Friday, December 17, 2010

A Heartfelt Thanks

As my family and I get ready to enjoy our second Christmas in Kentucky, I wanted to take this opportunity to express my personal thanks to all the educators and education supporters in Kentucky.

As Denise and I travel across Kentucky to visit schools, attend meetings, present at conferences and attend special events, it is apparent to us that there are wonderful people in Kentucky who care for children very deeply.

Also, I want to say a personal “thank you” to a wonderful and dedicated Kentucky Department of Education staff in Frankfort, at the Kentucky School for the Blind, at the Kentucky School for the Deaf and numerous other field staff in co-ops and other assignments. In spite of the numerous funding challenges, you make a difference for children every day.

So … from the Holliday family to the education family all across Kentucky, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. May you all find a time of peace and joy to spend with your family.

Friday, December 10, 2010

KBE Takes Historic First Step

The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) began an historic journey this week. The board took the first steps in the approval of the first “next-generation” accountability model in the U.S. based on common core standards that have now been adopted by 44 states.

I thought readers might be interested in the “talking points” I used as the board approved the goals and guiding principles for the accountability model that were developed in collaboration with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

(Note: the goals and guiding principals document posted does not reflect the many changes made by the board at its meeting. Staff is working to incorporate those changes now, and the final document will be shared widely.)

Events Leading to Proposal for Accountability Model
· 2009’s Senate Bill 1 passed -- one of the most visionary pieces of legislation in the country.
· Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization is past due – should have been done in 2007.
· President Barack Obama establishes goal of regaining U.S. leadership among competing nations for percentage of students with college degrees (two- and four-year) – goal is 60 percent (Speech to Congress, 2009).
· U.S. Department of Education and President Obama proposed ESEA reauthorization Blueprint – spring 2010.
· Aspen Institute convened discussion on accountability model with House/Senate staff – spring 2010.
· CCSSO Standards, Assessment and Accountability Committee recommends task force to develop next-generation accountability model for ESEA reauthorization – spring 2010.
· CCSSO task force convenes – summer 2010.
· AdvanceEd and CCSSO team convene discussion on accountability and accreditation – fall 2010.
· CCSSO task force conducts virtual meetings – fall 2010.
· CCSSO Annual Policy Forum in Louisville provides public access to proposed accountability model – November 2010.

Kentucky’s Position
· First to adopt Common Core Standards – 44 states have now adopted.
· First to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for state assessment based on Common Core Standards – November 2010
· First to implement Common Core Standards – curriculum framework available June 2011, and teachers set to implement in August 2011.
· First to assess Common Core Standards – May 2012.
· Proposed – first to implement accountability model based on Common Core Standards and goal of “college- and career-ready” – August 2011.
· Proposed – first state to gain waiver of adequate yearly progress (AYP) with replacement of systemic approach to meet goal of “college- and career-ready” – submit in January 2012.

Key Comments on Goals of Accountability System
· We are moving to a more rigorous goal of “college- and career-ready.”
· We are not abandoning the proficiency goal. Proficiency is a predictor of the higher goal of college- and career-ready.
· We have over-identified schools with more diverse student populations while allowing schools with lower achievement levels and less diversity to avoid identification and interventions.
· We are moving from a focus on perfection (AYP) to a focus on continuous improvement (growth).
· We are providing a more transparent reporting system that provides actionable data for students, classrooms, teachers, administrators and school districts.
· We are providing a systemic approach that holds all stakeholders accountable.

Key Comments on Guiding Principles
· Proposed accountability model is systemic and aligned closely to the KBE’s four strategic priorities of Next-Generation Learners, Next-Generation Professionals, Next-Generation Support Systems and Next-Generation Schools and Districts.
· Model has strong focus on actionable data at all levels of the system.
· Model has focus on building school and district capacity, not simply identification.
· Model compares similar demographics of students, classrooms, schools and districts on a growth model rather than a perfection model.
· Model promotes improvement of the working conditions that impact the learning results.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Moving Students to Graduation – And Beyond

The Kentucky Board of Education has adopted a strategic goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2015, using the cohort graduation rate definition. This week, the America’s Promise Alliance released the Building a Grad Nation report, and that can be accessed at

There was some good news for Kentucky, as we were listed as one of the states making moderate progress in improving the graduation rate. However, we have much work to do. For instance, we must increase the number of current 8th graders who are projected to graduate by more than 5,000. The report lists a number of strategies to address this goal. Among those are high-quality education as a top priority for communities; accurate data; early warning and intervention systems; high expectations for ALL students; higher standards; teacher effectiveness; parent engagement; alternative options and graduation pathways; and new community coalitions supporting graduation.

Over the past year, the Graduate Kentucky initiative led by First Lady Jane Beshear has worked on the last recommendation – new community coalitions supporting graduation. At KDE we are very excited about the energy these graduation summits have created in support of the goal of graduating 5,000 more students per year.

As we move forward into the 2011 legislative session, the Kentucky Board of Education’s top priority for its legislative agenda is to raise the dropout age from 16 to 18. The board recognizes that simply raising the dropout age is not sufficient. We also must address the other strategies listed in the report mentioned above. As commissioner, I am very supportive of addressing the strategy of alternative options and graduation pathways. We must meet the needs of students through multiple pathways such as alternative programs, early college, early graduation and numerous other innovative approaches to helping students graduate and be prepared for college and career.

Specifically with regard to alternative options for students, as commissioner, I will be working with legislators and key stakeholder groups to address the alternative programs strategy. We must expand our definition of alternative programs in Kentucky to include many of the innovations that other states have been utilizing to high degrees of success. We also must improve our data system for tracking alternative students and evaluating the effectiveness of alternative programs. Finally, we must address personnel decisions with regard to staffing of alternative programs. No teacher, principal or staff member should be assigned to alternative programs as a punishment or retribution. Also, we should not assign teachers to alternative programs in their first year of teaching. Alternative programs require strong and effective teachers and leaders with significant experience in meeting the needs of students.

Over the coming weeks, our General Assembly will be coming back for a short session. It is my hope that we can pair the raising of the dropout age from 16 to 18 with the needed changes to alternative schools legislation. In so doing, we will certainly make an impact on reaching the goal of 5,000 more students graduating every year from Kentucky high schools ready to succeed in college and career.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Update on Teacher Effectiveness and Teacher Evaluation

This past week, there were two major reports published that would be of interest to readers who are following the Kentucky work on development of a teacher effectiveness rubric and teacher evaluation system.

Kentucky began this work as part of the Race to the Top application. We have continued the work; however, the timeline has been altered. We are field-testing the rubric this year, and the Teacher Effectiveness Steering Committee is meeting often to revise and edit based on feedback from teachers, principals, superintendents and other stakeholders.

We hope to pilot a teacher effectiveness rubric and multiple evidences during the 2011-12 school year in as many as 50 districts and conduct a full state pilot in the 2012-13 school year.

From the Brookings Brown Center on Education Policy came a report about use of value-added measures in a teacher evaluation system. The report highlighted four areas of confusion about value-added.

* Public or non-public display of the data is a separate debate from whether or not to use value-added.
* Teacher consequences and student consequences from using a value-added component are not always congruent.
* Reliability of value-added measures are about as reliable as other performance measures for high-stakes decisions.
* Value-added not included in an evaluation system usually lowers the reliability of personnel decisions.

While I am not promoting the report, I do believe it offers some important points for consideration by our steering committee. For a copy of the report, visit

Another interesting report came from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) - Transforming Teacher Education Through Clinical Practice: A National Strategy to Prepare Effective Teachers. This report starts by saying the education of teachers in the U.S. needs to be turned upside down. The report recommends a shift away from academic preparation and course work loosely linked to school-based experiences. The report also recommends more clinical practice interwoven with academic content and professional courses. To view the report, visit this link:

The Kentucky work is progressing slowly, but I believe the final product will be one that all stakeholders can support. Most of all, the product will be one that will help more teachers help more students achieve success.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sense of Urgency

While I believe Kentucky has made significant progress in education and the economy over the last 20 years, there is much work to do. As I travel across the Commonwealth, I feel that there is not a strong enough sense of urgency about the need to improve our economy and education. See if the following factoids catch your attention.

