Friday, December 16, 2011

More Options, Opportunities for Students

The last few days have seen significant action around implementation of recommendations from the Governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky (TEK) task force. For a full listing of the recommendations, go to

During the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) meeting on December 7, Tom Vanderark with Open Ed Solutions and David Cook, director of the Division of Innovation and Partner Engagement with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), presented the actions to follow up on the TEK recommendations concerning virtual learning and earning dual credit. The three key actions that we asked KBE to focus on are:

1) changing the role of KDE from being a provider of digital learning to being a regulator/broker of digital learning
2) addressing the legislative changes necessary to change from a traditional textbook approach to a focus on instructional resources that would include not only traditional textbooks, but also digital resources
3) addressing the legislative changes necessary to have funding for digital courses follow the student

These three actions follow closely with the recommendations from the Bluegrass Institute and the Digital Learning 2020 report. We are currently working with legislative staff to draft legislation to address these key actions. While we certainly want to move forward to provide our students with equity and access to dual credit courses and high-quality content, we also want to be very careful to avoid some of the pitfalls highlighted in an article published by the New York Times this week:

Also this week, Office of Career and Technical Education Director Dale Winkler presented recommendations of the Career and Technical Education committee, which also were follow ups to the TEK report. His PowerPoint presentation may be accessed here. We look forward to working with the House and Senate Education Committees during the legislative session to put these recommendations in place.

Governor Steve Beshear appointed the Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force in the fall of 2009. The task force presented its report in February 2011. It is exciting to see many of the recommendations coming into focus for the 2012 legislative session. Stay tuned for updates on our progress.

Given the upcoming holiday season, there will not be blogs for December 23 or 30. We will return on January 6. I hope readers have time over the coming holidays to enjoy activities with family and friends.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Time for Bold Action to Ensure Fiscal Strength

As we prepare for the General Assembly’s 2012 session, the primary concern I am hearing from teachers, principals and superintendents is the challenge of doing more with less.

Certainly, this is a challenge that many families are facing every day. The challenge for Kentucky educators is that 2009’s Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) required major reforms in learning standards, assessments, professional development and accountability.

The vision of SB 1 is very important for Kentucky children and Kentucky’s future. We must graduate more students from high school who are ready for college and career. Education certainly drives employment opportunities for our graduates, and employment drives our economy. However, the challenge remains to implement the requirements of SB 1 at a time when we see dwindling resources for instructional materials, early childhood opportunities, Family Resource and Youth Services Centers (FRYSCs), extended school services, professional development and jobs.

I am proposing a three-pronged method to deal with the challenge.

1. Productivity and efficiency must be our first approach to dealing with fewer resources. Already, we are seeing Kentucky school districts decreasing energy costs through energy management and energy education initiatives led by the Kentucky School Boards Association. Recently, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at a Kentucky conference that encouraged schools and districts to continue to look for ways to improve productivity and efficiency. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) will convene school district officials in the early part of the year to decide upon four to five key support processes in our schools that we can look at to determine costs per student and develop best-practice strategies to reduce operation costs so dollars can be redirected to support teaching and learning.

2. Redirection of dollars also must be a key strategy. We must look at the hundreds of millions of dollars that flow through KDE and determine which of the programs add value to our vision of college and career readiness. During the 2010-11 legislative sessions, I asked for flexibility with these flow-through dollars. I will once again ask for flexibility and ask members of the General Assembly to focus dollars toward SB 1 and the college- and career-readiness strategies. Also, through the federal No Child Left Behind waiver, school districts will have flexibility to utilize federal dollars in more effective ways to increase student learning.

3. Finally, I believe it is time to look for additional sources of revenue. Over the last two years, KDE has implemented a strategy to seek foundation and grant dollars. While we were not funded fully from our Race to the Top grant, we will receive $17 million in Round 3 to implement SB 1 strategies. Also, we have seen significant support from the Gates, Hewlett, Stupski, Carnegie and Wallace Foundations. While external dollars are appreciated, they cannot be sustained. Kentucky must look for recurring sources of revenue to sustain our efforts. Kentucky can no longer cut funding for basic needs like preschool, instructional materials, FRYSCs and other core programs. For every dollar we cut today, we are damaging the future of children and the future of Kentucky.

While the 2012 session does feature key issues such as redistricting, and an election year is looming, I feel it is important to ask for collaboration of elected officials to support education. Pursuant to 2010 budget language, I have asked Governor Steve Beshear to utilize available funds to fill the SEEK shortfall that we have announced today.

I’ve notified our district superintendents that we believe the SEEK shortfall will be approximately $58 million, based on multiple factors including higher attendance/growth and lower property assessments.

I hope that readers will join me in advocating for children and for the future of Kentucky. Our Governor and General Assembly strongly support education, and they will need our support and encouragement as they tackle these three strategies for supporting education. No one strategy can stand alone. This must be a coordinated effort to implement all three strategies. I look forward to discussion, debate and action over the next few months.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Partnering with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce on the Three “Es”

This week, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson and I started a 10-city tour to promote education improvement in Kentucky. The theme of our tour is that education drives employment, and employment drives the economy.

The future of Kentucky depends heavily on our ability to improve the educational attainment and outcomes for ALL Kentucky children. My comments for the first stop on the tour – Paducah -- may be found here. These comments focus on two major requests for local Chamber of Commerce members:

1. As the state implements more rigorous standards, we will need business and community leaders to clearly support the need for increased rigor and expectations of college and career readiness for all Kentucky children. There will be push-back that the standards are too rigorous and the assessments are too rigorous for Kentucky children and teachers. We must stand united in our expectations.

2. Schools alone cannot accomplish college and career readiness for all Kentucky children. Business and community leader involvement is specifically requested for Operation Preparation. This program is set for March 12-16, 201,2 and every 8th- and 10th-grade Kentucky student will meet with an adult volunteer who will advise the student on preparation for college and career. The Kentucky Department of Education will provide training and resources for volunteers. Since there are almost 50,000 8th graders and over 45,000 10th graders, we will need many adult volunteers.

My thanks to Dave Adkisson and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce for their support of education. Education is the number-one item on the chamber’s legislative agenda and its strategic plan.

In our visits, we will also talk to local editorial boards and media outlets, and we hope to see extensive coverage of the college- and career-ready expectations and Operation Preparation.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rough Times Require Efficient Solutions

"No one makes tough choices in flush times."

"Don't let a crisis go to waste."

These are popular quotes nowadays. As I talk with educators across the nation, they are confronted with aggressive change agendas during a time of dwindling resources.

In a Kappan article this month, (“How to steer the tough budget road ahead - Accelerate your performance”), Rick Hess builds on his recent book Stretching the School Dollar with several key recommendations.
  • Districts should take a close look at talent distribution through the lens of identifying priorities. This may mean reductions in programs and services that are not top priorities.
  • Districts should look closely at performance management and benchmarking of key processes to identify waste and improvement opportunities.
  • Districts should look at unit costs for services and programs to identify inefficiencies in delivery.
  • Districts and states should look closely at salaries and benefits. 
While I am not in total agreement with Hess, we did recently host a productivity conference featuring Kentucky districts, the American Productivity Quality Council and 2010 Baldrige recipient Montgomery County, Md. The day culminated in a speech by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that celebrated Kentucky’s school success and challenges for improving student outcomes. You can see a recording of that speech here.

Moving forward, we announced two major initiatives that do reflect the recommendations from Hess. We will begin to highlight best practices of performance management through our Performance Efficiencies Recognition for Kentucky Schools (PERKS) awards, and we will convene district officials to start a study in unit costs (per-student costs) for operational services. It is not our intent to include these measures in accountability; however, we do want to provide districts with comparative information to identify potential savings in operations that could be redirected to classroom support.

