Friday, August 31, 2012

Kentucky Focuses on Career and Technical Education

This week, Governor Steve Beshear signed an executive order that brings the Office of Career and Technical Education (OCTE), located in the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, into the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) as a new office. The new Office of Career and Technical Education will be led by Associate Commissioner Dale Winkler, Ed.D. The merger is effective October 16.

This merger is the result of several years of work. The concept surfaced during meetings with the Governor’s Task Force on Transforming Education in Kentucky, and there were several key recommendations from the task force that led to the formation of a Career and Technical Education advisory group to work through the steps needed to complete the merger. Staff from KDE and OCTE worked behind the scenes to coordinate the necessary steps to make the merger a reality.

The OCTE has 54 Area Technical Centers across Kentucky, and the KDE career and technical education staff work with all high schools that offer local centers and high school course offerings. The merger builds on the excellent collaboration that has been happening between OCTE and KDE over the past few years and is a reflection of the outstanding staff we have in both areas.

Superintendents, principals, teachers and students will not see a lot of immediate impact from the merger. Much of the collaboration has already happened. The adoption of a new accountability model based on 2009’s Senate Bill 1 that is now called Unbridled Learning elevated the focus on career and technical education through a measure called college- and career-readiness. Through collaboration with the Workforce Investment Board, the Governor’s Office, and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, we have a focus on “work-ready” communities across Kentucky. Work-ready communities provide additional leverage and support to ensure that high school graduates are prepared for job, military and citizenship opportunities available in the future. The Education and Workforce Development Cabinet has developed industry sectors that the state will focus on to bring jobs to Kentucky citizens.

Our immediate concern is to find efficiencies through the merger in order to offset reductions in career and technical teachers that were a result of recent cuts in the state budget. Through the merger, Dale Winkler and staff have identified a number of efficiencies that have led to replacing teachers in critical career and technical centers across Kentucky. Throughout the early stages of the merger, this will continue to be the number-one focus.

There will be several additional areas that Associate Commissioner Winkler will be leading as a result of the merger. The integration of the Kentucky core academic standards with career and technical courses will continue. Also, we will continue to work on identification of nationally recognized industry certifications that are aligned with the 16 career pathways. The implementation of Senator Jack Westwood’s career pathways bill also will be a high priority.
Thanks to the leadership of the Governor, General Assembly, Kentucky Association of Manufacturers, Kentucky Farm Bureau, Toyota and other business and education leaders, Kentucky is demonstrating to the nation our continued leadership in helping all high school graduates to meet the standards required for college and career readiness. Our high school graduates will have a brighter future thanks to this merger.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Finding Excitement and Focus Throughout Kentucky’s School Districts

One of my goals as commissioner is to visit all 174 school districts in Kentucky. To date, I have visited 150 districts and over 400 schools. My target date for completing all visits is December 2012.

During the past few weeks, I have visited schools and districts from east to west and north to south. The excitement level is very high during the opening weeks of school. During my visits, it is important for me to talk with administrators, teachers and students about what is working and what is not working with regard to implementation of our Unbridled Learning strategic plan. This blog provides a few highlights of my recent visits.

The Unbridled Learning vision of every child proficient and prepared for success has reached classrooms across Kentucky. In talking with students, parents, business leaders and educators, the vision of ALL students graduating with the skills needed to be successful in college and career has captured the imagination and actions of individuals across the Commonwealth. Educators, parents and business leaders tell me that they understand the vision and think it is the right one for the future of our state and the future of children. Career and technical educators are very excited about being part of the vision, and schools and districts are integrating career and technical options with academic programs.

When I visit schools, I enjoy talking directly with teachers. What I am hearing from teachers is support for the Common Core Standards. Teachers of language arts are especially excited about the increasing rigor of writing and research. Also, they are excited about the increase in the use of non-fiction materials. Math teachers strongly support the math standards; however, they are concerned about the learning gaps that students have and feel that it will take 3-4 years to close those gaps and see significant progress on assessments. Science teachers are very interested in the new science standards that have been recently developed for review. Social studies teachers are anxiously awaiting new social studies standards. Every teacher I have talked with at the high school level supports the new end-of-course assessments and strongly support student accountability for the assessments.

