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 www.tellkentucky.org. 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
        school

     • 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.

Friday, April 3, 2015

What does the ESEA waiver extension mean for us?

My blog this week is written by Kentucky Department of Education Chief of Staff Tommy Floyd and Executive Director of the Kentucky Board of Education, Mary Ann Miller.  Though it was a team effort, Mary Ann was primarily responsible for our waiver application.  They share what the waiver means for Kentucky.

Terry Holliday, Ph.D.

Education Commissioner

This week, we received some good news – the United States Department of Education (USED) approved Kentucky’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility waiver extension request. The waiver, which was to expire at the end of the current school year, now will run through the end of the 2018-19 school year. Kentucky was one of only a handful of states allowed to apply for a four-year waiver extension because of our demonstrated successes.


Seemingly countless hours were spent preparing the nearly 200 page request and in communication with USED staff on the fine points and clarifications needed in order to receive approval – all with good reason. We didn’t want schools and districts to have to take a step back to the prescriptive nature of federal accountability.


In 2001, Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The measure took effect on January 8, 2002 and has been the law of the land ever since, even as the time for congressional reauthorization in 2007 passed. In last week’s blog, Commissioner Terry Holliday explained the need for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.


Until reauthorization occurs, however, the waiver is essential to prevent school districts from facing negative consequences under NCLB.

   • Annual performance determinations, known as Adequate Yearly
      Progress (AYP), would use only proficiency as the indicator.

   • All students would have to demonstrate proficiency in reading/
      language 
arts and mathematics (a laudable, but unrealistic goal).
   • A school would be identified as failing if it missed AYP for even one   
      student group. Schools that are identified as failing would be required to
      implement a series of interventions that increase in severity over several 

      years, with no differentiation between the lowest performing schools
      and
 those needing help in only a few areas.
   • Districts would have to reserve up to 30 percent of their Title I, Part A 
      allocation to provide mandatory professional development,
      supplemental 
educational services (SES), and public school choice;
      districts also would 
face funding limits and mandated SES.
   • The hiring of paraprofessionals with Title I, Part A funds would be 
      restricted for LEAs that miss AYP and fail to make progress toward 
      reaching annual objectives for highly-qualified teachers.
   • For districts in improvement, the percentage of Title II, Part A funds 
      available to be transferred into Title I, Part A would be restricted to 
      no more than 50 percent; also districts would have to notify the 
      state 30 days prior to making a transfer of funds to a different category
      of need.

   • Spending requirements for Rural and Low-Income School funding
      would 
be tied to accountability.

Moreover, Kentucky would have to operate under a dual system of accountability, responding to federal AYP requirements while also moving forward with Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning system based on the Kentucky General Assembly’s Senate Bill 1 (2009). This would cause undue confusion for parents, students and educators. For example, schools could be labeled as failing under federal benchmarks, but successful under state benchmarks.


Because of the waiver, districts have been freed from these requirements, allowing them to serve more schools with better quality academic services in order to meet the needs of students. The state has implemented regulations and statutes that have allowed us to build a single, aligned system of accountability, using multiple measures and focused on college- and career-readiness for all students. Additionally, all Priority and Focus schools and districts have an improvement plan aligned with Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) strategic goals.


The waiver provides the opportunity to:

    • implement the latest revisions to the accountability system approved by 
      the Kentucky Board of Education that aim to make the system more fair,
      valid and reliable

   • use one accountability system (Unbridled Learning), focused on 
      continuous improvement, for state and federal purposes
   • implement a new statewide plan that will close achievement gaps by 
      providing additional supports to schools and districts, and reducing the 
      number of students scoring Novice on the state tests
   • continue our focus on increasing the college- and career-readiness 
      rate and the graduation rate
   • move forward with the aligned, statewide evaluation system for
      teachers,
 principals and superintendents that stresses professional
      growth,
 effectiveness and continuous improvement
   • strengthens the supports for Priority Schools that do not exit this 
      status in three years

Kentucky is currently seen as a national leader in educational improvement. This great work across our Commonwealth is taking place thanks to daily leadership in buildings and districts adhering to a demanding system that is achieving results for students. We know that students, teachers, principals, superintendents, support staff and local board members will benefit from the continuance and enhancement of our current Kentucky Unbridled Learning for ALL accountability model that is provided by our waiver extension.


