Friday, January 25, 2013

Progress on a Professional Growth and Effectiveness System

This week, Kentucky made significant movement toward a statewide teacher and principal effectiveness system.

While Kentucky usually is one of the first states to implement education reform ideas, on teacher/principal effectiveness we have moved very deliberately. Why? The research in this field is developing, so there are many strategies but not many proven strategies to improve teacher/principal effectiveness systems. With the recent release of the Gates-funded Measuring Effective Teaching Project results, we are now seeing “causal” relationships between teaching and student learning. Kentucky is replicating the MET project on a state level and hopefully our work will inform the field.

Our significant progress with the teacher/principal effectiveness work has been led by a terrific team of Kentucky Department of Education educators led by Associate Commissioner Felicia Cummings Smith. They have had the honor of working with a stakeholder group that has teachers in the majority. This week, I shared the honor of working with the Teacher Effectiveness Steering Committee and have included my remarks to that group below.

By the end of the two-day meeting, the committee had made significant progress toward development of key recommendations to guide legislation and regulatory language. The Kentucky Board of Education will receive an update on this work at the February meeting. Also, we anticipate Rep. Carl Rollins filing legislation in February that reflects the work of the group; then the Kentucky Board of Education will implement the regulatory language process in April.

 Remarks to Teacher Effectiveness Steering Committee
January 23, 2013

In 2009, Senate Bill 1 gave us a new vision for education in Kentucky -- a vision that was grounded in college and career readiness for all students. About the same time, the Obama administration was moving us toward a new vision for American public education -- a vision grounded in improving America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace by improving American education. With the announcement of Race to the Top grants and eventually the No Child Left Behind waiver process, the President and Secretary of Education provided the components of the vision.

In response to these initiatives, Kentucky assembled a stakeholder group that articulated our state vision and strategies aligned to the national focus. This has become our strategic plan in Kentucky and is guiding the work of KDE, districts, schools, and classrooms. What I consider to be the most important strategy in this work is teacher effectiveness. As Commissioner of Education, I appointed this task force to develop recommendations for the Kentucky Board of Education to incorporate into proposed legislation and subsequent regulation -- with the charge to Kentucky Department of Education to implement them through the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System.
Many other states have done this work TO teachers. My intent was to do this work WITH teachers. While other states have moved quickly to develop models, Kentucky chose to be deliberate and involve the voice of the teacher and other stakeholders in the development of the professional growth system. There were several goals of a growth system that were considered.

1)    According to the “Widget Effect,” 99 percent of teachers in states were rated as satisfactory or above while there were significant differences in student achievement between the states. Therefore, a goal could have been to improve the distribution of teacher evaluation ratings so they would be seen as more valid and reliable.
2)   According to most national reports, the impact of the teacher on student growth and achievement is the most significant school-based factor. Therefore, a goal could have been to improve student growth and achievement.
3)    My charge to this task force was to develop a system of growth and support for teachers. By improving the observation tool, feedback to teachers for instructional growth, and providing the support for a professional learning system, then Kentucky would certainly achieve the first two goals.

 This group has done unbelievable work over the last 18-24 months. We arrive now at a point where we must complete our recommendations for the Kentucky Board of Education and move from recommendations to implementation, monitoring and improving the growth system that we developed.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Closing Achievement Gaps and NCLB Waiver

During 2011, I was working with a committee of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to develop guidelines for next generation accountability models. The timing was good for Kentucky since Senate Bill 1 (2009) required new standards, assessments, and accountability model.

My hope in working at the state and national level was reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) with a focus on college and career readiness similar to Senate Bill 1. As it played out, reauthorization was stalled. However, President Obama and Secretary Duncan moved forward with a waiver process for states that included many of the recommendations from the CCSSO accountability committee. To date, 34 states have been approved for a waiver and several other states are asking for specific waivers.

While we appreciate the waiver process, state chiefs agree that the most stable solution is reauthorization of NCLB by Congress. Early in February, I hope to testify before a Senate committee holding hearings on the waiver process and NCLB reauthorization. I know that one of the key concerns for Congress and for advocacy groups across the nation is closing achievement gaps. I wanted to connect a few points through this blog.

This week, we have sent out maps to all school districts and major stakeholders showing the proficiency rates of key groups of students. Our expectation in Kentucky is that school districts and schools will have annual goals to raise proficiency rates and that over a five year period, we will cut in half the gap between current performance and the aspirational goal of 100 percent proficient. As with NCLB, we continue to have the aspirational goal of 100 percent proficient, however, we are being much more focused on how to make steady progress and we have created rigorous but achievable annual targets for improvement. Interested readers can find these annual targets for every district and school by going to the new school report card, choosing a school or district and then clicking on the “delivery” tab on the profile page.

The most critical element of closing achievement gaps are the strategies used by schools and districts. The Commissioner's Raising Achievement/Closing Gaps Council has provided a comprehensive report and recommendations. The Kentucky Department of Education is providing strong support for schools and districts that have significant achievement gaps through our focus and priority schools implementation. Also, we are tracking the progress of each school and district and their plans for closing gaps through a comprehensive planning software program called ASSIST.

As I prepare for my testimony to the Congressional committee, I will emphasize that in Kentucky we have not backed up on our push to close achievement gaps. Closing achievement gaps remains the moral, economic and civil rights issue of our times and every educator in Kentucky is committed to helping all children reach college and career readiness.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Key Education Issues for 2013

Over the holiday season I was catching up on my professional reading. Also, I was tracking education writers and their predictions for 2013. I thought it would be good to summarize what I think will be key issues for Kentucky education at the state and national level.

Funding – Funding for education will continue to be on the front burner. At the state level, we see several key issues that will impact funding. The state pension system reform will require significant resources that will eventually have a negative impact on state education funds.

At the national level, the fiscal cliff deal only delayed sequestration decisions for two months. In addition, there will be cuts to federal education funds as Congress has to cut $24 billion due to the two month delay in sequestration.

At the state level, we will see significant discussion over the report by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform. My guess is that this issue will be dealt with in a special session. Overall, my prediction on education funding is that we will see continuing reductions in state and federal funds due to the many pressing issues and lack of willingness to increase revenues.

Programs – Early childhood will be one of the top priorities at state and federal levels. Investments in early childhood provide the best return on investment for education dollars. We will also see a state push to raise the dropout age from 16 to 18. A number of other states will also have legislation proposed. This will be a year where Title II issues such as teacher preparation and teacher evaluation gain a lot of momentum and the Secretary of Education will release new guidelines for Title II funding that will support this reform agenda. I have absolutely NO hope to see reauthorization of No Child Left Behind in 2013, however, the state waiver process will inform the debate on reauthorization and lay the groundwork for reauthorization in 2014.

School safety – Everyone agrees that we need to focus on school safety, however, there will not be agreement on specifics. Armed guards have been proposed but funding limitations will hinder that proposal. More focus on gun control laws will be debated and we will see legislation proposed to allow teachers to have concealed permits to carry arms on campus. We will see a lot of debate about reforming mental health. We will also see significant discussions about a culture of violence promoted by media and video games. In the end, I am not certain if much will be accomplished due to the polarization of this issue.

All in all, 2013 does look like a very busy year and a year that I believe will see some significant reform on several fronts. As always, Kentucky educators will be leading on key issues and heavily involved in others.