Friday, April 27, 2012

Support Our Military Families in School Transitions

The Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children addresses perceived inequities facing schoolchildren of military parents when they are required to relocate across state lines. Specifically, it allows the laws of the “sending” state to apply to transferring students from military families in the schools of the “receiving” state for such policies as graduation requirements, Advanced Placements (AP) and age of student enrollment.

Kentucky became one of the first states to accept the compact when Gov. Steve Beshear signed it in April 2008. Later that year, Gov. Beshear appointed retired Colonel Mark D. Needham as special assistant to the Governor for BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) Activities. In this role, Needham serves on the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3), which provides direction and resources related to the interstate compact.

As Kentuckians, we should recognize the great sacrifice made by our military families and ensure that their children transition to and from schools in this state with ease. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently sent a letter to all chief state school officers, reminding them of their responsibilities in this area and providing suggestions for local school officials. I’m sharing his letter in this week’s blog posting.

April 25, 2012

Dear Chief State School Officer:

Throughout April, our nation has been celebrating the Month of the Military Child. In recognizing these remarkable children, we are focused on their many achievements and strengths. We are also reminded of the unique challenges they face as military-connected children.

Virtually all school districts educate a child whose parent or guardian is serving in our Armed Forces, whether stationed here or abroad and whether on active duty or in the National Guard or Reserves. Of the more than 1.2 million school-aged children of service men and women, more than 80 percent attend public schools.

One of the key issues facing military families is the frequent transitioning from one installation to the next, from one state to the next. Each of these moves impacts the military-connected child—from kindergarten through high school and even college. This is because oftentimes there are inconsistent school transfer policies that can inhibit a student’s academic standing and social integration. Military-connected children with disabilities often face additional challenges.

The data demonstrate that transition challenges are not a one-time occurrence. On average, military-connected children attend six to nine different school systems from kindergarten through 12th grade. We want all military-connected school children to have an equal and fair opportunity for academic success. This requires that those individuals who make up our nation’s educational system understand the unique situations the children of our service members experience.

I am writing this letter to share information and ask for your assistance in meeting the needs of military-connected school children. I hope you will help raise awareness with respect to, and provide assistance for, military-connected children and their families in your schools and communities. To be sure, not every military family looks the same, and the support needs will differ. One useful resource in this regard is the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which has been adopted by many states. (See for Compact language.) This Compact, developed by the Council of State Governments, education experts, and the Department of Defense, addresses common problems that affect military-connected children as a result of frequent moves and deployments. For military-connected children with disabilities, a useful resource is the National Parent Training and Information Center-Specialized Training of Military Parents (STOMP) (

Specifically, I would ask you to encourage your superintendents to:
·          Review the Compact and consider whether their policies and procedures are consistent with the guidelines and rules set forth under the Compact;
·          Involve teachers, counselors, instructors, coaches, school nurses, administrators, and students in district efforts to better address the needs of military-connected school children;
·          Honor and respect the previous academic standing and accomplishments of military-connected children new to a district;
·          Be flexible and open to ways to help students transfer earned courses/credits to their new school;
·          Enable implementation of individualized education programs (IEPs) as soon as possible and ensure that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is provided for military-connected children with disabilities;
·          Evaluate participation guidelines across the district for extracurricular, after-school, and sports activities to ensure they are welcoming to, and inclusive of, newly arriving students;
·          Consider revising other programs or policies that inhibit military-connected children’s transition; and
·          Share their success stories with respect to implementation of the Compact (if applicable) and services for military-connected children in their districts. This will allow their work to be showcased to other school districts on the Compact’s website ( Please have them e-mail their stories to Charles Boyer ( with a short paragraph describing the impact of the Compact in their communities.

Thank you for your leadership in helping us fulfill our commitments to our service members and their children. When the women and the men in uniform answer the call of duty, their children are also impacted. Although military-connected children can be adaptable and resilient because of their parent’s or guardian’s experience, they still need and deserve our help. Please work to ensure their future success as they progress to adulthood. Like their parents and guardians, they will, with your assistance, do our nation proud.

