Friday, February 26, 2010

School Calendars and Instructional Time

In a communication to board members and superintendents last week, I provided the following information concerning attendance.

For school year 2009-10, current state law and budget bill language require that school districts provide the equivalent of 177 six-hour days and 1,062 hours of instruction. That total must include two more six-hour days in addition to the number of six-hour days that were fulfilled during the 2005-06 school year. School districts also must provide four professional development days and may designate four holidays, one opening day and one closing day.

Districts must meet the requirements for both the number of six-hour instructional days and the 1,062 instructional hours. Adding additional minutes to the school days remaining in the calendar to make up required instructional time will only be an option if used to provide the minimum of 1,062 hours or to increase a short day to a six-hour day. Adding additional minutes to multiple days is not an option for making up the equivalent of a full six-hour day missed due to weather conditions or flu.

Other calendar allowances include:

· Districts may change spring break days to instructional days.
· Districts may change scheduled shortened days into six-hour instructional days.
· Districts may use a total of five emergency hours for days shortened due to an emergency.
· Districts may hold professional development days on Saturday, at their discretion. Professional development day activities should occur with supporting documentation and evidence that activities can be substantiated.
· Districts may not have school on a regular election day or a primary election day. This year, May 18 is primary election day in Kentucky.
State regulation 702 KAR 7:140 (section 4) says that a school district can seek “forgiveness” of days missed. However, the district must have missed at least 20 days and must make up the first 20 days missed.

Although I’m relatively new to Kentucky, the issues surrounding school calendars – weather- or illness-related closings, makeup days, instructional time requirements and more -- are ones that I’ve dealt with in the past.

I strongly believe that children should get the instructional time that they are entitled to each year under state law. I also believe that school calendars should be designed with the best interests of children – not adults – in mind.

The balance between providing a safe and healthy school environment and ensuring that children receive the instructional time they deserve is sometimes difficult to maintain. But, with thoughtful calendar planning, the struggle to meet the mandates of state law related to time in school can be eased.

I have encouraged school districts to begin looking at school calendars now and using their experiences over the past few winters to make decisions for the future. Ask the hard questions – Is a fall break really necessary? Is spring break an untouchable time? Are the start and end dates for the school year set appropriately?

The vagaries of weather and the impact of flu and other illnesses are hard to predict. But, with careful planning, we can provide our students with consistent time in school and strong instructional practices.

I have been very clear and consistent in my message. I believe our children have a right to a minimum of 1,062 hours of instruction within 177 days. It is inconsistent on the one hand to cry “foul” when the legislators seek a two-day reduction in instruction and then to request a waiver from instructional time due to weather-related issues that could be addressed through improved calendar management. In this case, I will always err on the side of instruction for our children, and while makeup days may inconvenience adults, the instruction of our children is the foundation for all of my decisions.

Of course, the General Assembly could pass legislation that would make my position moot.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Remarks to House Education Committee Concerning HB 301

During the early ‘80s, I was doing an internship in order to receive my principal license. I was matched with a veteran high school principal, and I started at the beginning of the school year. During the first few days, I walked along with him as he patrolled the halls. He told me that his job for the first two weeks was to single out 10 to 12 “drop-back-in” students. The purpose, he told me, was to get them out as quickly as possible.

Why? The students usually just dropped back in to see if the rules had changed, and when they found out nothing had changed, they then started creating problems for teachers. He said teachers really liked this visible show of support for a safe environment. I thought at the time – what about the kids? What happens to them?

When I became an assistant principal at the same school, I was determined to do something different for the drop-back-in students. That was when I started to really investigate alternative programs. I quickly figured out that the adults needed to change, rather than expecting the children to be something they were not able to be.

As with most things, I was probably a little ahead of my time, but when I became a superintendent in North Carolina, I had to meet with 16-year-olds who wanted to drop out of school. At most of these meetings, I was frustrated and the parents were frustrated. Why?

There was something terribly wrong with these scenarios – the 16-year-old students were making the decisions and telling the adults what they were going to do. A 16-year-old does not have the capacity to understand how a short-term decision is going to have such long-lasting ramifications on his/her life.

In my next superintendent position, I established a policy that would not allow students to get a waiver to drop out and get a GED. While this frustrated parents, students and teachers, it was the right thing to do. What happened as a result was that we created model programs that lowered the dropout rate from being the highest in North Carolina to one of the 10 best. The graduation rate moved from 58 percent to more than 80 percent.

We have the capacity to implement House Bill 301 in Kentucky. The Kentucky Board of Education strongly supports college- and career-ready graduates as being the number 1 goal for our agency. We have initiatives in place that already support this bill, and in March and April meetings, the Governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force will be looking at specific programs that can be implemented based on Section 2, Part 6 of this bill.

Many districts, like Warren County, Jessamine County and Fayette County, are already implementing initiatives that address the dropout rate. The adults can figure out how to address the needs of the children. While we could do this without the bill, the bill gives the adults the leverage we need to change what we do.

