Friday, May 22, 2015

Improving Kentucky’s educator effectiveness system

This week Kentucky’s educator effectiveness system was a topic for discussion at a meeting sponsored by the Southern Regional Education Board. Teams from six states (Kentucky, Oklahoma, Maryland, South Carolina, Mississippi and North Carolina) convened to review progress on statewide teacher effectiveness models and identify possible improvement strategies for the models teams. Each team had a teacher, principal, superintendent, state department and education association representative. Kentucky’s 2014 Teacher of the Year Holly Bloodworth, Fayette Co. Principal Ron Chi, Boone Co. Superintendent Randy Poe and Chief Academic Officer Karen Cheser, Kentucky Education Association Executive Director Mary Ann Blankenship and President Stephanie Winkler, and myself constituted Kentucky’s team.

It was apparent from the discussions with other states that Kentucky has a strong state model for teacher effectiveness. The Kentucky model, the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES), was developed over a 4-year period with input from teachers, principals, superintendents, parents and other stakeholders. The PGES was fully implemented during the current school year. While the implementation has been successful, we have identified several challenges and areas for improvement.

Challenge #1 – too many of our principals and teachers are more focused on compliance with the PGES data collection rather than a focus on professional growth linked to the Framework for Effective Teaching. This is to be expected in the first year of implementation. With any new process, teachers and principals are trying their best to comply with expectations. It will take more time, resources, and support through training to move from compliance to professional growth.

Challenge #2 – the software got in the way of the focus on professional growth. As with most software companies, our provider of the PGES evidence system over promised and then under delivered. We have gotten feedback from all stakeholder groups and are in the middle of making decisions about how to improve the evidence gathering process for PGES.

While there are other areas of improvement for PGES, these two challenges seemed to be the most pronounced based on stakeholder feedback and data analysis. Moving forward, we will continue to work with our Teacher Effectiveness Steering Committee and review the results from the first year of full implementation as we strive for improvement. 

At the meeting it was evident that what Kentucky does better than most is work well together. We have been very successful in developing an excellent model for teacher effectiveness and I am confident that through continued collaboration, Kentucky will revise the system and ensure the system makes an impact on professional growth and student learning.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Graduation rate moving in the right direction

In recent years, the high school graduation rate became a critical measure of success for our schools and districts across the nation. The National Governor’s Association developed a common definition for high school graduation rates, the cohort rate, and No Child Left Behind required all states to report the cohort graduation rate so a common report would be available for comparison.

President Obama and Secretary Duncan added incentives for schools and districts to improve graduation rates through programs such as School Improvement Grants and Race to the Top.

Two leading national organizations developed a collaborative model to focus the nation on improving graduation rates. America’s Promise Alliance, led by General Colin Powell and his wife Alma, joined forces with the Alliance for Excellence in Education, led by former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise. The collaboration led to an effort called GradNation and a national goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. GradNation produces an annual report which is available online. Here are some highlights from this year’s report.

The 2013, graduation rate for the nation was 81.4 percent which is on target to reach 90 percent by 2020. Kentucky had a graduation rate of 86.1 percent, which was well above the national average and among the top ten rates in the country. Kentucky’s class of 2014 reached an all-time high grad rate of 87.4 percent, which will probably place Kentucky among the top five states in the nation.

Hispanic/Latino and African American students are beginning to close the graduation gap. Historically they have not graduated at the same high rates as most of their counterparts.  However, in 2013, Hispanic students registered a 75.2 percent graduation rate and African American students recorded a 70.7 percent rate. Again, Kentucky again outperformed the nation with a 2013 graduation rate of 79.8 percent for Hispanic/Latino and 78.4 percent rate for African American students. According to state data, these rates continued to improve in 2014 with an 84.4 percent rate for Hispanic and 79.4 percent rate for African Americans.

Perhaps the report’s most exciting news for Kentucky was the results for economically disadvantaged students. Most researchers know that Kentucky has one of the highest percentages of children living in poverty and one of the highest percentages of children qualifying for free- and reduced-price meals.

Despite these challenges, the GradNation report revealed that Kentucky had the highest graduation rate in the nation for economically disadvantage students – 85 percent! It is a strong testament about the expectations of parents, communities and students; and a strong testament to the terrific work that teachers and school leaders do every day.