Arne Duncan

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kentucky Is Committed to Education Technology

Since coming to Kentucky in 2009, I have been very impressed with the commitment to technology that is apparent throughout the commonwealth’s schools. I believe this commitment originates at the state level with a great plan and support from the General Assembly. Kentucky is certainly a leader among states with regard to state solutions for software and 21st-century classrooms.

Kentucky has a distinct advantage with the uniform student information system (Infinite Campus). This tool allows parent, student and educator access through a variety of platforms. Also, Kentucky has a strong advantage with the live@edu product from Microsoft. Kentucky was the first state in the nation to use cloud services for e-mail and storage. This was made possible by having a statewide active directory for e-mail addresses for educators and students. This active directory also has opened many other software solutions.

The Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS) is a powerful tool for educators across Kentucky. This tool provides educators with access to resources to support the implementation of the common core standards and teacher/principal evaluation systems.

The ASSIST software is another exciting tool for Kentucky educators. This tool will provide a single source for the development, implementation and monitoring of comprehensive school and district improvement plans. Schools and districts will not have to complete separate improvement plans for a variety of funding sources, and the plans will not have to be submitted in paper format. Also, schools and districts will submit Program Reviews required by 2009’s Senate Bill 1 through the ASSIST software.

MUNIS is our statewide solution for school finance. Over the past few months, we have been moving school districts to the MUNIS cloud solution. To date, we have over 100 of the 174 districts on the cloud. The cloud solution helped those districts impacted by recent storms meet payroll and financial obligations.

Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) are available for every student in Kentucky starting in 6th grade. During our recent Operation Preparation focus, we were able to increase the use of the ILPs by over 50 percent for parents of 8th-grade students. The ILP is an excellent way for parents to have conversations about long-range education plans for their children.

iTunes U is another great source for educators, students and parents. The resources from Kentucky educators, colleges and other sources are growing exponentially through this free and easy-to-access tool.

These are just a few of the great tools available to Kentucky educators, students and parents. Kentucky is certainly a 21st-century state when it comes to the use of technology. Again, this is due to strong financial support from the General Assembly; however, the FY 13 and 14 budget has taken a step back from this commitment. While we understand the short-range revenue shortfall, it is certainly our hope that the General Assembly will renew the commitment to education technology as soon as possible. I hope educators will let legislators know what a great impact technology has on the students, classrooms, schools and districts across Kentucky.

Friday, April 13, 2012

What Teachers Say About Working Conditions

At the Kentucky Board of Education’s April meeting, the board received the final report from the TELL Kentucky survey. This survey was a collaborative effort of many education partners and Governor Steve Beshear to ask teachers about teaching and learning in Kentucky schools.

More than 42,000 educators responded. To find out more about the survey, go to

The report received by the board had several key findings, and I highlight a few of those below. The full executive summary is on the TELL Kentucky website.

Overall, Kentucky educators are satisfied with the teaching and learning conditions in their school. More than eight out of 10 educators (84 percent) agree that their school is a good place to work and learn, and more than four out of five teachers (83 percent) want to continue teaching in their current school buildings.

In comparisons with five other states conducting similar surveys, Kentucky educators are more positive about their teaching conditions in several important areas, including access to instructional technology and having sufficient time for professional learning opportunities that are well-aligned with their school improvement plans.

The area of greatest concern noted by teachers is time. Many Kentucky educators report that class sizes are insufficient for them to meet student needs, and only half agree that efforts are made to minimize paperwork that can distract from time for instruction.

Positive views of school leadership are related to quality standards, teacher assessment and school-based decision making (SBDM) councils, but more attention may be needed in areas related to conditions that build trust and mutual respect. Educators’ perceptions of school councils are largely favorable, as more than eight out of 10 (84 percent) agree that overall, their SBDM councils provide effective leadership in their schools. But three out of 10 educators (or more than 12,600 teachers in the state) disagree that there is an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect in their schools, and nearly three out of 10 (28 percent) report that teachers are not comfortable raising issues and concerns that are important.

Community support and involvement is most strongly connected with school-level student performance. Nearly all educators agree that teachers provide parents/guardians with useful information about student learning and that their schools maintain clear, two-way communication with parents/guardians and the community. Community support and involvement provide strong and statistically significant influences on student learning while controlling for student, teacher and school characteristics.