Until ESEA is reauthorized, the four-year waiver is our “best bet” to continue the progress made in Kentucky districts for the benefit of students.


Friday, March 27, 2015

The changing odds on ESEA reauthorization

Over the past few months, I have written numerous blogs about the need for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). 

This past week, I joined 48 other state chiefs and deputies in Washington, D.C. to continue to push for reauthorization. We were honored to meet with President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Rep. John Kline (R-MN) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA). Sen. Alexander is chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee; Sen. Murray is the ranking member. Rep. Kline is chair of the House Workforce and Education committee.

ESEA reauthorization is critical. Let me offer a couple of reasons why. 
•  No Child Left Behind (2001) is broken and is no longer a valid method of accountability for our nation’s public schools. 
•  While waivers granted by the United States Department of Education have served as a stop-gap fix, the nation’s schools deserve stability and long term direction from Congress. 
•  The waiver process has led to the possibility of federal intrusion in states. For example, the original No Child Left Behind did not require states to address teacher evaluation; however, the waiver process has made that a requirement of states. 
•  While the Obama administration has been fairly flexible in the implementation of waivers, it is possible that the next administration could eliminate waivers or put more conditions into the waiver process that many states would not be able to implement.

Perhaps the key reason for reauthorization is the need for changes to the law of the land. If Kentucky were not able to get a waiver to NCLB, our school districts would have to notify parents that every school in their district was a low performing school (defined as not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress under NCLB). Losing a waiver and having to go back to NCLB requirements would mean that Kentucky school districts would lose flexibility on how they use more than $58 million in Title I monies and on other NCLB programs. In addition, school districts would be required to return to set asides for transportation, supplemental education services, school choice and professional development.

My take from the last week is that Sen. Alexander and Sen. Murray are working hard to find a way to get bipartisan support. Rep Kline is having difficulty getting enough Republican votes to pass a bill. The way the process should work is that House passes a bill, the Senate passes a bill, and then a conference committee is formed to work out the differences. Usually, the President and Sec. Duncan would be involved in working with the conference committee to get a bill that the President could sign.

I told an audience this week that in Kentucky we know a lot about basketball, bourbon and betting on horses. If I were to handicap the chances of ESEA reauthorization, it is probably an 80:1 shot that it will be reauthorized. I would encourage readers to let members of the Kentucky delegation (especially House members) know how important it is for Congress to reauthorize the nation's main law governing education. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Teachers’ voices make a difference

A guiding principle for our work in Kentucky is that we do the hard work of reform WITH teachers and not TO teachers. What does this principle look like in practice?

In 2011, Kentucky implemented the TELL Kentucky Survey to allow teacher voice on key working conditions such as facilities, resources, leadership, professional development, time, etc. In 2011, more than 80 percent of teachers in Kentucky responded to the survey and in 2013 administration, more than 86 percent of teachers responded. The 2015 survey is currently open for teacher response and within the first three weeks, more than 60 percent of teachers and other school-base personnel have responded.

When Kentucky adopted the Common Core State Standards for English/language arts and mathematics, teachers were heavily involved in the process. After adoption, teachers led the way through regional networks to unpack the standards and translate the standards
into teacher-, parent- and student-friendly language. When we began to prepare assessments based on the standards, teachers were heavily involved in the development of assessment items. Teachers have continued to be involved in sharing lesson plans, formative assessment items, and professional development resources through our statewide online instructional system.


We have utilized a similar process of teacher involvement in the development and implementation of science and social standards.

Teacher voice in the revision process for standards also is very important. In August, 2014, we launched the Kentucky Core Academic Standards Challenge. This online tool is a way for teachers, parents and all Kentucky residents to provide feedback on how to improve the English/language arts and mathematics standards. We have had more than 3,000 thoughtful responses to date and more than 80 percent of the responses have come from teachers. The survey remains open through the end of April.

