Friday, January 28, 2011

Don’t Slow Down on Senate Bill 1

On January 14, 2011, I sent a letter sent to legislative leaders opposing any moves to slow down implementation of or redirect funding for 2009’s Senate Bill 1 (SB 1).

The letter was addressed to Senate President David Williams and Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo. Gov. Steve Beshear, Rep. Carl Rollins (chair of the House Education Committee), Sen. Ken Winters (chair of the Senate Education Committee) and members of the Kentucky Board of Education also received copies of the letter.

I sent this letter to counter calls to slow down implementation and use any funding directed for SB 1 for other purposes.

SB 1 is a top priority for the Kentucky Department of Education and Kentucky Board of Education, because students and teachers need an education system that will prepare children for the competitive world environment. I know of no more important expenditure of funds than to prepare our children for their future.

Senate Bill 1 was passed in the 2009 session of the Kentucky General Assembly and is a comprehensive piece of legislation that addresses many items in the area of public school assessment and accountability. The bill, which revised 14 existing laws and created one new statute, requires that a new system of public school assessment and accountability be implemented in the 2011-12 school year.

Although the bill did not specify funding for implementation, monies in the P-12 education budget have been redirected for that purpose, including professional development funds.

You can see the full letter here. Please join me in advocating for steady, strong implementation of this crucial piece of legislation.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Productivity and Efficiency in Education

The words in the title are very foreign to educators, and to some educators, they raise concerns that we are trying to be more like the business world. Let me say up front that education is an extremely complex social institution that is impacted by many factors other than the classroom. I do, however, believe that educators can certainly improve operational processes to make them more productive and efficient and, in turn, invest the savings in support for classrooms.

I also believe that classroom teachers can improve the learning results in their classrooms by improving key learning processes. The key processes such as instruction and student engagement must constantly be reviewed and improved in light of the student learning results.

Last week in my blog, I talked about the “new normal” that educators are facing. This new normal requires us to do much more to help more students achieve at higher levels and to achieve these results with fewer dollars than we have had in the past. I mentioned that I would be focusing this year on benchmarking, productivity and efficiency. This blog provides access to some recent articles and resources that may help readers gain a better understanding of the discussion that is taking place across education and government circles.

Of course, education is not alone in this issue of productivity. We are joined by health care, government, non-profit and all business sectors. Our challenge in education is not replicate business efforts, but to create sector specific language and improvement efforts.

This week, I reviewed a new report from the Center for American Progress: Return on Educational Investment: A District by District Evaluation of US Education Productivity. The link to the report is

While there have been many efforts over the years to define “return on investment,” productivity, efficiency and outcomes of education, it is extremely difficult to accomplish due to the complexity of education. This does not mean that we can ignore this issue as educators. Given the difficult economic situation that most states and school districts are facing, this is a time when we as educators must have a better understanding of terms like productivity and efficiency. A quote from the report provides insight into the debate:

"Our nation’s school system has for too long failed to ensure that education funding consistently promotes strong student achievement. After adjusting for inflation, education spending per student has nearly tripled over the past four decades. But while some states and districts have spent their additional dollars wisely—and thus shown significant increases in student outcomes—overall student achievement has largely remained flat. And besides Luxembourg, the United States spends more per student than any of the 65 countries that participated in a recent international reading assessment, and while Estonia and Poland scored at the same level as the United States on the exam, the United States spent roughly $60,000 more to educate each student to age 15 than either nation."

For additional information on quality, continuous improvement, productivity, efficiency and similar terms in education, I offer some of my favorite resources.

Baldrige National Quality Program --
Readers may be most interested in the education criteria and the award recipients from education.

American Society for Quality --

American Productivity Quality Council --

All three of these resources offer a number of free materials for educators. Educators will need to make their own decisions about purchases of products. I am not endorsing any particular product.

Look for more resources and links in the coming months. While I will continue to focus on asking legislators to fully fund SEEK and Flexible Focus Funds, educators also must look to productivity and efficiency for savings. I am excited about the work being done with energy management in most school districts in partnership with the Kentucky School Boards Association. This model is exactly the type of approach that educators can use in other operational processes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The New Normal

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made the following statement at the American Enterprise Institute on November 17, 2010.

