Friday, November 21, 2014

The danger in oversimplifying achievement gaps

In several recent blogs, (Moving in the Right Direction and Making the Numbers Real), I congratulated Kentucky students and educators on the significant progress we are making in college/career-readiness rates and graduation rates. 

We are also beginning to see significant improvement in proficiency rates and our unduplicated gap group has improved in all areas. However, I did stress the need for Kentucky to redouble our efforts in closing significant achievement gaps. The Kentucky Department of Education will be developing very specific plans across curriculum, instruction, interventions, accountability and assessment to support schools and districts as they work to close the achievement gaps. 

In the coming weeks, achievement gap concerns will certainly continue to be a public and legislative focus. There are some stakeholders using the achievement gap issue to promote charter schools. There are others using the achievement gap to push for targeted funding. The public discourse will continue to grow in intensity and we may have some excellent recommendations and we may have some recommendations that are not based on research on how to close the gaps that have persisted for too long. 

I came across an excellent blog this week, that highlights some of the key challenges to using a simplistic approach of comparing student performance across groups of students. As the General Assembly, Kentucky Board of Education, school districts, and the public engage in discussion of achievement gaps, I would recommend reading this blog by the Albert Shanker Institute in preparation for those discussions.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Politics as usual or not?

As the dust settles from last week’s election, there is much talk and speculation about the impact the election may have on public education in this country. At least that has been a primary topic for discussion this week at the Council of Chief State School Officers Annual Policy Forum that I am attending.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attended the meeting and took it as his opportunity to roll out the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind waiver process to state education leaders.

In the past few months, I have been critical of Secretary Duncan and the waiver process (see my blogs, USED action contrary to state, federal lawThe good news and bad news on NCLB waivers). My criticism has been focused on the fact that the original language in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act said states could submit waiver requests to improve teaching and learning. As long as they met that goal, the waivers were unconditional. However, it appears in recent years waivers have become conditional – based on whether a state meets the requirements of the three guiding principles of college/career ready standards, a differentiated accountability system and educator evaluation. Additionally, I have expressed concerns about the time and resources involved at the state level in the waiver application process.

Listening to the Secretary talk about the upcoming waiver process, it was apparent that he and his team had listened not only to me, but also to other state chiefs. Secretary Duncan told us as did the communication and guidance from the U.S. Department of Education (USED) that the waiver process is being streamlined and states will be able to seek a three year extension and in some cases a four year waiver extension.

While I am confident that the Secretary and his staff have listened to our concerns, during our meeting, I asked him about his priorities given the recent election. Despite being there to talk about the waiver process, it was very clear that his priority was reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

I wholeheartedly agree! It is time for us to make reauthorization of No Child Left Behind the top priority. Given the new Senate leadership in Congress, I am hopeful that the Senate and House will be able to work in a bipartisan manner to pass legislation. While the waivers have been helpful, it is critical to have a long term solution through reauthorization. We will see in early January whether new congressional leadership works to govern or continues politics as usual. I certainly hope it is the former rather than the latter.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Community collaboration stretches preschool dollars

This week, Chief of Staff Tommy Floyd, who represents the Kentucky Department of Education on the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council, is my guest blogger. The topic is preschool and how to serve more children who could benefit from a quality early learning experience with the limited funding available.

Terry Holliday, Ph.D.
Education Commissioner

In the coming weeks, the Kentucky Department of Education will be releasing results from the Kindergarten readiness screen of students beginning school this year. Superintendents know how important this data is to students and their future. Children who start behind in school may stay behind. Yet, high quality preschool can make a difference.

We are fortunate this year that Gov. Steve Beshear and the state legislature provided districts with additional funding for preschool. That additional funding, however, came with an expansion of eligibility guidelines, which means many districts also saw their preschool enrollment increase this fall.

With limited resources, many superintendents are asking: How can I stretch my state preschool funding so that more students will be ready when they start school?”