While there are some signals of economic recovery, many experts are predicting Kentucky will not fully recover until 2015. School leaders are well advised to "not let a crisis go to waste." As we’re hearing frequently, "Now is the time to accelerate your performance."

Friday, November 4, 2011

National Assessment of Educational Progress

This week seemed to focus on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), particularly the release of reading and mathematics scores. A few months ago, I was appointed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to fill one of the two chief state school officer positions on the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB). This board was established by Congress in 1988 to oversee the NAEP assessments and procedures. I am one of 26 members. The membership includes teachers, principals, business, parents, legislators and governors. The group meets quarterly to address the statutory requirements of the 1988 legislation. This group is different than most groups I serve on, because the group is a governing body and not solely an advisory body.

An interesting issue with which the NAGB is dealing is the participation rates of 12th graders. In order to make the 12th-grade assessment more meaningful to students, teachers and school districts, the NAGB is working on linking the 12th-grade results to college and career readiness. This will be very important to Kentucky and the nation as we move our accountability models toward college and career readiness.

Kentucky has seen significant progress in 4th- and 8th-grade NAEP results in reading and math. Kentucky also performs very well in science as compared to the nation. It is great to see Kentucky reading scores in 4th and 8th grades above the national average. Also, it is good to see 4th-grade math scores above the national average and 8th-grade math scores closing the gap to the national average, where we are now only one point below the national average. It is also good to see continued improvement as a nation in both reading and math.

There was certainly good news in the NAEP results; however, there is much work left to do as a nation and a state. My biggest concern for our nation and state is the achievement gaps based on poverty and race. In 4th-grade math for Kentucky, there is a 19-point gap for poverty and an 18-point gap for race. While both of those gaps are better than the national gaps, and we have closed the gaps since 2000, we must redouble our efforts for children in poverty. In 4th-grade reading, the Kentucky gaps are 20 points for poverty and 16 points for race. Again, we are better than the national gaps and have improved since 2000. The 8th-grade gaps tell a similar story.

Readers may want to refer to my October 21 blog for my thoughts on actions we are taking and need to take as individuals and collectively as a state to make progress on closing achievement gaps.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The First Step Toward NCLB Flexibility

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has posted the state’s application for flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, which was reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

KDE welcomes public comment on the state’s application, which is posted on KDE’s Unbridled Learning page, here. Comments and feedback may be sent to Comments will be accepted until Tuesday, November 8.

Today’s posting marks the culmination of over two years of work by the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) and KDE. Since the passage of Senate Bill 1 in 2009, KDE and KBE have been working with partners across Kentucky and the nation to develop the model for next-generation teaching and learning. Through the adoption of the Common Core Standards, implementation of those standards in Kentucky classrooms, building of resources to support the Common Core Standards, professional development to support the standards, assessment of Common Core Standards and now an accountability model that drives the focus on college/career readiness and student growth, Kentucky has led the nation in this important work.

Over the last two years, there have been thousands of manpower hours spent in meeting with partners and key stakeholder groups to develop the model that is the basis for the NCLB waiver request. I wanted to use this blog to let the staff at KDE know what a terrific job they have done in working closely with our partners and stakeholders to develop the model for next-generation teaching and learning. I want to thank the General Assembly for its overwhelming support for the focus on college/career readiness for all students. I want to thank the members of the Kentucky Board of Education for their resolve in developing a balanced model focused on college and career readiness.

I hope readers will take the time to review the waiver application and provide feedback and suggestions.

Our next step is to submit the waiver application by November 14 and then work closely with the U.S. Department of Education in a peer review process to get approval for our model in January 2012. The waiver would begin immediately; however, most flexibility actions would happen after results from the 2011-12 school year.

You can see more details on the process at

Friday, October 21, 2011

Closing the Achievement Gap

Last Sunday as I was returning from the airport, I listened to the CNN coverage of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial dedication. I listened to President Barack Obama’s remarks as part of the dedication ceremony, and I listened to the entire “I Have a Dream” speech played as part of the dedication.

I could not help but reflect on the past 50 years. As a student in a segregated school until 10th grade, I can vividly remember the activities around integration in our local school system. Then as a college student, I recall traveling with the Furman University band in Washington, D.C. during the riots in the late 1960s. Then as a teacher, I recall the integration of the Gaffney, South Carolina schools and the student walkouts and near-riots related to forced integration.

Throughout my 40-year education career, I have watched our nation and our schools struggle with issues related to integration and helping all children succeed. Our nation began the path toward equity with the Brown v. Board of Education case. One of the cases that was combined into the Brown case came from a school district in South Carolina (Clarendon 3). I visited that school district as part of a team assigned to support the school district in the 1990s. I was saddened to see that not much had changed. The system was still segregated. The public schools were almost 100 percent minority, and white parents sent their students to private academies. The local board was still controlled by local land owners who would not support raising taxes to adequately fund the needs of students.

This system and others were highlighted in a documentary that aired a few years ago called Corridor of Shame. President Obama even highlighted a student who had written about the need for improved schools in this area, and if my memory is correct, there were substantial changes to the school where she attended in a Dillon, South Carolina district.

All of this reflection comes back to a couple of core questions – are we providing equity in access and outcomes for ALL children? Have we closed achievement gaps? These are questions that certainly have clear answers based on the data across the nation and across Kentucky. Look carefully at the achievement gap data in your school and school district. Look carefully at the suspension and discipline rates for minority students in your schools. Look carefully at the percentage of minority students that graduate from high school that are college/career ready, attend postsecondary and graduate from postsecondary. How many minority teachers, principals, superintendents and board members serve in our local school districts?

Almost two years ago, I revitalized the Commissioners Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps Council (CRACGC). This council recently published recommendations to ensure equity in access and outcomes. The recommendations from the council will become a required component for a new group of schools and districts that will be identified as part of our No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver request.

This new group of schools will be called “focus schools.” The Kentucky Department of Education will identify those schools that have the largest achievement gaps. These schools will be required to address achievement gap issues through school and district plans. Targeted interventions will increase with each year that the school or district does not meet targets to close achievement gaps.

My biggest fear is that, even with our best efforts through state accountability, a commissioner of education will be writing an article in another 40 years documenting that not much progress has been made ensuring equity of access and outcomes for ALL children.

What will the collective WE do differently over the next 5-10 years? The collective WE must involve communities in addressing poverty and access. The collective WE must address early childhood education, since that is where the gap can best be closed. The collective WE must address jobs and hope in our most challenged communities.

We cannot rely solely on teachers and schools to make a difference (we tried that with No Child Left Behind). We cannot mandate equity. Equity must be a belief that a community holds dear and then takes action to accomplish.

You are part of the collective WE. What will YOU do?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Great Teachers and Leaders in Kentucky

As readers know, I have a goal to visit all 174 Kentucky school districts by August 2012. Currently, I have visited more than 100 districts and over 300 schools. When I visit, I like to ask teachers and principals about the challenges they are facing.

In 2009, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1 (SB 1)without opposition. This legislation required implementation of new standards, new assessments and a new accountability system by the 2011-12 school year. When I talk with teachers and principals, this is usually the focus of my conversation.

What I often hear is the overwhelming nature of what we have asked teachers and leaders to do. They have been asked to completely transform expectations for students and student performance during a time when there have been significant cuts to professional development and instructional resources.

In spite of the challenges, I have found terrific leaders and teachers in every school. They are working hard to meet the challenges of SB 1. They are digging hard to find resources to help each other and to help each student reach his or her potential.

To all the teachers and leaders in our schools, I want to say “thank you” for your professionalism and dedication to the future of our children. Hang in there, because two or three years from now, we will certainly see the payoff for your hard work and dedication.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Progress in Persistently Low-Achieving Schools

At the Kentucky Board of Education meeting this week, Associate Commissioner Dewey Hensley and the District 180 team provided an update on the persistently low-achieving (PLA) schools identified in 2010.