  • Thirty years ago, ten percent of California’s general fund went to higher education and three percent to prisons. Today, nearly eleven percent goes to prisons and eight percent to higher education.
  • The United States now ranks 22nd among the world’s nations in the density of broadband Internet penetration and 72nd in the density of mobile telephony subscriptions.
    The World Economic Forum ranks the United States 48th in quality of mathematics and science education.
  • Federal funding of research in the physical sciences as a fraction of gross domestic product fell by 54 percent in the 25 years after 1970. The decline in engineering funding was 51 percent.
  • In the 2009 rankings of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the U.S. was in sixth place in global innovation-based competitiveness, but ranked 40th in the rate of change over the past decade.

These factoids come from a recent report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5. This report is published by the National Academies Press and is available for download here. Check out the brief summary below. This is an essential read for policy makers and interested parents.

The original Gathering Storm competitiveness report focuses on the ability of America and Americans to compete for jobs in the evolving global economy. The possession of quality jobs is the foundation of a high quality life for the nation’s citizenry. The report paints a daunting outlook for America if it were to continue on the perilous path it has been following in recent decades with regard to sustained competitiveness.

The purpose of the present report is to assess changes in America’s competitive posture in the five years that have elapsed since the Gathering Storm report was initially published and to assess the status of implementation of the National Academies’ recommendations.

In the face of so many daunting near-term challenges, U.S. government and industry are letting the crucial strategic issues of U.S. competitiveness slip below the surface. Five years ago, the National Academies prepared Rising Above the Gathering Storm, a book that cautioned: "Without a renewed effort to bolster the foundations of our competitiveness, we can expect to lose our privileged position." Since that time, we find ourselves in a country where much has changed--and a great deal has not changed.

Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited is a wake-up call. To reverse the foreboding outlook will require a sustained commitment by both individual citizens and government officials--at all levels. This book, together with the original Gathering Storm volume, provides the roadmap to meet that goal. While this book is essential for policy makers, anyone concerned with the future of innovation, competitiveness, and the standard of living in the United States will find this book an ideal tool for engaging their government representatives, peers, and community about this momentous issue.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Bold Step for Next-Generation Learning

Over the weekend of October 22-24, I had the privilege of joining in a gathering of education leaders from six states who participated in what I believe is the most important discussion about education that has ever occurred.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has been engaged in an intensive effort to chart a course to transform the public education system. To bring this vision to reality, CCSSO formed an alliance with the Stupski Foundation to launch the Partnership for Next Generation Learning (PNxGL).

In late 2009, CCSSO issued an invitation to all its members to join the partnership through the PNxGL Innovation Lab Network. Of the state education agencies (SEAs) that stepped forward to be part of this bold effort, six – Kentucky, Maine, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and West Virginia -- demonstrated both readiness and capacity to establish Innovation Labs comprised of the SEA, districts, schools and partners-within their state.

Through the PNxGL, state and local education leaders, CCSSO, the Stupski Foundation and other key partners will transform current systems of schooling to a new design for public education. This ambitious effort will shift practice and policy at the local, state and federal levels through a shared vision and collective action.

The discussion during the weekend of October 22-24 included officials from six Kentucky school districts and was about changing the way we think about the education system and designing new structures to ensure that ALL children are engaged in their learning. This was not a discussion about new programs or the latest fad, but focused instead on change from the “school business” to the “people development business.”

Representatives from the Boyle County, Danville Independent, Daviess County, Jessamine County, Kenton County and Madison County school districts participated in the discussion. These districts will serve as pilots for the PNxGL Innovation Lab Network.

At the heart of our interaction was the fact that the structure of our current education system does not support learning for all children. In order to guarantee success for all children, the kinds of incremental school improvement strategies we have employed for the last 20 years must be replaced by a more fundamental and systemic change. We must create new experiences of learning that involve students and teachers in significantly different ways — ways that lead naturally to high performance by all.

This work is of the highest priority for the Kentucky Department of Education. I pledge that we will do our best to provide the support the superintendents, staff and communities need to make this systemic change. The agency’s role will be to remove whatever barriers exist in policy and in structure so that the districts can develop the learning outcomes of the future and create new ways to gauge students’ progress and fresh ways of facilitating learning.

My hope is that the pilot districts’ work will inform the work of other school districts in the state. This is a bold step in our quest to move Kentucky’s educational system forward and ensure that all students graduate from high school and are ready for college or careers.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Closing Gaps – What Progress Has Been Made?

In 2002, there was much fanfare when the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was passed. Who could argue with such a lofty goal? The Kentucky legislature was working on similar legislation during that time that eventually led to passage of the “closing the achievement gap” bill, KRS 158.649.

Fast-forward eight years, and let’s see if we have made any progress at the national and state levels.

I recently read a report that compared National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results in the last four decades. The report documented that we made significant gains in closing gaps during the ‘60s, ‘80s and mid-‘90s; however, we have made little if any gains in closing gaps since the passage of NCLB.

In Kentucky, we also have made some progress; however, the gaps remain very large. For 2010 testing, the combined reading/mathematics proficiency gap between all students and several student groups is as follows:
All to African American – 20 points
All to Limited English Proficient – 22 points
All to Students with Disabilities – 22 points

Regardless of the assessment (ACT, NAEP, Kentucky Core Content Tests, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills), the gaps are usually in the low to mid 20-point range.

While NCLB and the Kentucky legislation set the expectations and require action, I believe we have lost focus over the past few years. Last fall, I reconvened the Commissioner’s Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps Council. This group worked to develop several key recommendations. Those recommendations and brief highlights of our work in Kentucky follow.

Recommendation #1: Provide information about the overall academic and social status of Kentucky schools and districts in a format that is useful and accessible to the general public.
The Kentucky Board of Education is working to implement an accountability and report card model that will include more useful and accessible information to the general public. Recently, KDE released all assessment data and college/career readiness data with the new Open House link on the KDE Web page.

Recommendation #2: Ensure that all students, regardless of race, gender, ethnic background, disability or socioeconomic status, have access to a rigorous curriculum and get the support necessary to be successful in a rigorous curriculum.
With the passage and subsequent implementation of 2009’s Senate Bill 1, we have started the work on this recommendation. Kentucky was the first state in the nation to adopt the Common Core Academic Standards. More than 1,000 teachers and principals are working monthly in a collaborative effort to develop a model curriculum framework that provides suggestions on the supports necessary for student success.

Recommendation #3: Create an environment of high expectations, with administrators, teachers and staff taking ownership for meeting the needs of all students.
This is the difficult recommendation. It is easy to establish the goals, the strategies, the curriculum, the supports and the rewards/consequences. It is quite something else to ensure EVERY district, EVERY school, EVERY classroom, EVERY parent, EVERY communication, EVERY teacher and staff member are committed to high expectations and ownership of meeting the needs of EVERY child.

You can see more details on these recommendations here, at the bottom of the page.

My biggest concern is that we tend to focus on the adults rather than the children. When looking at implementing practices that we know will close achievement gaps, we tend to focus on the reasons the adults are not able to implement the practices, rather than focusing on what the children need. I hope that we can do both, but we need to first focus on the children!

Friday, October 15, 2010

College and Career Readiness

Very soon, the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) will release the High School Feedback Report for the graduating class of 2008. The report will be available on the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) Open House Web page. This report is a valuable tool to help universities, school districts, parents and policy makers better understand the preparation level of our high school graduates.

KDE recently released the first College and Career Readiness Report for the graduating class of 2010. What are the major differences in the two reports? The CPE report tracks the students from graduation through enrollment in postsecondary and reports students who actually enrolled in postsecondary. The KDE report shows all students who graduated from high school and the college/career readiness of the students. The CPE report shows that about 60 percent of graduates from Kentucky high schools actually enrolled in postsecondary and about 50 percent of those students met CPE benchmarks for college readiness (this includes ACT and college placement tests). The KDE report shows that 34 percent of all 2010 public high school graduates met ACT or career-ready requirements. The two reports show very similar results, with the CPE report showing that about 30 percent of high school graduates were ready for college and the KDE report showing about 34 percent ready for college/career.