“I am here to talk today about what has been called the New Normal. For the next several years, preschool, K-12, and postsecondary educators are likely to face the great challenge of doing more with less. My message is this: challenge can, and should be, embraced as an opportunity to make dramatic improvements. I believe enormous opportunities for improving the productivity of our education system lie ahead if we are smart, innovative, and courageous in rethinking the status quo. It’s time to stop treating the problem of educational productivity as a grinding, eat-your-broccoli exercise. It’s time to start treating it as an opportunity for innovation and accelerating progress.”

On the CBS 60 Minutes broadcast of December 19, 2010, Steve Kroft did a piece on the looming meltdown of state budgets.

“By now, just about everyone in the country is aware of the federal deficit problem, but you should know that there is another financial crisis looming involving state and local governments. It has gotten much less attention because each state has a slightly different story. But in the two years since the "great recession" wrecked their economies and shriveled their income, the states have collectively spent nearly a half a trillion dollars more than they collected in taxes. There is also a trillion-dollar hole in their public pension funds. The states have been getting by on billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds, but the day of reckoning is at hand. The debt crisis is already making Wall Street nervous, and some believe that it could derail the recovery, cost a million public employees their jobs and require another big bailout package that no one in Washington wants to talk about.”

Why is Secretary Duncan talking about the “new normal?” Why is 60 Minutes talking about a looming financial crisis in the states that will dwarf the housing bust of the last few years? Why does this matter to educators? What do education leaders do to ensure the current generation of children are provided with an educational experience that prepares them for their future and not our past?

All education leaders know there is a funding cliff looming for 2012 and beyond. State and local education budgets have been propped up by federal stimulus funds for the past two years and through 2011; however, the stimulus funds are drying up, and most pundits predict that the federal government will not be able to support another round of stimulus funding to help state and local budgets.

Currently, the national debt has reached $14 trillion. That amounts to more than $40,000 for every American – including our children and grandchildren. By the end of the decade, the federal debt is predicted to exceed $20 trillion, and for every additional trillion, that means more than $3,000 added to our individual amount.

Recently, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform issued recommendations that would begin to address the rising tide of debt. Immediately, the recommendations were met with criticism and cynicism from the right and left.

In their book Stretching the School Dollar: How Schools and Districts Can Save Money While Serving Students Best, Frederick Hess and Eric Osberg offer several other reasons behind the “new normal” speech delivered by Secretary Duncan.
* Education has always been seen as the “sacred cow” in federal, state and local budgets. For more than 100 years with very few exceptions, the per-pupil expenditure for education has increased. Even during times of recession, education has seen increases in spending per pupil. Since the late ’50s, education has almost tripled the amount spent per pupil, while at the same time, our ranking among international comparisons and national assessments show stagnant performance as other countries are moving rapidly past the U.S.
* Over the past few years, the American public has signaled less support for continued increases in education spending. Given the constant bombardment of criticism placed on public schools and the current economic recession, the public has been persuaded that money is not the fix for public schools. Citizens reason that if they have to tighten their home budgets, then schools should be forced to do the same.
* The competing interests of other special interest groups have influenced education budgets and will continue to compete for declining federal, state and local resources. Education is facing competition with health care, criminal justice and the needs of an aging population.
* Public employee benefits are not sustainable and will become the final “brick” that breaks the back of federal, state and local budgets. The public pensions and other retirement benefits are structurally unsustainable. Current projections place an unfunded requirement of more than $1.3 trillion.

Last week, I announced a two percent reduction in the foundation funding (SEEK) for school systems. Over the past three years, Kentucky schools have faced reductions in not only foundation funding, but also in textbooks, professional development and other support processes. Kentucky schools are facing the “new normal.”

I am encouraged by superintendents to push state leaders for more funding for schools and at least the restoration of funding cuts. However, I also am faced with the four issues mentioned above from other stakeholders.

My position will continue to be this – as commissioner I will promote funding for what children need to be prepared for their future. I also will continue to focus on the most effective and efficient delivery methods to help children reach success. I WILL continue to encourage school leaders to look carefully at the status quo and determine if there are more effective and efficient ways to help students achieve success.

Over the coming months, I will continue to focus the conversation on four key areas that I believe will help Kentucky educators face the “new normal” and help the current generation of children in Kentucky achieve success. The four areas that I will focus on are:
* structure of schooling
* benchmarking processes
* effective and efficient labor costs
* productivity and effectiveness of all education processes

Our job as adults is to provide our children with the opportunity for a successful future. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Highlights of 2010

There’s no question that 2010 was a busy, fruitful year. When I tally up the events and accomplishments related to P-12 education, I see many positive events.