We are very excited to see excellent progress in year one. While one year of data does not make a trend, we are anticipating a more detailed evaluation report from the University of Kentucky in coming months. These data suggest that the districts, schools, principals, teachers and students are dedicated to improvement in student learning outcomes. These data also suggest that Kentucky and districts stay the course in working with PLAs.

Our No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver request must address the issue of “priority schools,” which are defined the same as the PLAs, so I anticipate that the Kentucky waiver request will have an excellent story to share with the reviewers.

Here are some highlights from the report on PLA schools.

Data Summary: 90 percent of the schools identified as “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools — Cohort One” demonstrated statistically significant increases in the percentage of students scoring proficient or distinguished in math. Ninety percent of the PLA Cohort One schools also demonstrated statistically significant increases in reading.

* The average gain for all the PLA Cohort Schools combined in mathematics was 16 percent.
* The average gain for all the PLA Cohort Schools combined in reading was 10.33 percent.
* The combined average growth for all PLA schools was 13.16 percent.
* Kentucky’s overall math proficient/distinguished percentage stayed statistically the same.
* Kentucky’s overall gain for reading proficient/distinguished was 1.06 percent.
* Averages and gains disaggregated by turnaround model employed:
o Schools using the Transformation Model posted average increase of 14.43 percent in math and an average increase of 7.02 percent in reading.
o Schools using the Re-Staffing Model posted average increases of 16 percent in math and an average increase of 12.27 percent in reading.

Data Inferences

* Although the overall gains were larger in mathematics, that content area lags behind literacy across the state.
* The present Educational Recovery system, with a team of three Educational Recovery Specialists and an Educational Recovery Director in each region, seems an effective means for increasing achievement due to the fact that 100 percent of schools showed improvement in at least one of the two content areas.
* Rapid rises in achievement are possible in larger schools.
* The “team approach” to support PLAs has paid dividends for our investment in achievement.
* There is much to do — some schools gained, but had fewer students tested due to dropouts and enrollment changes.
* Focus on achievement — whether internally or externally motivated — is a good trait.

Friday, September 30, 2011

NCLB Waiver Update

Last week, I had the honor of participating in the announcement of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver process by President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Also, I was honored to participate in a media call after the announcement with Sec. Duncan and Georgia State School Superintendent John Barge.

I applaud President Obama and Sec. Duncan for listening to governors, state superintendents, local superintendents, parents, teachers and students who have asked for NCLB flexibility. While we all would prefer that Congress reauthorize NCLB (currently four years past due), we certainly appreciate the President and Sec. Duncan for allowing states to generate innovation and reform to establish higher levels of performance for students, schools and districts.

For interested readers, the U.S. Department of Education has lots of information concerning the waiver process at The flexibility and waiver do require states to respond to four major areas – college/career ready standards; differentiated accountability and support; improving instruction and leadership; and state review of regulations to allow local districts flexibility from NCLB requirements.

Thanks to 2009’s Senate Bill 1, Kentucky is in a strong position to address these major areas. For over two years, Kentucky has been engaged in developing a differentiated accountability model based on college/career-ready standards and individual student growth. The staff at the Kentucky Department of Education are working overtime to prepare our waiver application, and we believe that Kentucky has an excellent opportunity to meet the requirements for the waiver.

Our timeline for the waiver application is very short; however, we do not anticipate any problems in meeting the deadline. We have to submit by November 14. We will have a statewide webinar on October 19 and meet either face-to-face or through webinars with all advisory groups. Our final draft will be reviewed by our teacher, principal and superintendent advisory groups in late October, and we will provide a public review of our application prior to submission.

I want to assure readers that the waiver process is not an attempt to lower standards or expectations. It is just the opposite. Senate Bill 1 raised expectations to college and career ready for all students AND proficiency for all students. Our waiver request will push for the innovation and flexibility to meet these increased expectations.

As the President stated in his announcement, we cannot wait another generation to get this right. Our children’s future and the economic future of our state and nation are dependent upon our improvement in getting more graduates ready for college and career.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Career and Technical Education: Innovation and Integration

In 2009, Governor Steve Beshear created the Task Force on Transforming Education in Kentucky (TEK). Over a 15-month period, the TEK Task Force met 10 times and hosted a statewide community forum in which more than 1,500 Kentuckians shared their views on improving education in the Commonwealth. On February 21, 2011, the TEK Task Force released a report, Breaking New Ground: Final report of the Governor’s Task Force on Transforming Education in Kentucky, which contained 35 recommendations derived from this process.

One of the recommendations made in that report called for the Secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and the Commissioner of Education to establish a steering committee to develop a comprehensive statewide plan to implement a new model of secondary career and technical education (CTE) with an emphasis on innovation and integrating core academics, 21st-century skills, project-based learning and the establishment of full-time CTE programs. This plan was intended to be implemented by the 2012 General Assembly.

This week, the steering committee reviewed the first draft of a discussion paper that addresses the recommendations from the TEK Task Force. The discussion paper included the recommendations from six study groups. These groups were focused on sector strategies; curriculum and programs; assessment and accountability; professional development; operations; and Perkins fund management. The study groups included stakeholders from across the CTE spectrum.

Recently, I had the opportunity to review CTE programs in China and Brazil. These countries are among the fastest-growing in jobs that have a positive impact on the economy. In Brazil, I was particularly interested in the rapid decision-making process to implement CTE programs that meet the sector needs of the country. Given that Brazil is hosting the 2016 Olympics, there is a huge unmet need for construction workers and other skilled workers to address infrastructure needs for the Olympic games. Through this focus on career and technical education and alignment with the jobs that are needed, Brazil is enlarging and strengthening its middle class.

While traveling to Brazil, I read Tom Friedman’s new book – That Used to be Us. Friedman promotes the theory that many of the countries (China, Brazil, India and Russia) have taken a page from the U.S. in promoting education, infrastructure and innovation, while the U.S. seems to be mired in a political quagmire of inaction. As I was watching the excitement and commitment to career and technical education in Brazil, I could not help but think Friedman got the title of the book right.

I hope that our General Assembly will follow the recommendations from the CTE committees and integrate/elevate career technical education in this state so that Kentucky graduates are prepared for the world that they will face and the jobs of the future.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Follow-Up on Digital Summit

Last week, I mentioned several articles concerning digital learning. One article gave me concern -- “In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores.” This article from the New York Times seemed to take us back about 20 years by looking at outdated models of technology with a focus on measures that limit the creativity and innovation of our students and teachers to create higher levels of learning and success. As I was beginning to prepare the blog for this week, I ran across a response from Tom Vander Ark that spoke so well to the issue that I share his response below.

Matt Richtel wrote the rearview mirror story of the last decade -- technology layered on top of how we've always done school yielding meager results, at least when measured in traditional ways. The story of this decade is that personal digital learning will change the world.

The Sunday feature in the New York Times did a disservice to the field. It's easy to make sweeping statements about the past and prop up critics. Richtel knows well the case for digital learning; he just chose to leave it out.

Where technology is designed in rather than layered on, it is transformational. When it creates entirely new learning opportunities, like the 4 million students learning online, it is transformational. When it enables schools that blend the best of online and onsite learning, it is transformational. Why would Matt look only at weak examples and skip the 40 blended models featured in the Innosight Report, "The Rise of Blended Learning?”

For two years, Gov. Bob Wise's Alliance for Excellent Education has been calling attention to the skill gap, the funding gap and the effective teacher gap. A July report stated, "The Alliance concludes that taking advantage of digital learning to expand opportunities and access for students, especially in rural and urban areas, is the only way to address these issues." The Alliance report goes on to outline 10 examples of smart uses of instructional technology. Why didn't Matt talk to Bob? Why didn't Matt talk to Susan Patrick from the online learning association?