Terry Tolan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, and Rick Hulefeld, founder and executive director of Children, Inc. in northern Kentucky, recently shared with me a model that some districts are using that has allowed them to serve more preschoolers – for less – through collaboration with community programs like Head Start and STARS-rated early childhood centers.

Here’s one example: a private early childhood center in a district serves 18 children in the 4-year-old classroom, 12 of the children are from families whose income is at or below 160 percent of the federal poverty line. The school system places a half-time early childhood teacher in the center, and the early childhood center provides the half-time assistant. The school district would be reimbursed for the 12 children. The early learning center would still receive its usual child care reimbursement and parent co-pay.

How does this stretch the district’s preschool dollars? The district is not paying for a half- day teacher assistant. The district is not retrofitting and/or equipping another classroom or paying for janitor and/or utilities. It also may result in reduced transportation costs because parents may drop off and/or pick up their child before and after work. Most importantly, the school district has ensured that 18 children will be ready for kindergarten not just 12.

This model also offers many more benefits:  

•  The child spends more time in the classroom, less time being

•  There is greater alignment between the two halves of the day.
•  The child is in a full-day, full-year program that hopefully is more
    effective with the presence of the school district’s teacher.

•  The teacher has more contact with the family through the assistant
•  The transitions between home, school and child care seamless –
    a big support for working families.

•  The early learning center, which is typically open more than 10 hours a
    day benefits by reducing its staffing costs.

•  Other forms of sharing between the school and care provider may result,
    for example, around training.

It is important to note that many of the benefits listed still occur if the partnership takes place in the district’s classrooms with the district providing the half-day teacher and the early childhood organization providing the assistant and the wrap-around care.

Using a mixed model for delivering preschool will result in districts serving more children at reduced cost and, even more importantly, improve outcomes for children in the district.

As superintendents begin developing their 2015-16 budgets, I encourage them to consider this model and begin identifying potential early childhood partners in their community that may be willing to join with schools in an effort to ensure more students are ready for learning on their first day of school.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The nature of education

Kentucky has been featured in numerous state and national media sources recently for the improved performance in college- and career-readiness rates and graduation rates. As commissioner, I have been very proud of the efforts of teachers, administrators, students, and education partners in implementing Senate Bill 1 (2009) which required more rigorous standards, assessments, accountability model and professional development for teachers.

While there has been a lot of good news recently, as I look closely at the performance of our students and schools, there are areas that should be addressed. One of the major areas is the continued achievement gap between student groups. 

I have been very encouraged by recent developments in Fayette County. The local equity council has worked with the school administration and the school board to adopt and implement 10 major recommendations for closing achievement gaps. 

I have also been encouraged by the commitment in Jefferson County schools to address the hiring of minority teachers. I have made a commitment to the Kentucky Board of Education to redouble our state efforts on closing achievement gaps. 

At the December meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education, we have invited a national group, Education Trust, to present findings from their recent report that questions the ability of current state accountability models to address the achievement gap. Over the coming months, the state board will look at ways to improve the accountability model to address concerns about the achievement gap. Also, the department will be working closely with advisory groups to develop specific state strategies that could help schools and districts develop local plans to address achievement gaps.

The other concern I have is mathematics performance. Kentucky students are above national averages in reading and science as measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress; however, our mathematics performance is lagging the nation. In a recent report from the National Governor’s Association titled Unlocking Young Children’s Potential: Governors’ Role in Strengthening Early Mathematics Learning, I noted three recommendations that could address our mathematics performance.

1) There is a need for states to build support for early mathematics education within pre-kindergarten expansion, early literacy, STEM education and future workforce preparation.
2) States should align high-quality standards throughout the education pipeline and mathematics instruction should reflect current research. The report was clear that too often our early mathematics education provides less time and less rigor than needed to help build a mathematics literacy in children.
3) States need to look at changes to improve educator preparation and ways to support building early childhood and elementary teachers’ capacity in mathematics instruction.