Common Core State Standards adoption – In March, the Kentucky Board of Education, Council on Postsecondary Education and the Education Professional Standards Board jointly adopted the Common Core State Standards for English/language arts and mathematics. In doing so, Kentucky became the first state in the nation to adopt those standards.

This was a bold step toward improving education outcomes for Kentucky’s students. The work began in 2009, when Gov. Steve Beshear signed the agreement that states develop common academic standards. Kentucky joined 50 states and territories, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve, ACT, ETS and others in a major effort to place America back in the front of educational attainment in the world.

Passage of House Bill 176 (KRS 160.346) – In its regular session, the 2010 General Assembly passed House Bill 176, which will have resonating effects for years to come throughout the state’s public school classrooms.

House Bill 176 provided much-needed interventions in the state’s lowest-performing schools. Through its mandates, Kentucky is able to offer school districts more options to help them improve – from selecting an education management organization to operate schools, to exercising more flexibility in staffing, to restructuring the existing management of those schools that are persistently low-performing.

Thanks to the actions of the legislature, and to the support of educators, board members and partners across the state, Kentucky will lead the nation in the next wave of educational improvement.

Persistently low-achieving schools named and supported – In the spring of 2010, Kentucky identified 10 schools as “persistently low-achieving” (PLA), based on state and federal criteria. The schools’ identifications were tied to their reading and mathematics test score results and adequate yearly progress (AYP) status.

By identifying these schools, we ensured that they would be eligible to receive federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding of up to $1.5 million over a three-year period. This funding will be used to help the schools raise achievement levels, improve the performance of their students and achieve AYP.

The schools also received leadership assessments, which provided insight and suggestions for improvement, along with strong technical support.

New Kentucky Board of Education members – Gov. Steve Beshear appointed five new members to the Kentucky Board of Education. The five -- Martha Jones, Roger Marcum, Jay Parrent, Bill Twyman and Mary Gwen Wheeler -- represent a broad range of experience and backgrounds, but they share the common goal of improving education for the state’s children.

In August, the board selected David Karem as its chair, then set four strategic priorities to guide its work: Next-Generation Learners; Next-Generation Professionals; Next-Generation Support Systems; and Next-Generation Schools and Districts. This board is focused on supporting schools and districts, raising achievement, ensuring that students are prepared for life after high school, closing gaps, accountability and transparency.

Leadership Networks – Throughout 2010, KDE staff were engaged in the work of developing a system of Leadership Networks designed to support the high-quality implementation of the requirements set forth in 2009’s Senate Bill 1. The networks are intended to build the capacity of each school district as they implement Kentucky’s new Core Academic Standards, develop assessment literacy among all educators and work toward ensuring that every student is college- and career-ready.

Those Leadership Networks are now in place. Participants are collaborating with other leaders in their regions to hone practice and knowledge and working within their districts to scale up highly effective practices in every classroom.

Budget cuts – As with other state agencies, the Kentucky Department of Education has experienced significant budget cuts over the past few fiscal years. This has impacted our agency’s ability to fill empty positions and required us to rethink our short- and long-term plans.

An agency-wide reorganization in the summer of 2010 was a direct response to these cuts and enabled us to focus on the Kentucky Board of Education’s strategic priorities, the implementation of 2009’s Senate Bill 1 and the provision of services to our state’s 174 school districts. Even with fewer employees than in the past, I am confident that we can carry out our mandates and mission.

Race to the Top – Kentucky was fortunate to be named as a finalist in both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the federal Race to the Top competition. However, we were not awarded funds in either phase.

This was disappointing; but, the lack of Race to the Top funding did not deter us from moving forward with our plans. We’ve continued to focus on support for students and educators; providing high-quality learning opportunities; providing the training our educators need; connecting them with best practices; and setting a high bar for success. The fact that Kentucky was named a finalist twice indicates that our plans are strong and worthwhile. And, the unanimous support of our plan from the state’s superintendents and local boards of education was a heartening result of this process.

Overall, 2010 will be remembered as a year of activity and purpose in public education. I believe that Kentuckians have a renewed sense of hope for the future of our P-12 education system, and I know that our teachers, principals, superintendents, parents, elected officials and citizens recognize their crucial importance to the state’s success.

Our vision of “every child, proficient and prepared for success” is not just a statement – it’s the heart of our work and efforts. It will carry us through 2011 and beyond.