Friday, March 29, 2013

TELL Kentucky

As we wrap up the 2013 Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Kentucky survey, I want to thank the coalition of partners who supported the survey. I also want to thank Governor Beshear for his support and vision for TELL Kentucky.

The 2013 TELL Kentucky survey was a huge success. We had more than 42,000 teachers and principals respond –more than 83 percent of school-based certified staff in the state. In addition, more than 90 percent of our schools reached the 50 percent response rate required to receive a feedback report.

Now the hard work begins. It is extremely important that school councils and principals, school boards and superintendents, review the results from the survey and make plans on what to celebrate and what to improve. We are honored that many of our partners in Kentucky have developed tools to help councils, principals, superintendents and school boards review the data and put the results to use for school improvement. For more information on available resources, please check out the web site

Sometime this summer, the Kentucky Board of Education will also review the survey results and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) will work with our partners to celebrate successes and plan statewide strategies to address needed improvements. KDE will also conduct research on which survey domains most strongly correlate to improving student achievement.

It is my hope that all of our partners will join together in using the results of the survey to push for additional resources and support for classroom teachers and principals. Our Kentucky educators have done tremendous work in the last few years. With the implementation of common core standards, assessments, accountability and professional learning, we have asked educators to do much more with a whole lot less. As we approach the General Assembly budget session in 2014, it will be a tremendous asset to say that according to more than 42,000 teachers in Kentucky, we need the following …

When I came to Kentucky in 2009, Phil Rogers who was then the Executive Director of the Education Professional Standards Board and Mary Ann Blankenship with the Kentucky Education Association approached me to garner my support for the TELL Kentucky survey. As a former superintendent in North Carolina, I used the working conditions survey that is the basis for TELL Kentucky, so I knew firsthand how important it is to determine teachers’ and principals’ views about their working conditions. Having worked with the survey for more than 10 years, I am very confident in the following statement – Ensuring great working conditions for educators ensures great learning conditions for students!

Again, thank you teachers, principals, superintendents and all of our partners for your support of the TELL Kentucky survey and the data it generates that is so critical for improving education in our state.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Schools' role in Work Ready Communities

For nearly two years, communities across the commonwealth have been working to become more attractive to businesses who may consider locating there. It’s been good for counties and an opportunity for schools. Governor Beshear announced the Work Ready Communities initiative in August 2011. Below are highlights from that announcement.

Thanks to the launch of Work Ready Communities by the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board (KWIB), Governor Beshear announced today that Kentucky counties can now be certified as "work ready" based on the quality of their labor force. The new program is designed to transform local economies and give counties a competitive advantage in attracting new businesses and jobs.

“We have business and industry in Kentucky that require a skilled workforce. This program provides us with a way to prove it, county by county,” said Gov. Steve Beshear. “In addition, the program promotes collaboration among key community stakeholders including education, economic development, elected officials, employers, workforce agencies and community organizations as they work toward common community goals.”

Earning Certified Work Ready Community status assures that local workforces have the talent necessary to staff existing jobs and to master the innovative technologies new jobs will require in the future.

Each community must gather local support and commitment and apply for the Work Ready Community designation. To earn certification, counties will have to meet established criteria in six specific areas:

*high school graduation rate
*National Career Readiness Certificate holders
*demonstrated community commitment
*educational attainment
*soft skills development
*digital literacy

Already, several counties have met the criteria and been certified Work Ready. Other are in the process of doing so. The Work Ready Communities initiative is an excellent way for superintendents and school boards to work with local leaders to focus on college and career readiness.

I strongly encourage superintendents and school boards to participate in this work since this collaboration will most certainly improve the high school graduation rate and the college/career ready rate in the district and have a positive impact on school accountability.

Work Ready Communities will improve the economic future of children and our state. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Productive Legislative Session

All in all, the 2013 session of the General Assembly was a very productive session for education. The major initiative of the Governor, First Lady and the Kentucky Board of Education was the passage of the graduation bill. This bill allows local school systems to raise the dropout age from 16 to 18. The bill includes a state trigger – once 55 percent of school districts adopt the change in policy, it will become a requirement in all districts within four years. It is my goal to have 55 percent of the school districts adopt a local policy raising the dropout age from 16 to 18 by the end of the 2013-14 school year. If we are successful in reaching our goal, then starting in the 2017-18 school year students across Kentucky would be required to attend school until they are 18.

Another major piece of legislation that was passed during this session was HB 180. This bill requires the KBE/KDE to work with stakeholders to develop a statewide system of teacher/principal effectiveness and support. This bill was in response to federal requirements for the No Child Left Behind waiver.

Additionally, legislation was passed to complete the reorganization of the career and technical education programs in Kentucky. All CTE programs in K-12 were merged and placed under the Kentucky Department of Education. A statewide advisory panel will assist in developing the details of the merger and the vision for career and technical education in Kentucky.

Also, the General Assembly passed two identical preschool funding bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, that will be much fairer to districts and much easier to understand. The funding bill will help districts plan budgets when they have a loss in preschool enrollment.

Finally, I wanted to highlight the early graduation bill. This bill allows students to graduate from high school and move on to postsecondary options at the end of the junior year; it protects school district funding and provides scholarship funds to students. Also, the bill allows the typical KEES scholarship money to be calculated as if the student had completed 4 years of high school. This bill will help districts utilize funds gained from the early graduation option to improve the services for alternative and career technical education which could lower the dropout rate. If districts lower their dropout rates, then they receive more SEEK funding since they have more students in attendance.