ACT recently released a major report on college readiness entitled Mind the Gaps: How College Readiness Narrows achievement Gaps in College Success. This report has three major recommendations.

1. “Close the gap between student aspirations and high school course plans by ensuring that all students take at least the core curriculum in high school.“ The Kentucky Board of Education has established requirements for a high school diploma that include the core curriculum requirements recommended by ACT. The challenge for Kentucky is to ensure course content across the state meets the rigor needed to be successful in college/career. The current work on the common core standards for college and career readiness will establish a framework; however, close monitoring of actual delivery of content will be a local school district issue.

2. “Close the gap in the alignment of high school courses with college and career readiness standards by focusing high school courses on the essential standards for college and career readiness.” This is the work that KDE is currently leading in eight regional networks across Kentucky. More than 1,000 teachers, principals and instructional supervisors are working closely with college faculty to ensure the alignment of high school and K-8 curriculum to the common core standards for college and career readiness. Kentucky is also one of 12 states working with the Southern Region Education Board (SREB) to develop curriculum that integrates college and career standards within comprehensive courses of study that will lead to career certifications.

3. “Close the gap in the quality of high school courses across schools by offering all students rigorous high school core courses that cover the essential knowledge and skills needed for college and career readiness in sufficient depth and intensity.” The equity of course offerings across high schools in Kentucky will be a major challenge. Small and rural high schools may not have course enrollment, instruction, equipment, materials or other resources necessary for the math, science and other courses that are part of the required core curriculum. The Governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force is working on recommendations for virtual delivery and funding models that should help address the equity and access issues.

In the PDK/Gallup 2010 poll, we find that more than 90 percent of parents believe that a postsecondary experience is necessary to ensure a better quality of life. More than 90 percent of 2010 public high school graduates in Kentucky indicate a desire to attend postsecondary institutions. The data from the two reports mentioned earlier show that only 60 percent of graduates actually enroll in postsecondary, and about 50 percent of those enrolling are college/career ready for the postsecondary experience.

By taking the three recommendations from ACT and fully implementing these recommendations in every school district in Kentucky, we can ensure a brighter future for the graduates and for Kentucky.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Highlights of PDK Gallup Poll

As a long-time member of Phi Delta Kappa (PDK), I very much enjoy reading the annual PDK/Gallup Poll results. This year, the poll has some very interesting findings that I wanted to highlight in the blog and discuss the potential impact of public opinion on Kentucky schools.

1. The public believes the best way to turn around low-achieving schools is to support the principals and teachers in those schools. The public strongly supports training and professional development for teachers; however, the public also strongly supports dismissal of ineffective teachers if we don’t see improvements in teaching. This result supports our focus in Kentucky on improving teacher and principal effectiveness and using multiple measures to determine effectiveness rather than relying solely on student test scores.

2. The overwhelming majority of parents believe a college education (two-year or four-year) is essential for jobs of the future. This result supports our focus in Kentucky on college and career readiness.

3. The public support for charter schools continues to increase. Almost 2/3 of respondents support public charter schools. I feel certain the Kentucky General Assembly will continue to review charter school legislation.

4. Teacher pay should be determined by quality of work (including student learning outcomes) rather than a single salary schedule. This result also will inform our work on teacher effectiveness and the multiple measures development.

5. As with most polls, the public feels that local schools are doing a great job; however, they rate schools in the nation much lower. This local phenomenon plays out in public opinion that federal control of schools is not supported. Most respondents feel that the state is the appropriate level for school control of standards, assessments and interventions.

For more information and poll results, go to

Kids Count – The annual Kids Count data are available at Terry Brooks of the Kentucky Youth Advocates sent me an interesting chart -- --from the Kids Count Data Center on poverty levels by congressional district in Kentucky. With one in five children nationally and more than one in four in Kentucky in poverty, this information has certain implications for school district planning.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Transparency is Key

This week, we had an interesting presentation to the Budget Review Subcommittee of the Kentucky General Assembly.

The committee had asked for several updates. We provided an update on the funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), an update on the new school facility classification system, an update on school calendars, an update on school tax levies and an update on end-of-year fund balances for school systems.

This week also saw the release of a tremendous amount of test data from our Kentucky Core Content Tests, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, No Child Left Behind targets, gap-to-goal information and our new report required by 2009’s Senate Bill 1 for college and career readiness of the graduating class of 2010. If you missed this data, please visit our new OpenHouse site.

Issues around school calendars were of particular interest to legislators at the committee meeting. During the 2010 legislative session, the General Assembly reduced funding from the 2008-10 budget, providing one fewer day of instruction for the 2011-12 biennium. The information I presented at the meeting is as follows:

Instructional days -- 87 districts reduced the number of instructional days this year, while 13 increased days, and 74 districts maintained the same number of instructional days.
Teacher contract days -- 84 districts had no change in contract days, while 37 districts reduced contract days by one, and 53 districts reduced contract days by two.

We have released a tremendous amount of data, and we have a guiding principle of transparency of data at KDE. For that purpose, we also are providing access to the reports provided to the Budget Review Subcommittee. You can see those on my presentations page here.

We encourage school districts to be fully transparent about their fund balances and for what purposes those funds will be used. As a former superintendent, I certainly realize the need to have cash flow to meet payroll demands prior to tax receipts. I also know that many of our school systems are saving funds for early childhood centers, school facilities, textbooks, new school start-up costs and sick leave payment. Also, most financial experts recommend a 6-8 percent fund balance for emergency purposes. All of these purposes are valid; however, it is important to keep citizens fully informed of these and other issues.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Adequate Yearly Progress – The Rest of the Story

Over the last few months, I have been working at the state and national level on developing accountability models for schools, districts and states that might help us replace the existing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) model called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

While AYP helped us focus on ALL children, the measure had numerous flaws. In Kentucky, we have been developing a new accountability system per requirements of 2009’s Senate Bill 1. On September 23, we will release reports that demonstrate our proposed model that focuses on college and career readiness, proficiency, growth and closing gaps. We feel this model is much better than the singular focus on proficiency that NCLB provided. Parts of the following paragraphs come from previous blogs I have written about AYP and will help readers understand my concerns with AYP.

As a baseball player, you want to get a hit every time you bat. What if you got a hit 9 out 10 times you went to bat, but your stats only listed you simply as a ‘failure?’ What if your football team won 10 out of 11 games, but you were still told you failed? What if you took a 100-item test and answered 99 items correctly, yet when you received your grade, it’s a large, red ‘F?’

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? That’s because it is! However, this is exactly what the No Child Left Behind measure known as Adequate Yearly Progress does to schools.

As an educator, I can’t deny that the purpose of NCLB is very laudable. We all want every child to be successful. The measure of AYP was never intended to label schools as failures, nor have teachers felt like they are failures. However, each year around this time, news reports all over the state and nation come out about NCLB and how schools have failed to make the grade or how schools have come up short on the NCLB scale.

While the goal of NCLB is certainly a noble one, the creators of this legislation have failed to properly communicate its true, albeit very complicated, meaning. As Commissioner of Education in Kentucky, I want to help our community better understand this thing called Adequate Yearly Progress.

Every school has something called ‘subgroups’ of students. These subgroups are defined by the federal government, not schools. Possible subgroups include students with disabilities; African-American students; students who are economically disadvantaged; students who speak, read and write with limited English proficiency; and others. Each subgroup of students must meet both reading and mathematics goals at a level defined by the state. Each subgroup therefore becomes a goal that each school must work to meet.

Some schools have as many as 25 subgroups (goals), and some schools have as few as three subgroups (goals), depending upon the makeup of the school’s student population. Schools that have higher socio-economic levels and less diversity among their students have fewer subgroups and thus have fewer goals to meet.

Schools and districts all across Kentucky are being labeled as failures even though they may reach 80-95 percent of their goals. Ridiculous -- and most parents understand that this is ridiculous. Recent PDK Gallup polls show that the majority of parents and the public do not think NCLB measures have improved schools.
As commissioner, I am extremely proud of the dedication and hard work of teachers and administrators in Kentucky. I am extremely proud of the community partners who are helping our schools reach higher levels of performance. Teachers and staff members deserve a pat on the back and encouragement from the community.

