Friday, July 18, 2014

Make It Real

While most of the country seems embroiled in a political fight around Common Core State Standards and their implementation, too many of our students are graduating from high school unprepared for the current workforce. An upcoming special report, No College = Low Wages, from the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics (KCEWS) brings this issue to the forefront. The report is due out on July 25, so be sure to check the KCEWS website for the full report once it is released.

The following highlights are based on the third of the total high school graduates from 2009-10 and 2011-12 who did not enroll in postsecondary programs. Of the third, 60 percent went directly into the workforce

     • On average, Kentucky’s public high school graduates from
        2011-12 earned $7,567 the year following graduation. After
         three years the 2009-10 graduates’ wages rose to $11,511.

     • Three years after high school, more than three out of four
        graduates from 2009-10 who did not attend postsecondary
        were earning less than full-time minimum wage.

     • Female graduates who did not attend postsecondary are earning
        30 percent less than male graduates.

     • African American highs school graduates who did not attend
        postsecondary were earning 30 percent less than their white

     • Graduates with 20 or more unexcused absences in their senior
        year earned up to 55 percent less than those with five or fewer

     • About 60 percent of the high school graduates, who did not
        attend postsecondary, work in three industry groups that have
        three of the four lowest average wages.

These facts should be a wakeup call to high school students and their parents. This is clear evidence that high schools must do a better job in preparing all graduates to enter postsecondary programs (one year, two year, or four year diploma or certification) prepared for credit bearing work and with the skills necessary to succeed in careers that pay a living wage.

We certainly can continue to discuss the right wording for standards and the right assessments to measure the standards, however, we need to make the discussion REAL! Too many of our high school students are leaving high school unprepared for postsecondary and unprepared for careers. We have made excellent progress in the last four years in addressing this situation; however, we have much more work to do. Let’s not get sidetracked with the political debates around standards and assessments, let’s stay focused on the getting ALL students prepared for THEIR FUTURE and not our past.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Closing the opportunity gap

Equal educational opportunity for all -- it was the basis of the lawsuit that triggered the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 and remains a basic tenent of the Kentucky Board of Education and Kentucky Department of Education today. A student's race, ethnic background, family income, unique challenge or zip code should not determine whether the child has access to a quality education. The sad reality is that in too many places it does.

This week I received a letter from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlining a new requirement for states to develop an educator equity plan to ensure every child has access to a quality education and quality educators. Here is an excerpt:

Equality of opportunity is a core American value.  Equal educational opportunity means ensuring schools have the resources they need to provide real and meaningful opportunities for all students to succeed, regardless of family income or race.  To accomplish this goal, students must have access to a safe and healthy place to learn, quality instructional materials and supports, rigorous expectations and course work, and, most critically, excellent educators to guide learning.  Yet family income and race still too often predict how likely a child is to attend a school staffed by great educators.  This inequity is unacceptable, and the time is now for us to work together to ensure all children have access to the high-quality education they deserve, and that all educators (including teachers, staff, principals, and superintendents) have the resources and support necessary to provide that education.

Over the past several months, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) has conducted outreach to Chief State School Officers, school districts, civil rights groups, teachers, principals, and other stakeholders to explore ways to tackle and resolve the disparities in access to great teachers that we know continue to exist.  Through this outreach, we heard that there is no single solution to this problem; we need a broad and systemic focus on supporting and improving teaching and learning, especially in our highest-need schools and for our highest-need students, including students with disabilities and English learners.  We heard that the best efforts will not only include recruiting, developing, and retaining great educators with the skills to teach all students, but will also build strong school leaders, create supportive working conditions, and address inequities in resources and supports for teachers.

Many of you have told me that you are ready for a renewed and deeper commitment to ensuring every student in every public school has equal access to great educators who set and maintain high expectations for every student.

