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.