Friday, April 11, 2014

Creating a world-class system of technical centers

What do you envision when someone says career and technical education?  Unfortunately too many people harken back to days gone by of a “shop” with kids who couldn’t cut it in regular academic classes and were destined for low-paying jobs.  While that may or may not have been an accurate account in the past, today it could not be further from the truth. 

Not only does career and technical education (CTE) demand a strong foundation in academics, but often leads to higher paying jobs that are in greater demand than those held by college graduates with a bachelor’s degree. And CTE isn’t just for one group of students. In 2012-13, almost 70 percent of Kentucky high school students participated in career and technical education.

The goal of Kentucky K-12 public education is to prepare students for life after high school which means readying students for college and/or career.  To achieve that goal, there must be viable alternative pathways. 

In 2010, Governor Beshear created the Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force. This group worked to develop recommendations and how to build on the great work of KERA and Senate Bill 1 (2009).  One of the key recommendations was to merge the two existing career and technical programs in Kentucky and create a world-class system of career and technical education. Governor Beshear followed up with an Executive Order that moved the state-operated career and technical centers from the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet to the Department of Education. In 2013, the General Assembly passed legislation in support of the Executive Order and created a Career and Technical Education Advisory Committee that includes state and local center teachers and administrators, higher education, and business leaders. 

As we began the work of the advisory committee, one of the first actions was to obtain the services of the Southern Region Education Board (SREB) to conduct a study and make recommendations on how to move from two systems of career and technical education to one world-class system of technical centers. 

This week, Dr. Gene Bottoms of the SREB presented the report to the Career and Technical Education Advisory Committee and the Kentucky Board of Education. The report includes four major recommendations.
1.  Develop one system of technical centers with equitable and 
      adequate funding for all centers. This recommendation 
      will require additional study and research in regard to 
      adequate funding for assessment and accountability, career 
      pathway programs of study, facilities, equipment, suppliers, 
      industry certification examinations, salaries and staffing, 
      and staff development.
2.  One system of accountability and support for all technical centers. 
      This recommendation will require significant work with vision 
      setting, goal setting, and continuous improvement plans in all

3.  One system of world-class centers. This recommendation requires 
      us to think differently about state verses local centers. We need 
      to think about a new governance structure and delivery model 
      like Delaware, Massachusetts, and other states. The new model 
      could look like regional technical centers that offer full-day 
      education that merges academic and technical programs. 
      This recommendation will require site visits to states where 
      this delivery model is working well.
4.  One system of technical centers in partnership with
and industry. This recommendation will require 
      significant collaboration between business and industry, 
      postsecondary, feeder high schools, and technical centers.

Next steps include:
•   The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) will fund the study 
     to determine equitable and adequate funding. 
•   The Office of Career and Technical Education (OCTE) will take 
     the recommendations from the SREB report and move toward a 
     work plan to implement the recommendations. Stakeholders 
     across the state will be involved in reviewing the
from the SREB report and providing
     feedback to OCTE on how 
best to implement the
     recommendations from the report. 

•   KDE will support travel to other states that have strong regional 
     centers to discover best practices. 
•   With funds allocated in the recently passed FY15-16 budget, 
     KDE will work with five counties to develop a possible model 
     for a regional center 
•   Funding provided for additional CTE positions will go toward 
     restoring positions in technical centers based on the 
     recommendations from the report.

Kentucky has long experienced success with career and technical education. The SREB report will continue that success. Career and technical education is a critical component of our K-12 education system and is critical to our success in helping every student reach college- and career-readiness. 

We will provide regular updates to the Kentucky Board of Education and the Career and Technical Education Advisory Committee on our progress with implementation of the SREB report.

Friday, April 4, 2014

United We Stand, Divided We Fail

The words United We Stand, Divided We Fall are emblazoned on the Kentucky state seal, displayed on the state flag and in 1942 were adopted as the Commonwealth’s motto. While biblical in origin, this simple, yet inspiring phrase first appeared in modern times in the revolutionary war ballad The Liberty Song. Nearly 250 years later, with respect to John Dickinson, I’d like to adapt his lyric for our use – United We Stand for Education, Divided We Fail Our Children. This axiom sums up the coalescence we have realized in P-12 education in the Commonwealth in recent months.

