Friday, August 26, 2011

Digital Learning in Kentucky

Kentucky was one of the early leaders in virtual learning. Today, we are struggling to find the appropriate methods for funding, support and innovation.

Over the past two years, we have been working first through the Transforming Education in Kentucky task force and now through an “innovative pathways to graduation” committee to define how we can create more opportunities for students and teachers to engage in digital learning.

Our work in Kentucky is being informed through the Digital Learning Now report that was a collaborative project of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise. We have been utilizing the services of a consulting firm – OpenEd Solutions – to develop key recommendations for policy and budget decisions. The consulting firm is conducting an analysis of current digital learning conditions in Kentucky and will host a Digital Summit on September 7 in Lexington to further develop a final report. The final report will then be presented to Kentucky Board of Education and key legislators for action in the 2012 session.

This week saw some exciting potential for the future of digital learning in Kentucky. In a joint press conference held at Woodford County High School, Governor Steve Beshear, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto, Kentucky Educational Television Executive Director Shae Hopkins and I announced the launch of the Kentucky on iTunes U site. This free source provides access to numerous teacher- and student-friendly sites that provide unlimited opportunities for digital learning.

Also, it was exciting to witness the deployment of a 1:1 iPad solution in Woodford County High classrooms. Students and teachers demonstrated exciting new opportunities for digital learning. Superintendent Scott Hawkins and his team are to be commended for their innovative work. Woodford County joins many other Kentucky school districts with similar 1:1 projects and a focus on innovation.

Our partners at the UK P20 Innovation Lab and the Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE) are stretching our thinking for the future. Also, a group of 16 school districts is partnering with us through the Stupski Foundation and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to design the next generation of schools and learning opportunities.

The energy, interest and creative abilities exist in Kentucky to create the national model for digital learning. Stay tuned for the final report from our digital summit.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Operation Preparation

This week, Kentucky was host to the annual release of ACT results. The annual data release is usually held in Washington, D.C. This year, ACT, Inc. wanted to highlight the national focus on college and career readiness.

When ACT staff called to ask me if they could coordinate the national release with our state release, they said Kentucky was one of the leading states in implementing the college and career readiness agenda in the nation. We chose the Jessamine County Career and Technical Center to highlight the work of Superintendent Lu Young and her community in implementing the Commonwealth Commitment for College and Career Readiness. While we did have to choose one location for the announcement, the location represented the tremendous work that all schools and districts in the Commonwealth are doing to implement the Commonwealth Commitment.

ACT President Jon Erickson highlighted the areas where the nation and Kentucky have improved and also offered several suggestions for improvement at the state and national levels. We were informed that, of the four states who have made significant progress on ACT results, Kentucky ranks second.

Rep. Carl Rollins and Sen. Ken Winters made remarks about the importance of Senate Bill 1 and Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) legislation. Council on Postsecondary Education President Bob King also highlighted the legislative history and the tremendous partnership between P-12 and higher education in Kentucky.

As we celebrate the national-level attention that Kentucky is receiving due to Senate Bill 1 and the subsequent implementation of our Unbridled Learning strategic plan, I wanted to focus on why this is important to all Kentucky citizens. Senate Bill 1, while focused on education, was also the most important economic development legislation passed in recent history.

Why? Education equals employment, which in turn equals an improved economy. The research is very clear. A more-educated populace will mean improved opportunities for Kentucky citizens with health care, jobs that pay higher wages, less dependency on social programs, improved tax receipts and a safer community.

Senate Bill 1 also raised the expectations for ALL Kentucky children and improved the chances that ALL Kentucky children would receive an education that prepares them for their future. With our focus on administering the ACT to 100 percent of Kentucky public high school juniors, we have seen a dip in our overall scores. This was to be expected, as evidenced by the 11 other states that have more than 90 percent of students taking the ACT.

However, we are seeing slow and steady trends of improvement. The key number for me is the number of test takers in Kentucky. In 2008, we had 31,728 students take the ACT. In 2011, we had 46,428 students take the ACT. This is an increase of more than 14,000 students.

In 2008, slightly more than 6,000 students in Kentucky met all ACT college-ready benchmarks. In 2011, over 7,400 Kentucky graduates met ACT college-ready benchmarks. By assessing all students, we have discovered more than 1,400 students who are college- and career-ready and that normally would not have taken the ACT. As we continue to focus our college and career ready agenda on all children, we will continue to find more children who did not believe they had the capacity to attend college.

As we find more and more children who have the ability, we will need to find ways to support them academically and financially. A key support for these students is college and career advising. We announced a statewide project, Operation Preparation, this week. This is an effort to provide advising to all 8th and 10th graders in Kentucky during the week of March 12-16, 2012.

Our school counselors have a student-to-counselor ratio of one to over 500. It is impossible for our counselors to individualize college/career advising, so we are asking our many partners across the state to assist. We are asking PTAs, chambers of commerce, Workforce Investment Boards, higher education and business to assist in Operation Preparation.