Educators are very concerned about a couple of things. The major concern is continued budget cuts. In the face of whole-scale education reform, our state budget has not funded textbooks and resources for four years. Professional development has been reduced from $25 per pupil to less than $4 per pupil. Increasing costs of health care and pensions have had an impact on local funding. Educators also are concerned about the results from the new assessments. They support the assessments, but are worried that parents and community members will not clearly understand the significant change in the results.

The visits to schools and districts are important strategies. By listening to teachers, administrators, parents, students and the business community, I can bring back to the General Assembly, education department and the Kentucky Board of Education the “realities” that our teachers are facing. I am humbled every time I visit a school by the positive and “can-do” attitude that I find. It is indeed an exciting and challenging time for education in Kentucky. Hats off to all our educators, and best wishes for a successful school year

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Debates on School Budgets Continue

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to the American Enterprise Institute on November 17, 2010:

“I am here to talk today about what has been called the New Normal. For the next several years, preschool, K-12, and postsecondary educators are likely to face the great challenge of doing more with less.

“My message is this challenge can, and should be, embraced as an opportunity to make dramatic improvements. I believe enormous opportunities for improving the productivity of our education system lie ahead if we are smart, innovative, and courageous in rethinking the status quo.

“It’s time to stop treating the problem of educational productivity as a grinding, eat-your-broccoli exercise. It’s time to start treating it as an opportunity for innovation and accelerating progress.”

I have used this quote in numerous presentations, and Secretary Duncan was our keynote speaker for the Productivity and Efficiency Conference in November 2011 in Louisville. The reality of this quote has been hitting our school districts for a number of years, and the fiscal year 2013-14 state and local budgets appear to be the most difficult in recent history.

I recently read a report from the Fordham Institute entitled How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education. This report represents feedback from surveys and focus groups conducted by the Fordham Institute. The recommendations from the report are as follows:
1)      Shrink the administration.
2)      Freeze salaries to save jobs.
3)      If teachers must be laid off, base it on their effectiveness, not years of service.
4)      Opt for larger classes taught by excellent teachers rather than smaller classes with instructors of unknown ability.
5)      Move from traditional pensions to individual retirement plans.

The purpose of this blog is not to support this particular report but to highlight the national and state debates concerning school funding. Readers also should be familiar with the possible federal cuts to education from sequestration that I warned about, the work that the Kentucky Education Advocacy Team (KEAT) has done on the state education budget and the work of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

There are only three methods that I am aware of with regard to budgets. First, we must ensure all of our processes in education are efficient and productive. Second, we must redirect existing dollars from programs that are not efficient and productive to programs that are working. And third, we must look for additional revenue sources dedicated to effective programs. Working on only one method or cutting across the board are not strategies that will work in the long term.

These next two years are going to be extremely difficult budget years given the loss of federal stimulus dollars, possible federal sequestration, state budget cuts, the pending pension crisis, rising health care costs and increasing demands on schools. Leaders and policy makers need a balanced perspective when making decisions that impact teaching and learning.

Terry Holliday, Ph.D.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Innovation and Transformation on the Horizon

This week, I’m pleased to turn over my blog space to David Cook, director of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Division of Innovation and Partner Engagement. David is leading the agency’s work around innovation, and he provides some details on the efforts coming soon.

This past week, the Kentucky Board of Education made two crucial decisions related to transforming the education system in our public schools. Most significantly, the board heard a first reading of 701 KAR 5:140, the administrative regulation that will provide the guidance to Rep. Carl Rollins’ “Districts of Innovation” legislation that became law this spring (House Bill 37, enacted 2012). The draft regulation has been met with very positive feedback and now goes through the public comment period before coming back to the board in October. 

The regulation describes the conditions for innovation; the types of innovation that are acceptable and what statutes and regulations can be waived under the law; the application process; and the monitoring of and potential revocation of “District of Innovation” status.  You can see the proposed administrative regulation (Item XXX. C. 3.) here.