In September 2013, the Kentucky Department of Education convened all state superintendents in Frankfort to discuss key education issues. At the top of the agenda was the development of key priorities for the FY15-16 state budget. Superintendents supported restoration of SEEK funds, Flex Focus funds, and funds for increased bandwidth and technology devices. The top three priorities were endorsed by the Kentucky Board of Education.  Meanwhile, numerous education groups came together as the Kentucky Education Action Team. 

Today, we see the fruition of those efforts in the state budget adopted by the General Assembly earlier this week. A few of the highlights reflect what can happen when educators stand together. Never before have we seen the level of cohesive commitment from all education, business, parent groups and even students for restoring funding to SEEK, Flex Focus and technology. 

As a result of our united voice:
•  Educators will see a pay raise of 1 percent in 2015 and 2 percent in
    2016 (the first pay raise in six years).

•  Educators will see an increase in extended school services to help
    provide additional time and support for children who are not
    achieving at the expected levels. 

•  Educators will see restoration of professional dollars to help
    implement more rigorous standards and teacher/principal
    effectiveness systems. 

•  Educators will see increases in funds to ensure our schools are safe
    for teachers and children. 

•  For the first time in the last six years, educators will have funding
    to purchase textbooks and instructional resources. 

In our biennial TELL Kentucky Working Conditions Survey, teachers told us there was a critical need for more bandwidth and additional technology devices. This budget will provide additional resources to support those needs. 

In total, K-12 education received a $141 million increase in FY2015 and a $228 million increase in FY2016 over FY2014 funding levels. With our unified voice, we were able to gain additional funds for education during a time that the state was not gaining any significant revenue enhancements. This is strong evidence that when our adapted motto – United We Stand for Education  actually happens, great things can happen.

Educators should take time to thank members of the General Assembly for their efforts in making K-12 education a top priority in the state budget. Additionally, educators should thank Governor Beshear and his staff for their tireless efforts in promoting restoration of funds for education.

As we move forward in the 2014-15 school year, I strongly encourage educators to remain united. 

There will be efforts to divide us based on the anti-Kentucky Core Academic Standards group. There will be push back on the implementation of the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System. There will be debate as the Kentucky Board of Education begins to review and modify the Unbridled Learning Accountability System. 

It is critical that we continue to work together and united to help more students reach college and career readiness. We may not agree on every detail, however, we know that a united front is much more successful than one that is divided. 

United We Stand for Education, Divided We Fail Our Children.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Disparity in school discipline

Kentucky schools can reverse the national trend

Reggie was on the school playground acting out a game of cops and robbers when it happened.  He pointed his index finger, thumb up, at a classmate and said “pow.”  The next thing you know he was in the principal’s office looking at a three-day suspension.  Reggie is black, male, and is a 4-year old preschooler with a mild disability. The same thing happened at another school in the district the month before. Only it involved Rory who is white, female and a 5-year old kindergartener.  Her mother was called and that was the end of it.  

Reggie’s and Rory’s stories, while fictitious examples, easily could have been part of data collected by the Office of Civil Rights and released last week by the U. S. Department of Education. The report was a snapshot of discipline data for 2011-12 school year and included the following highlights.

Suspension of preschool children, by race/ethnicity and gender (new for 2011-12 collection): Black children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but 48 percent of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension; in comparison, white students represent 43 percent of preschool enrollment but 26 percent of preschool children receiving more than one out of school suspension. Boys represent 79 percent of preschool children suspended once and 82 percent of preschool children suspended multiple times, although boys represent 54 percent of preschool enrollment. 

Disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color: Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. On average, 5 percent of white students are suspended, compared to 16 percent of black students. American Indian and Native-Alaskan students are also disproportionately suspended and expelled, representing less than 1 percent of the student population but 2 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 3 percent of expulsions. 

Disproportionate suspensions of girls of color: While boys receive more than two out of three suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates (12 percent) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys; American Indian and Native-Alaskan girls (7 percent) are suspended at higher rates than white boys (6 percent) or girls (2 percent). 

Suspension of students with disabilities and English learners: Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension (13 percent) than students without disabilities (6 percent). In contrast, English learners do not receive out-of-school suspensions at disproportionately high rates (7 percent suspension rate, compared to 10 percent of student enrollment). 

Suspension rates, by race, sex, and disability status combined: With the exception of Latino and Asian-American students, more than one out of four boys of color with disabilities, served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) — and nearly one in five girls of color with disabilities — receives an out-of-school suspension. 