To move us closer to this goal, the Department is embarking on a multifaceted strategy:

New State Educator Equity Plans:  The Department will ask that, in April 2015, each State educational agency (SEA) submit to the Department a new State Educator Equity Plan in accordance with the requirements of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA).  As required by ESEA, in its plan, each SEA must, among other things, describe the steps it will take to ensure that “poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers.”  To prepare a strong plan, each SEA will analyze what its stakeholders and data have to say about the root causes of inequities and will craft its own solutions.

The Department will issue guidance this fall to support SEAs in plan development and implementation.  I look forward to working with you to ensure that these plans translate to meaningful and comprehensive change for students.

Secretary Duncan's letter goes on to say that USED will support the development of these plans by releasing data on current conditions. This will include:
(1) comprehensive school and district level data reported directly by districts to the Department on metrics such as teacher experience; teacher absenteeism; teacher certification; access to preschool and rigorous course work, including science, mathematics, and Advanced Placement courses; and school expenditures
(2) state-specific teacher equity profiles, which will also be available to the public on the Department’s Web site.

In addition, USED will fund a new technical assistance network that will provide information, tools, and supports to all states as they develop and implement new State Educator Equity Plans.   

In reality, Kentucky has developed similar state plans since 2006 for Title I and Title II. As the secretary acknowledges..."this is not the first time that states, districts, and the federal government have tried to grapple with the complex challenge of ensuring equitable access to excellent educators, but previous efforts have not fully addressed the challenge."  

Certainly as we develop a new state plan in preparation for the April 2015 deadline, we will seek feedback from all stakeholders involved.   With the dedication to doing what's best for children that our educators and other stakeholders regularly exhibit, I have no doubt that Kentucky will once again be a shining example for other states of equal educational opportunity for all.  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Changing preschool delivery could be a win for all

This week, I welcome Kentucky Department of Education Chief of Staff Tommy Floyd as a guest blogger. Dr. Floyd weighs in on some new ways of thinking about delivering quality preschool experiences and how they can lead to an increase in kindergarten readiness and greater school success for students.
Many school systems across the country and several in Kentucky are seeing success by using some non-traditional, mixed models for delivering pre-K learning experiences for children.

The model typically involves combining half-day pre-K and quality childcare in a single location to provide full day learning experiences for children. The result is a better continuity of care and learning for children, often leading to higher kindergarten readiness rates.  

While the exact model can vary depending on local needs and capacity, it almost always involves collaboration among a school system, private childcare and Head Start to leverage existing resources. Partnerships can be tailored to maximize the capacity of the local school system and childcare providers to meet the needs of the children and parents in the community.

Often a district provides space in a school for private childcare to serve preschoolers before or after class. Children, Inc. partners with schools in northern Kentucky to use this model. Depending on enrollment, these in-school centers can also serve children who otherwise would not qualify for preschool.   

Another example places the school’s preschool teachers in private childcare centers. For instance, Christian County Public Schools partners with Let’s Go Play Academy in Hopkinsville to send teachers into the private child care center to teach preschool part of the day.

Mixed delivery has many benefits. Parents avoid the difficulty of arranging childcare before or after preschool classes. It eliminates the need to transport kids from one place to another which allows for more quality instructional time. In addition, it saves money that otherwise would be spent constructing new classrooms (approximately. $250,000 per classroom) or retrofitting space (approximately $80,000 per classroom).

In addition to the benefits of co-locating preschool and childcare in the same space, mixed delivery also has the benefit of increasing continuity and quality of care and instruction. It provides easier transitions from childcare to preschool to kindergarten. In addition, preschool teachers and childcare teachers learn from each other and bring their different strengths to the classroom.

Childcare is an important part of the education continuum. Most parents of children under age 5 work and depend on private childcare, which strives to provide children with high quality learning experiences in safe surroundings.

Many private child care providers participate in Kentucky’s quality rating system called STARS that measures the quality of instruction, teacher quality and parent engagement.  In fact, Kentucky intends to enhance the quality rating system and apply it to all childcare centers, Head Start, and school-based preschool. This would establish a common, shared measure of quality that would lead to greater kindergarten readiness.  Currently, state kindergarten readiness scores indicate that 71 percent of children in private childcare enter kindergarten ready to learn.