Weak ROI on computers in schools is an old story, but the future will not look like the past. Hundreds of schools and pilot projects make the case for personal digital learning. More broadband, cheap access devices, new apps and powerful platforms are reshaping how people learn. Learning technology is reshaping the world by making education more personal and by creating more time and opportunity.
1. More personal. Instruction at the right level, in the best mode, at the right time, is more effective teaching to the middle of a class with big skill differences; Rocketship's John Danner thinks it's often 10 times more effective. Personalized math products like MIND Research, McGraw's Power of U, and games-based products like Dreambox and Mangahigh have all demonstrated great early results.
2. More time. Online learning allows schools to stretch staffing ratios and leverage teacher talent. Schools that blend online and onsite instruction can afford a longer day and year. Engaging work and motivating feedback are extending learning time. Schools like Rocketship show that it's possible to double productive learning time for kids who need it most.
3. More opportunity. Where policy barriers have come down, online learning is creating more opportunity for every student: access to every AP course, every foreign language course, every STEM course. Online learning is powering virtual schools and new blended models. It's helping students at risk catch up and graduate.

These benefits are evident today in schools like Carpe Diem and in networks like AdvancePath. The benefits are accelerating, and there's no going back. All new teachers grew up digital. Kids come to school wired. Many new learning apps are free and expanding virally. The "new normal" economy is demanding more knowledge and skill, but the fiscal crisis is demanding better outcomes for less money.

A look back is only of value if we learn from success stories as well as mistakes. Matt knows the story; he just left out the good parts: personal digital learning is transforming American public education and extending access to millions of students worldwide.

In Kentucky, we are working toward the transformational model for digital learning. We have launched the Unbridled Learning strategic plan that focuses on unleashing the innovation and creativity of our students and teachers to meet the goal of college/career readiness for all. Look for the final set of recommendations from our digital summit later this fall

Friday, September 9, 2011

Digital Learning in Kentucky

This week, we held a digital summit that was the culmination of a needs assessment conducted by OpenEd Solutions. This consultant group was hired to assess the current situation concerning digital learning in Kentucky and produce recommendations for possible legislative and regulatory changes needed to support the enhancement of digital learning in the state. The recommendations will be informed by the needs assessment and the recent report Digital Learning Now.

Prior to the digital summit, several articles caught my attention. An article in the Huffington Post – “Many U.S. Schools Adding iPads, Trimming Textbooks” -- discussed the emerging trend of digital textbooks using the iPad as the platform. Recently, we announced the launch of iTunes U at Woodford County High School, and that district was mentioned in the article as one of over 600 school districts in the nation that have launched a 1:1 tablet project to provide digital learning resources and textbooks to students. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has developed a digital version of the Algebra II textbook with free interactive digital resources for students and teachers. The digital textbook sells for $60, and the hardcover sells for $73. It is yet to be seen if publishers will offer digital textbooks and materials at a significant savings that in turn could be used to purchase tablets or netbooks. Our recommendations from the digital report will certainly have to discuss funding models that allow districts to use textbook funding (if we ever have textbook funds again) for the purchase of digital resources and equipment.

A key question to be addressed will be student and teacher access to websites. Currently, our state and many districts interpret Internet protection regulations very stringently. This means students and teachers often complain to the technology staff that important resources are not accessible. In the New York Times this past weekend, I read an article on how students are helping teachers find ways around district/school Internet firewalls to access Facebook. Given the innovation of our students, it is impossible to successfully block inappropriate sites. Our digital report will certainly have to address this issue and how we manage access in the future, given limited resources.

Finally, the ultimate question relates to student learning outcomes. Does digital learning make a difference in student learning outcomes? In another New York Times article, “In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores,” the Kyrene School District in Arizona is highlighted. This district is a suburban district that obtained, through a ballot initiative, $33 million for investments in technology. Every classroom is a “classroom of the future,” with Smartboards, wireless, response devices and computers. As the district prepares to continue the technology focus with a $56 million ballot initiative this fall, concerns have risen over stagnant test scores in reading and math. Professor Larry Cuban from Stanford University says there is no evidence in the research that technology enhances student learning outcomes, and there seems to be no justification for this level of expenditure. Teachers in the district question the funding for technology in a time of tight budgets and lack of resources such as paper and Kleenex for classrooms.

Digital learning in Kentucky is at a crossroads. Certainly, any use of resources must focus on student learning with the outcome of college/career readiness for all students. In a time of limited resources, do we support digital learning expenditures? Look for next week’s blog, when I’ll discuss this important question.

Friday, September 2, 2011

What is Proficiency?

From the annual National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) analysis of state proficiency standards compared to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scoring scales:

“NCLB required states to develop their own assessments and set proficiency standards to measure student achievement. Each state controls its own assessment programs, including developing its own standards, resulting in great variation among the states in statewide student assessment practices. This variation creates a challenge in understanding the achievement levels of students across the United States.”

Since 2003, NCES has supported research to compare the proficiency standards of NAEP with those of individual states. The latest report was recently released and is available

What did this year’s report tell us about Kentucky’s and other states’ assessments as compared to NAEP results?
· In grade 4 reading, 35 states have proficiency cut scores that are below the basic cut score on NAEP. Fifteen states have proficiency cut scores between basic and proficient. No state has a cut score for proficient that equals the NAEP proficiency cut score. Kentucky has the 17th-highest cut score on this comparison, and it is slightly below the basic level on NAEP.
· In grade 8 reading, 16 states are below NAEP’s basic level, and 34 states are between basic and proficient on the NAEP scale. No state has a proficiency score equal to or above NAEP proficiency levels. Kentucky ranks 12th among the states, and the Kentucky proficient level is between the NAEP basic and proficient levels.
· In grade 4 math, seven states have proficient cut scores below the NAEP basic level; one state (Massachusetts) has a proficient cut score at or above NAEP proficient cut score; and 42 states are between basic and proficient. Kentucky ranks 22nd and is between basic and proficient.
· In grade 8 math, Kentucky ranks 15th and is between basic and proficient. Massachusetts is the only state with proficient cut scores at or above the NAEP proficient level.

What does this mean? Kentucky’s cut scores for our state assessments are, for the most part, in the top third of states, and when compared to NAEP levels, our cut scores are between basic and proficient levels.

As we implement the new accountability system, the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) will set student performance levels for novice, apprentice, proficient and distinguished. The KBE will receive guidance and advice from many groups of stakeholders. Our National Technical Advisory Panel for Assessment and Accountability (NTAPAA) and our School Curriculum, Accountability and Assessment Council (SCAAC) will play key roles.

My recommendation to the KBE will focus on establishing levels that are linked closely to college/career readiness. We have hired experts to establish these levels from 8th grade back to 3rd grade. Our high school end-of-course assessments already have these levels linked to PLAN and ACT results.

What does this mean to parents, students, teachers, principals, superintendents and the public? They will see proficiency levels in Kentucky move from 70 percent or higher in many grade levels to proficiency levels more closely aligned to NAEP and college readiness results.

Many states are moving in this direction. Recently, Tennessee took this major step. Virginia, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia and others are moving to proficiency levels that predict college/career readiness.

This is the right thing to do for our children and their future. The percentages of proficient students may drop, and readers should understand the reasons why. The key will be communication that there are new standards and new expectations, and it will not be appropriate to compare results from the spring 2012 assessment to those from the 2011 assessment. Hopefully, our media representatives will get that message. Now is the time to start the conversation at the state and local levels.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Digital Learning in Kentucky

Kentucky was one of the early leaders in virtual learning. Today, we are struggling to find the appropriate methods for funding, support and innovation.