Community support and involvement and school leadership are critical influences on teachers’ future employment plans. The analysis of individual teacher employment plans and estimated retention rates in TELL Kentucky schools indicate that leadership support, community involvement and the processes and systems in place to manage student conduct are important areas to address to enhance teacher retention. Teachers are more likely to remain working in schools where there are parents and school leaders that create trusting environments and where teachers feel safe and engaged.

I encourage school councils, school boards and principals to revisit the results from the TELL Kentucky survey and ensure specific strategies are in place to address community support and involvement. Meeting with the Parent Advisory Council this week, a recommendation was made to ask schools and districts to revisit the Missing Piece of the Proficiency Puzzle scoring rubric to identify specific issues that could be addressed to improve parent and community engagement. For more information about the Missing Piece rubric, click here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

In the Aftermath of Storms

As commissioner, I have a goal to visit all 174 Kentucky school districts. For a visit to “count,” I must visit a school and talk with principals and teachers. I find these visits to be extremely helpful to get feedback on the initiatives that we are implementing through our Unbridled Learning model, school facilities, school budgets and challenges faced by teachers, schools and districts.

I have visited about 140 school districts and about 400 schools so far. Occasionally, I am able to highlight a school or district in my communication tools (Twitter, Facebook, blog, e-mails and Web page) and in communication with members of the General Assembly. Through this blog, I wanted to highlight a recent visit to Magoffin and Morgan County schools.

As I drove into West Liberty, I was immediately struck by the devastation. I drove up to West Liberty Elementary School, which was damaged by the recent tornado. The school sits on top of a hill, and I was able to look down on West Liberty. I can only describe what I saw as a scene of devastation. It looked like a nuclear bomb had been dropped in the community. Trees were snapped in half. Homes had been lifted off their slabs, and only the slabs were left. Every building had some damage. Either the roof was missing, or major damage to sections of the roof was apparent. The school was boarded up.

As I drove along the Mountain Parkway to Magoffin County, I did not see any damage until I got beside the schools. The Magoffin schools are located very close to the parkway. What I saw was very similar to West Liberty. I was not aware until I talked with local folks that there had been two major storms – the one in West Liberty and the one in Magoffin. Roofs were missing from schools. Trailers had been picked up by the storm and blown into parking lots. Debris was scattered for miles. As I drove through the business section of Salyersville, I saw devastation similar to Morgan County.

While the devastation was difficult to view, and it was hard to comprehend the impact on families and communities, I was uplifted by what I saw in the schools. Upon entering West Liberty Elementary, I saw the superintendent, school board members, principal, teachers, students and community members who exhibited a “can-do” spirit that can overcome any obstacle. The teachers and principal were all wearing t-shirts. On the front was “West Liberty Elementary – the Miracle on the Hill.” On the back was a remarkable statement: “We’re not just surviving, we’re thriving – expect the best.” In the face of unbelievable devastation of the school and community, this school exhibited the spirit of the entire community. We will not just survive, we will thrive.

In Magoffin County, I experienced the same can-do attitude I saw in Morgan. The high school and middle school principals began working within hours of the storm to develop a schedule so the middle school students could stay together in the high school. The graded school staff worked many hours to prepare an older building to accommodate all of the students so they would not have to be split.

In both counties, the superintendent, central office administrators, school board and communities are to be commended for pulling together to provide schools for children and help them return to some normalcy. Many of these children and teachers lost their homes; however, they do have the routine of school to help them cope with the challenges.

There are other school systems and counties that were impacted by those storms and previous storms. Our Kentucky Department of Education staff is to be commended for its support of these schools and districts. Within hours of the recent storms, our staff worked with local staff to assess the situation and offer support and guidance as they began the long-haul work of clean up, insurance settlements, attendance, FEMA requirements and long-term facility planning.

The long-term challenges for the counties impacted by the recent storms are numerous. Addressing facility needs for replacement and repair, addressing the economic impact due to loss of homes and business on the school budget, and addressing the long-term impact on the lives of students and teachers are just a few. Our entire state came together to support these counties in the short-term; however, we must now come together to continue to support these counties in the long term. Over coming months, it will become more clear as to what that support looks like, and I take it as one of my responsibilities as commissioner to keep these needs in front of key decision-makers in our state.