I encourage you to send a strong signal to students, parents and teachers - support this bill based on what is right for children and the future of Kentucky, not on what is convenient for adults.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Common Core State Standards

This week, Kentucky took bold steps toward improving education outcomes for the future of our Commonwealth – our children.

Gov. Steve Beshear enabled Kentucky’s participation in the development of Common Core State Standards with his signature last year on an agreement that states develop common core standards. This collaborative effort of 51 states and territories, many national organizations, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve, ACT, ETS and others signaled a major step in placing America back in the front of educational attainment in the world.

By any measure you care to review, our education system has continued to achieve; however, we have been outpaced by most of the industrialized world. We no longer lead the world in high school graduates or postsecondary graduates, and on most international assessments ,our student achievement scores place our education system well below the international average. There are many causes of this change in our relative position; however, the most obvious is that the rest of the world finally caught on to America’s advantage – education.

Our state leadership recognized that Kentucky needed to not only compare districts and schools in Kentucky to each other, but also recognized the need for international and national comparisons. If Singapore outperforms U.S. students in mathematics, then we need to look at what they are doing in Singapore. When we looked, we found what teachers have been telling us for years. We were expecting too much to be taught. This meant that teachers covered material rather than helping every child master the material. Our focus on multiple-choice testing has led us to actually “dumb down” the curriculum and assess mostly recall and short-term memory items. Our practices across education in Kentucky and throughout the U.S. focused more on “gaming” the testing and accountability system rather than really focusing on student mastery of high-level material.

This week, the Kentucky Board of Education, Council on Postsecondary Education and Education Professional Standards Board came together to signal the change in direction as required by Senate Bill 1 and the Common Core State Standards movement. While this is a bold move, it will not have any impact on classrooms unless we continue to engage teachers and college faculty in the next steps.

During the review of the Common Core Standards, hundreds of college and P-12 faculty were involved in the review. Comments from Kentucky were widely utilized by the national writing teams. The next steps now must include every mathematics and language arts teacher in Kentucky. We have a deployment plan that will engage selected faculty this summer and then engage all math and language arts teachers during the 2010-11 school year.

We are scheduling a statewide summit in early April to roll out the plan, and we will then keep the public and legislative leaders informed of our progress through a Web-based project management plan. The plan ensures the level of engagement, professional development and public awareness that will be necessary to make certain every parent and every businessperson in Kentucky knows why we are implementing the Common Core Standards. The main reason – our children. A young person who graduates from a Kentucky high school should know that he/she is prepared for college and/or career based on his/her choice. We must eliminate the need for high school graduates to pay for remediation courses for which they do not receive college credit.

The responsibility will be a shared responsibility. Teachers must address the needs of ALL students, students must be held accountable for individual progress, and parents must be involved in supporting schools and their children. The future is in all of our hands, and my few months in Kentucky have convinced me that Kentucky teachers, students and parents can rise to challenge.

You can see more information about the historic meeting on Feb. 10 here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force

This week, the Governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky (TEK) Task Force met for the first time. My thanks to Lu Young, superintendent of the Jessamine County school district, and the staff at East Jessamine High School for hosting the first event.

It was a great event, with a panel discussion on KERA and a very exciting presentation from former Kentuckian Ginny Edwards, who is the editor/publisher of Education Week. Governor Beshear gave us our charge, and one of the key issues that we will review is the early childhood-to-school transition. This issue really ignites a passion that I have for addressing the needs of children.

As a superintendent in North Carolina, I saw firsthand the impact of early childhood programs on student readiness for school. I also know that it is essential to address student vocabulary development in the early years of childhood, or the students will come to school already several years behind. I asked our early childhood office to let me know some of the things we are doing and some of the things we need to be doing. Thanks to the team for the following information.

Things we are doing in Kentucky:
· development of regional teams of health, education, elected officials, civic and community leaders to address issues and barriers that prevent access to high-quality programs and schools for children birth-8 and their families through the Kentucky Great by 8 economic growth initiative
· collaborative partnerships across state agencies through the KIDS NOW initiative that help promote quality and a focus on whole-child development.
· recognition of high-quality district preschool programs through the Preschool Classrooms of Excellence and Early Childhood Centers of Quality/Excellence initiatives
· recent release of the Field Guide to the Kentucky Early Childhood Standards to give all professionals working with young children ideas of how to incorporate the early learning standards in their program planning

What we would like to see:
· promotion of a definition of school readiness that focuses on the whole child – ready child, ready schools, ready families and communities
· development of a common, reliable, appropriate assessment that will be implemented by the kindergarten teacher after the first 30 days of a child’s attendance, specifically for instructional purposes for student mastery of the standards
· stronger partnerships between private child care, Head Start and state-funded preschool to promote collaboration and quality and to provide opportunities for more children to attend preschool

My experience is that if schools are not ready for the children, the impact of early childhood programs will be lost by 3rd grade. The investment in early childhood is immense and has the potential of impacting our economy and social program costs over the long run. However, schools also must do their part in connecting with the preschool and early childhood community. It is terrific to find this connection already happening in a number of school districts in Kentucky. The Governor’s TEK Task Force’s focus on this issue also will highlight the need and possible solutions.