Over the past two years, we have been working first through the Transforming Education in Kentucky task force and now through an “innovative pathways to graduation” committee to define how we can create more opportunities for students and teachers to engage in digital learning.

Our work in Kentucky is being informed through the Digital Learning Now report that was a collaborative project of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise. We have been utilizing the services of a consulting firm – OpenEd Solutions – to develop key recommendations for policy and budget decisions. The consulting firm is conducting an analysis of current digital learning conditions in Kentucky and will host a Digital Summit on September 7 in Lexington to further develop a final report. The final report will then be presented to Kentucky Board of Education and key legislators for action in the 2012 session.

This week saw some exciting potential for the future of digital learning in Kentucky. In a joint press conference held at Woodford County High School, Governor Steve Beshear, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto, Kentucky Educational Television Executive Director Shae Hopkins and I announced the launch of the Kentucky on iTunes U site. This free source provides access to numerous teacher- and student-friendly sites that provide unlimited opportunities for digital learning.

Also, it was exciting to witness the deployment of a 1:1 iPad solution in Woodford County High classrooms. Students and teachers demonstrated exciting new opportunities for digital learning. Superintendent Scott Hawkins and his team are to be commended for their innovative work. Woodford County joins many other Kentucky school districts with similar 1:1 projects and a focus on innovation.

Our partners at the UK P20 Innovation Lab and the Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE) are stretching our thinking for the future. Also, a group of 16 school districts is partnering with us through the Stupski Foundation and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to design the next generation of schools and learning opportunities.

The energy, interest and creative abilities exist in Kentucky to create the national model for digital learning. Stay tuned for the final report from our digital summit.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Operation Preparation

This week, Kentucky was host to the annual release of ACT results. The annual data release is usually held in Washington, D.C. This year, ACT, Inc. wanted to highlight the national focus on college and career readiness.

When ACT staff called to ask me if they could coordinate the national release with our state release, they said Kentucky was one of the leading states in implementing the college and career readiness agenda in the nation. We chose the Jessamine County Career and Technical Center to highlight the work of Superintendent Lu Young and her community in implementing the Commonwealth Commitment for College and Career Readiness. While we did have to choose one location for the announcement, the location represented the tremendous work that all schools and districts in the Commonwealth are doing to implement the Commonwealth Commitment.

ACT President Jon Erickson highlighted the areas where the nation and Kentucky have improved and also offered several suggestions for improvement at the state and national levels. We were informed that, of the four states who have made significant progress on ACT results, Kentucky ranks second.

Rep. Carl Rollins and Sen. Ken Winters made remarks about the importance of Senate Bill 1 and Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) legislation. Council on Postsecondary Education President Bob King also highlighted the legislative history and the tremendous partnership between P-12 and higher education in Kentucky.

As we celebrate the national-level attention that Kentucky is receiving due to Senate Bill 1 and the subsequent implementation of our Unbridled Learning strategic plan, I wanted to focus on why this is important to all Kentucky citizens. Senate Bill 1, while focused on education, was also the most important economic development legislation passed in recent history.

Why? Education equals employment, which in turn equals an improved economy. The research is very clear. A more-educated populace will mean improved opportunities for Kentucky citizens with health care, jobs that pay higher wages, less dependency on social programs, improved tax receipts and a safer community.

Senate Bill 1 also raised the expectations for ALL Kentucky children and improved the chances that ALL Kentucky children would receive an education that prepares them for their future. With our focus on administering the ACT to 100 percent of Kentucky public high school juniors, we have seen a dip in our overall scores. This was to be expected, as evidenced by the 11 other states that have more than 90 percent of students taking the ACT.

However, we are seeing slow and steady trends of improvement. The key number for me is the number of test takers in Kentucky. In 2008, we had 31,728 students take the ACT. In 2011, we had 46,428 students take the ACT. This is an increase of more than 14,000 students.

In 2008, slightly more than 6,000 students in Kentucky met all ACT college-ready benchmarks. In 2011, over 7,400 Kentucky graduates met ACT college-ready benchmarks. By assessing all students, we have discovered more than 1,400 students who are college- and career-ready and that normally would not have taken the ACT. As we continue to focus our college and career ready agenda on all children, we will continue to find more children who did not believe they had the capacity to attend college.

As we find more and more children who have the ability, we will need to find ways to support them academically and financially. A key support for these students is college and career advising. We announced a statewide project, Operation Preparation, this week. This is an effort to provide advising to all 8th and 10th graders in Kentucky during the week of March 12-16, 2012.

Our school counselors have a student-to-counselor ratio of one to over 500. It is impossible for our counselors to individualize college/career advising, so we are asking our many partners across the state to assist. We are asking PTAs, chambers of commerce, Workforce Investment Boards, higher education and business to assist in Operation Preparation.

While there are many details to work out with regard to volunteer screening and training, we are announcing the initiative now so volunteers can start planning their schedules. The Kentucky Department of Education will coordinate this project and provide a toolkit for implementation of Operation Preparation. Look for many more details in the near future.

It is our hope that volunteers across the state will dedicate an hour or two next spring to improve the future of the Commonwealth and the future of a child.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Movement on NCLB Waiver Requests

This week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the timeline for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver requests. Sec. Duncan indicated that the preference was reauthorization of NCLB by Congress, which is four years past due. However, given the dysfunctional nature of Congress, it is very unlikely that relief will come through reauthorization.

While some states are looking for relief, Kentucky is actually looking to implement a more reasonable and balanced system of accountability. The Kentucky General Assembly required this system through legislation in 2009 (Senate Bill 1). The Kentucky Board of Education approved the final regulation to implement the accountability system at its August 2011 meeting.

For the latest description of the accountability model, click here. For a side-by-side comparison of the NCLB and Kentucky accountability models, click here.

Sec. Duncan announced this week that the U.S. Department of Education (USED) would provide a framework for accountability waivers in mid-September, and states may submit responses to the framework after that date. In Kentucky, we are preparing background information for our response, and I anticipate we will once again be the first state in the nation to submit the paperwork in response to the USED framework.

The USED framework will be very similar to the Race to the Top criteria, and given that Kentucky was a finalist and had unanimous support from school districts and teacher organizations in the Race to the Top application, I feel certain we will be in excellent shape for a waiver. Also, I do not believe there will be any conditions that our superintendents, school boards and teacher organizations would not be able to support.

The key waiver components of college/career-ready standards, use of data, student growth and teacher/principal effectiveness are components of our Unbridled Learning strategic plan. I project the teacher/principal effectiveness component will require states to develop models of teacher/principal effectiveness over a 2-3 year period of time, and we are right on target with that time frame.

In September, we will release the results of spring 2011 testing and the subsequent NCLB ratings and consequences. Last spring, we predicted that more than 85 percent of our districts would not meet the NCLB adequate yearly progress targets and more than 65 percent of our schools would not meet the targets. NCLB loses credibility when we start to see these types of numbers, and our focus in Kentucky has changed from minimum competency on math and reading to a focus on college and career readiness for ALL Kentucky children.

Stay tuned for further developments on the accountability waiver process.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Commonwealth Diploma: A History and the Future

In 1985, the Kentucky State Board for Elementary and Secondary Education (later known as the Kentucky Board of Education, or KBE), implemented a regulation that described the Commonwealth Diploma program. The goal of the program was to encourage students to participate in higher-level courses and receive state-level recognition for their efforts. The program also provided reimbursement to students who took Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams while working toward the diploma.

