Friday, April 30, 2010

Priorities for School and District Accountability

Last week I shared the vision for the state strategic plan and the goals and measures for the state. This week, I am sharing the vision for a new accountability system and school/district report cards.

There will be four strategic priorities with specific strategies and annual indicators of progress. These priorities, strategies and indicators are based on federal guidance provided by Race to the Top, State Fiscal Stabilization Funds and proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The priorities, strategies and indicators also are based on state guidance provided by 2009’s Senate Bill 1 , 2002’s Senate Bill 168 (KRS 158.649) , 2006’s Senate Bill 130 (KRS 158.6453) and other state statutes.

Over the coming year, we will begin working with advisory groups to more clearly define the district and school indicators that are reflected in the listing below. There is much work to do in defining the new common core assessments that are due by 2012. We must define growth to the student level and match with classrooms and schools. Also, we must develop an index that reflects school and district performance in closing gaps among groups of students. Perhaps once of largest challenges is clearly defining what “career-ready” means.

We are excited to announce that the Teacher and Principal Working Conditions Survey will be initiated in the spring of 2011, and Program Reviews will be piloted in 2010-11. With support from Race to the Top funding, we hope to be able to develop clear definitions of effective teachers and leaders with the support of steering committees comprised of teachers, leaders and other partners.

Finally, we will revise district and school report cards to match the indicators in the strategic plan.

This is multi-year work and will require a tremendous amount of collaboration between all partners. However, with fewer priorities (four), very clear strategies (six) and indicators that are aligned between state and federal requirements through our strategic plan, I feel very confident that we can meet and exceed the expectations of Kentucky citizens.

Through Senate Bill 1, citizens have mandated that we must have a greater percentage of high school graduates prepared for college and career. Failure to meet this goal impacts our state economy; however, even more importantly, failure to meet this goal impacts the lives of our children.

Proposed Strategic Plan Components for 2010-2014 Kentucky P-12 Education

Strategic Priority: Next-Generation Learners
Strategy: Common Core Standards and Balanced Assessments
Indicators: proficiency, growth and gap rates in literacy, numeracy, science and social studies on common core assessment; career readiness

Strategic Priority: Next-Generation Professionals
Strategy: Effective Teachers and Leaders
Indicators: percent of effective teachers; percent of effective leaders

Strategic Priority: Next-Generation Support Systems
Strategy: Data systems that Inform Instruction and Policy Decisions
Indicators: Working Conditions Survey; Program Reviews

Strategic Priority: Next-Generation Schools and Districts
Strategies: Turn Around Low-Achieving Schools; Create Innovative Schools and Programs for Next-Generation Learning
Indicators: effective schools and districts per state report card

Friday, April 23, 2010

Vision for Education Reform in Kentucky

Governor Beshear will soon be appointing up to seven new members for the Kentucky Board of Education. The Governor also has appointed a Transforming Education in Kentucky (TEK) Task Force to make recommendations prior to the 2011 legislative session. Also, KDE is working hard to implement 2009’s Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), which requires a new accountability system, internationally benchmarked standards, formative and diagnostic assessments, student growth measures, and numerous other far-reaching initiatives.

I have started the process of engaging all advisory councils in the dialogue concerning a new accountability system and strategic plan for the Kentucky Board of Education. The board will hold a strategic retreat prior to its June meeting. The following information is a summary of what I have been proposing to our advisory groups and will provide to the board as a guide for the development of a revised accountability system and strategic plan.

The key to our success in transforming education in Kentucky will reside in our ability to focus on a few goals with a few strategies that are done with precision and fidelity. These few goals will focus on the vision of every child proficient and prepared for success. This vision will be measured by indicators of proficiency, growth and closing gaps among student groups.

Proficiency will be measured by the cohort graduation rate and our comparative position among states. Growth will be measured by the increases in our annual percentage of high school graduates who are prepared for college and career as compared against other states. Closing gaps will be measured by the decreases in gaps for the graduation and readiness rates among student groups in Kentucky as compared against other states.

The ultimate measure for the vision of Kentucky education will be informed by the following measures:
- National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Proficiency, Growth and Gap rates – 4th- and 8th-grade reading and mathematics
- Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) Proficiency, Growth and Gap rates – 8th-grade EXPLORE, 10th-grade PLAN and 11th-grade ACT

The Kentucky Board of Education will set biannual goals for each of the measures to reach and maintain a top 20 in the nation ranking.