When schools operate their own preschool program, they typically take 4 year olds from private childcare centers. That tends to create a financial hardship for the centers because 4-year-olds help defray the higher costs of caring for infants and toddlers.  This, in turn, causes centers to cut back or close, leaving parents with fewer or no childcare options. Children then lose the learning experiences that the centers offered and that can lead to lower impact kindergarten readiness scores.

Carefully considering a mixed model for delivering preschool in Kentucky could result in a win for everyone involved – parents, districts and child care providers – but especially for the children who will soon be headed to kindergarten.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Consortia assessments – yours, mine or ours?

As states moved to implement new, more rigorous college/career-readiness standards in English/language arts and mathematics, they faced a challenge:  how would they assess student progress on the new standards?  Writing high quality assessment items that truly measure student mastery of the standards would be no small task.  It would be both time consuming and expensive.

In Kentucky, due to the mandates of Senate Bill 1 (2009) to implement new standards and aligned assessments in 2011-12, the Kentucky Department of Education contracted with vendors to provide end-of-the year tests for students in grades 3-8, and an on-demand writing test and end-of-course exams in Algebra II, English II, Biology and U.S. History at the high school level.  The majority of the tests were traditional, multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubble tests that were really more narrowly focused than the standards demanded, but were nonetheless valid and reliable. 

Meanwhile, in 2010 through the Race to the Top Assessment Program, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) awarded $330 million to two assessment consortia to develop a new generation of tests designed to provide ongoing feedback to teachers during the course of the school year, measure annual student growth, and more accurately gauge students’ understanding and application of the standards. Through the consortia, states would benefit from having their dollars used in highly leveraged ways to support goals that would not otherwise be achieved without an infusion of federal funding.

Based on their applications, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) planned to test students' ability to read complex text, complete research projects, excel at classroom speaking and listening assignments, and work with digital media. 

The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) would test students using computer adaptive technology that would ask students tailored questions based on their previous answers. 

The consortia would develop periodic assessments throughout the school year to inform students, parents and teachers about whether students were on track.

The requirements of the grant provided that  the consortia “…make all assessment content (i.e., assessments and assessment items) developed with funds from this competition freely available to the States, technology platform provides and other that request it for the purposes of administering assessments, provided they comply with the consortium or state requirements for test and item security.”

This provision was designed to ensure that content developed with public funds was widely available – including to states that were not part of grantee consortia. Initially, Kentucky was a participating state in each consortium, meaning we were monitoring but not leading the work. Eventually, due to capacity issues and a potential conflict of interest if either or both of the consortia would bid on Kentucky’s testing contract, the state withdrew from each.

Now, in an effort to save millions of dollars, the Kentucky Department of Education is seeking access to consortia-developed assessment items at the end of the 2014-15 school year so that we may enhance Kentucky's assessment item pool for the 2015-16 state assessments. Of course, before any new items are added to state K-PREP tests, they would move through the normal state review process.

It is my understanding, however, that several states have already contacted the consortia to request access to assessment items and have been denied access or told they would have to pay for access to assessment items. Both of these conditions seem to violate the program requirements of the publicly funded grant.  

So, the question is, who owns the assessment items and the consortia-developed assessments?  Are they yours (the consortia’s), mine (the states’) or ours (the federal government’s)?

I have written Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to ask for clarification. Kentucky and several other states anxiously await his response. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Preparing students to be globally competent

Ever since the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1 in 2009, the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) has strongly supported the addition of world language to the state accountability model. On June 4, the board took action to do so approving implementation of the World Language Program Review for high schools in 2014-15 with accountability in 2015-16. Elementary and middle schools will follow a year later with accountability in 2016-17.

There has been much consternation over the World Language Program Review from the time the idea was first mentioned. Lawmakers worry that world language was added to the list of Program Reviews even though the content area was not specifically mentioned in Senate Bill 1.  Of course, SB 1 allowed the KBE to add to the accountability those areas that were of importance to prepare students for college- and career-readiness. 