Teachers also provided leadership in the development of the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System. A teacher-led committee developed the components of the model and continues to monitor the implementation and results from the model. Future changes to the model will be driven by the results and teacher voice.

There are many other examples of teacher voice in Kentucky.
     • The Hope Street Group utilizes teacher leaders to communicate directly 
        with teachers and encourage teachers to voice their opinions
        concerning current education issues.

     • There is significant collaboration among education groups to support
        National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) applicants and utilize
        current NBCTs as leaders and coaches.

     • Kentucky is working to develop career pathways for teachers to provide
        leadership opportunities that do not require a teacher to completely
        leave the classroom.

     • Teachers serve on numerous statewide advisory committees and
        provide voice for the profession when policy makers are considering
        changes that would impact classrooms.


Kentucky teachers are among the most professional and most dedicated educators I have worked with in my career and I look forward to seeing the results from the 2015 TELL Kentucky Survey. There will be reasons to celebrate, yet no doubt there will be areas that need to be addressed in order to improve the working conditions of our teachers. 

Thanks in advance to all of our teachers for taking time to complete the survey and for being leaders in Kentucky public education. Your voice is very important!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Four big myths about top-performing school systems

I came across an interesting article recently on results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The PISA evaluates education systems worldwide by testing 15-year-olds in key subjects.

The man in charge of the PISA tests, Andreas Schleicher, the Director of education and skills with the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD), says the evidence from around the world reveals some big myths about what makes for a successful education system. Due to space, I have provided only four of the seven myths.

While you may or may not agree with the author’s interpretation of the results, the findings should certainly encourage additional discussion regarding the U.S. education system.

1. Disadvantaged pupils are doomed to do badly in school
Teachers all around the world struggle with how to make up for social disadvantage in their classrooms. Some believe that deprivation is destiny. And yet, results from PISA tests show that the 10 percent most disadvantaged 15-year-olds in Shanghai have better math skills than the 10 percent most privileged students in the United States and several European countries.

Children from similar social backgrounds can show very different performance levels, depending on the school they go to or the country they live in. Education systems where disadvantaged students succeed are able to moderate social inequalities. They tend to attract the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and the most capable school leaders to the most disadvantaged schools, thus challenging all students with high standards and excellent teaching.

Some American critics of international educational comparisons argue that the value of these comparisons is limited because the United States has some unique socio-economic divisions. But the United States is wealthier than most countries and spends more money on education than most of them; its parents have a higher level of education than in most countries; and the share of socio-economically disadvantaged students is just around the OECD average. What the comparisons do show is that socio-economic disadvantage has a particularly strong impact on student performance in the United States. In other words, in the United States two students from different socio-economic backgrounds vary much more in their learning outcomes than is typically the case in OECD countries.

2. Immigrants lower results
Integrating students with an immigrant background can be challenging. And yet, results from PISA tests show no relationship between the share of students with an immigrant background in a country and the overall performance of students in that country. Even students with the same migration history and background show very different performance levels across countries, suggesting that where students go to schools makes much more of a difference than where they come from.

3. It's all about money
South Korea, the highest-performing OECD country in mathematics, spends well below the average per student. The world is no longer divided between rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly-educated ones. Success in education systems is no longer about how much money is spent, but about how money is spent. Countries need to invest in improving education and skills if they are going to compete in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy. And yet, educational expenditure per student explains less than 20 percent of the variation in student performance across OECD countries.

For example, students in the Slovak Republic, which spends around $53,000 (£35,000) per student between the age of 6 and 15, perform on average at the same level at age 15 as the United States which spends over $115,000 (£76,000) per student.

4. Smaller class sizes raise standards
Everywhere, teachers, parents and policy-makers favor small classes as the key to better and more personalized education. Reductions in class size have also been the main reason behind the significant increases in expenditure per student in most countries over the last decade. And yet, PISA results show no relationship between class size and learning outcomes, neither within nor across countries. More interestingly, the highest performing education systems in PISA tend to systematically prioritize the quality of teachers over the size of classes. Wherever they have to make a choice between a smaller class and a better teacher, they go for the latter. Rather than putting money into small classes, they invest in competitive teacher salaries, ongoing professional development and a balance in working time.