While the GradNation report should give Kentucky a reason for celebration, we must continue to work to address the challenges of those students who are not reaching graduation. Under the leadership of Governor Beshear and the advocacy of First Lady Jane Beshear, Kentucky raised the dropout age from 16 to 18. The new policy takes effect in nearly all 173 school districts in August with the beginning of the 2015-16 school year. This effort coupled with improvements in alternative schools, career and technical education, early warning systems, high school transition courses and many other strategies that our schools are implementing will certainly result in continued improvements for our high school graduation rate.

I feel certain that, when it comes to graduation rates, Kentucky will continue to be a top performing state and will continue to help more students achieve a bright future.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The truth about teaching

Teacher Appreciation Week is drawing to a close. But I didn’t want it to pass without a nod to our state’s great educators. In my travels around the country, I often brag on our teachers. They are the ones on the front lines of learning day in and day out and are primarily responsible for the progress we have seen in recent years.

Coach John Wooden once said that the teaching profession contributes more to the future of our society than any other single profession. I agree. Regular readers of my blog know that I often cite the importance that other countries place on the teaching profession. We should follow their lead. As businessman Lee Iacocca once noted, in a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.

Most of us think we know what it means to teach, and by extension, to be a teacher.

But, the truth is, most people don't really know much about teaching. Their memories and perceptions come from being students — not teachers who spent hours, days and months preparing for them to arrive in their classrooms.

Most people have no knowledge of hours-long curriculum planning meetings, weekends spent correcting students' work or the time spent on professional learning seeking out new teaching strategies to help students master critical concepts.

Most people have never managed a classroom of 25 or more students, some of whom come to school angry or neglected, leery that another adult will let them down, but at the same time craving someone who will listen to them, see them, believe in them and help them.

Most people don't know what it is like to stress over learning new, more in-depth standards, master yet another new technology, or feel like a failure when all their hard work results in barely a percentage blip on state assessments.

In the public eye, teachers often swing between being revered and reviled. They are either members of the noblest profession or they are viewed as incompetent and ineffective.

These are simplistic, one-dimensional characterizations. Neither offers a true portrait of what it means to teach. In fact, the two extremes allow the realities of those who teach our children to be glossed over, unsaid and unshared.

Our preconceived notions and assumptions stop us from really knowing the first-year high school special education teacher who deals with students who cannot control their emotions and act out by swearing, throwing things, and sometimes physically harming themselves.

We don't get to meet the teachers who keep snacks in their desks so students don't go hungry, who buy winter coats, hats and mittens for children who come to school cold, or who purchase new shoes for those who can't afford them. Then there are the teachers who often work summers to raise money to help send students on field trips and to sporting events — experiences these students wouldn't otherwise have, if not for the teacher's selfless acts.

We seldom hear about teachers who help students afford the medications they need or who, often anonymously, pay to have heat, electricity or water turned back on for struggling families so their students will have the basics at home.

We miss out on learning about the teacher who regularly helps students' families read their mail because they cannot read well enough to understand it.

Or the teacher who logs 50 hours in one nine-week period volunteering time after school so that students can have the experience of being part of a drama production.

Yet, all of these teachers are real — dedicated, compassionate professionals who want the best for their students.

Few, however, take the time to learn what teachers really do and what is happening in their classrooms. Teachers ignite the spark of learning in children. They inspire, encourage and support our children. Great teachers don’t see students for what they can’t do, but help them discover what they can do.

If all the current critics of public education spent just one day with a teacher in a classroom, they would learn the truth about our public education system, the progress our students are making and the dedication and professionalism of our teachers. 

Too often we think we know what teachers do and what they need to do better. But we don't really know unless we listen to those who know — those who teach.

Teachers educate our children, but they also have much to teach all of us about what is happening in our schools. Let's take the time to not only thank them, but also talk with them and to listen to what they have to say.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A 4-year degree isn’t the only path to success

I ran across an interesting report this week with evidence that associate degrees and certificates can be a viable path to the middle-class. The report has significant implications for Kentucky as we begin to reform our Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. We anticipate significant recommendations and budget requests focused on CTE reforms during the 2016 session of the General Assembly. The Colorado report could provide a goal and key measures for this legislation – an increase in associate degrees and certificates that are linked to key industry sectors in Kentucky and provide the opportunity to earn a living wage.

