Thursday, May 24, 2012

Reforming Teacher Preparation Programs

Over the past few weeks, I have attended several meetings that, on the surface, do not seem related but are very much connected.

I serve on the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the nation’s report card – the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). We had our quarterly meeting recently, and there were two presentations that caught my interest.

The first presentation related to the changing demographics in our nation. Over 90 percent of the population growth in our country in the past 10 years has been in ethnic minorities. For the first time in our history, the majority of births this past year were to minority populations. The nation’s demographics are shifting so that by 2025, the majority of school-age children will be minorities. There are many positives about this data; however, there are concerns that minorities often also have large percentages of poverty, and poverty is a strong indicator of lower performance on state and national assessments.

The second presentation that piqued my interest was an analysis of the demographic change on the NAEP scores over the past 30 years. Our schools have done a tremendous job over the past 30 years. All groups of children – white and non-white – have increased NAEP performance by as much as 20 to 30 points over the past 30 years. However, the overall NAEP has moved only a couple of points.

In statistics, this is called Simpson’s Paradox. The paradox is that all groups have improved significantly, but due to changing demographics and increasing percentages of students in poverty and non-white categories, the NAEP overall average has not increased as much as individual groups.

This has tremendous implications for teacher preparation programs. While our teachers have done a terrific job over the past three decades in raising achievement of all children, the challenges are going to continue to be more difficult. Students with special needs such as disabilities and language barriers are going to require a significant change in the way teachers are prepared. ALL teachers need training and support in diagnosing and meeting the needs of a growing diverse population. Our teacher preparation programs and certainly our professional development programs must adapt to the challenges.

The next meeting I attended was the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). This group is recommending new standards for the accreditation of teacher preparation programs. The group had the same conversation as did the NAGB board. Given the changing demographics of our nation’s children, there are tremendous implications for change in the way schools of education prepare our nation’s teachers.

Over the coming months, I will keep readers informed about the progress of the CAEP standards. These standards have a direct impact on Kentucky schools of education and our licensure system. Our Kentucky teachers and teacher preparation programs have done tremendous work over the past 20 years in improving student performance in Kentucky. However, just like the rest of the nation, our demographics are changing.

Our students are bringing more challenges to the classroom than ever before. It is imperative that our P-12 systems work very closely with teacher preparation programs to provide prospective teacher candidates with clinical experiences and training that prepare them for the children they will be teaching. Our state and national economies are very much dependent on our ability to ensure that children of poverty and children with learning challenges are prepared for college and careers.

Friday, May 18, 2012

How It All Fits Together

As schools and districts finish the school year, there are many nervous teachers, principals, superintendents and school board members. The reason is the implementation of 2009’s Senate Bill 1, the work of which is now called Unbridled Learning, has become reality.

Quite often when Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) folks are out working with educators in regional meetings, there are many concerns raised about the amount of work to do in implementing Unbridled Learning. We at KDE certainly understand the challenge of doing more with less. During one of our recent leadership team meetings, we discussed the need to communicate how all the pieces of Unbridled Learning fit together. This blog is a brief overview of that.

In any system, there are seven components that interact to produce results. With Unbridled Learning, we are trying to address all seven components.

1) Expectations – The Kentucky General Assembly was very clear about expectations for college/career readiness through the passage of Senate Bill 1. We have worked closely with higher education, military, and industry to clearly define expectations for high school graduates, and through the Common Core Standards, we have defined expectations to the kindergarten level.

2) Clearly defined measures and information systems – Through our work with higher education, military and industry, we have defined the measures of college and career readiness. Through our MUNIS, Infinite Campus, Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS) and ASSIST planning software, we have developed an integrated information system that will provide timely and accurate data on how well students, teachers, principals, schools, districts and the state are meeting expectations.

3) Leadership – Through the regional networks, we have worked to develop leadership in every district to guide the implementation of Unbridled Learning.

4) Strategic goals and action plans – The Kentucky Board of Education has established specific and measureable goals to meet the expectations of Senate Bill 1. Through the ASSIST software, every district and school will have specific and measureable goals tied to college/career readiness, proficiency rates, growth, gaps and graduation. Schools and districts will be able to track the deployment of specific strategies through the ASSIST software.

5) Processes – Key process are being developed around the accountability system and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver. We are working on redefining the learning process through our innovation work. We are working with chief financial officers across Kentucky districts to identify several key support processes where we can improve productivity and efficiency.

6) Resources – Through the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Kentucky survey, we are working to improve working conditions in schools and districts. We are working to define teacher and principal effectiveness. We are working to overhaul our approach to professional development. We are developing an Innovation Foundation to identify additional sources of revenue.

7) Results – Through the Unbridled Learning accountability model, we will track short-term and long-term results from the state level to the student level.

While it often seems like we are asking schools and districts to “do one more thing,” there is a clear plan for how all of the components create a much improved system of learning in Kentucky that helps us reach the vision of every child proficient and college/career-ready. In order to reach this vision, all the components of the system must be clearly defined and aligned.

