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.