No Child Left Behind is coming up for re-authorization in the next year or so. I encourage all citizens to help teachers and staff communicate to our politicians that we support helping children be successful; however, we need other ways to announce the results of our efforts and the progress, not failure, of our schools. In Kentucky, the requirements of Senate Bill 1 will serve as a model for the nation as we consider reauthorization of NCLB.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Innovation in Kentucky Schools

This past week, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), along with the Council of Chief State School Officers, Stupski Foundation, University of Kentucky and Centre College, sponsored an event that focused on Next-Generation Learning.

What is Next-Generation Learning?

It’s defined as a personalized system of education that prepares each child for life, work and citizenship in the 21st century.

Next-Generation Learning includes critical attributes such as:
1. personalized learning
2. comprehensive systems of learning supports
3. world-class knowledge and skills
4. performance-based learning
5. any time, anywhere opportunities
6. authentic student voice

An example I used at the conference may help readers get a little insight into what this might look like in schools of the future.


It’s 7:30 in the evening, and our student -- we’ll call him Alex -- enters his bedroom to begin his nightly homework. Alex is a 15-year-old sophomore in high school. He’s a pretty typical kid: on the soccer team and a struggling trumpet player (as a former band director, I can tell you he’d improve if he’d only practice), and he’s a member of the Key Club. Alex also is a member of four different Learning Teams that constitute his academic schedule.

Okay, time for homework. Alex sits down at his desk, boots up his computer, opens a Web browser and logs into his education portal. Each of his Learning Teams, as well as his extracurricular activities, has a dedicated section on his portal’s homepage that includes a news feed, calendar, photos, video and message board capabilities.

Alex clicks on his NorthFace Learning Team in the Science section. It is one of five interdisciplinary, multi-age teams in the school that has been “hired” by NorthFace to analyze various materials for use as the bottom of a backpack. NorthFace has provided specs, swatches and possible designs. Each team has one semester to complete its analysis and provide feedback to the company.

In consultation with the Lead Teacher, the team is exploring various chemical compounds that could be used on the fabric to increase its durability and water resistance. As a sophomore, Alex needs to meet state Chemistry Standards, so he has been appointed Chem Lead and is responsible for leading tomorrow’s discussion and backgrounding his team on the various chemical options, along with predictions on what would work best. Alex’s teacher has uploaded a set of videos, articles and narrated presentations that cover polymers, chemical bonds and the rest of the matter, plus links to websites for further reading. Alex starts reading and analyzing, and completes his presentation to the team.

Alex also finishes several other learning-based objectives for his other teams that night.

Since he completed a project last week, Alex needs to develop or join another team to fill up his schedule. Before he goes to bed, he reviews his online competency chart that lists the skills and standards he has mastered, along with those he still must complete. He clicks on the school’s Project Blog that lists available projects, including a narrative abstract, a description of each participants’ role and the expected competencies or content that the student will need to master in order to be a successful part of the team. He highlights a few projects in which he is interested.

Alex checks his online resume to make sure it is updated with his latest skills and competencies from the teacher gradebook. He sets a reminder in his handheld computer to “interview” with each Project Lead during “hiring” time tomorrow morning.

As Alex arrives at school the next day, he pulls out his mobile device and opens the “hiring app,” which gives him the Project Lead’s name, picture and location in the school’s common area of each project he highlighted the night before.

He meets Rosa, who’s project is designing and building the set for the upcoming play. She scans the barcode on his ID card, and his online resume pops up on the computer. They review it and discuss the project.

She is looking for someone to spearhead the design and draft construction plans. He is interested in applying his algebra and geometry knowledge. Rosa thinks Alex is a little short on experience, but agrees he could serve as assistant designer if she can find a suitable upperclassman to be the designer. Alex adds the project to those he will discuss with his advisor later in the day.

As you can see, the Next-Generation Learning experience is rich with learning, knowledge and skill-building that will prepare Alex and other students like him for what’s ahead.


To learn more about the conference and to view the presentations, click on the URLs below.

· Video and audio: mms://
· Downloadable audio podcast:

Look for much more in coming months as we develop our innovation continuum in Kentucky.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Respect for Teachers

This week, several readers sent me a link to an NEAToday article:

Instead of my usual blog, I hope that readers will take a few moments to read this interesting article from a Florida teacher. (NEAToday is published by the National Education Association.)

My concern as commissioner is that we do not see similar disquiet from Kentucky teachers. With the decision this week concerning federal Race to the Top (RTTT) funds, we are now faced with a major issue of funding for the implementation of 2009’s Senate Bill 1 (SB 1).

SB 1’s mandates and our Race to the Top plan are excellent. I feel certain that if we deploy the Race to the Top plan, we will have better results for college and career readiness than any state that actually received RTTT funding. The major problem is finding the funds to provide support to teachers.

Teachers will need textbooks, instructional materials, intervention materials, professional development and time to plan and meet with other teachers. These strategies do not come without a cost. I do believe that existing funds in the state budget could be reallocated to address the needs of SB 1. Now that we know there are no dollars from RTTT, we must begin to work on moving funds. This strategy will not be popular; however, we must focus on the Commonwealth rather than individual projects that serve only one or a handful of schools and districts.

Our most important assets in education are the teachers in the classrooms. Our most important natural resources in Kentucky are the children in the classrooms. These children cannot wait a generation to see if we have funding to improve our schools. We must invest now to ensure the future.

Friday, August 20, 2010

College- and Career-Ready Students: More Work to Do

Last week, I highlighted projections for the Class of 2010. This week, I want to do a follow-up concerning the results of the ACT for the Class of 2010.

I know many of you heard reports this week that fewer than one in four high school graduates across the nation met benchmarks for college readiness. Through this blog, I hope to explain what those benchmarks measure.

Kentucky is one of a few states that require all 8th, 10th and 11th graders to take the components of ACT, Inc.’s Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS). In 8th grade, students take the EXPLORE assessment ,and then in 10th grade they take the PLAN assessment. At 11th grade, students actually take the ACT. EPAS reports results at each grade level showing whether or not students are scoring at the college-ready level for the specific grade. The reports are based on assessments of English, mathematics, reading and science.

At the 11th grade, the benchmark scores predict that a student has a 75 percent chance of making a C or better in a college entry-level course such as English 101, College Algebra, College Social Science and/or College Biology. Each subject-level component of the ACT has a separate benchmark score. ACT also reports on the percentage of students who score college-ready for all four areas. This is what is often reported in the media. Nationwide, 24 percent of students met benchmarks for all four areas. In Kentucky, 14 percent did.

Readers need to know a couple of things as they interpret the scores. Kentucky’s scores include all public school 11th-grade students. Most states do NOT assess all students, and the percentage assessed can range from 100 percent to less than 4 percent, depending on the state. In 2006, only 24,930 Kentucky 11th graders took the ACT, compared to 41,227 in 2010. So, comparing results from 2006 to 2010 is not appropriate, and comparing Kentucky results to other states who have significantly smaller numbers of students taking the ACT is inappropriate.

However, as Commissioner of Education, I am extremely concerned for our state and our nation. As I reported last week, our state’s and nation’s futures are tied to our level of education due to the increasing demands for higher levels of skills by employers. From 1970, when more than 80 percent of jobs in our state and nation only required a high school degree or less, we are now moving toward an economy that will have 80 percent of jobs that require training beyond high school, and 63 percent of those jobs will require a postsecondary degree. The ACT demonstrates one measure that reveals we have a large gap in our high school graduates’ readiness for college and career.

Another component of the ACT results that is worrisome to me is the HUGE gap between white students and African American students in our public schools.
* In English, 56 percent of white students met the benchmark, and only 30 percent of African American students met the benchmark.
* In math, 27 percent of white students met the benchmark, and only 9 percent of African American students met the benchmark.
* In reading, 41 percent of white students met the benchmark, compared to 18 percent of African American students.
* In science, 21 percent of white students and 6 percent of African American students met the benchmark.
* For all four benchmarks, 15 percent of white students, compared to 4 percent of African American students, met all four benchmarks.