Here are a couple of the findings:
     •  While Colorado, like Kentucky, offers many pathways for postsecondary degrees, the fastest growing sector is the associate degree.
     •  Short-term certificates that take less than one year to complete and have a significant payoff within 5-10 years after earning the certificate. With certain certificates, average earnings exceed $50,000 compared with bachelor’s degree earnings of $55,000.
     •  An associate degree in applied science has far more value than an associate degree in art or science. An associate degree in applied science has essentially the same average earnings after 5-10 years as a bachelor’s degree. The most popular applied science areas and those identified as being in industry sectors that have significant job openings are registered nursing, allied health diagnostics and fire protection.

Possible next steps for Kentucky that should be integrated into legislation include:
     •  Identify industry sectors that have significant numbers of job openings.
     •  Within these industry sectors identify certificates and associate degrees that enable students to compete for available jobs.
     •  All certificate and associate programs should utilize business and industry to regularly identify and refresh the skills and competencies needed in available jobs.
     •  High schools and community colleges should work closely to align career pathways to ensure students have a seamless experience.
     •  Every career pathway should lead to an industry-recognized certificate and/or appropriate associate degree.
     •  Heavy emphasis should be placed on dual credit opportunities to reduce the cost of postsecondary education as a student works toward an industry certification and/or associate degree.

Reforming career and technical education in Kentucky should not be based on anecdotal information. We must move forward based on hard data from industry and economic development. Preparing a workforce for the future will be the best economic development tool for Kentucky as we recruit business and industry to our state and local communities.

Friday, April 24, 2015

How Kentucky is creating responsive 21st-century schools

Over the past few weeks, I have been writing about the International Summit on the Teaching Profession that I attended recently. In last week’s blog, I highlighted the key ingredients for a responsive 21st-century school. I want to revisit those this week and briefly mention what is happening in Kentucky to address some of them.

Promoting effective school leadership
     • Empower teachers to play a role in decision making at the
        school level – Kentucky has long been a leader in this regard. 

        Kentucky teachers are heavily involved in what happens in a 
        school through the school-based decision making councils 
        and through professional learning communities. In addition, 
        every two years, we ask teachers to let us know how they are 
        involved in decision making at the school. The teacher survey 
        results can be found at 2015 results will be 
        public in June.

     • Provide opportunities for, and remove barriers to, continuing 
        professional development for principals – Kentucky has strong 
        principal development programs in our universities. Also, the 
        Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has worked with communities 
        across Kentucky to provide innovative and creative leadership 
        training to more than 100 principals the last few years. Kentucky 
        also is providing training to principals who are looking for ways to 
        improve student achievement in their schools. Through a partnership 
        with the National Institute for School Leadership, we are training 
        more than 100 principals a year.

Strengthening teachers’ confidence in their own abilities
     • Build teachers’ capacity to provide instruction to all types of 
        learners – The Kentucky Department of Education has offered 
        an online resource for a number of years where teachers can 
        access differentiated professional development aligned with the 
        special needs of students in their classrooms.

     • Support the development of interpersonal relationships/
        collaboration within the school – Many schools are providing 
        common planning time for teams of teachers to collaborate 
        and review student learning expectations, current student 
        performance and identify instructional techniques that help 
        improve student performance.

Innovating to create 21st-century learning environments
     • Create conditions conducive to innovation – Legislation 
        has enabled the state to create districts of innovation and
        for the Kentucky Board of Education to grant exemptions from 

        certain administrative regulations and statutory provisions 
        in an effort to improve student learning. As a result, Kentucky’s 
        districts of innovation are spawning new approaches to teaching 
        and learning. 

While there is much work to do in Kentucky, there is much we have accomplished. It is extremely important that we continue to look for ways to improve public perception of the value of the teaching profession. Our very future depends on our ability to recruit, support, and retain great teachers.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Creating a responsive 21st-century school

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I recently attended the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Part of the pre-reading for the conference was a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This report provides an excellent executive summary of recommendations for countries and states to implement in order to create a responsive 21st-century school. 