Arrests and referrals to law enforcement, by race and disability status: While black students represent 16 percent of student enrollment, they represent 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement and 31 percent of students subjected to a school-related arrest. In comparison, white students represent 51 percent of enrollment, 41 percent of students referred to law enforcement, and 39 percent of those arrested. Students with disabilities (served by IDEA) represent a quarter of students arrested and referred to law enforcement, even though they are only 12 percent of the overall student population. 

Restraint and seclusion, by disability status and race: Students with disabilities (served by IDEA) represent 12 percent of the student population, but 58 percent of those placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement, and 75 percent of those physically restrained at school to immobilize them or reduce their ability to move freely. Black students represent 19 percent of students with disabilities served by IDEA, but 36 percent of these students who are restrained at school through the use of a mechanical device or equipment designed to restrict their freedom of movement.

Of particular concern to me was the restraint and seclusion data. Kentucky worked on this issue during the 2013 legislative session and regulations were enacted requiring training for all school employees. We will be able to determine the impact of our state regulation and training by tracking the restraint and seclusion data from the Office of Civil Rights. Based on the OCR report for the 2011-12 school year, 12 percent of the national student population is students with disabilities, however, these students represent 58 percent of students placed in seclusion and 75 percent of those physically restrained. In Kentucky, students with special needs represents 14 percent of the student population, however, these students represent 58 percent of those students physically restrained. 

The bottom line is that there is much work to do in not only restraint and seclusion but the overrepresentation of minority and special needs students in suspensions and expulsions data. An online database is searchable by school and district provides a starting point. Kentucky has an excellent school safety program and significant resources are available for Positive Behavior Intervention programs. I hope schools and districts will review their data and make appropriate plans for 2014-15 to address these issues. 

Let’s make sure that Reggie and students like him have access to an excellent education and the opportunity for a good life.

Friday, March 21, 2014

School make-up days

Finding an equitable solution to balance instruction, family vacations

During 2009-10, my first school year as commissioner of education in Kentucky, we faced an especially harsh winter due to ice and snow.  Many school districts missed in excess of 30 instructional days. Through budget language that year, the General Assembly provided some relief to districts on making up time missed.

In the subsequent school years of 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2012-13, we saw relatively mild winters and districts were able to easily meet calendar requirements.

The 2013-14 winter has been very severe once again and as of today, districts have missed on average about 16 instructional days; however, a large number of districts have missed more than 20 days of school and a few more than 30. Currently, the General Assembly is negotiating between the House and Senate to find a path forward to help school districts.

Since my first winter in Kentucky in 2009-10 and through today, as commissioner, I have been consistent in my approach to handling calendar challenges due to inclement weather. My guiding principle is that students and teachers deserve an adequate amount of instructional time and the public expects students to receive and adequate amount of instruction time. An adequate amount of instruction time is defined in legislation as 1,062 hours. To allow some school districts to go below the minimum would do a disservice to students, teachers, and the tax-paying public. As a matter of record, each school day costs taxpayers about $17 million. To completely waive 10 days would seem to be a waste of $170 million. However, by requiring all districts to meet the 1,062 hours, we would have a system that ensures taxpayer funds are providing an equal opportunity to all children.

Here are a few examples that show the majority of districts would have more flexibility on the last day of school with the 1,062 hour provision rather than the 10-day waiver.

Days Missed
End-of-Year with 1,062 hours
End-of-Year with
10-day waiver
Instructional hours under
10-day waiver
Floyd Co.
Clay Co.
Logan Co.
Boone Co.
Morgan Co.

While I understand that parents and teachers make plans for spring break and summer vacation, I continue to focus on the critical need for adequate instructional time. Of course, there should be some consideration of context. No one expects a school to continue operation beyond mid to late June, so we must have flexibility to add time to school days so that most districts are able to meet the 1,062 hour requirement.

My concern with giving a blanket waiver of 10 days is inequity. A school district that has missed 34 days would have to make up 24 days. A school district that has missed 11 days would only have to make up only one day. However, by focusing on the minimum instructional time of 1,062 hours, all school districts would be treated equally and all students would be treated equally. The majority of school districts would have more flexibility with the 1,062 hour requirement than a 10-day waiver.

As commissioner, I will implement the legislation that is agreed upon by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor. While we may have some disagreement on which method of flexibility is best for school districts (waiver of 10 days or 1,062 hour requirement), one thing we all agree on is that the decision needs to be made as soon as possible so school districts can set graduation dates and inform parents of make-up days or extended school hours.