Lots of great accomplishments and lots of work left to do. That is the nature of education!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Recognizing Teachers

Once again this week, the Ashland Teacher of the Year (TOY) program brought together some of Kentucky’s best educators for recognition in Frankfort. Our annual tribute to outstanding teachers in Kentucky is the highlight of the year for me. Our Kentucky teachers are by far the most professional and dedicated teachers in the nation, and it is my honor to work with them to help every child succeed.

The TOY program recognizes 24 outstanding teachers from across Kentucky. They are among hundreds of teachers nominated by their peers, students, parents or administrators. A team carefully screens the applications and then visits the teachers’ classrooms. A total of nine semifinalists are named – three elementary, three middle and three high school teachers. From these nine, an elementary, middle and high school state teacher of the year is named.

Our middle school teacher of the year is Faye Smith from Campbell County Middle School. Faye has taught mathematics for 27 years. She has coached her school’s Governor’s Cup team. Her professional affiliations include the Kentucky Association for Academic Competition, Math Counts Foundation, Kentucky Academic League (NKY) and National Council of Teachers of Math.

Our 2015 high school teacher of the year is Joshua Underwood who is a teacher at Mason County High School. Joshua’s professional affiliations include the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) and Kentucky Science Teachers Association. Josh is a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics teaching.

Finally, our 2015 elementary school teacher of the year and the 2015 Kentucky Teacher of the Year is Sarah Reed, a 3rd grade teacher at Field Elementary in Jefferson County. Sarah is an 18-year veteran and holds National Board certification. Her professional affiliations include Kentucky Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Kentucky Reading Council, Kentucky Reading Project, Jefferson County Teachers Association, KEA and the National Education Association (NEA).

It was great to recognize these excellent teachers who represent more 40,000 outstanding teachers in Kentucky. Governor Beshear congratulated the teachers on their terrific work and the impact they have on children.

I also want to personally thank Ashland, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jim O’Brien. Through Jim’s leadership, the Kentucky Teacher of the Year program has become one of the premier state recognition programs in the nation. Jim will be retiring from Ashland this year and has turned the TOY program over to the President of Valvoline. I know that the future of the TOY program is in good hands and we will continue long into the future to take time to recognize the tremendous contribution that our teachers make to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The path to student success

This week, Joellen Killion from Learning Forward and Karen Kidwell, Director, Division of Program Standards with the Kentucky Department of Education, team up for a guest blog on the importance of professional learning and a new resource that can help ensure meaningful and effective professional learning opportunities, which are critical to the continuous improvement process and our overall success.

Since Senate Bill 1 (2009), Kentucky has been leading the nation in education reform. To accomplish its goal, the department of education has examined every system, input, output, and outcome to focus and align efforts to ensure that every school and district has effective leadership, every classroom has an effective teacher, and every student graduates ready for college, career and civic life.

To achieve these results every Kentucky educator shares a collective responsibility to contribute to the success of each other and every student. All educators therefore must have the capacity for excellent performance in their individual roles and understand and communicate about how the Professional Growth and Effectiveness system works to create conditions in which educators and students succeed. 

Professional learning is the primary vehicle to support educators’ professional growth and continuous improvement. Educator learning that aligns with Kentucky’s new professional learning definition and standards ensures that educators engage in sustained, job-embedded, collaborative learning to support the critical and necessary shifts in practice to achieve the goals of Senate Bill 1 (2009).

To guide implementation of professional learning that aligns with the revised regulation (704 KAR 3.035) in every school and district across Kentucky, the Model Curriculum Framework has been revised to include a more detailed section on effective professional learning. The extended professional learning guidance resulted from a three-year initiative, facilitated by Learning Forward and funded by the Sandler, Bill and Melinda Gates, and MetLife Foundations. The initiative involved a wide range of state and national education stakeholders including the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Governors Association, National Association of State Boards of Education, critical friends from six states, Kentucky educators, and representatives from Kentucky associations and education partners. 