Local superintendents have not been supportive of the World Language Program Review either. The key areas of concern have been funding, time, resources, availability of certified teachers and professional learning.

However, the reasoning behind the board’s action was driven home in its recent meeting. David Karem, former chair of the KBE and former state senator during the time of KERA, said the idea that our students need an understanding of the world is not a new one.

“We were talking about world language and global competencies over 26 years ago when we recruited Toyota to Kentucky and we have not made much progress,” he said.  “It is past time for action.” 

Secretary of the Workforce and Education Cabinet, Tom Zawacki, echoed Karem’s sentiment  based on his employment experience at Toyota and now as cabinet secretary. Tom said a running joke with international executives was, “What do you call a person who can speak two languages?” Answer: bilingual. 
“What do you call person who can only speak one language?” Answer: American. 

The need for global competency is real.  Karem cited a recent article in the state bar association magazine that supports his argument. The article, titled “Kentucky’s Global Economy:  96% of your market may be outside the US,” shares some interesting facts.
• Kentucky exports in the past three years have increased, with over $25 billion in sales in 2013.
• Kentucky’s exports growth rate of more than 14 percent translates to the 2nd highest growth in the nation
• 96 percent of potential consumers reside outside the U.S. 
• U.S. exports reached an all-time high of $2.2 trillion last year
• Kentucky exports created 47,000 in 2010

As Commissioner, I support the KBE’s decision. It is time for our schools to clearly understand the global economy and better prepare students for the future marketplace. We have known for some time that many of our lost jobs in Kentucky will not come back due to scientific advances and international competition. It is time to turn those conditions on their head and focus on selling Kentucky products and services to the international community. 

It is imperative that our high school and college graduates who will be obtaining work in firms that are exporting products and services understand the language, culture, business climate and geopolitical issues they will be facing. This work must be integrated with existing programs in our schools. It cannot be seen as an “add on” or just another program. We must integrate in language, social studies, math and other content areas. Yes, we should make certain our students have opportunities to become bilingual, however, it is even more important our students understand the global competition they will be entering upon graduation. 

Look for more details about grants and support programs for this work in the coming months. We will have many partners in this work – from economic development, to universities and many education groups.

At last, after more than a quarter of a century, Kentucky has seized the opportunity for our students to become globally competent.  It is a decision that will serve them and the state’s economy well.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Science standards, assessments and Senate Bill 1

Since the day Senate Bill 1 passed the General Assembly in spring 2009 and was signed into law, the Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Board of Education have been working diligently to fully realize the requirements of this visionary legislation: more rigorous academic standards, new assessments, a balanced accountability system and professional development for educators in support of the new standards.

In early 2010, the Kentucky Board of Education, Council on Postsecondary and the Education Professional Standards Board took the first big step in carrying out Senate Bill 1 when they joined to adopt the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and mathematics. Teachers immediately began working to unpack and interpret the standards.  During the 2010-11 school year, educators began developing curricula and instructional materials. Schools gave the first assessments of the new standards in spring 2012. Teachers had almost two years to develop instruction and materials that were aligned to the new standards prior to the assessments.

States began working to develop new science standards in 2010. These standards went through numerous review cycles and to date, 12 states have fully adopted the Next-Generation Science Standards. Kentucky did so in 2013, and since that time, we have been working with educators to repeat the process used for implementing the English/language arts and math standards. Also, just as we did with the new standards in the first two content areas, we will delay assessment of the new standards until teachers have had nearly years to implement. Testing on the new science standards will occur in spring of 2016.

The new science assessments will be very different than any previous assessments – not confined to  paper and pencil, fill-in-the-bubble, multiple choice.  The science assessments would be taken online – similar to what is being done with the new National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) assessment in Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL).  This assessment measures not only science content, but also measures scientific process and problem solving. Early reports from the first administration of the TEL assessment are extremely positive. Students are much more engaged in the test- taking process and the data provide educators not only information on students’ factual knowledge but also their problem solving skills.