While there are many details to work out with regard to volunteer screening and training, we are announcing the initiative now so volunteers can start planning their schedules. The Kentucky Department of Education will coordinate this project and provide a toolkit for implementation of Operation Preparation. Look for many more details in the near future.

It is our hope that volunteers across the state will dedicate an hour or two next spring to improve the future of the Commonwealth and the future of a child.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Movement on NCLB Waiver Requests

This week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the timeline for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver requests. Sec. Duncan indicated that the preference was reauthorization of NCLB by Congress, which is four years past due. However, given the dysfunctional nature of Congress, it is very unlikely that relief will come through reauthorization.

While some states are looking for relief, Kentucky is actually looking to implement a more reasonable and balanced system of accountability. The Kentucky General Assembly required this system through legislation in 2009 (Senate Bill 1). The Kentucky Board of Education approved the final regulation to implement the accountability system at its August 2011 meeting.

For the latest description of the accountability model, click here. For a side-by-side comparison of the NCLB and Kentucky accountability models, click here.

Sec. Duncan announced this week that the U.S. Department of Education (USED) would provide a framework for accountability waivers in mid-September, and states may submit responses to the framework after that date. In Kentucky, we are preparing background information for our response, and I anticipate we will once again be the first state in the nation to submit the paperwork in response to the USED framework.

The USED framework will be very similar to the Race to the Top criteria, and given that Kentucky was a finalist and had unanimous support from school districts and teacher organizations in the Race to the Top application, I feel certain we will be in excellent shape for a waiver. Also, I do not believe there will be any conditions that our superintendents, school boards and teacher organizations would not be able to support.

The key waiver components of college/career-ready standards, use of data, student growth and teacher/principal effectiveness are components of our Unbridled Learning strategic plan. I project the teacher/principal effectiveness component will require states to develop models of teacher/principal effectiveness over a 2-3 year period of time, and we are right on target with that time frame.

In September, we will release the results of spring 2011 testing and the subsequent NCLB ratings and consequences. Last spring, we predicted that more than 85 percent of our districts would not meet the NCLB adequate yearly progress targets and more than 65 percent of our schools would not meet the targets. NCLB loses credibility when we start to see these types of numbers, and our focus in Kentucky has changed from minimum competency on math and reading to a focus on college and career readiness for ALL Kentucky children.

Stay tuned for further developments on the accountability waiver process.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Commonwealth Diploma: A History and the Future

In 1985, the Kentucky State Board for Elementary and Secondary Education (later known as the Kentucky Board of Education, or KBE), implemented a regulation that described the Commonwealth Diploma program. The goal of the program was to encourage students to participate in higher-level courses and receive state-level recognition for their efforts. The program also provided reimbursement to students who took Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams while working toward the diploma.

The KBE took final action this week on the procedural steps to remove the regulatory language that established the Commonwealth Diploma. There are some key points that I wanted to provide readers.
· The Commonwealth Diploma was never a legislative action. The Kentucky Board of Education enacted regulatory language to set the conditions for the diploma.
· One component of the diploma is reimbursement for AP courses for which students meet requirements. The funding for this reimbursement was never appropriated and has been paid for from Gifted and Talented funds.
· The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has not been able to meet all funding requests in recent years, so the reimbursement has not been equal among schools and districts.
· Universities do not recognize the Commonwealth Diploma as an advantage for admissions. Admission counselors look more closely at GPAs and scores on Advanced Placement assessments.
· School districts now have the capacity to implement any recognition they wish for diplomas.
· Seniors for the 2011-12 school year are grandfathered in. Any student in the Commonwealth Diploma pipeline who graduates in 2011-12 will receive the recognition.
· Prior to registration for courses for the 2012-13 school year, a committee will bring recommendations back to KBE regarding the recommended parameters for special diploma recognition. These special recognitions could include but not be limited to STEM, career/technical, arts, world language and Advanced Placement.

KDE has provided school district superintendents with specific information about the Commonwealth Diploma and have informed the Interim Joint Committee on Education of KBE actions. The action by the KBE was not to reduce rigor or expectations, but to develop expectations that meet 21st-century skills for multiple diploma recognitions and to ensure equity and excellence across all schools and districts in the Commonwealth.

Should readers seek additional information, please contact Robin Chandler at (502) 564-9850 or

UPDATE: Due to input from legislators, school district personnel and parents, Kentucky Department of Education staff recommended to the Kentucky Board of Education that the Commonwealth Diploma program be continued an additional year, with no funding, before its discontinuation. This would allow those already in the pipeline to earn the diploma to complete the program, extend the life of the program through the 2012-13 school year and give more time for other options to be developed to take the place of the Commonwealth Diploma. The board unanimously approved this proposal.