropping most poems and plays, but that's simply a mistake.  Common Core is quite clear that informational reading should happen most of all in science and history and career/technical classes, so that students are reading to learn those important fields.

To be clear, I don't think Common Core is a magic wand that solves all problems. On the contrary, our teachers have plenty of further work to do, designing how they'll teach each day, check what students have learned, and make ongoing adjustments to move each student to these standards. But setting clear, brief, very high, very smart standards, Common Core lays the right cornerstone so that teachers have solid place to start on the rest of the building.  I think we've done this step right, and I'm proud that Kentucky is leading the nation on the steps that come next.

Next week: writing standards.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here. They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 46 states (47 for the mathematics standards).

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Reading To Think Through Information and Ideas (CCSS 7-9)

7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. 
8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence. 
9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
Here are three more Common Core anchor standards for reading.  Where the first three asked students to work on "key ideas and details," and the second three asked them to understand the "craft and structure" of that they read, these three focus on "integration of knowledge and ideas."

Standard 8 is my very favorite part of the whole Common Core process, because it asks students to track the evidence and check whether each author's positions are well grounded in reliable facts and sensible reasoning.  To me, that sounds like the basics of citizenship preparation, and close to the root of why America has public schools.

Standard 8 is also my inspiration for this set of blog posts.  For those who are wary about Common Core, I say they should start by reading Common Core.  If you think they're wrong for Kentucky's kids, say which part you think is wrong, quoting from the actual text.  Wrestle the real document and the real evidence, and don't settle for anyone else's summary.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here. They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 46 states (47 for the mathematics standards).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Reading to See How the Words Work (CCSS 4-6)

4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.  
5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.  
6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
The lines above are the second set of Common Core anchor standards, focused on "Craft and Structure," and listed right after the three on "Key Ideas and Details." In Kentucky and most (not all) other states, teachers are now working to equip students to do those three things by the end of high school, so that they will be ready for college and career success.

I think these are smart things to expect.  Words don't mean the same thing in every sentence, and readers need to be able to use all the available clues to figure out how each part of a story, article, opinion piece, technical manual, or other reading works.

I am delighted that Kentucky teachers are now working out how to meet this standards, moving step by step from kindergarten to the end of high school to get Kentucky students ready to read this way as adults.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here. They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 46 states (47 for the mathematics standards).

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Reading for Key Ideas and Details (CCSS 1, 2, 3)

1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.  
2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.  
3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
In the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the three sentences above are the first three reading standards.  More exactly, they are the college and career readiness anchor standards, defining what we want students to know and be able to do by the end of high school.

To reach those anchor standards, students will need to move up a ladder of standards specific to different grades and subjects, and Common Core also shows how the skills should develop over time.  For example, to meet the overall Standard 2, students should be able to
  • "Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson" in grade 1.
  • "Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text" in grade 5.
  • "Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text" in grade 9-10 history reading.
  • "Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; trace the text’s explanation or depiction of a complex process, phenomenon, or concept; provide an accurate summary of the text" in grade 9-10 science and technical reading.
I support Common Core and Kentucky implementation of Common Core because I love these expectations.  They ask students to read to figure things out, carefully, making sure they understand what the author said and meant, so that they can make good use of what they learn.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here. They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 46 states (47 for the mathematics standards).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Is Kentucky private school enrollment declining?

Using data from the 2011 Digest of Education Statistics, here's a graph that does seem to show a trend: 
The notes for the relevant table add that the numbers come from the NCES "Private School Universe Survey (PSS), 1999-2000 through 2009-10."  

Public school enrollment numbers seem to have risen in all but one year of the same period:

For this graph, the 1999 figure comes from the 2011 Digest and the others from one of the recently released "selected tables" from the 2012 Digest.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A bar exam for teachers? A lawyer's opinion

In The Atlantic Monthly, Joel Klein makes "The Case for a Teacher Bar Exam."  His argument includes a commitment to both greater respect and greater strength in the teaching profession, and the tool he proposes is build on earlier ideas from Albert Shanker of the AFT.  Klein writes:
In a 1986 paper, [Shanker] explained that "unless we go beyond collective bargaining to the achievement of true teacher professionalism, we will fail in our major objectives: to preserve public education in the United States and to improve the status of teachers economically, socially, and politically."  
If we're going to look to Finland as a role model and an indicator of difference, then it's well past time for us to go back to Shanker's future.  
But how do we get where we need to go? Here, too, Shanker was visionary. We need to start by insisting on a rigorous entry exam for those who teach, along the lines of the bar exam for lawyers or the national medical exam for doctors. Shanker actually proposed a three-part national exam: first "a stiff test of subject matter knowledge," followed by a second test on "pedagogy ... [including] the ability to apply educational principles to different student developmental needs and learning styles." Then, for those who passed both, he recommended a "supervised internship program of from one to three years in which teachers would actually be evaluated on the basis of how well they worked with students and with their colleagues."
The comparison to entry into the legal profession is apt--but not apt enough.

Every lawyer knows that the deep learning to serve clients happens on the job, and that success depends heavily on good feedback from mentors and good dialogue with peers in the first few years of practice.  The tests and the job evaluations matter, but the support matters more.

More and more, that opportunity for professional engagement strikes me as the great puzzle of teaching quality:  How can teachers be empowered to "get smarter off of one another?"

Or, to put it personally: How can each teacher get as much support from veteran teachers as I got from the senior attorneys in my first office?  How can each one get as much rich an opportunity to think through professional issues as I got with the first and second year lawyers in the offices around me?

Most of all, how can those of us in other professions, knowing how we grew in our various chosen crafts, get serious about ensuring that teachers get equivalent support in their own?

Klein does suggest that the examination approach would create leverage to get other needed changes: improved admissions and curriculum in teacher preparation programs and better career ladder options for the strongest teachers are included on his list.  He is thinking clearly about many of the pieces of professional reform.  I just wish he would think more clearly about the essence of professional interaction and professional growth, comparing his own early experience to what is possible and impossible for a first or second year teacher in most American schools today.

Noting Successes and Challenges Key to Measuring True Progress

Friday, January 4, 2013

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Where poverty hits hardest (KidsCount data!)

The map above comes from the newly-released 2012 KidsCount reporting on individual school districts, counties, and congressional districts.  In it, you can see a fresh illustration of how many students across the state are growing up in homes with low incomes.

You can also see an illustration of how those difficulties cluster across the state.  The eastern  counties grab the eye, and don't miss Fulton at the opposite end of the state.  Since they're harder to see, I'll also note that there are a set of independent districts also in the dark, difficult blue:

  • Covington, Dayton, Newport, and Silver Grove in the north.
  • Middlesboro and Jenkins in the east.
  • Caverna in the central west.
  • Fulton Independent, Mayfield, and Paducah in the far west.

I love the way the Kids Count maps include the range, letting you know that the state ranges from 3% to 97% participation in the free and reduced-price meal program.  To illustrate where that range occurs, I'll include tables below listing the highest 10 and lowest 10 participation rates.  I do hope you'll play with the KidsCount information for yourself, and I'm working on several more posts on what I'm seeing as I explore.