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.