Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Proficiency over Five Years: Right Direction, Wrong Pace

| Post by Susan Perkins Weston |

From 2012 to 2017, Kentucky increased proficiency by an average of 6.9 points, or about 1.4 points per year. That’s based on considering results for all students, combined in a weighted average.

That kind of improvement has us moving in the right direction, but at the wrong pace. If we continue at that pace, we will not be able to move halfway to 100 percent proficiency by 2030, which means we will not meet the goals set by the Kentucky Board of Education at its August 2017 meeting.

Put another way, we will not reach 100 percent proficiency until 2053. That will be three generations after the Rose decision and eight generations after the people of Kentucky adopted a constitutional commitment to an efficient system of common schools.

The chart below shows a more detailed picture, showing all subjects tested in both 2012 and 2017.

This is a picture that shows progress, but not the kind of progress we need to deliver for this generation of students, the ones we hope will play central roles in building a stronger future for our commonwealth. To deliver for those students, Kentucky will need bolder strategies, stronger efforts, and deeper investments in learning.

Notes for Number Lovers: Percent proficient or distinguished for each subject come from the school report card portal. For the weighted average I've used above, elementary and middle school writing and language mechanics were combined into one subject score, with writing getting a 80% weight and language mechanics 20%: the same distribution the Department of Education used in Unbridled Learning calculations. Then those two scores and the other 11 subjects were summed together and divided by 13 to summarize the overall trend.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Five insights from the Early Childhood Cost of Quality study process

by Cory Curl 

Today, the Prichard Committee released the results of its Early Childhood Cost of Quality study. The study has been a year-long effort to provide state and local leaders with solid information they can use when making budget decisions designed to increase access to quality learning environments for Kentucky’s youngest children.

Throughout this year, Prichard Committee staff have worked with a statewide advisory group, national experts, and other partners through the process of collecting data and developing cost models. We also spent a lot of time interviewing school district preschool directors and child care center directors to learn about how they target limited resources to provide quality learning environments.

The highlight of the year, by far, was visiting with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers – and their teachers – throughout the Commonwealth.

Here are five of the insights we learned through this journey:

1. Quality can come down to two basic factors - encouraging teacher-student interactions that promote learning, and supporting the specialized needs of children and their families. The first factor is well-established in the research, reinforcing the need for smaller teacher-student ratios and professional training and compensation for teachers. Our visits elevated the urgent need for the second dimension of quality. We visited a few child care centers with professional staff and space for therapeutic services for children with special needs. We visited a few school districts with staff who support families in building safe, nurturing home environments for preschool children. The need for both was clear. As a result, we built in these types of staff and services into our cost models at higher levels of quality.

2. The majority of children served in Kentucky’s preschool program have special needs. Kentucky school districts administer the state preschool program, which serves nearly 10,000 3- and 4-year olds with special needs (including around 650 with severe or multiple disabilities) and about 9,200 4-year olds in families with incomes below 160% of the federal poverty level. Classes may include as many as 20 children, and often more than half have special needs. Each classroom typically has one lead teacher and one instructional assistant. The lead teacher must hold a bachelor’s degree and interdisciplinary early childhood education (IECE) credential, which includes special education. Given the population of students served in the program, some districts have prioritized having smaller class sizes and/or additional assistants with training in special education. Our cost model builds in smaller class sizes at higher levels of quality, additional instructional assistants, and specialists to service specific child needs.

3. Quality child care is often out of reach for low-income working families. The study, our visits, and the cost model all reinforced the incredible financial challenge of sustaining a child care center, as well as the personal financial challenge to directors, teachers, and other staff who work in centers with low compensation, often without health insurance or other benefits. Today, 50% of Kentuckians live in child care deserts and many struggle to afford quality care. To help families work and to enhance quality, Kentucky’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) reimburses child care centers for providing early care and education to about 27,000 babies, toddlers, and preschoolers in working families who earn less than 160% of the federal poverty level. Our child care cost model found that the cost of providing high-quality care and education in child care centers is much higher than the state’s reimbursement rates, particularly for babies and toddlers. This was not surprising. What did surprise us was learning how much CCAP-eligible families still pay for child care through a co-pay and  what we call a “double co-pay”. For example, a center may charge $22/day for tuition for 3-year olds. The state reimbursement rate may be $18/day, of which parents pay a co-pay of $10/day. They may also pay the $4/day “double co-pay” –- the difference between the reimbursement rate and the tuition rate. Ultimately, the state reimburses the center $8/day ($160/month) while the parent pays $14/day ($280/month). Faced with these costs, low-income working families may opt to enroll their children in centers based only on what they can afford rather than quality.

4. Local communities can design options to work for a variety of families. As we interviewed and traveled throughout the state, we saw a lot of variation across local communities in the way they are providing quality early childhood experiences to meet families’ needs. Some school districts emphasize small class sizes in a half-day preschool program while others stretch resources to offer full-day programs. Partnerships across child care, school districts, and Head Start better coordinate resources and provide more flexibility for families. Many districts allocate substantial resources to provide transportation for preschool students to remove barriers to enrollment. We concluded that there is no one-size-fits-all model for quality early care and education, and that local leaders use funds to support options specific to needs in their community.

