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.