Hopefully the conference committee will make some decisions in the next few days so we can inform school districts. The Kentucky Department of Education will provide a simple and fast system to implement whichever method the General Assembly enacts.

Friday, March 14, 2014

In support of educators and the core academic standards

This week I had the opportunity to testify before the Senate Education Committee about the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and mathematics and the Next-Generation Science Standards, adopted in our state and collectively known as the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. The hearing was on Senate Bill 224, which would abandon the standards and the work of the past four years in favor of new, yet to be written standards.  I appreciated the chance to once again publicly address the misinformation and many of the misconceptions about the standards that those in opposition have been sharing.  Joining me against SB224 were Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association.  Three of our state board members and countless other education advocates were in the audience.  I was proud to represent them and the majority of Kentuckians in favor of doing what is right for our children and staying with the Kentucky Core Academic Standards.  Below is a copy of my testimony.

Testimony to Senate Education Committee on SB 224
Commissioner Terry Holliday
March 13, 2014

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to speak against SB 224 and for Kentucky educators and students.

In 2009, the Kentucky General Assembly recognized that too many students were graduating from high school and entering postsecondary education unprepared to be successful in college level courses. Too many students had to take remedial courses in college which placed a financial strain on students and parents and decreased the likelihood of the students successfully completing a two- or four-year degree. The lack of college readiness, if not addressed, would have a negative impact on the Kentucky economy.

The General Assembly then passed Senate Bill 1 (2009) without dissent. This legislation required the Council on Postsecondary Education, Education Professional Standards Board, and the Kentucky Department of Education to work collaboratively to develop college ready standards, accountability systems, assessment systems, and professional support for educators to implement the new systems. Kentucky educators responded and led the nation in completing this work. The work was done through hundreds of thousands of hours where educators acted collaboratively to complete the requirements of Senate Bill 1. The work was completed without any increase in state funds. As a matter of fact, during the last four years there has been a significant reduction in funds for textbooks, instructional resources, professional learning, student interventions, and basic student funding.

I speak out today to support Kentucky educators and the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. Senate Bill 224 would undermine the hard work and dedication of Kentucky educators. Senate Bill 224 would demoralize Kentucky educators. Senate Bill 224 would discard all of the hours and efforts of Kentucky educators and basically tell them to start over and do it again. Senate Bill 224 would derail the significant improvements that Kentucky has made in increasing graduation and college readiness rates.

Finally, Senate Bill 224 would be an extravagant waste of tax payer money. Kentucky educators were able to implement new standards, assessment, accountability, and professional support through redirection of state dollars and the support of numerous foundations. To replicate this process would require, at a minimum, $35 million in additional state dollars. I would not anticipate that school districts would invest their local funds to replicate a process they have already completed and I know for certain that external dollars will not be available to support a replication of effort. Let me be clear. Senate Bill 224 is an unfunded mandate of at least $35 million.

I strongly encourage you to support Kentucky educators and students in the work they have already accomplished.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Using intervention strategies to boost student success

When the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1 in 2009, a key component was the ACT assessment for college readiness. The General Assembly, through KRS 158.6459, made it clear that any student in grade 8 or grade 11 whose high school- or college-readiness scores reveal that additional work is needed in English, reading, or mathematics SHALL have intervention strategies for accelerated learning incorporated into his or her learning plan. 

During my first few months in Kentucky, I worked with the Local Superintendent Advisory Committee and other stakeholder groups to define what was meant by “intervention strategies.” Many legislators and educators wanted to require specific courses in the freshman and senior years (called transition courses). However, a number of groups fought for more flexibility and in the end, intervention strategies, as defined, allowed districts a great deal of flexibility in providing interventions. 

Fast forward almost five years, and it is now time to conduct a study to find out what interventions are being provided and what interventions are helping more students reach high school- and college-readiness. The REL Appalachia study released this week is the first formal study of transition courses in Kentucky. REL Appalachia looked at ACT scores and identified students in three groups. 

• Meeting state benchmarks – students scoring 19 or higher on ACT
   math and 20 or higher on ACT reading

• Approaching state benchmarks – students scoring within three
   points of the state ACT benchmarks

• Performing below state benchmarks – students scoring 15 or lower
   on math or 16 or lower on reading.

The key findings from that report are as follows.

• Statewide, the percentage of students in the approaching
   benchmarks category (the category recommended for transition
   courses) is higher in math (37.5 percent) than in
   reading (20.5 percent). 

• Statewide participation in transition courses for students in the
   approaching benchmarks category is 28.1 percent in math and
   8 percent in reading. 