The three ingredients to create responsive schools are promoting effective teacher leadership, strengthening teachers’ confidence in their own abilities, and innovating to create 21st-century learning environments. Kentucky is hard at work on all three components. Here are some of the specific recommendations from the report. 

Promoting effective school leadership
     • empower teachers to play a role in decision making at the school level
     • provide opportunities for, and remove barriers to, continuing 
        professional development for principals
     • ensure that principals receive training in, and have opportunities to
        assume, instructional leadership

Strengthening teachers’ confidence in their own abilities
     • build teachers’ capacity to provide instruction to all types of learners
     • support the development of interpersonal relationships within the

     • encourage collaboration among teachers

Innovating to create 21st-century learning environments
     • collaborate and communicate
     • create conditions conducive to innovation
     • ensure coherence

Next week, I will provide brief summaries of how Kentucky is working on each of the recommendations. It is inspiring to know that many of the top performing countries in the world are working on these same issues along with Kentucky. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Why aren’t teachers valued more?

Recently, I had the privilege to attend the 5th annual International Summit on the Teaching Profession in Banff, Canada. I was part of a U.S. delegation comprised of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, teacher union representatives, classroom teachers (including a teacher from Spencer County, Ky.), chief state school officers from North Carolina and Nebraska and support staff from U.S. Department of Education. 

The international summits began in New York City and have expanded each year as their location has moved around the world. The primary focus has been to bring countries together to highlight key issues to enhance the teaching profession and take actions to address issues.

This year, one of the many interesting presentations came from Andreas Schleicher, who works at the Organization for Economic Collaboration and Development (OECD). Andreas is one of the world’s leading experts on education issues and he always has excellent presentations that are loaded with great information and policy recommendations. His presentation was based on a recent report from OECD titled Schools for 21st Century Learners: Strong Leaders, Confident Teachers, and Innovative Approaches. 

One chart showed teacher perceptions of the value their society places on the teaching profession. It was no surprise to see that many Asian countries, Finland and several other European countries had the highest percentage of teachers saying that their society valued the teaching profession. One of the lowest countries in the survey was the United States. Why do U.S. teachers believe that our society does not value the teaching profession?

Recently, I spoke to the annual Kentucky Education Association Delegate Assembly and I offered a couple of reasons as to why teachers in this country do not think that the U.S. society values the teaching profession.
     1.  Over emphasis on testing – the U.S is the only country in the world that seems totally fixated on annual testing. The U.S is fixated on using student test scores to evaluate teachers. The media reports are constantly focused on the singular issue of rankings on test scores and too many of our policy leaders “blame” teachers for poor academic performance of students in poverty.
     2.  Lack of teacher voice and leadership – throughout the recent international summit, a key theme emerged: that we must engage teachers in decision making and provide opportunities for teacher leadership in our schools without teachers having to completely give up teaching. Most of our international competitors have been working on career pathways for a number of years. In the U.S., we have always focused on years of experience and postgraduate degrees for teacher pay increases rather than focus on teacher performance and leadership roles.
     3.  Working conditions – it comes as no surprise that teachers do not believe society values the teaching profession given working conditions survey results in areas like school leadership, professional development, time, resources, community support and facilities. 
     4.  Teacher pay – in many countries starting teacher pay is similar to what comparable professions pay. In the US, starting teacher pay is well below what a starting engineer would receive.
     5.  Selectivity of teacher candidates – for years, the public has been bombarded with the concept that our teacher training programs are not recruiting from the best and brightest high school graduates. Countries like Singapore, Finland and South Korea are pointed to as examples of teacher training programs that recruit from the top 10 percent of high school graduates. An interesting slide in the presentation showed that this is not necessarily the case. This is an area that will need more research.

As I look forward to my retirement after 43 years in education, I am very concerned about the public’s perception of public schools and even more concerned that teachers in the U.S. do not feel that the public values the teaching profession. If policy leaders at the local, state and national level do not address teacher perceptions in this area, we will have extreme difficulty in the future recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers.

In the coming months, Kentucky will receive the 2015 results from the TELL Kentucky working conditions survey. Kentucky has the highest percentage of teacher respondents of any state in the nation. Using the results from this survey to address key policy issues during the 2016 session of the General Assembly could go a long way in addressing teacher concerns about the value the public puts on the teaching profession.