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!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Finding ways to help more students succeed

Someone asked me this week if I ever get discouraged. The answer is, that after 38 years in the education profession, I often get discouraged. However, it never lasts more than a few seconds. I quickly come back to the mission and that is to help more children be successful.

I heard a speaker once ask the audience, “What is your purpose in life?” He then followed up with a method to determine your purpose in life. The speaker asked the audience to consider, “What keeps you awake at night and what wakes you up in the morning?” What keeps me up at night and wakes me in the morning is the desire to help more children reach success. Success in my book is defined as every child graduating from Kentucky schools ready for college and career.

This week, we are finishing up our second-round application for Race to the Top. Charter school legislation would certainly have helped us. However, that door has been closed, so it is time to move on to other doors. We are excited about numerous partnerships with national organizations that will help us move forward with innovations which will help more students be successful.

One exciting innovation is the P20 lab that the University of Kentucky has created. President Lee Todd and Dean Mary John O’Hair have invested significant resources to develop this lab. Also, Kentucky was selected as one of five states to partner with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Stupski Foundation to create “Next Generation Schools.” We have a team of UK staff and KDE staff meeting this week to discuss the next steps in creating next generation schools.

Another exciting opportunity is the National Council on Education and the Economy. Kentucky is one of eight states collaborating to develop ways that students can “move on when ready” in high school. This partnership will create exciting opportunities to ensure all graduates from Kentucky schools are ready for college and career.

Finally, just when you seem most discouraged you get a call from a superintendent who has visited an early college. Early college blends high school and college in a rigorous yet supportive program, compressing the time it takes to complete a high school diploma and the first two years of college. The superintendent reports seeing students reach success in early college who normally would have not been successful. The excitement of the leaders in our school districts in Kentucky is tremendous.

While Race to the Top is a major funding source for the future of Kentucky school innovation, whether we receive the funding or not is not the most important agenda item. The most important agenda item is finding innovative ways to help more children succeed!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Special Session to Focus on Budget Only

This week, Governor Steve Beshear called for a special session of the Kentucky General Assembly. At the time of this blog, the only agenda item is the budget. The special session was called for the week of May 24, and the Governor hopes for a five-day session, which is the minimum to pass legislation. You can see the Governor’s compromise budget and letter to the legislators here.

As commissioner, I am very proud of the Governor for maintaining a focus on education. The Governor is asking for no reduction in instruction for our children and no pay cuts for our teachers. Given the economic imperative that we improve our education outcomes in Kentucky, I am excited to see this focus on maintaining the critical elements of instruction and support for teachers.

While we had hoped to address charter schools in the special session, it does not appear that there is consensus on this issue at this time. While charter schools would have helped with our Race to the Top application for $175 million in federal funds, charter school legislation also would have opened up numerous windows of funding for innovation.

We have significant interest in Kentucky to implement early colleges and middle colleges. These programs have excellent track records across the country. They focus on helping more students graduate from high school with college- and career-readiness skills. Also, these programs help students graduate from high school with significant college credit hours (up to 60 or more). And, these programs are excellent interventions for students who may be considering dropping out of school at age 16.

During the regular legislative session, House Bill 301 focused on raising the dropout age. Early/middle colleges would have been great answers to how we provide programs to support the students who stayed in school because the age requirement would have been raised. Charter legislation would have provided an opportunity to access significant grant dollars from the federal charter school program. We had applied for up to $10 million to plan and implement 15 early/middle colleges. Without legislative support, we will not be eligible for these funds and many foundation funds that we were seeking.

What I have learned in many years of this work is that when one door closes, other doors open. We have one objective at the Kentucky Department of Education. We will work to help districts and schools meet the vision of every child graduating from high school “college- and career-ready.”

Friday, May 7, 2010

Value-Added Systems and Accountability

Those who are following news articles about Race to the Top or other education communications know there is a great deal of debate about holding teachers and principals accountable for student test scores. I have gone on record that I could never support a teacher or principal evaluation system that was solely based on the results of student test scores on a one-day, one-time test.

I recently reviewed an excellent report from the National Academy of Science workshop called “Getting Value Out of Value Added.” I encourage you to read the full report at (The report is available as a free download.)

This report focuses on the value-added concept, but also provides an excellent overview of the current state of testing and accountability in the assessment world. There are several models of assessment:

Status Model – this model is a snapshot at a certain point in time and answers questions such as “What percentage of students are meeting state proficiency standards?”
Cohort-to-Cohort Model – this model compares one group of students against another group of students. “How are 4th graders doing this year as compared to 4th graders last year?”
Growth Model – this model usually shows growth from year to year for individual students, classrooms and schools. There is usually a developmental growth scale that is the basis for measuring growth. I am very familiar with this model, since it was utilized in North Carolina and South Carolina, where I served as superintendent and testing coordinator.
Value-Added Model – Tennessee probably has the best example of a value-added model. This model attempts to answer the questions around how much value a particular teacher, school or program added to a student’s or group of students’ performance.

There are MANY yet unanswered issues and problems with all of the models. The report cited several concerns with value-added models.

Some research findings focused, for example, on problems with the tests that provide the raw data for value-added analyses; others were concerned with technical aspects of different value-added approaches, especially with sources of bias and imprecision; and still others focused on issues of transparency and public understanding of the results. Some of the concerns, such as the fact that tests are incomplete measures of student achievement, are general problems that arise. The major concern with value-added models is the inability of principals and schools to randomly assign students to teachers.

In Kentucky, our approach to the development teacher and principal effectiveness measures will be led by groups of practitioners and other stakeholders. As commissioner, I am appointing a steering committee for the teacher and principal effectiveness work. These groups will begin work very soon to manage the pilot process that we have been developing this year through support from the Wallace Foundation. Eventually, we hope to work closely with the General Assembly to make any necessary statutory changes and with the Education Professional Standards Board and Kentucky Board of Education to make appropriate regulatory changes. Our intent is to develop a statewide system of evaluation that is a valid, fair and reliable measure of teacher and principal effectiveness. We also hope to continue to work with our partners to develop superintendent and school board effectiveness measures.

While Race to the Top is currently driving this conversation, we also have State Fiscal Stabilization Funds, Title I, Title II, School Improvement Grants and other competitive programs pushing this conversation. We are NOT rushing into methods that could turn out to be unfair and not valid measures of effectiveness. We ARE heavily involving stakeholders in the development of the process, and we hope that Race to the Top will provide the funding to develop an outstanding effectiveness process that would lead to more children proficient and prepared for success.