There will be four strategic priorities with specific strategies and annual indicators of progress. These priorities, strategies and indicators are based on federal guidance provided by Race to the Top, State Fiscal Stabilization Funds and proposed reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Also, the priorities, strategies and indicators are based on state guidance provided by SB 1 (2009), SB 168 (2002), SB 130 (2006) and other state statutes. The priorities are Next Generation Learners, Next Generation Professionals, Next Generation Support Systems and Next Generation Schools and Districts.

Comments and suggestions concerning this vision for the new accountability system are very much appreciated. We will have community forums and focus groups as part of the Governor’s TEK Task Force in August, and all advisory councils (parents, teachers, business, superintendents, principals, students and others) will have opportunity for input.

Our board has a vision of ALL children proficient and prepared for success. While visions are great, they have no meaning unless you have measures and accountability for those.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Relationships Crucial to Student Success

In presentations, I often talk about relationships. The example I use was provided by my wife. On Valentine’s Day in 2007 she gave me a book – Change or Die. That usually gets a few laughs from the audience. However, the book really did validate a guiding principle that I have always tried to utilize in any position. Let me tell you more.

In the book, Alan Deutschman talks about heart bypass patients. In study after study, heart bypass patients are told that they must change their diet, exercise and stress levels or they will most certainly die. In study after study, the patients make these changes at the beginning, but within four years, only one out of nine bypass patients have actually continued with the needed changes. I always ask the audience -- if we cannot get heart bypass patients to change knowing that they will most certainly die, then how can we get educators and parents to change to help more children reach success?

Deutschman provides numerous examples of change that did stick. The number-one guiding principle for these successful change initiatives was relationship building. The phrase I always used in my work was that “kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” In other words, relationship-building with students, parents, teachers and others is the guiding principle for change. Until you build trust through honest and open communication, you will not be able to change a classroom, school, district or state education system.

A BIG concern of mine is what the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) competition is doing for relationship-building in some states. Tennessee and Delaware were awarded funds in Phase 1, and they were recognized for the strong support they had from all stakeholders. Both states had done good work in building a strong plan and building strong relationships. Kentucky also was one of the higher-scoring states for building relationships and having strong support, but we lacked a plan for charter schools, and our teacher/principal evaluation section needed improvement.

As we move forward in Phase 2 applications, I am seeing major breakdowns in relationships across the nation. Teachers in Florida recently staged a walkout over merit pay legislation that supposedly was intended to help RTTT. Colorado unions and union leaders in numerous states are very concerned about RTTT applications, and many are choosing not to participate or support. Principals and district superintendents across the nation are concerned about low-performing schools’ turnaround strategies and requirements. In other words, relationships are being strained all over the nation.

In Kentucky, I am very much concerned about placing too much strain on relationships. While we will continue to discuss charter schools and teacher/principal evaluation, we must continue to maintain and build relationships with all of our partners. What good would $175 million do if we are unable to implement the strategies in schools across ALL of Kentucky because our partners no longer trust or support the efforts?

However, the core of maintaining relationships should be a focus on the success of children. I want to maintain relationships and create change and innovation. The only way to balance these two is by focusing first on what the change and innovation will mean for the success of children. My promise to all is that we will focus first and foremost on the children, and if the adult needs run in opposition to the needs of children, then that adult relationship may need some additional work and communication.

The next few weeks will be intense, and there will be lots of opportunities for failure and success. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Assessment Plans for Kentucky

Senate Bill 1 requires development of new standards in language arts, mathematics, science and social studies by December 2010. As of today, we have been able to partner with 48 other states to develop internationally benchmarked standards in language arts and mathematics.

Kentucky was the first state to adopt the standards, and work begins on April 12 to unpack the standards and begin to translate them into teacher-friendly tools that should help guarantee a strong curriculum in every classroom in Kentucky. We also are in conversation with national leaders who are working on science standards; however, we do not anticipate those standards being completed until 2012. Due to the complicated nature of social studies standards, we are continuing to explore possible partnerships with other states.

Our attention now turns to development of summative and formative assessments based on the Common Core Academic Standards. The federal Race to the Top (RTTT) funds provided $350 million for this work. This week, the U.S. Department of Education released guidelines for states who are interested in applying for the funds. There are two categories of funding.

Category 1 addresses states who want to develop assessments in language arts and mathematics for grades 3-8 and high school (one assessment). States may apply for up to $160 million. The guidelines require a minimum of 15 states for a consortium, with five states serving as governing states. States also may work as design states and/or partnering states. In joining a consortium, states agree to implement the assessments, and the assessments would meet all requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Currently, there are two excellent consortia, and Kentucky is a member of both. However, we may only belong to one consortium, and we have to make a decision on membership within the next few weeks. Kentucky teachers would be heavily involved over the next few years in the development of assessment items and field testing the items from other states, regardless of which consortium we join.