Also, during its meeting on Thursday, the board gave its blessing for staff to move forward with the filing of articles of incorporation for the Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky. The fund is a crucial element to the success of the Districts of Innovation legislation and all of the state’s innovation efforts. The fund has been garnering quite a bit of support, most notably from the Prichard Committee, which sees its role as assisting with innovation implementation as an excellent complement to its role as the state’s chief education advocate.

The fund will seek resources to support innovative practices in Kentucky’s public education system as well as conduct research, spur dialogue, broker partnerships and identify proof points that can lead to the scaling of promising practices. All of these things are beyond the scope of our traditional federal and state funding streams. The fund also will give Kentucky a leg up on national and local funding opportunities for innovation that continue to shift away from grants to state education agencies in favor of independent entities like the fund.

The fund will exist as an independent, non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation with its own staff and board of directors. This independence will allow the fund to create opportunities that might not be available through the Kentucky Department of Education, as well as supplement the innovation efforts of the agency. Commissioner Terry Holliday will serve as a non-voting member of the fund’s board.

Finally, we are not going into this effort without a model from which we are learning about best practices and potential challenges. The Colorado Legacy Foundation (CLF) has been in existence since 2008. The CLF is responsible for many crucial innovative strategies in Colorado that mirror initiatives in Kentucky. The CLF is the grantee for the Gates Integration Grant around the integration of the common core and new teacher effectiveness systems, the National Math and Science Institute grant around Advanced Placement (i.e., AdvanceKY) and the Expanded Learning Opportunities work that Kentucky is doing through the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Legislation, state board policy and a partner organization to assist the department in incubating the innovative ideas that we hope can eventually go to scale -- to me, that sounds like a “perfect storm” of opportunity that will most assuredly transform education in Kentucky.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Changes in Proficiency Percentages: A State-Level View

As I have shared in presentations and webcasts over the past few months, Kentucky’s adoption of the Common Core Standards in English/language arts and mathematics, coupled with the new Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) assessments tied to those standards, will lead to proficiency rates among students that are lower than what we’ve seen previously in the Kentucky Core Content Tests (KCCT).

Staff in KDE’s Office of Assessment and Accountability have provided a state-level look at potential changes in the percentages of students scoring at proficient on the state reading and mathematics assessments.

Although these data represent a broad view of potential dips in proficiency percentages, you also can get a sense of how your high schools will perform by looking at the percentage of students meeting the Council on Postsecondary Education’s ACT benchmarks (18 in English, 19 in math and 20 in reading). The higher the percentage of students meeting those benchmarks, the higher your likely overall rates of proficiency. Grades 3-8 may conduct similar projections by looking at the EXPLORE proficiency rates. Please remember that the projections are only estimates, and the actual proficiency rates will not be available until results are reported in October.

Science and social studies data are based on the 2007 Kentucky Core Content for Assessment 4.1; therefore, distributions of proficiency will be similar to those in 2011.

We are sending this projected proficiency chart out so that local superintendents, principals and teachers will not be surprised when the actual results are reported in October. As commissioner, I am working to communicate with all stakeholders about these significant changes. Our partners at the Prichard Committee and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce also have been working hard for over a year to communicate these changes.

As local superintendents and principals estimate what their results will be, it is important to remind your teachers, parents, students and community members of a few important points.

  • These results cannot be compared to previous results, since we are assessing students on a different standard. The previous standard was basic proficiency on math and reading. The new standard is college and career readiness.
·         We made the change to college and career readiness due to the competitive global economy that was the basis of 2009’s Senate Bill 1, which required KDE and the Kentucky Board of Education to provide new standards and assessments that are internationally benchmarked.
·         The results of the Kentucky assessments are more closely aligned to results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Those results report proficiency at a much higher level than most state tests. Being proficient on NAEP is similar to our new college- and career-ready proficiency. One could say that proficiency on NAEP and the new K-PREP is similar to getting a B or B+ and being advanced/distinguished is similar to an A.

Our intent in raising the standard is to help more students prepare for a competitive employment atmosphere. Currently, we project that over 60 percent of jobs in the future will require some training beyond high school. This means that students must be better prepared for college-level work and career-entry requirements. We should not dwell on trying to compare previous years’ data with the new results. We should focus on what we need to do to help more students be competitive, which means Kentucky will be more competitive.