The guidance on professional learning provides suggestions for school councils, professional development coordinators, school, district, and regional cooperative staff who plan and facilitate professional learning, providers and vendors offering services to Kentucky educators, and institutes of higher education. 

What can you expect to find in this resource?
— a seven step process for planning, implementing, and evaluating professional learning
— five questions for improving professional learning
— key roles and responsibilities for effective professional learning
— explicit connections to the Professional Growth Plan (PGP) process
— a sample professional learning plan aligned to the Standards for Professional Learning
— a self-assessment of the state of professional learning in your school/district
— links to multiple resources to support professional learning aligned to Kentucky’s new Standards for Professional Learning
— Kentucky’s Rubric for Exemplary Professional Learning

Higher levels of student engagement and success in school occur only when educators are supported in improving their own knowledge, attitudes, skills, aspirations and beliefs, and when they work collaboratively to extend and refine their practice and student success. Professional learning, implemented well, is the path to that success. Take the time to access this guidance and use it as you engage in continuous improvement at the regional, district, school, team, and individual levels to ensure that your efforts reflect the standards and effective practices illustrated. Your success in professional learning makes a difference – for Kentucky’s educators and students!

You’ll find the professional learning guidance here.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Making the numbers real

As we looked more closely at numbers from the Unbridled Learning Accountability System this week, there was much to celebrate. School report cards showed more students reached college- and career-readiness, more students graduated, reading and math scores improved at elementary and middle school, and high school Advanced Placement and ACT results are at all-time highs.

This data is great news, but the numbers do not always tell the full story. This week, I had the opportunity to make those numbers real by visiting two school districts.

My first visit was to Floyd County on Monday night. In 1997, Floyd County was among the lowest performing school districts in Kentucky. A state audit labeled the district as a "ship that had lost its rudder." The district went under state management.

Throughout the last six years, Floyd County has undergone a major metamorphosis. The district has moved from one of the lowest performers to one of the top performers in the state –graduation rates and college/career-readiness rates are among the highest in Kentucky – and every school in the district has achieved distinguished or proficient status.

On Monday night, I witnessed a major celebration in the high school gym – every school in the district was represented by students, parents, school staff, cheerleaders, and bands. I have never seen a celebration of academic achievement like I saw in Floyd County on Monday night. Congratulations to the entire Floyd County team, community, school board, and Superintendent Henry Webb. The pride has been restored in Floyd County and the future is very bright.

Also this week, I visited East Carter High School in Carter County. A few years ago, this school was labeled a priority school and was in the bottom 5 percent of schools in Kentucky. With a lot of hard work by students, staff and the community, the school has moved from the bottom to the top 5 percent in the state. College- and career-readiness rates have climbed from 23 percent a few years ago to 94 percent. Graduation rates are approaching 100 percent. It was apparent in visiting East Carter that the pride has been restored not only at the high school but throughout the county.

This dramatic turnaround in a short time is not only something to celebrate, but also an example for other schools about what is possible. It was my honor to recognize East Carter as a new "hub" school for Kentucky. A hub school is a priority school that has made extraordinary improvement -- one that other schools can visit to learn best practices in improving student learning. We also have hub schools in Pulaski County and Simpson County.

As I read press clippings from across the Commonwealth of Kentucky this week, I saw many communities celebrating the improvements in student learning results. What I saw during these two school visits was the real people behind the numbers. I saw pride in the community, the school, the staff and the students.

At the Floyd County event, I heard the Speaker of the House recount the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act with a great deal of pride. What Kentucky educators and students have shown since the passage of KERA in 1990, is that Kentucky can compete with anyone. Kentucky educators and students can achieve at high levels.

We know there remains much work to do, however, we need to take time to reflect on the amazing progress made and the impact the numbers have on student’s lives.