The KBE took final action this week on the procedural steps to remove the regulatory language that established the Commonwealth Diploma. There are some key points that I wanted to provide readers.
· The Commonwealth Diploma was never a legislative action. The Kentucky Board of Education enacted regulatory language to set the conditions for the diploma.
· One component of the diploma is reimbursement for AP courses for which students meet requirements. The funding for this reimbursement was never appropriated and has been paid for from Gifted and Talented funds.
· The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has not been able to meet all funding requests in recent years, so the reimbursement has not been equal among schools and districts.
· Universities do not recognize the Commonwealth Diploma as an advantage for admissions. Admission counselors look more closely at GPAs and scores on Advanced Placement assessments.
· School districts now have the capacity to implement any recognition they wish for diplomas.
· Seniors for the 2011-12 school year are grandfathered in. Any student in the Commonwealth Diploma pipeline who graduates in 2011-12 will receive the recognition.
· Prior to registration for courses for the 2012-13 school year, a committee will bring recommendations back to KBE regarding the recommended parameters for special diploma recognition. These special recognitions could include but not be limited to STEM, career/technical, arts, world language and Advanced Placement.

KDE has provided school district superintendents with specific information about the Commonwealth Diploma and have informed the Interim Joint Committee on Education of KBE actions. The action by the KBE was not to reduce rigor or expectations, but to develop expectations that meet 21st-century skills for multiple diploma recognitions and to ensure equity and excellence across all schools and districts in the Commonwealth.

Should readers seek additional information, please contact Robin Chandler at (502) 564-9850 or

UPDATE: Due to input from legislators, school district personnel and parents, Kentucky Department of Education staff recommended to the Kentucky Board of Education that the Commonwealth Diploma program be continued an additional year, with no funding, before its discontinuation. This would allow those already in the pipeline to earn the diploma to complete the program, extend the life of the program through the 2012-13 school year and give more time for other options to be developed to take the place of the Commonwealth Diploma. The board unanimously approved this proposal.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Heat Index is Rising on Unbridled Learning

The hot days of July and August have always been a period of excitement for me. As a former high school band director, this was time for band camp and preparation for the upcoming football and marching band season. As a principal, it was time for finalizing schedules and completing the hiring of teachers. As a superintendent, it was time to make certain that school facilities and grounds were ready and that budgets were ready to meet the needs of our students and teachers.

This July and August I am experiencing excitement about the implementation of the Kentucky Unbridled Learning – College/Career Readiness for ALL plan. This plan is an outgrowth of 2009’s Senate Bill 1 and the Governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force.

The Unbridled Learning – College/Career Readiness for ALL has a metric of increasing the percentage of college/career-ready graduates of Kentucky high schools from the current 34 percent to 67 percent by 2015. We have been communicating this goal and strategies to reach this goal for months. During the 2011-12 school year, we will begin to see the strategies implemented and begin to see if our strategies yield the results for our students.

As I speak to educators, parents and community members across the Commonwealth, I focus on the three key strategies for Unbridled Learning. During the 2011-12 school year, we are implementing the Kentucky Common Core Standards in English/language arts and mathematics. On August 1, we are launching a software program – the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS) -- that will provide educators with full access to the standards and resources to support the standards. This software and the resources were developed and aligned based on the work of more than 1,500 educators from Kentucky schools.

Also, we are now providing training and resources for educators in Kentucky that support the new assessments, which are based on the new standards. Just this week, we had educators from across Kentucky working on understanding of the new end-of-course assessments in English II, Algebra II, U.S. History and Biology. Many teachers will receive training and support over the coming months to gain understanding of the new assessments in grades 3-8 and high school courses.

Finally, the excitement comes from a new accountability model that goes into place this school year. While we are hoping that Kentucky will be granted flexibility to replace federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability with the Kentucky accountability model, we will be implementing the Kentucky model either way.

My July/August excitement has not waned as I enter my 40th year of education. If anything, this year is even more exciting. Why? I work with great teachers and leaders across Kentucky who are excited about the future of our children. While the work ahead will be exhausting, and there are never enough resources to do the work, Kentucky educators are dedicated to a singular focus of success for ALL children. If you see an educator over the next few weeks, give him or her a pat on the back and share your wishes for much success in the year ahead.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Follow-Up on Transforming Education in Kentucky

The last few weeks have seen exciting developments. As a reminder, Governor Steve Beshear established a “Transforming Education in Kentucky” task force in the fall of 2009. For more information on the task force and the final report, go to While there were a number of recommendations, over the past few weeks we have seen follow-up activity on two recommendations.

1. As recommended by the Governor’s Task Force on Early Childhood Development and Education, Kentucky’s education policy leaders should reorganize the Early Childhood Development Authority, renaming it the Early Childhood Advisory Council; create a system of support for students at all levels of kindergarten-readiness, including parent education and learning; and create common developmentally appropriate school readiness standards and instruments.

Recently, Governor Beshear held a press conference to announce the selection of Terry Tolan (former president and CEO of the United Way of Kentucky) to lead the Early Childhood Advisory Council. The first action for the council is to submit an Early Learning Challenge Grant application as part of the Race to the Top federal initiative. The grant application will build on the excellent work that has already been done by the early childhood task force.

Key implications for school districts are the establishment of school readiness standards, a common instrument for measuring school readiness, uniform standards (rating system) for all child care providers and a K-3 Program Review to ensure that schools are ready for children. The grant application is due in mid-October, with announcement of funding coming in late November or early December. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia have filed intentions to apply for the $500 million available. Kentucky is eligible for up to $60 million. It is anticipated that 5-10 states will receive awards.

A second recommendation dealt with career and technical education in Kentucky schools.

2. The Governor should establish a steering committee to include the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and other external partners representing local district CTE staff, Office of Career and Technical Education (OCTE) field staff, CPE, Educational Professional Standards Board (EPSB), KDE and workforce leaders to develop a comprehensive statewide plan for implementing secondary Career & Technical Education with an emphasis on innovation, integration of core academics, 21st-century skills, project-based learning and the establishment of full-time CTE programs. The steering committee’s plan should include a new delivery system that integrates and elevates the two offices in KDE and OCTE currently delivering CTE. The plan should be submitted to the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education no later than October 1, 2011, for implementing legislation to be adopted by the 2012 General Assembly.

Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Joe Meyer and I have named the steering committee members, and the first meeting was held. For more information on the activities of the committee, see notes from the meeting at Several work groups are meeting in order to delve deeper into details. These groups are studying professional development, Carl Perkins funding, sector strategy, curriculum and operations. School districts should stay informed of the recommendations that will come from these work groups to the steering committee.

With both of these activities, the collaboration has been exceptional. It is very apparent that Kentucky is working “together” to improve the future for our children.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Great Partners

Over the past few weeks, Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) staff have presented on several occasions at conferences sponsored by our partners.

In late June, we had the opportunity to present to the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents (KASS) summer conference. Thanks to Executive Director Wilson Sears and the KASS board for their collaboration and support of TELL Kentucky and our Unbridled Learning strategic plan. KASS and the regional cooperatives are extremely important in implementing the Common Core Standards.

Last weekend, we had an opportunity to address the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) summer conference. Our many thanks to Executive Director Bill Scott and his great staff for their focus on TELL Kentucky and Unbridled Learning. KDE staff put together a great session that provided school board members with up-to-date information on the KDE and Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) initiatives.

This week, numerous KDE staff had the opportunity to present to the 43rd annual Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA) summer conference. I had the pleasure of addressing the group at the opening session. KASA has changed its logo to focus on next-generation learning and leading, which is very much aligned with the KBE focus on next-generation learning. Executive Director Wayne Young and his excellent staff are strong supporters of the implementation work for our Unbridled Learning and TELL Kentucky initiatives.

I was very impressed with Wayne Young’s “top ten” presentation that he does annually at the conference. One of the most impressive presentations I have heard in many years came from Manuel Scott. Manuel was one of the students documented in the movie Freedom Writers. Manuel’s message was very motivational. He speaks for the many children in our nation’s schools who have no one to speak for them or to listen to them. He praised the administrators for what they do every day for children, but also challenged the group to make a difference for even more children.