Over the coming months, KDE will be sharing more communication about “ how it all fits together.” As the results from our first year of implementing Common Core Standards, new assessments and the new accountability system start to come in, it will be critical that we look at the parts of the system that are not aligned or missing. Unbridled Learning will most certainly continue to develop as we do this.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Changing the Way Educators Learn

For this week’s blog entry, I asked Associate Commissioner Felicia Cumings Smith to author a piece about professional learning. Felicia’s staff in the Office of Next-Generation Learners is keenly aware of the need to rethink the way Kentucky educators engage in training and learning to support their students and ensure their success.

As Kentucky continues to lead the nation with its college- and career-ready agenda, it cannot deny the critical role that professional learning plays. Being selected by Learning Forward as the Demonstration State for Implementing the Common Core Standards has enabled us to elevate the discussion related to professional learning and begin to analyze what steps are needed to support educators becoming more effective in their teaching and learning practices.

A report -- Transforming Professional Learning in Kentucky: Meeting the Demands of the Common Core State Standards -- authored by Linda Darling-Hammond (Stanford University) and Barnett Berry (Center for Teaching Quality) offers a look into the professional learning policy landscape in our state. Several recommendations deserve our immediate attention as we seek to ensure that all students have access to highly effective teaching, learning and assessment practices that will prepare them for college and career success.

In particular, the following suggest shifts in practice for a systems approach to professional learning for Kentucky educators:
1.      creating a “culture change” around professional learning — particularly with use of time during and beyond the school day; accessing/capitalizing on internal expertise; and focusing more on learning than on complying with a time requirement for professional development hours
2.      ensuring there is coherence and integration of professional learning systems — between higher education and P-12 (transition, remediation, preparation, professional learning/recertification)
3.      developing a clear vision of professional learning and growth that translates into practice for all (ultimately, ensuring equity in students’ access to effective teachers, leaders, and learning experiences)

The aforementioned document may be found on the Kentucky Department of Education’s website here. The work of the Professional Learning Task Force, which is comprised of individuals representing teachers, administrators and partners, is referenced throughout.

As Kentucky continues to build momentum for meeting the state college and career readiness goals, professional learning and educator effectiveness will be foundational to these conversations.

Felicia Cumings Smith, Associate Commissioner
Office of Next-Generation Learners

Friday, May 4, 2012

Set Aside May 8 to Thank a Teacher

Kentucky Derby Weekend is here, and I am sure a lot of you are planning to enjoy the fastest two minutes in sport, whether it be in person at Churchill Downs or more remotely at home or at a Derby party. It’s a wonderful event for Kentucky and spotlights many of this state’s strong traditions.

Another great tradition in Kentucky’s recent history is its efforts to improve learning for all students. It is an ongoing process and one that has involved incredible work this year, particularly by Kentucky teachers.

It is often said that teachers do not receive the recognition for the work they do. That is why I encourage everybody to take a few minutes on May 8, National Teacher Appreciation Day, to thank teachers for the wonderful work they do every day to ensure our children are successful.

Tremendous change has occurred in Kentucky public education system this year with the implementation of new standards and state tests, the creation of the Unbridled Learning accountability system and the development of the new teacher and principal Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES).

Kentucky is a national leader in the effort to increase student achievement and prepare kids for life after high school. That excites us and brings us great pride. But I realize it also brings its share of stress and uncertainty, especially for teachers and others who feel pressure to learn and master the changes so they can raise achievement for all students and accomplish the goals we have set.

Yet, despite the additional work and the continued budget cuts, lack of textbook money and limited resources for professional development, I have been continually impressed with what I have seen as I visit classrooms throughout Kentucky. As I visit schools across the state and talk to educators, I am impressed by the high expectations Kentucky teachers are setting for their students and themselves and the innovation they are undertaking in their classrooms. Teachers have risen to the occasion as they have worked to implement new Common Core Standards, prepared for the new K-PREP assessments and Program Reviews, and developed innovative ways to ensure Kentucky students are engaged in meaningful learning that will ensure they are college- and career-ready.

A lot of states have been undertaking similar work in their schools. Not all those efforts have been productive or collegial. Some have resulted in legal wrangling.

In Kentucky, however, teachers are partners in our efforts to create new curriculum, instruction, assessment and evaluation systems that will help us ensure all children have the skills they need to succeed after graduation. At every stage, teachers have been at the table, working in networks to implement new standards, piloting new practices and systems and alerting us to implementation issues and problems that we may not have foreseen. This is exemplified by our ongoing, strong collaboration with the development of the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System.

In turn, I and the Kentucky Board of Education have continued  to seek out teacher input and insights through the TELL Kentucky survey — a tool that offers us valuable information as we focus on doing a better job of preparing teachers for the classroom and supporting those that are already there with effective professional development.

Kentucky is blessed to have such hard-working professionals in our schools. Showing our appreciation to them on May 8 is a small act. But it is one that I know would be much appreciated and is very much deserved.