In 2009, the Kentucky General Assembly passed and Governor Steve Beshear signed Senate Bill 1, which focuses the state on improving the college and career readiness of our high school graduates. Governor Beshear has followed up with the Transforming Education in Kentucky (TEK) Task Force, which will recommend specific strategies to improve the outcomes of our public school graduates. The Kentucky Board of Education, Council on Postsecondary Education and the Education Professional Standards Board are all working closely together to improve the student learning outcomes. Many partners in the business community and private foundation community have joined in the call to action.

This week, the TEK Talk community forums held across Kentucky sought the input of citizens for this important work. The eyes of the nation were on Kentucky in 1990, when we were the first state to implement major finance and school reform. The eyes of the nation are once again upon Kentucky as we lead the way in improving the college and career readiness of our public school graduates. No one in the Commonwealth should sit on the sidelines for this major initiative. Thank you in advance for what you will do to support the children and the future of Kentucky.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Class of 2010: What Does Their Future Look Like?

Over the past few weeks, several reports have spurred me to write this blog entry. The upcoming Class of 2010 ACT report; a recent report from the Center on Education and Workforce at Georgetown University; the College Completion Agenda from the College Board; and Achieving the Possible: What Americans Think About the College and Career Ready Agenda from Achieve, Inc. have informed this blog and hopefully will help us focus on the college- and career-ready agenda for the August 17 Transforming Education in Kentucky (TEK) forums and KET’s Education Matters broadcast.

Readers should note that the numbers below come from all of these reports and from existing demographic data for Kentucky citizens.

This blog focuses on the national agenda of increasing the percentage of Kentucky citizens who hold a postsecondary degree (two- or four- year) and the Kentucky Senate Bill 1 (2009) focus on college-ready graduates. I use the Class of 2010 to provide a concrete example of the impact of the predictions from the reports and previous Kentucky demographic data.

Readers should consider how they would feel if they had a child or relative in the Class of 2010 who recently graduated from a Kentucky high school.
* For every 1,000 9th graders who entered high school in the 2006-07 school year, only 740 actually graduated in 2010.
* Of the 740 who graduated, 670 indicated they would attend two- or four-year postsecondary institutions; however, only 592 will actually attend a postsecondary institution.
* Of the 592, 112 will attend two-year colleges, and only 18 of the 112 will be college-ready (no remediation courses).
* Of the 480 graduates who will attend four-year colleges, only 237 will be college-ready (no remediation courses).
* Of the 112 graduates attending two-year colleges, only 67 will return for the second year of school.
* Of the 480 attending four-year colleges, only 340 will return for the second year.
* Of the 112 attending two-year colleges, only 26 will graduate within three years with a degree. * Of the 480 attending four-year colleges, only 225 will graduate within six years.

In summary, of the 1,000 bright and eager high school freshmen from 2006-07 who entered with dreams of college and career, only 251 will achieve their dream of a two- or four-year degree within three or six years of graduation from high school. What happened to the other 749?

If Kentucky demographics can predict the future, then 80 will not have a high school diploma; 370 will have a high school diploma but no college credits; 210 will have a high school diploma and some college; and 90 will have a GED by the time they reach age 34.

In years past, this scenario may not have concerned parents; however, from the Georgetown University report and numerous other workforce predictions, 63 percent of jobs in 2018 will require a two- or four-year postsecondary degree, and more than 80 percent of jobs will require postsecondary degrees and/or technical training. So, it appears that for Kentucky to have a competitive employment and strong economy, about 800 of the 1,000 graduates really need postsecondary and/or technical training beyond high school.

However, we are projecting that only 251 will achieve the two- or four-year degree, and 210 will have some training beyond high school, for a total of 461 students possibly ready for 800 jobs. Where will employers get the other 339 employees? As I talk to employers now, they tell me they are either importing the employees or have to provide significant training and education to prospective employees at a high cost that impacts the competitive ability of the business.

As much of a concern should be the remaining 539 students who do not have two- or four-year degrees and/or some training beyond high school. More than 200 of them will settle for low-skill and low-wage jobs that do not pay a living wage for a family. The remainder (340) will strain the state’s budget through unemployment and medical, criminal and social costs.

Parents and the public get it, as evidenced from the Achieve report.
* There is widespread agreement (almost 90 percent) that all students need additional education and training beyond high school.
* Support for policies aimed to prepare high school students for college and careers is broad, deep and fully bipartisan with equally high numbers of Democratic, Republican and Independent voters supporting such (almost 90 percent for each group).
* There is strong support (two-thirds of respondents) for the specific policies that put common expectations in place for all students – including common standards, common assessments and graduation requirements among all states.
* More generally, there is near-universal agreement across partisan, ethnic/racial and geographic lines that some education and training beyond high school is necessary – and that stronger expectations in high school will go a long way towards preparing students for their next steps.

The central question for us in Kentucky is not who is to blame for these results, but what are we going to do about these results? There are those who will say we cannot fund or support schools and colleges to improve these results and prepare our children for the future; however, if we do not work to support improvements in outcomes, then we will probably be sending our children forward to a continuing recession and loss of America’s leadership among world economies.

The Kentucky Board of Education and the Kentucky Department of Education will release the first college- and career-ready report in late September. We will show the results for each high school and district in Kentucky. We will adopt a new accountability system that focuses on improving the college-and career-ready rates for Kentucky high school graduates. Numerous regulations and support mechanisms will be put in place; however, the ultimate work is in every school and district in Kentucky. This work does not belong just to high schools and colleges -- every parent, school, teacher, business leader and politician in Kentucky must work together to impact the future for our children. What will YOU do to support the children?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Planning for Proficiency

This week, the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) reviewed progress toward the vision of “every child proficient and prepared for success.” The board presentation “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly” provided some background. To summarize from the presentation:
* There is good progress in 4th- and 8th-grade reading, with Kentucky outpacing the nation and also being the only state with significant gains between 2007 and 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores.
* Over the last decade, Kentucky also has made good progress in improving graduation rates; however, as we move toward the cohort graduation rate, we will see a decline in those rates.
* We are not making as much progress with 4th- and 8th-grade math on NAEP, with Kentucky scores being at or below national average.
* The real concerns continue to be with the persistent achievement gaps between groups of students at all levels for every indicator.

The KBE gave support for the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) to begin implementation of the proposed strategic plan. The plan will have four strategic priorities – Next-Generation Learners; Next-Generation Professionals; Next-Generation Support Systems; and Next-Generation Schools and Districts. The KBE gave me direction to develop specific measureable goals for my evaluation and, in turn, the evaluation of the department.

It is now time to turn our attention to finalizing how schools and districts will be measured under the proposed strategic plan. We have been conducting advisory group meetings to gain feedback on revisions to the Kentucky accountability model and school/district report cards. The proposed accountability model would include the following measures:
* Next-Generation Learners – schools and district will receive an A,B,C,D or F grade on student learning results based on new common core assessments. The grade would be derived from a composite of proficiency rates, closing gaps and growth. Middle schools would have a high school readiness component added based on the 8th-grade PLAN assessment. High schools would have a college readiness component and a graduation component added.
* Next-Generation Professionals – schools and districts will receive a grade based on percentage of effective teachers and leaders. This measure will be developed by the teacher and principal effectiveness steering committees.
* Next-Generation Support Systems – schools and districts will receive a grade based on results from the teacher/leader working conditions survey to be administered for the first time in spring 2011. Also, program review performance will be included to ensure schools and districts are continuing to focus on a complete education in addition to tested subjects.
* Next-Generation Schools/Districts – within this strategic priority, districts will be graded on percentage of schools they have at each grading level. Also, school report cards will be revised to show performance on the above measures.

Let me reiterate that the new report cards and accountability system are only PROPOSED at this point. We are gaining feedback from all stakeholders; however, the time for action by the Kentucky Board of Education is drawing close. The KBE will receive a draft proposal at the October board meeting, and a final vote will be taken at the December board meeting. Should legislation be required for any component, we will work with legislators during the 2011 short session.