In case readers are interested in presentations that I make to partners, you can access those presentations on my Web page. Our partners in Kentucky are extremely important if we are to reach our vision of every child proficient and prepared for success. We are very privileged to have such great partners in Kentucky.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Our Students Are Watching Our Behaviors

In the spring of 2009, I had the honor of standing on stage with my fellow state superintendents of the year at the annual American Association of School Administrators (AASA) conference in San Francisco. Little did I know that one day I would be working with one of the four finalists -- Stu Silberman -- in Kentucky.

This past week, I was reminded of that recognition ceremony but not in a positive way. Beverly Hall was selected as the AASA National Superintendent of the Year in 2009. Beverly was the superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools at that time. This week, the state of Georgia released the results of an investigation concerning cheating by principals and teachers on standardized tests.

This report from Georgia comes on the heels of two major national reports on standardized testing. From the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a recent report entitled Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education and from the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), a report entitled Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform. I think it appropriate to highlight some of the key points from these reports.

The NAS report has two major conclusions and two major recommendations. The report concludes that test-based incentive programs have not increased student achievement enough to bring the U.S. close to the levels of the highest-achieving countries. The other conclusion is that high school exit exam programs decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.

The recommendations from the report promote the development and evaluation of promising new models that use test-based incentives in more sophisticated ways as one aspect of a richer accountability and improvement process. Also, the report recommends that policymakers and researchers design and evaluate new test-based incentive programs in ways that provide information about alternative approaches to incentives and accountability.

From the NCEE report, the basic premise is that the U.S. should look to those practices from countries that are performing at higher levels than the U.S. on international assessments. The report discusses a focus on teacher preparation, rigorous standards, continuous improvement and support for the existing teaching force. The report highlights the fact that no country performing at higher levels than the U.S. has a singular focus on standardized testing and incentives related to performance on standardized testing.

What does the Atlanta scandal and other testing scandals in D.C. and Baltimore mean for our work in Kentucky? What implications do we draw from these recent reports? The key learning for me is balance. Standardized tests do not create scandals. People create scandals. How leaders both in the classroom and outside the classroom utilize results from standardized tests can either create a focus on improvement of teaching and learning or create negative pressure. How leaders use the results for personnel decisions and incentives can either create a focus on teaching and learning or create negative conditions for teaching and learning.

In Kentucky we are committed to a growth model for our accountability system that is balanced. We are committed to utilizing standardized test results as part of the accountability model; however, test results will not be the singular component of the model. While the state can certainly set the tone, it will always be up to individual school boards, superintendents, principals and teachers to model professional behavior for the eyes that are watching – the students.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Activity Moving Quickly on NCLB Flexibility

This past week, I spent time at the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Legislative Conference. It was my honor to serve on two panels. One panel discussed the “new normal” of higher expectations with less funding, and the other panel discussed the middle grades report that will soon be released by SREB.

Several House and Senate members from Kentucky were in attendance, along with members from the 10 other states that comprise the SREB. Kentucky Senator Jack Westwood chairs the SREB legislative conference. A much-discussed topic during the meeting was Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization and Kentucky’s request for flexibility, waiver and replacement of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability model.

This week, I also had the honor of serving on a panel sponsored by the American Institutes for Research and Education Week. The meeting location was the new Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C. The topic of this panel was school turnaround. The meeting was attended by numerous D.C. advocacy groups and key staff with the House and Senate committees that are revising NCLB.

It appears that the House and Senate remain split on how to move forward with reauthorization. In discussions with Senate staff, there is strong support for the Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO’s) guiding principles for next-generation accountability systems to replace NCLB. Of course, these guiding principles were the basis for the Kentucky accountability model that was submitted to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan by Gov. Steve Beshear in our waiver request. On the House side, it appears that Chairman John Kline (R-MN) has a lot of new members on the committee and is moving toward several pieces of legislation to address components of reauthorization. Bottom line – most people in D.C. predict that we will not see reauthorization until after the presidential election in 2012.

This week, NPR highlighted Kentucky and Idaho as having two different approaches toward NCLB. Idaho, along with Utah, South Dakota, Montana and Nevada, has informed Sec. Duncan of its intent not to “raise the bar” for student proficiency this year as required by existing NCLB legislation. Kentucky has asked for replacement of NCLB accountability with a more rigorous model that promotes student growth and college/career readiness for all students.

While the two may seem at odds, they actually are not. The western states are asking for a method that would keep NCLB relevant. If 100 percent of schools and districts are labeled as “needs improvement” (which will soon happen due to the nature of NCLB legislation), then the law is not relevant. By holding the line at the current proficiency level, these states believe they would keep the law relevant until they develop new accountability models based on the CCSSO principles. The only difference between the two approaches is that Kentucky and other states (North Carolina and Colorado, to name just two) are ready to propose new accountability models based on CCSSO principles.

Over the next few weeks, CCSSO staff, chiefs from the states and our Kentucky staff will be communicating directly with the U.S. Department of Education to establish expectations and guidelines for the waiver process. My expectation is that Kentucky will have clear direction from the department concerning our accountability model prior to the start of the school year. Stay tuned – events are moving quickly.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What’s the Rush?

It was another interesting week in Kentucky. Two years of hard work culminated in the release of the Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO’s) guiding principles for next-generation accountability models and the request by Gov. Steve Beshear that Kentucky be allowed to utilize the Kentucky next-generation accountability model as a replacement for the out-of-date No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability model.

These activities met with a lot of support from teachers and administrators. The activities also were met with some skepticism. One statement that surprised me was a concern from a legislator that we were premature in our request. So, this blog provides a little background on why we are pushing hard to get a waiver approved before the start of the 2011-12 school year.

In April of 2009, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) began working very diligently to implement 2009’s Senate Bill 1. This bill required new standards, new assessments, a new accountability model and support for teachers. The deadline was the 2011-12 school year.

We have met the deadline with standards in English/language arts and mathematics, with science and social studies to come online within the next 12 months. We have met the deadline for assessments and the deadline for the accountability model. Over the past two years, we have provided multiple opportunities for feedback from teachers, principals, superintendents, parents and partners. Our work has been guided by the state assessment and accountability council and the national technical advisory panel. The Kentucky Board of Education has held numerous work sessions to receive and provide guidance on the development of the accountability model.

The next-generation student learning component is ready to go and will be implemented in 2011-12. The next-generation instructional programs and support (Program Reviews) will be implemented in 2011-12, with results from the Program Reviews added to the accountability scores in 2012-13. Next-generation professionals (effective teachers and principals) will be added in 2013-14, dependent on a statewide validity and reliability study.

Parallel to our state work on accountability, CCSSO has been working on Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization and the guiding principles for reauthorization and next-generation accountability models. The Kentucky work informed the CCSSO work and vice-versa. We have been very clear in numerous blogs, Fast Five e-mails, KBE meetings and stakeholder presentations that our first priority was reauthorization of ESEA; however, if ESEA was not authorized, we would move forward with a waiver request to replace NCLB accountability with the Kentucky model.

The Kentucky model is built upon the key components of NCLB (proficiency, graduation rate and gap). The Kentucky model adds the key components of student longitudinal growth and college/career readiness. The Kentucky model also is very innovative in adding the non-tested areas like art, music, humanities, career studies, practical living and writing through Program Reviews. The Kentucky model is an innovative model that is balanced and more rigorous in expectations than the NCLB model.

The announcement last week by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that he would entertain requests for waiver if Congress was not able to reauthorize ESEA gave us some sense of urgency. When CCSSO announced the release of the next-generation accountability model this week, we believed it was perfect timing for Kentucky to move forward.

