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.