Thursday, September 27, 2012

Innovation and Kentucky Schools

This week, I attended the Kentucky Leads the Nation (KLN) roundtable. KLN is the initiative started by Leon Mooneyhan, Ph.D., director of the Ohio Valley Education Cooperative (OVEC), in partnership with the other regional cooperatives in Kentucky.

The purpose of KLN is to help school districts engage in conversations with policymakers about how to transform education in Kentucky and across the nation through innovation/technology. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) supports this effort as part of the state plan to transform education in Kentucky that was a charge to Governor Steve Beshear’s Transforming Education in Kentucky task force. In addition to KLN, there are several other components of the state effort.

House Bill 37, passed in 2012, describes “districts of innovation.” Rep. Carl Rollins led efforts to pass this legislation, which encourages schools and districts to rethink how learning might look in schools and districts to engage and motivate students to reach college and career readiness levels. Districts should receive information on the application process this winter, and implementation will begin with the 2013-14 school year.

For several years, Kentucky has been working with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) through the Innovation Lab Network. This coalition of nine states is working on personalized learning that can be delivered any time, any place, anywhere. The mission of the coalition is to transform the public education system by first creating demonstration sites that transform the teaching and learning process to produce more students who are college and career ready.

Another terrific partnership is with the University Of Kentucky School Of Education. The P-20 Innovation Lab has a mission of innovating for our collective educational future. The P-20 lab works directly with schools and districts to create exciting “labs” focused on transforming education.

Recently, Kentucky was one of two states selected to participate in the Global Education Leaders Program (GELP). This is an international effort to bring together strong leaders across the globe to share ideas on how to transform education.

Also recently, the Kentucky Board of Education asked KDE to move forward with the creation of a 501 c(3) entity to generate donations and funding for the efforts mentioned above. We are in the process of setting up this entity and will announce its board members in October.

There is much work going on in Kentucky with implementation of Unbridled Learning; however, we also are working hard to create new models of teaching and learning that will prepare more students for the global competition they will face for jobs and careers. For more information about our efforts toward innovation, contact David Cook, director of KDE’s Division of Innovation and Partner Engagement.

Friday, September 21, 2012

School Board Role Key for College/Career Readiness

Recently, I’ve worked with the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) as the organization prepares for its annual regional meetings for school board members.

KSBA continues to be a strong partner in our work to implement Unbridled Learning. Over the past few years, KSBA has provided training and support for school board members focused on implementation of Common Core Standards, career and technical programs, improving the graduation rate and understanding the new assessment and accountability system.

Bill Scott, executive director for KSBA, offers the key roles for school boards:
Ø  Set clear and high expectations.
Ø  Create the conditions for success.
Ø  Hold the system accountable.
Ø  Create the public will to succeed.
Ø  Learn as a board team.

In setting clear and high expectations, we were very excited that every school board chair and superintendent signed the Commonwealth Commitment to College and Career Readiness a few years ago. From research, we know that the first step in improving classroom-, school-, district- and state-level student performance is to establish high expectations. The Kentucky Board of Education has set a goal of increasing the percentage of students that graduate college/career-ready from 34 percent to 67 percent by 2015. It is my hope that as school boards set goals for superintendent evaluations, the college/career-ready goal will be part of the annual evaluation of the superintendent. This is a clear signal in setting high expectations for the school system.

In creating conditions for success, the key role of the school board during this time of dwindling resources is to focus on those strategies and activities that are aligned with the goals of the school system. We have reached a point in our local and state budgets that we are unable to do everything for every constituent group. By focusing on a few strategic priorities and providing support for these priorities, school boards can stretch existing dollars.

One of the key ways to create conditions for success is to focus on working conditions. KSBA has provided excellent training on how school boards can utilize the TELL Kentucky working conditions survey to provide support for educators.

Hold the system accountable. With the advent of the new School Report Card, school board members will have easy access to data about their schools and districts. The new School Report Card also will allow the school board to provide transparency of data to the local community. Also, board members will have access to school and district improvement plans that are aligned to goals of college/career readiness, student achievement, graduation rate and closing achievement gaps. Close monitoring of the district plan at regularly scheduled intervals will certainly signal to the public that boards are committed to accountability.

School board members have to advocate for improving student outcomes. I believe that through setting high expectations, creating conditions for success, holding the system accountable and being transparent about progress, school boards will build public will to support schools.