In a nutshell – the following provide the basis for Kentucky moving forward with our waiver request:
* Senate Bill 1 required a new accountability model for 2011-12.
* The KBE has approved (after much feedback and discussion) the next-generation accountability model.
* Kentucky educators overwhelmingly support having one accountability model, rather than having both state accountability and national accountability models. Having two accountability models has been very confusing.
* Moving to the Senate Bill 1 accountability model will focus our work in Kentucky on preparing students for college and careers in addition to current focus of NCLB (proficiency and gaps).
Educators need to know the rules of the game (accountability) prior to the start of the game (beginning of school year).
* The federal NCLB law is clear that states may propose waiver requests. By being early in the process, Kentucky can propose components that make sense in this state, rather than having the U.S. Department of Education establish rigid guidelines.

In March 2010, Kentucky became the first state to adopt the Common Core Standards. The same critics came out then and said our decision was premature and risky. Since that time, 44 states have joined Kentucky in adopting the standards. The same critics have surfaced over the accountability model. They say Kentucky is being premature, and our actions are risky. This week, CCSSO announced that 41 states support the guiding principles upon which the Kentucky model was built.

The eyes of the nation are certainly on Kentucky; however, the topic of interest to me is the goal of increasing the percentage of college/career-ready graduates from 34 percent to 67 percent by 2015. Over the coming weeks, I will be asking our partners and educators across Kentucky to express their support of the next-generation accountability model. It is time for us to present a position of strength. We need to prepare our children for the jobs of the future, and the Kentucky accountability model will do just that.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Teacher Evaluation for Growth

It was an exciting week for education in Kentucky. We started the week with a presentation to the Interim Joint Committee on Education. The major focus of the presentation was the work of the Teacher Effectiveness Steering Committee.

I asked this group to develop a teacher effectiveness model that would promote teacher growth, increases in student learning and a holistic approach to defining effective teaching. I met with the committee this morning to discuss the implications and challenges to their work thus far.

One document that the committee utilized to frame our discussion this morning was the National Education Association (NEA) position paper on teacher assessment and evaluation. This document provides several excellent points.

* Current systems of assessing, evaluating and supporting teachers too often fail to improve teacher practice and enhance student growth and learning.

* Current policy discourse about teacher evaluation is mired in a rewards-and punishment framework that aims to measure effectiveness of each teacher, categorize and rank teachers, reward those at the top and fire those at the bottom

* The core purpose of teacher assessment and evaluation should be to strengthen the knowledge, skills, dispositions and classroom practices of professional educators.

These guiding principles were very closely aligned with my original charge to the teacher effectiveness steering committee. I asked that group to develop a growth system that would promote the growth of teachers so they could enhance student growth and learning. Bottom line – I asked them to create conditions for a learning system for all (administrators, teachers and students) rather than a teaching system that focused on checklists and little feedback for growth.

The next steps are to recruit 50 of the 174 school districts to pilot the multiple measures that the teacher effectiveness system might include. These measures include such things as observations, self-assessment, professional development/growth plan, student voice, parent voice, peer feedback and, certainly, student growth. The 2011-12 school year 2011-12 will be a pilot year to gain confidence in the content and face validity of the multiple measures. In 2012-13, we will do a statewide pilot/validation of the system and, hopefully, be ready to implement the system in 2013-14.

We hope to include teacher and principal effectiveness as a measure in the state accountability model. At this time, we are not certain if legislation will be required. It has been our hope from the beginning that we would work collaboratively to build a model of teacher effectiveness that all districts, principals and teachers would want to support and implement. Only time will tell if we are successful in this effort.

Effective teachers and leaders are the most important parts of helping all children succeed. Our children’s future is at stake.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Listening to Educators

The Kentucky Board of Education received a summary of the results from the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Kentucky Survey this week. Over 42,000 educators responded to the survey. Kentucky had the largest first-year response rate of any other state utilizing the survey (more than 80 percent).

Board Chair David Karem and several other board members were very clear – “Given the enormous response to the survey, if we do not utilize the data from the survey, then we will make working conditions and morale worse in our schools and districts.”

It is time now to ensure that we not only listen to our educators, but we also enact policies, budgets and actions that will improve the working conditions in our schools. The research is very clear that the working conditions in our schools impact student learning and teacher retention.

The TELL Kentucky survey was developed and implemented by a strong coalition of partner organizations across Kentucky. For a full list of the partners, please go to This group did an amazing job of planning and implementing strategies that would ensure strong participation by educators across Kentucky.

The results speak for themselves. The coalition is now hard at work in focusing on how to utilize the results from the survey. The Education Professional Standards Board, Kentucky School Boards Association, Kentucky Association of School Administrators, Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, Kentucky Education Association, Kentucky Association of School Councils and others are hard at working developing training modules and materials for school boards, superintendents, principals, school councils and communities. The Kentucky Department of Education will be working to implement policies and procedures to ensure schools and districts utilize the data to develop improvement plans.

It is our plan to provide the survey every two years and require schools and districts to target improvement areas from the survey results in their school and district improvement plans. We are very confident with the research base that if schools and districts improve working conditions, we will see increases in student learning outcomes, teacher/principal morale and teacher/principal retention rates.

Our educators have told us what they need in the way of support – our job as leaders is to now get busy in providing that support!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Ships Passing in the Night

During my recent visit to China with the Asia Society and Council of Chief State School Officers, I was impressed with many of the efforts that are being made to improve education in China. However, there was one striking difference between Chinese education and American education reform efforts. I told my fellow delegation members that it seemed we were two ships passing in the night.

Chinese education has long been focused on exam results. Students in China have exams every semester during the nine years of compulsory schooling (ages 6-15). High school entrance exams are very intense. Scores on high school entrance exams can lead to three paths: key schools (better schools), vocational schools or dropouts. The key schools serve to better prepare students for the university exams, and the vocational schools focus on technical skills and jobs.

The Chinese college entrance exam dates back to 900 A.D., when it was used to screen for civil servants. It is expected that there will be five to seven percent of students prepared for university. (This is steadily increasing as the Chinese expand higher education.) About 30 to 40 percent of the high school graduates actually pass the entrance exam; however, space in the universities is limited, so many students go to work, and some go to technical colleges.

Chinese families really focus on the exam preparation of their child. (Chinese families are limited to one child.) Chinese teenagers do not date, spend 25 to 30 percent more time with studies than American teenagers and don’t work outside the home, and the teenagers understand that education is their JOB.

However, the focus in China is slowly changing. As we met with school and government officials, the constant theme of questions was focused on how American schools teach innovation, problem-solving and creativity. WOW! Even in Shanghai (top scorers on the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA), the focus was on providing students with more creativity options – like music and art – and providing students with more opportunities to conduct scientific experiments and solve problems that were of interest to them. It seems the Chinese ship is sailing in a direction away from complete focus on standardized test scores.

Readers recognize where I am headed here. Since 2001, the U.S. has focused heavily on test scores. Not a day goes by that we do not have editorials and national panels talking about the poor job we are doing in the nation due to our poor performance on test scores.

Our ship is sailing toward more focus on test scores. Our ship is sailing toward judging teachers and principals solely on the basis of test scores. Our ship is sailing toward elimination of art and music programs to focus more on getting students prepared for reading and math tests.

These ships do not have to pass in the night. There is a way that they can sail together. We must have some focus on accountability and measurement of student progress; however, we must find ways to assess and measure creativity, problem-solving and innovation. We must provide a more balanced assessment and accountability system.

I truly believe we are headed in that direction with Senate Bill 1 and the accountability model that is being developed in Kentucky. We do not have to make an either/or choice. We need not bow to the tyranny of “or;” we need to embrace the genius of “and.”