• Statewide pass rates for students in the approaching benchmarks
   category who take transition courses are 94.7 percent for math and
   96.1 percent for reading.

Good news – Students who take transition courses have high pass rates (better than 90 percent) which indicate these students are capable of college-level work. Research from Eastern Kentucky University shows that large numbers of students who pass transition courses are then able to achieve college-ready scores on ACT, COMPASS and/or KYOTE.

Causes for concern – Only 28.1 percent students who need interventions in math and 8 percent in reading are taking transition courses. More than 60 percent of high schools are not offering transition courses.

Big Questions – What is happening to the 72 percent of students in math and 92 percent in reading who are not taking transition courses? What interventions are they provided? Are the interventions provided working as well or better than transition courses?

KDE will begin to answer these questions in the 2014-15 school year with the addition of an interventions tab in the student information system. Schools will be required to enter the intervention that is being provided for all seniors pursuant to KRS 158.6459. At the end of 2014-15, KDE will analyze state data to answer the big questions listed above and will require local districts to analyze district data and data for each high school to answer the questions.   

We do know that a number of interventions are working since we have improved from 34 percent of 2010 graduates achieving college/career-readiness to 54 percent of 2013 graduates achieving college/career-readiness. To reach our goal of 67 percent in 2015, we will need to identify and really emphasize interventions that work.

While we are working on the intervention issue for college readiness, we will also be utilizing the intervention tab to address other statutory requirements for reporting on K-3 interventions and closing the gap interventions.  

Given that Senate Bill 1 has reached its fifth anniversary, it is time to take stock of the results and look for ways to push improvement so more students are successful.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Senate Bill 1: Plan...Do…Study…Act

Since Senate Bill 1 (2009) was enacted, Kentucky has certainly been seen as a leader in the nation for our work in implementing college/career-ready standards, assessments, a new accountability system and professional development for educators. As these core processes begin to stabilize after three full years of implementation, it is important that Kentucky look at the results of our efforts and make the necessary adjustments to help even more students graduate from high school who are prepared for college, careers, and citizenship.

Throughout the next year, Kentucky will be focused on several key topics. We will review results of our accountability system with all stakeholder groups and make recommendations for any adjustments to the Kentucky Board of Education. We will fully implement the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System for teachers, principals, and superintendents. Finally, we will be looking for innovative ways to deliver instruction and assess student performance that are grounded in what students need to be competitive in the 21st century.

The results from our Senate Bill 1 accountability model (now called Unbridled Learning) will be known to districts beginning in late summer. We are already talking with stakeholder groups about replacement assessments for the Explore and Plan tests that the ACT folks are discontinuing. Also, we are looking at replacement tests for our high school end-of-course assessments due to our concerns about alignment with our Kentucky Core Academic Standards and the poor delivery of the online assessments by ACT. These decisions will be made in late summer.

Our timeline for revisions to the Unbridled Learning system will include discussions with all advisory groups, public input, and culminate with the second annual local superintendent summit in September. The recommendations from all of the groups will result in key recommendations being made to the Kentucky Board of Education in the fall of 2014 and subsequent changes to the accountability regulations being made in the December – April time frame. The key question for our stakeholders and the Kentucky Board of Education will be the implementation date of new assessments and revisions to the state accountability model.

Through this blog, I am asking stakeholders to begin to think about two key questions.

     1. ACT has announced the end of the tests that Kentucky gives to all
     8th graders (EXPLORE) and 10th graders (PLAN). Kentucky has a
     choice to continue giving the test in the fall of 2014, however, that
     will be the final administration. A key question to consider is do we
     replace EXPLORE and PLAN for this coming year or do we
     administer one more time in the fall of 2014 and then replace in

     2. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has always been
     committed to reviewing the results of the Unbridled Learning
     accountability model after three years of data. The third year
     data will be released this fall. Should KDE implement stakeholder
     recommend changes for the 2014-15 accountability report cards
     or should KDE delay implementation of stakeholder
     recommendations until 2015-16?

There are many pros and cons for the choices prompted by these two questions. Through this blog and many upcoming meetings, KDE will be seeking input from stakeholders so we can bring forward well- informed recommendations to the Kentucky Board of Education this fall.

Thanks to all of our advisory groups for your careful thoughts and suggestions so that Kentucky education can continue to be seen as the leader in education reform in the nation and more importantly so we can continue to do what is right for our children.