We do anticipate the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) next spring, and we anticipate the revisions to ESEA will contain many of the components we are proposing in the Kentucky model. Also, 2009’s Senate Bill 1 (KRS 158.6453) required the KBE to develop and implement a new accountability model by the 2011-12 school year – thus, the reason for the timeline.

Thanks for reading this blog, and remember that the driving force behind all of this work is “every child proficient and prepared for success.” A vision without work is just a dream. We are working to make the dream a reality!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Early Childhood Benefits/Teacher Evaluations

In these days of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other services that provide daily, hourly and even minute-by-minute updates, I get lots of information about reports, studies and education events. This week , on my Twitter and Facebook accounts, I highlighted two of the more interesting reports.

* a terrific new report on long-term benefits of early childhood education:
* an interesting report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), which reinforces Kentucky’s caution on using value-added criteria for high-stakes decisions:

Readers of these reports may find conflicting information. The early childhood report was mentioned in a New York Times article entitled “The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers.” The report came from Harvard economist Raj Chetty. Many critics of government spending on early childhood education allege that the early gains for children often wash out over the course of the school years. I really liked a quote attributed to Mr. Chetty – “We don’t really care about test scores. We care about adult outcomes.”

Mr. Chetty and his team reviewed the adult outcomes for students who were part of the Tennessee Star Project from the ‘80s. They found students who were in the most effective kindergarten classrooms were more likely as adults to go to college, less likely to be single parents, more likely to be saving for retirement and more likely to earn more than their peers in the same study who were in less effective classrooms. So, the article and study seem to support the big idea of teacher effectiveness having a major role in student learning and adult outcomes.

In a somewhat conflicting report from the National Center for Education and Evaluation, researchers raised many cautions about using teacher effectiveness data for high-stakes decisions like merit pay and tenure. The report, Error Rates in Measuring Teacher and School Performance Based on Test Score Gains, highlighted concerns about error rates when using this data. The report states that three years of teacher data that classifies teachers as low performing could be erroneous as much as one out of four times. The report shows that data classifying a teacher as high-performing also could be erroneous as much as one out of four times. With five years of data, the results become a little more stable, and if the data are used mainly for school classification, then the error rates decline. Regardless, this research does raise much concern about the use of one, two or even three years of data to make high-stakes decisions.

So, the question becomes, “how do we resolve the apparent conflict in these two reports with regard to outcomes and the impact of teachers on the learning outcomes?” The answer is in multiple measures. I have been clear with policy makers, superintendents, teachers and other stakeholders. Kentucky will not depend solely on test scores for high-stakes decisions for teachers and principals. Both of these studies point out concerns with just using test scores. In Kentucky, we will continue to work with teachers, principals and other stakeholders to develop evaluation systems that utilize multiple measures of effectiveness.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Challenges and Changing Times

Highlights from my remarks to the Kentucky Association of School Administrators Summer Conference in Louisville this morning.

A quote that I often use in presentations comes from Martin Luther King, Jr. “A man’s true measure is not where he stands in moments of comfort but in times of challenge.”

Given the many challenges that we face in Kentucky and across the nation, I think this quote is very much on target. As leaders, we have to make a decision. Will we rise to the challenge or will we fold under the pressure? As the leader of P-12 education in Kentucky, I am asking you today to rise to the challenge of leadership during difficult times.

Why is it so important to rise to this challenge? Over the past few weeks, there have been some remarkable events in our world. Amazon recently announced that the sale of e-books exceeded the sale of paper books for the first time in history. The U.S. is no longer the number-one user of energy in the world. We have been replaced by China. A Department of Agriculture employee’s video clips went viral and overshadowed the passage of the most expansive financial reform legislation since the Great Depression. Another story that went viral this week concerned an 11-year-old who was provided a computer, webcam and unrestricted Internet access by her parents, then became the brunt of an e-attack by a powerful online user group whose stated purpose is to attack people who annoy them. A report revealed that the nation has gone from leading the world in percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a postsecondary degree to lagging most of the industrialized nations (we rank 12th now). Another report documents that, in the 1970s, the percentage of the workforce with a high school degree or less was more than 70 percent. The same report predicts that almost 70 percent of the workforce in 2018 will need a postsecondary degree.

With a 1.5 percent decrease in funding, our challenges seem to pale in comparison to the other challenges around us. Furloughs seem insignificant when compared against what is happening to the citizens in Louisiana and other states as a result of the oil spill. As we fly our flags at half-staff in Kentucky to honor fallen soldiers, I do not take a lot of time concerning myself with who is hosting or not hosting a political fundraiser. What I challenge each of us to do is focus on the bigger picture of enabling the generation of children we have in front of us today to become better educated and more employable in the future. In 1990, bold leaders faced with difficult times did not back away from the challenge of KERA. Bold leaders stepped up to the plate and made a difference for a generation of children.

In 2010, we are provided another opportunity to also be bold leaders. We have been provided the platform for transforming the educational experience for a generation of children. In my 39 years of education, I have never seen the alignment so clear. Senate Bill 1, Race to the Top, the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force are providing the road map to a brighter future for Kentucky children.

Let us not waste this opportunity to reshape the future. Let us not be sidetracked by the barriers and challenges we are faced with on a daily basis. So I ask … where will you stand in these challenging times? Will you join me in standing up for increasing the rigor of our academic standards in Kentucky? Will you stand up for measuring the effectiveness of teachers, principals, school-based councils, superintendents and school boards in part based on student learning outcomes? Will you stand up for better assessments that measure what children should be able to do rather than simple recall of facts? Will you stand up for the goal of EVERY child graduating from high school ready for college and career?

And most of all … will you stand up for the least among the children? Will you stand up for closing achievement gaps and ensuring that every child regardless of wealth, gender, color or zip code not only has the opportunity for success, but actually succeeds in school?

Thank you for rising to this challenge. You make a difference in your schools and districts. You make a difference for children. You make a difference for the future of Kentucky. Best wishes on a successful start to the school year!

Friday, July 16, 2010

An Interesting, Interconnected Week

This week was a very interesting week. Governor Beshear dropped in to visit with the Transforming Education in Kentucky (TEK) task force. His message was very clear and visionary. He recharged the task force with developing recommendations that will refocus our efforts in Kentucky to help prepare more children for the challenges they will face.

This charge is clear. ALL students must be prepared for college and career through a more challenging and rigorous education. After his message, the task force heard from our career and technical education (CTE) staff about the excellent work going on in this program. The message was clear that the current CTE program is not your father’s shop class anymore. The program integrates academics and technical skills to prepare students for jobs of the 21st century.

Gene Bottoms of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) delivered an excellent presentation on how to ensure more students graduate from high school with college- and career-ready skills. His presentation also included several excellent policy recommendations that the task force will certainly be reviewing for possible inclusion in the final report.

Also, this week, First Lady Jane Beshear was honored by the SREB for her leadership with the Graduate Kentucky Project. And, I had the honor to present at the Chamber of Commerce Economic Summit. All of these events are very much related.

I have begun to focus on the “Three Es.” Education, employment and the economy are tightly linked, and all of the events this week showed that linkage very clearly. A report I received in an e-mail from the Alliance for Excellent Education pulled it all together. Excerpts from the report are below, and I encourage readers to review the information for the nation and for our largest urban system – Louisville/Jefferson County.

Excerpts from the article:

In the nation's forty-five largest metropolitan areas, students of color made up a sizable portion of the estimated 600,000 students who dropped out from the Class of 2008: 113,600 African American, 200,000 Latino, 3,750 American Indian, and 30,800 Asian American1 students are estimated to have dropped out from this class.

Cutting the number of these dropouts in half would likely produce vast economic benefits by boosting the spending power of these communities of color and spurring job and economic growth in these regions. Below, see the likely contributions that these “new graduates” would make to their regional economies.
· All told, the students of color within this one class of new graduates could produce enormous benefits for their local economies:
· Together, their additional spending would likely generate 17,450 new jobs and boost the gross regional products of these areas by as much as $3.1 billion by the time they reach the midpoint of their careers.
· As a result of their increased wages and higher levels of spending, state and local tax revenues within these regions would likely grow by as much as $249.7 million during an average year.
· The regions would likely see increased human capital, with 48 percent of these new graduates likely continuing on to pursue some type of postsecondary education after earning a high school diploma.

