Friday, December 19, 2014

Education issues and the 2015 General Assembly

Season’s greetings! I hope that readers of this blog will take time over the next couple of weeks to relax and spend time with family and friends. The holiday season is an excellent time to recharge your batteries.  I plan to do just that, so this will be my last blog for 2014, but will return to the keyboard for a January 9, 2015 entry.

As we look forward to the New Year, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is preparing for a busy legislative session. Here are some of the hot topics we predict will be on the education agenda for the upcoming General Assembly.

     1)  Charter Schools – we will again see legislation to create charter "
     schools in Kentucky. Our state is one of only eight states without
     charters. I am hearing about the possibility of a small pilot of
     five to six charter schools in districts that have very low-performing
     schools with significant achievement gaps.

     2)  Teacher Pension Plan – the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System
     has asked the General Assembly to consider a plan that would require
     a $3.3 billion bond to shore up the underfunded retirement system.
     This system is critical for recruitment and retention of high-quality

     3)  School Funding – while 2015 is not a budget session, there are
     a number of funding issues that could surface. The Council for
     Better Education report recently released at the Kentucky
     Association of School Superintendents’ winter meeting will garner
     a lot of attention. The 
$2 billion-plus price tag is sure to get attention. |
     Also, KDE will be releasing a report on funding of the career and
     technical education programs in Kentucky. Finally, we may see
     discussion of impact of revenue shortfall and SEEK shortfall.

     4)  Dual Credit – a recent set of recommendations from the dual
     credit task force will generate discussion about how to ensure
     quality, access, funding, and transferability of courses.

     5)  Merging County Systems – several county school systems
     have been identified for state assistance and state management.
     Some county systems are very close to not having a 2 percent
     fund balance. The General Assembly previously enacted legislation
     that allowed a financially insolvent independent district to merge
     with a county system; however, currently there are no statutes that
     allow for the merger of an insolvent county system to merge with
     another system.

     6)  Closing Achievement Gaps – this issue will be part of the
     charter school issue but will also be an overarching theme of the
     Education Committees. The achievement gap in Kentucky begins
     before students enter kindergarten, continues throughout P-12,
     postsecondary, and is very obvious when we look at labor and salary
     studies for adults.

At the national level, KDE will be working to support reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – most recently dubbed the No Child Left Behind Act – and the Carl Perkins Act which is the primary vehicle for federal funding of career and technical education. We are very excited about the potential of both bills moving forward very quickly under the leadership of Sen. Alexander of Tennessee and Majority Leader McConnell.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A model for superintendent evaluation

At the December Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) meeting, the board finalized my evaluation and agreed upon the goals that will be used for my 2014-15 evaluation. Viewers may read my evaluation summary and see the goals that KBE set for me for 2014-15. The Kentucky Board of Education has utilized this process during my tenure and on numerous occasions the board has strongly recommended that local superintendents and school boards utilize a similar process. 

Over the past three years, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has worked with stakeholders to develop a superintendent professional growth and effectiveness system. Chief of Staff, Dr. Tommy Floyd, has led this work over the last 18 months and the advisory committee of stakeholders developed excellent resources that can be utilized by superintendents and school boards.

As with any initiative, there remain questions and concerns about the new Superintendent Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (SPGES). A visit to the webpage should provide readers with clarity on most issues. However, I did want to respond to one issue that surfaced in recent meetings with the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents (KASS). There was some confusion on training and if districts could utilize a model other than the state-developed model. 

As to the training, it has always been our intent that the Kentucky School Boards Association will take the lead on training. Also, the webpage for the SPGES has more than adequate materials for a local school board to become familiar with the new system. 

The issue about using a model other than the state model is very simple. According to statute, KRS 156.557 (6)(a), a local school board must approve a superintendent evaluation model and submit that model to the KDE for approval. School boards must decide by the end of this month as to their local model for evaluation of the superintendent for 2015-16 and submit that model to KDE for approval. If the model chosen by the local board is the state developed model, then a local board is assured of approval. Should a local board submit a locally developed model, then that model will be reviewed against the key requirements established by the superintendent evaluation task force. The confusion across the state seems to come from KSBA wanting to submit a model for approval. To be clear, KSBA is not a school district. However, a local school board could submit the KSBA model for consideration by KDE. 

For additional questions or concerns about the Superintendent Professional Growth and Effectiveness System, please contact Dr. Tommy Floyd, or (502)564-3141.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Kentucky Rising

“Kentucky's first settlers brought with them a dedication to democracy and a sense of limitless hope about the future. They were determined to participate in world progress in science, education, and manufacturing. The early years of statehood were an era of great optimism and progress and the eyes of the nation often focused on Kentucky. … Globally oriented Kentuckians were determined to transform the frontier into a network of communities exporting to the world market. …”

These words come from a book titled Kentucky Rising and while they describe Kentucky more than two centuries ago, they serve as inspiration today for a new initiative in our state on which work has already begun. We call it Kentucky Rising. 

In order for the economy of the Commonwealth to continue to grow and create jobs for our citizens, the education community must respond and create a stronger workforce that meets the requirements of foreign industries who are investing directly in Kentucky and industries that are creating trade with other countries. Kentucky Rising will establish criteria for a diploma/certificate/endorsement that certifies a high school graduate meets the requirements to take the next steps, whether that is pursuit of a career or postsecondary education, to ensure our workforce is an asset for global economic development. 

A joint meeting of the chairs and vice-chairs of the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB) and Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) and their agency heads is being planned for some time in January to gain support for the Kentucky Rising initiative. A statewide meeting to gain support from multiple partners will follow. In addition, a comprehensive needs-assessment will be completed to identify current initiatives and programs that should be integrated with Kentucky Rising. 

All of these activities will be used to gather input for creating a unified plan in which CPE, EPSB, KBE and the Kentucky Department of Education, and other partners will have key roles and responsibilities. Funding and staff support for Kentucky Rising will be managed through The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky.

This is an exciting venture that holds great promise for our children and our state. I will share more about Kentucky Rising as we move forward.

On another topic, I wanted to briefly follow up to my blog, Politics as usual or not?, from several weeks ago about federal waivers and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Since then, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) has notified Kentucky that our state is one of seven eligible to apply for a four-year renewal of its ESEA Flexibility Waiver (most states can apply for only a three-year renewal) and participate in an expedited review process. Our current waiver expires at the end of the current school year.

Kentucky was granted this opportunity because of the focused work that our educators, partners and state department staff have carried out to implement Kentucky’s plan under ESEA flexibility. By participating in the expedited review process, the due date for the revised waiver request will be January 30. USED will provide a final decision by the end of March.

As is customary when the waiver document is revised, it will be made available to education constituents, the public and the board for review and feedback before it is submitted. Any feedback that we receive is reported to USED as part of the waiver submission process.

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!