5. Early childhood leaders want to better serve more families. We designed the study to illuminate the cost drivers for quality early childhood environments. In our interviews with preschool and child care directors, we also asked a general question about their aspirations. If they had more funding, how would they prioritize it? Many times, they answered with a quick and emphatic, “Serve more families and children in need!” This was another reminder to us that both quality and opportunity are essential for Kentucky’s children.

Our hope is that the Early Childhood Cost of Quality study informs the critical decisions in Frankfort and in local communities about the level of investment needed for each child to thrive in quality early learning environments. We are grateful to all of those who provided guidance, assistance, information, and encouragement along the journey.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Transforming school climate & culture (Notes from the annual meeting)

Here's Prichard Committee member Justin Bathon's reporting on some great collaborative thinking at Monday's Prichard Committee meeting, crossposted from www.recode.school.

At the recent annual meeting of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence in Kentucky the focus turned to transforming school climate and culture. This focus included a specific desired outcome of culture and climates which specifically promote equity of opportunities.

Over the course of a day and a wonderful agenda, the Committee and guests heard from students, educators, national scholars, journalists, and a former U.S. Ambassador on strengthening school climate and culture. This focus transforming school climate and culture links to a recently adopted three-year strategic plan adopted at the meeting by the 100+ members of the Prichard Committee.

In an effort to translate this learning into specific recommendations for educators and, in particular, the leaders of schools the Prichard Committee and guests worked hard to identify specific suggestions across a variety of domains of climate and culture in schools. The attendees identified the following 11 domains of the challenge.

1. More student autonomy/agency
2. Teacher autonomy & agency
3. Intentional communication with parents
4. More authentic project based learning/projects
5. Nurture and respect educational professionals
6. Authentic/meaningful teacher administrator dialogue
7. Collaborative community partnerships
8. Equal academic/sports emphasis
9. Equity of opportunity and inclusive excellence
10. Engaging all students
11. State accountability of climate

Across eight of these domains, the attendees sought to work collaboratively to identify eight specific suggestions for a total of 64 specific suggestions for educators and school leaders to improve school culture and climate toward equity of opportunity. This task was formatted into Lotus Blossom coordinated through the collaborative use of Google Docs and Google Draw. A picture of the final result is below. In the middle is the core challenge (bright green) surrounded by the 8 domains of the task (yellow). Then, each domain is explored in more detail on the petals of the lotus blossom flower (the yellow box surrounded by mostly green boxes). Finally, the colored boxes within each petal represent our identified practices that we wish to share with school leaders and other educators as the potentially most impactful near-term implementation concepts.

 Full Lotus Blossom (zoom in): http://go.uky.edu/prichard

Once the 64 ideas were generated, we again worked collaboratively to identify our suggestions for the most impactful concepts that educators and school leaders might employ (the blue, red, orange and purple in the image). The following is the result of those impactful suggestions across the 8 domains examined in the full Lotus Blossom activity.

1. More student autonomy/agency
a) Assume all students can do the best work and have high expectations for all learners
b) Employ more student internships and work-based learning experiences

2. Increased teacher autonomy & agency
a) Incentive teacher innovation and creativity through new supports from schools and districts.
b) Encourage teacher ownership of professional learning communities
c) Provide teachers leadership opportunities within schools and districts

3. Intentional communication with parents
a) Ensure ongoing positive communication with parents rather than emphasizing the negative.
b) Co-design a communication plan with parents

4. More authentic project based learning/projects
a) Promote state, district, and school accountability systems that honors this authentic engagement work by students
b) Provide iterative feedback and opportunities for growth to both teachers and students engaged in authentic PBL

5. Nurture and respect educational professionals
a) Promote culturally responsive training and support for teachers
b) Respect educator mental health and personal time

6. Authentic/meaningful teacher administrator dialogue
a) More frequent formal opportunities for teacher-administrator dialogue in both 1:1 and group settings
b) More time flexibility in school schedules to promote dialogue

7. Collaborative community partnerships
a) Encourage reciprocal partnership where both schools and community members benefit.
b) Develop community asset maps to identify key resources for teachers to link to learning
c) Develop trust and partnership through ongoing authentic dialogue

8. Engaging all students
a) Engage students in high expectation, high yield activities such as leadership development opportunities
b) Build relationships with learners by promoting student voice and choice, specifically engaging in suggestions made by the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team across their multiple publications

These excellent suggestions emerged from a day of learning and an hour of work to make our learning tangible and specific. We think these suggestions are superb entry points for educators and schools looking to improve the school culture and climate for both the adults and children who inhabit these spaces. The progress that we collectively seek as Commonwealth for our schools and children is dependent on institutions capable of strong cultures which minimize institutionalism. We are convinced that such improvements to the schools of Kentucky are possible and we look forward to working with students, educators, and community members to make robust, equitable climates and cultures.