The second category for funding is for development of high school course assessments. Again, Kentucky is well-positioned for this work. The Kentucky Board of Education has provided direction for end-of-course assessments. Senate Bill 1 provided end-of-course assessments as an option. Funding from the RTTT grants is up to $30 million. Through our partnership with the National Center on Education and the Economy, we will apply for these funds to assist in the adaption of existing international assessments to meet requirements of the grant.

Based on the guidelines, we believe that Kentucky will be a member of a funded consortium for both grants. However, we will encounter difficulties with Senate Bill 1 deadlines. We are scheduled to have an assessment ready by spring 2012. Under the funding guidelines, the new NCLB common core assessments would not be ready until the 2014-15 school year. The high school end-of-course assessments could be ready as soon as 2012.

Once the General Assembly session ends, we will meet with key legislators and the Interim Joint Committee on Education to seek guidance on the interim period. We hope to have clarity on this issue by the June-July state conferences. So … the good news is that the cost of development should be provided by the Race to the Top funding. The bad news is that the Senate Bill 1 deadlines may be a concern.

Our goal for state assessments is to provide formative assessment items throughout the year that are open-response, problem-solving and higher-order thinking types of assessment. We will provide standard scoring rubrics or allow school districts to develop and validate their own assessments. The summative assessments will be primarily multiple choice and constructed response. We are hoping to have a plan to score regionally and/or locally and provide feedback on assessments in a much shorter period than current practice. Reaching this goal will depend on our ability to gain funding for deployment. We have great leadership at KDE with the Office of Assessment and Accountability’s Associate Commissioner Ken Draut and the assessment team. Couple that with the terrific leadership of the district assessment coordinators, and Kentucky is in great shape for the future.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Why Charter Schools?

As a local superintendent in North Carolina, I was never a big fan of charter schools. I always felt that the charter law in North Carolina did not provide local control and did not focus enough on providing opportunities for children who were not achieving academically. Also, the charter school law in North Carolina has proven to resegregate schools, and in many cases, the more wealthy parents created charter schools that seemed to be exclusive.

However, over the years I have visited many outstanding charter schools across the nation, and I know that programs like Geoffrey Canada’s Promise Academy can close achievement gaps. So, as I came to Kentucky, I remained open about charter schools and have always supported parental choice of schools and programs based on the best interests of children.

Then, the Race to the Top (RTTT) guidelines were introduced, and the charter issue was placed front and center. Since I had been in Kentucky only a few months, it quickly became clear that I could either get superintendent and teacher support, or I might be able to get charter legislation; however, I could not get both.

In December, I met with teachers, school board members and superintendents and made the commitment that our Race to the Top application would not include charter school legislation. We promised to make our best case that school-based decision making (SBDM) councils provided everything that charter schools had and even more.

We did make a strong case on this and other components of the RTTT application. The Kentucky application was very strong -- we placed 9th overall in the scoring. However, when we analyzed the results, we were the only state to receive ZERO points for charter schools. The scorers were very clear that we must have charter school legislation to receive any points in this area. If we had scored the points in this area (32), we would have been the 2nd-highest-rated state and possibly been a first-round recipient.

So, the charter legislation is back on the table. As promised to school board members, teacher organizations and superintendents, the only way I could support charters is with these criteria:
Local boards would serve as the sole authorizing agent.
Teachers do not lose any personnel and collective bargaining rights, if relevant.
Charter schools must first and foremost address closing achievement gaps and meeting needs of children who are not achieving academically.

The Senate passed the legislation along party lines this week. If we had been able to discuss and meet individually with senators, I believe we could have achieved bipartisan support as we did with House Bill 176; however, the end of the session is very hectic, and there is not much time for debate and review.

Now, on to the House, and eventually a conference committee will meet to make the final decision on charter school legislation. My biggest concern will be the loss of superintendent, school board and teacher support for our Race to the Top application. I hope everyone will read the final version of the charter bill and find a very reasonable and practical approach to charters that will provide local boards and superintendents with full control. Also, I hope that educators and community members also will see the tremendous potential for innovation.

Charter schools that focus on dropouts, achievement gaps, early college, virtual learning and other possible innovations to help children achieve at higher levels will be possible. Of course, all of these are currently possible with SBDM councils and creative superintendents.

We are back to the main reason why we need charter legislation – hopefully, to help encourage creativity so more children will be successful. Also, charter legislation represents our best hope to obtain the points we need to receive up to $175 million in federal funds to implement many of the innovations that we hope to see. I wish there were easy answers, but, as with so many things, there are no easy answers.