Finally, it is important that the board work as a team and learn as a team. KSBA offers many excellent training modules that are closely aligned to Unbridled Learning. Also, by scheduling regular reviews of progress toward district goals that will be documented in the district and school improvement plans, the board will soon learn what is working and what is not working. This information provides the board with the ability to target resources to improve the effectiveness and productivity of the school system.

I tip my hat to school board members across Kentucky. They work for little or no pay. They receive lots of criticism (especially around budget time). However, they are dedicated individuals who are committed to improving the future for the children of Kentucky.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Collaborative Work to Help the Teaching Profession

This week I was struck by what is happening in Chicago with the teacher strike, contrasted against the collaborative work going on in Kentucky. Over the past few days, Kentucky was very much focused on elevating the teaching profession. The Prichard Committee has launched a task force to look closely at improving teacher effectiveness. This task force has been charged with looking at teacher preparation, professional development, recruiting and retaining great teachers, and supporting teachers. Hats off to Executive Director Stu Silberman and the task force for looking at these issues in a thoughtful way and engaging teachers in the process.

Also this week, I dropped by to visit with my Teacher Advisory Committee, which was working with our professional development task force. This task force is an outgrowth of our selection as a model state to develop guidelines for professional development and support of teachers as they implement the Common Core State Standards. I was excited to see the group working very hard to develop key recommendations for professional development that I hope will in turn provide the framework for legislation for the 2013 session.

Another group that I am working with is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). This group is developing accreditation standards for teacher preparation programs. I am co-chairing the accountability and public reporting committee. Our challenge is to develop key outcome measures for teacher preparation programs, levels of accreditation, public reporting and transparency guidelines, and annual performance requirements.

The national conversation about teachers and the teaching profession was certainly highlighted through the Chicago teacher strike. One of the key issues leading to the strike was the proposed teacher evaluation system that would include some measure of student performance. In Kentucky, we have been working with teachers and other stakeholders for almost two years to develop a statewide teacher effectiveness system.

The goal of our system is not teacher dismissal but teacher professional growth. In the past, our teacher evaluation systems have been narrowly focused without a lot of feedback and support for teacher professional growth. Our proposed system would greatly improve the feedback that teachers receive during the evaluation cycle and also provide access to the best professional development in the world, customized to meet the needs of the individual teacher and thus meet the needs of students in the teacher’s classroom. I was provided with an early look at our comprehensive software system that will provide teachers and administrators with the tools to bring our proposed system to fruition.

I am thankful to be in Kentucky and working with stakeholders who believe in collaboration to elevate and improve the teaching profession.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Three Education Topics that Must Be Addressed

The great American tradition of national political conventions has been the major focus of the last few weeks. While the outcome of the conventions (nomination of a presidential candidate) was never in doubt, the conventions do provide some insight as to the agenda for the candidates if elected. While both parties certainly focused on key issues, I found that the education topic did not receive as much attention as I would have hoped for from either party. Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, I feel that there are several key issues that must be addressed if this nation is to ensure a bright future for our children.

First and foremost, we must address poverty in this nation. The U.S. has the highest poverty rate for children among the industrialized nations. Poverty is the strongest predictor of educational outcomes. In his book Measure of a Nation, Howard Steven Friedman makes a strong case about the connection between poverty and education. Of the Americans who are classified as low-income who do not gain a college degree, 46 percent remain in the lowest economic quintile, while only 16 percent who did gain a college degree remain in the lowest quintile.

As I visit schools and districts across Kentucky, I am struck by the large gap between those districts who have high percentages of childhood poverty and those that have stronger socioeconomic indicators. The free and reduced-price meal percentage varies from 2 percent to 100 percent across Kentucky schools. In general, schools with large percentages of students in poverty spend less per pupil, which in turn means less funding to meet the needs of children.

Another key concern that must be addressed is the provision of high-quality preschool programs to children, especially those in poverty. Currently, parents who earn less than $15,000 per year enroll their children in preschool programs at a rate 20 percent lower than the national average. The children who need the most help in closing the achievement gap do not have access to the very programs that will pay significant benefits to them and society in the long run.

Finally, we must address the costs of higher education. The growing gap between those who can afford higher education and those who cannot is one of the most dangerous trends in our nation. The umbrella that will shelter our children from the economic storm is higher education, whether in the form of a one-year technical degree, two-year associate degree or four-year degree.

Neither party nor presidential candidate has all the answers to the challenges facing our nation. However, I hope educators will look closely at how the candidates address these key education issues. While there are many other hot buttons such as innovation, school choice, vouchers, teacher preparation, teacher evaluation, accountability waivers and more, I believe the three issues I have highlighted are the keys to helping more children be prepared for success in their future.