Due to the complexity of developing such a test, the new science assessment will require more funding to create than traditional tests.  However, online assessments produce savings in the long run since we are able to eliminate printing paper tests, shipping, storage and other related costs. With the need for additional funding to develop the science assessment, the Kentucky Department of Education identified a short term cost savings by not administering the K-PREP science exam in 4th and 7th grades in 2014-15. Teachers and administrators strongly supported this decision since the current K-PREP test in science assessed the old standards and starting in the fall, students would be learning the new standards.

However, this decision does not mean that we cannot track science learning  in Kentucky. In 2014-15, our students will still take science assessments as part of the Explore (8th grade), Plan (10th grade), ACT (11th grade), and Biology  end-of-course (high school) assessments. These assessments will provide a clear picture of our performance in science relative to other states and the rest of the nation. Also, Kentucky will continue to participate in and receive state-level results for the National Assessment of Education Progress science assessment for 4th- and 8th-grade students.

By 2015-16, we will have one remaining subject area to implement – social studies. We anticipate that the draft social studies standards will go out for public comment this fall and we will begin working with teachers in 2015-16 to implement the standards and develop new social studies assessments for 2016-17.

Transformation does not happen overnight. From a concept laid out in Senate Bill 1 in 2009 through actual implementation of all the requirements in 2017, will be an eight year journey that, thus far, has been very rewarding, frustrating and just plain hard work for teachers and administrators. Parents and students have also had to endure many changes and modifications to K-12 schooling during this time.

Over the next year or so, we will hear from many politicians (state and national) who were not involved in the Senate Bill 1 process. For political reasons, they will push for “education reform.” We will hear calls for new standards, new assessments and new accountability – once again.  However, we should all be persistent in asking why change is needed, what the cost will be, what impact another change would have on teacher morale, and what the impact would be for parents and students.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Creating thinkers or test-takers?

With the implementation of our new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System this fall, I have been closely monitoring the national conversation concerning student growth and pay for performance. We have been lucky in Kentucky to have leadership by teachers, principals, and superintendents to develop a balanced system of effectiveness that focuses on the professional growth of educators NOT getting rid of them.  While the overall goal is college/ career-readiness for all, our success in improving student outcomes will be determined, in a large part, by getting the system RIGHT!

I have long been a systems thinker and have been heavily influenced by the work of Edwards Deming. In his book Out of the Crisis, Dr. Deming had some astute observations about annual performance evaluations that were connected to merit or performance pay. Here is an excerpt from page 101:

Evaluation of performance, merit rating, or annual review… “The idea of a merit rating is alluring. The sound of the words captivates the imagination:  pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good.” Deming says that may be fine in theory, but “the effect is exactly the opposite of what the words promise.”

Deming went on to say that 90-95 percent of the variation in an individual’s performance and the performance of the organization (in our case a school) could be attributed to the system. Implementing a teacher evaluation system that focuses solely on student performance is a simplistic answer to a very complex system and is WRONG! 

We must ask ourselves, are we trying to develop a system that will result in students learning to think or simply take tests?

In Kentucky, we are focused on the entire system of professional growth and effectiveness to support teachers, principals, and superintendents which will result in student success. 

The system includes a focus on working conditions that impact student learning. Another key focus is providing access to professional learning that is customized to the needs of the teacher, principal or superintendent. A very large part of the system is teacher preparation. In collaboration with the Education Professional Standards Board and Council on Postsecondary Education, our state is working closely with universities to improve the teacher recruitment, preparation, placement and the retention of great teachers.  There are many more parts of the system we are working on. 

Quite often the Kentucky Department of Education is criticized for working on too many things at one time. However,  if you truly want to reform a system, you cannot work on only one part of the system until you perfect it and then move on to the next part. Every action you take has a ripple effect on other parts of the system. System work can be hard and very frustrating; however, if we want to reform our education system to help more children achieve college/career-readiness and success, then it is our responsibility to do the work and to get the system RIGHT!

Terry Holliday, Ph.D.
Education Commissioner