To view the full report, visit

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Busy Week at KDE

This week, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) saw much work on several key issues. The Teacher Effectiveness Steering Committee, Principal Effectiveness Steering Committee and the Teacher/Principal Working Conditions Survey Committee met to work on proposals to revise teacher and principal evaluation systems in Kentucky.

Why are we working on changes to the evaluation process? In my travels throughout the state, I hear from superintendents, principals and teachers that the current system of evaluation in Kentucky may not be as strong as we need, given the research on the impact of teachers and principals on student learning. Also, the Race to the Top application, Title I reauthorization, federal grants and foundation grants are all focusing on effective teachers and principals. Readers should note that the vocabulary is changing from “highly qualified” to “effective.” Much of the research over the past 10 years has clearly shown the strong correlation between effective teachers and principals and improving student learning results.

What is the timeline for the revisions? Our committees are working slowly to go fast later. In the 2009-10 school year, we had four districts that worked to develop a process for teacher effectiveness. This work was funded through our grant from the Wallace Foundation. Also, based on Wallace Foundation work, Kentucky has been one of the lead states in the nation for the development of principal effectiveness measures. We have 23 districts that have volunteered to help the steering committees this year through field tests of various items from the proposed system of measuring effectiveness.

What are the components of teacher effectiveness? The research around this is mixed; however, there does seem to be agreement that a strong teacher effectiveness system must have multiple measures. In Kentucky, we are looking at student growth, teacher self-assessment, observations, 360-degree assessment, artifacts/evidences and student voice. For principals, there will be similar measures.

The other exciting work this week was the advisory committee for the teacher and principal working conditions survey. More details about this survey will be forthcoming over the next few months. Should readers be interested in learning more about the survey, they may view the work in Maryland at Kentucky and Tennessee recently became the 11th and 12th states in the nation, along with several large urban school districts, to use this survey.

The staff at KDE very much appreciates all the teachers, principals, superintendents, college faculty, parents, business leaders and organization leaders who have volunteered their time to work on these very important committees. Readers also may be interested in the presentation I will be making to the Interim Joint Committee on Education at its July 12 meeting in Frankfort. That presentation will be posted on the KDE website at

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reflections on My First Year

As June comes to a close, the first school year on the job is also coming to a close. During May and June of 2009, I was engaged in the interview process for the Commissioner of Education post. During the interview process, I talked to a number of superintendents and other stakeholders in Kentucky. I heard a lot of pride in the accomplishments of schools and school districts. I also heard about the exciting challenges ahead with the implementation of Senate Bill 1 (SB 1).

As I asked questions about priorities for the commissioner, there were two things that surfaced – improve communication and help build district capacity of school districts to implement SB 1 and improve student learning.

Early in my tenure, KDE worked to implement specific customer satisfaction requirements for communication. These requirements include a response time of 24 hours or less, an accurate response and a professional attitude. To monitor these requirements, we implemented an online survey and encouraged all who contacted KDE to complete the survey.

We reported the results of the survey every quarter to all major offices in KDE, and offices compared their results against other offices and addressed areas for improvement. At the end of the first year, we have now established our baseline for our customer requirement performance. The results are as follows:

X Timely response
Yes – 87% No – 10% NR (no response) – 3%
X Response addressed need
Yes – 90% No – 7% NR – 3%
X Any concerns about accuracy
Yes – 12% No – 84% NR – 4%
X Response handled professionally
Yes – 93% No – 4% NR – 3%

As commissioner, I want to recognize our KDE staff for excellent work; however, I do know we can continue to improve in certain areas. Moving forward, we will work to improve the accuracy area and seek to have all requirements exceed 90 percent. We also will benchmark our results against those of comparable organizations. We will provide training and support for each part of KDE on how to improve customer service.

As part of our communication plan, I also met with each regional education cooperative at least twice this year. (KDE liaisons attend every cooperative meeting.) I have visited more than 60 school districts and more than 90 schools to hear firsthand about the challenges facing educators. I average at least three speeches or meetings with stakeholder groups every week to focus on collaboration and improvement. Advisory councils for school boards, parents, superintendents, principals, teachers, closing achievement gaps, special education, gifted and talented, and accountability are meeting on a regular basis to communicate with and inform decisions of KDE and the Kentucky Board of Education. Of course, we have also implemented Monday and Friday consolidated e-mails, this weekly blog, Twitter blasts and Facebook accounts to help improve communication.

The other area for KDE was to implement policies and procedures to build district capacity. In our work with deployment of SB 1 around the Common Core Standards in language arts and mathematics, that is exactly the approach we are using. We are building capacity of higher education institutions, school board members, school superintendents, building administrators, central office instructional leaders and teacher leaders. We also are working closely with the Prichard Committee to create a comprehensive communication plan for parents and the business community. We have had a number of other states and national organizations looking at our deployment model for the Common Core Standards for possible replication. This speaks well to the great KDE team and education partners we have in Kentucky.

If readers have suggestions on how to continue to improve communication and build district capacity please let us know. While these are difficult economic times, we must continue to improve all levels of education through improved communication and collaboration. I am honored to be working with great people all across Kentucky who are focused on helping all children succeed.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Focus on Kids’ Futures, Not Adult Comfort

During my testimony to the Interim Joint Committee on Education (IJCE) this week, a recurring theme surfaced. In Kentucky and across this nation, we have been struggling with helping students from poverty and from diverse backgrounds reach success in school for many years. Now, we come with a new model called “District 180: Turnaround Schools” that is being funded through significant dollars from federal School Improvement Grants within Title I funding.

The question that continues to haunt me is this – “Nothing has worked before, so how can we ensure that this approach will work?” During the IJCE meeting, several legislators brought up some issues that have been around for 30 years. These issues included:
  • You can’t teach kids if there is no discipline.
  • Unless you change the demographics of the community, engage parents, find people jobs, provide health care, provide nutrition and other services, you cannot possibly expect to make a difference with these students.
  • Teachers who are not successful in these schools could be moved to other schools with higher socio-economic conditions, and they would then be successful teachers.
  • We should not blame teachers and principals for the lack of parenting and support of children in the community. Schools cannot do it alone.

For more than 38 years in education, I have heard these same concerns. However, my purpose in Kentucky is to overcome these barriers and meet the vision of EVERY child proficient and prepared for success. I was reminded of a great resource of Kati Haycock and the Ed Trust ( I was also reminded of the key question we need to ask all of our schools and the adults who either work in the schools, support the schools and/or lead the schools – “How many schools would I have to show you that have closed achievement gaps and proven that EVERY child can learn to high levels before you would believe and commit to the goal of EVERY child in YOUR school reaching success?”

If the answer is “more than one,” then we do not have a child problem, we have an adult problem.

For those of you interested in reading more, I have copied information about Ed Trust’s “Success Stories” below so that Kentucky leaders and adults who work with children can see places just like theirs that are being successful and overcoming the barriers. KDE and the Kentucky Board of Education are committed to the vision of EVERY child proficient and prepared for success. We do not accept that this cannot be done. In the next three to five years, we will have a laser focus on this work. We will certainly not make every adult happy; however, we have to believe that we will help more children learn.

Success Stories from Ed Trust
Some schools have beaten the odds. They’ve made significant strides in narrowing the achievement gaps, attained proficiency levels that significantly exceeded the averages in their states, or improved student performance at an especially rapid pace. Follow the links below to read about the teachers, principals, and others who have made this possible.

Some of these schools are truly exceptional. To inspire and encourage other educators in the gap-closing movement, The Education Trust each year at our national conference honors these high-performing schools with Dispelling the Myth Awards.

These schools don’t offer simple answers or easy solutions, but several common strategies emerge from their practices. They provide a rich curriculum coupled with strong, focused instruction. They have high expectations for all students. They use data to track student progress and individual student needs. And they employ purposeful professional development to improve teachers’ skills.

