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.