These stories and more have been collected in book form in It’s Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools (2007) and How It’s Being Done: Urgent Lessons from Unexpected Schools (2009). Contact for prices for single books and bulk orders. You can read about Dispelling the Myth Award-winning schools and others by following the links contained in the web site at

We have many success stories in Kentucky that also need to be shared. I encourage readers to send me those success stories. We have attempted to identify those schools that are closing achievement gaps and then share their best practices. We will continue to identify those schools and elevate their status through recognition and rewards.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Teacher Effectiveness

You can’t pick up an education publication these days without reading an article about teacher effectiveness. Teacher effectiveness is the new buzz word for this decade.

Since the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) authorization, the focus has been on highly qualified teachers. During the past eight years of NCLB, we have seen many states and districts achieve 99 percent highly qualified teachers. What also happens is that teacher evaluation systems report over 95 percent of teachers at or above standard.

However, graduation rates indicate that children are not successful in school. Apparently, the inconsistency is due to lack of focus on teacher effectiveness. So, we have lots of proponents of tying evaluation to test scores, merit pay, performance pay, value-added and the list goes on.

Many foundations are promoting the teacher effectiveness conversation, and the U.S. Department of Education is focusing Race to the Top and NCLB/ESEA reauthorization on teacher effectiveness. This focus is the right focus; however, I am not so certain that the details are on target.

I read a great article in Education Week recently. The article was by Dr. James Stigler, who is a senior fellow with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He cautioned readers that we need to rethink teacher accountability before it is too late. The article resonated with me since it had close alignment with the philosophies of W. Edwards Deming. In the article, Dr. Stigler talks about the Japanese model of “lesson study.” This is a highly engaging model where teachers develop common assessments, teach common curriculum, teach on a common calendar and work together to monitor student achievement and study best practices for intervening when students are not successful. Japanese teachers are provided with the time and support to have these professional conversations. In the U.S., we are calling this approach the professional learning community.

The reason I liked this article so much was the relationship to the work I was part of in my former school system. The Iredell-Statesville system in North Carolina was recognized as the 2008 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recipient in education. A key reason for the recognition was the level of deployment of professional learning communities and classroom Plan Do Study Act (PDSA) cycles, which are a key component of the Deming philosophy. These cycles very much mirror the Japanese lesson study model. Teachers of same subject met weekly to develop common curriculum, learning targets for students and common assessments and to share best instructional strategies. The student learning results over seven years in the school system documented that the PDSA method worked for all subjects, all grades and all types of students.

While discussions about teacher effectiveness are extremely important, I could never support a system that utilizes only standardized testing to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers. I will support working with teachers and other stakeholders to develop a growth model for teacher effectiveness that has multiple measures. I have appointed a teacher effectiveness steering committee to follow up from our Race to the Top application. This group is comprised of teachers, principals, superintendents and other key stakeholders. I am very excited about their work and look forward to the discussions we will have.

This work is not easy, and it will take several years to develop a valid, reliable and fair system for gauging teacher effectiveness. I also know that we must measure the working conditions within which teachers work. Another Deming philosophy I strongly adhere to is that, in most cases, non-performance and poor results are a direct result of the system and not the people in the system. By measuring working conditions, we can determine at the school, district and state levels what working conditions need to be in place for teachers and principals to be more effective in helping more students succeed. The bottom line for me is that we must DO this work WITH teachers and principals and not just do it TO them.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Build School Calendars Around Access to Instruction

During the regular session of the 2010 General Assembly, the school calendar issue was once again a major item for discussion. Due to the H1N1 virus, snow days, flood days and many other “disaster” impacts, superintendents were once again faced with difficult decisions about canceling school and scheduling makeup days.

As Commissioner of Education, my primary focus is making certain our students have access to instruction that will ensure their success and their future. For that reason, I was very opposed to waiving instructional days/hours. However, having served as a local superintendent, I also know how difficult the development of a school calendar can be and how difficult it is to schedule makeup days.

Through this blog, I am re-emphasizing the request to get suggestions and proposals from local school districts concerning makeup days and school calendars. I have announced in several venues that the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) would promote possible pilots to provide virtual learning opportunities for makeup days. There are many problems to overcome with these pilots, and legislation possibly may be needed, so this will not be a “quick” process. The 2010 General Assembly also charged the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) with developing regulatory language to guide innovative alternative school calendars. We will provide more information on this issue after the June KBE meeting.

The budget bill contains minimal requirements for school calendars. The bill’s language says that the school term shall include, at a minimum, the equivalent of 177 six-hour instructional days, which is 1,062 instructional hours. But, it is very clear that the intent of the legislature, supported by KDE, is that school districts should include 177 six-hour instructional days in their original 2010-11 calendars.

To further stress the emphasis on instructional days, the budget bill requires KDE to report to the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) the test scores for any district with less than 177 six-hour instructional days. Although there is great flexibility provided in the language, KRS 158.070 defines the minimum school term as 185 days, and that will easily accommodate 177 instructional days and the required minimum of four professional development days. Opening Day, Closing Day and holidays are discretionary, and the school term may be extended beyond 185 days if needed should a district choose to include them.

As commissioner, I believe the intent of the budget was clear. Districts should maintain 177 days of instruction and NOT reduce teacher pay. In the final budget, the SEEK amounts for FY11 ($3,868 per pupil) and FY12 ($3,903 per pupil) were actually increased from the FY10 amount of $3,866 per pupil.

We hope districts will be able to meet the intent of the budget; however, we do recognize that each district has unique circumstances, and KDE will approve school calendars that meet the requirements of statute and budget language (the equivalent of 177 days).

Friday, May 28, 2010

Providing Opportunities for All Students

During the regular session of the 2010 General Assembly, House Bill 301 (HB 301) cleared the House but did not clear the Senate. This bill would have increased the dropout age from 16 to 18. Many states have already taken this initiative and have seen significant results in lowering dropout rates.

This legislation was supported by the Governor and First Lady. House Speaker Greg Stumbo joined Rep. Jeff Greer and several other legislative leaders in sponsoring the legislation. There are many excuses as to why we should not do this; however, there is one BIG reason why we should do this. We should not allow 16-year-olds to make decisions that will impact their lives both in the short term and long term.

Key concerns from teachers, principals and superintendents were very valid. These concerns focused on the need to provide support and programs for teens who were considering the dropout option. Recently, the Governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky task force heard about dropout prevention programs being implemented in many states. One of the presentations came from the Gateway to College Network. This group has been working in several states to implement programs in collaboration with community colleges. In several states, these programs are called Early College or Middle College. For more information about the Gateway programs, please visit

As a local superintendent in North Carolina, I worked with the North Carolina New Schools Project to implement early colleges for leadership/technology and visual/performing arts. Both schools were extremely successful in helping students stay in school and not only graduate on time, but also earn college credit. It was amazing to watch these students enter a community college and take college courses. In most cases, these students had not been very successful in middle school. The school provided the appropriate relationships, rigor and relevance with support systems that expected student success. The early colleges had the highest attendance rates and no dropouts and provided students with the opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma and associate’s degree at NO COST to parents.

The language in the budget bill this week came from the original HB 301:

Notwithstanding any statute to the contrary, the Commissioner of Education may approve a plan that is established by a local school board and a postsecondary institution accredited by the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools for purposes of granting high school and college credit and which allows students to fulfill high school graduation requirements and compulsory school attendance; providing rigorous academic curriculum within a supportive and nurturing environment for underserved students; and encouraging academic success by linking students, teachers, and community partners in innovative ways.

This language provides the Kentucky Department of Education with the ability to work with several districts who are considering the Early College and Middle College innovation. This language also opens the opportunity for numerous foundation and federal grants that could provide funding for planning and implementation.

While we would have much preferred HB 301 to have become law, this provision allows us to develop models that will help provide the support that districts and schools need to convince adults that more students can be successful in Kentucky. More than 6,000 students drop out of schools every year in Kentucky. No one individual is to blame. The system is the problem, and we have to look for innovations to improve the system. Thanks to Rep. Harry Moberly for the language, and thanks to legislators for their support. Now, to work!

P.S. HB 301 had nothing to do with charters, and this language has nothing to do with charters. The only objective is to help districts and schools help more children. Sorry to disappoint all you conspiracy theorists!