Why was this session so successful for education? The education chair of the House, Carl Rollins, and the education chair of the Senate, Mike Wilson, established an excellent working relationship. While, they did not agree on everything, there was a sense of trust and a focus on improving education in Kentucky for all children. These legislators exhibited the type of collaboration that I wish we could see more of in Congress! Also, I want to thank the Governor and First Lady who were champions for education. Finally, I want to thank the excellent team at KBE/KDE who worked many long hours in behind the scenes meetings with legislators and the terrific “K” groups who came together on key legislative issues.

Now for the fun part – developing regulations and implementing the legislation during a time of dwindling resources. Tough work, but, the right work!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Thinking outside the cage

As superintendents and school boards begin to finalize budgets for the 2013-14 school year, the impact of federal sequestration and the Kentucky School Boards Insurance Trust (KSBIT) assessment on top of the end of stimulus funds and the continued decline of state dollars have made a tough task an almost impossible task. How do you provide teachers the resources and support they need so that more children reach college and career readiness?

I recommend to education leaders a new book, “Cage-Busting Leadership” by Rick Hess, that I had a chance to read over the weekend. Many readers will recognize the name Rick Hess from his policy work at the American Enterprise Institute. The book will help education leaders think outside the “cage” when developing solutions to difficult problems that we all are facing with regard to budget and reaching higher levels of performance.

Hess believes that two things are true.

“It is true, as would-be reformers often argue, that statutes, policies, rules, regulation, contracts and case law make it tougher than it should be for school and systems leaders to drive improvement, and, well, lead. However, it is also the case that leaders have far more freedom to transform, reimagine, and invigorate teaching, learning, and schooling than widely believed.”

As I read the book, I relived many experiences as a teacher, principal, local superintendent and commissioner when I looked at how things could be rather than how they were. We, as education leaders, are in a remarkable time when
leadership will truly make a difference for children. Just one example of “cage-busting leadership” helps to make the point.

As we look at our budget challenges in Kentucky, we have the opportunity to create new models of teaching and learning. We are seeing some of these models in our Innovation Lab Network schools and in the proposals being developed for our Districts of Innovation legislation. Rick Hess mentions a few models on page 149.

Rotation – Within a given course or subject, students rotate between learning modalities. Rocketship Education has created a hybrid model where students rotate out of classrooms to receive extra math and reading instruction via online learning.

Flipped classroom – This model utilizes online instruction for content; students receive more teacher-guided practice in the classroom.

Flex model – Students receive primarily online instruction and have a fluid schedule at school.

Self-blend – Students choose to take one or more courses online and blend between other models for the remainder of their course schedule.

As we all try to solve the challenges of less money and increasing expectations, I hope as leaders we will look to innovative methods and creative problem solving to help more students reach college and career readiness.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Clear direction for improvement

Last Saturday, I gave a short speech at the Kentucky School Boards Association winter conference. A portion of my speech was to recognize the tremendous work of school boards and educators across Kentucky as evidenced by recent rankings by Education Week that put Kentucky in the top 10 states for education policy and results. It is undeniable that Kentucky has made progress in lowering dropout rates, improving student learning outcomes, improving graduation rates and improving college-and career-readiness rates. The vision for our improvements was provided by the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990 and more recently by Senate Bill 1 of 2009.

During my speech I also provided clear direction as to improvements that will be made in school board training and superintendent evaluations. I want to provide readers with some insight into the reasons behind these improvements.

1. While most of our local school boards and superintendents are doing a terrific job, there has been evidence recently of inappropriate behaviors and poor fiscal management among some. Given the challenging times that we are in with state and federal budgets, it is extremely important that local school boards and superintendents exercise excellent management of ethics and fiscal responsibility. That is why we will be addressing specific changes in local board training requirements to emphasize ethical and fiscal management training for all board members. 
2. With the No Child Left Behind waiver, Kentucky is required to develop new effectiveness and evaluation tools for teachers and principals. It only makes sense that superintendents also share the responsibility of improved effectiveness and evaluation systems.

3. With the passage of Senate Bill 1 in 2009, the subsequent development of the Kentucky Board of Education Unbridled Learning strategic plan and accountability model, and the implementation of the No Child Left Behind waiver, clear delivery targets have been established at the school and district levels for graduation rate, college/career ready rate, student proficiency rate, and student gap group proficiency rates. Eventually, we will add teacher/principal effectiveness rates and program review results. It is very appropriate to expect every school board to include as part of the annual superintendent evaluation process a review of the progress toward the delivery targets.

We are expecting districts to submit plans for teacher and principal evaluation systems by December 2013 with full implementation in 2014-15. Most districts will use the model developed by the state, however, local districts may submit alternative plans. However, the alternative plans must meet the requirements of the NCLB waiver. By adding the requirement that local boards submit the superintendent evaluation process by December 2013, we are ensuring alignment of all evaluation processes in the district to Senate Bill 1 and the NCLB waiver. Local boards may certainly go beyond the minimum expectations of the delivery targets.

In coming weeks, we will provide clarity on the forms that local boards must use in submitting their superintendent evaluation process. Additional requirements in the process will include fiscal management goals and a requirement that the summary statement of the superintendent evaluation be placed in the minutes of the board meeting where the summative evaluation is provided to the superintendent. I would also suggest that any changes in the superintendent contract or salary/benefits be clearly recorded in the board meeting minutes where such action was taken. Several of the recent audits by the state auditor have revealed gaps in the documentation of changes to salary and benefits.

Over the next year, the Kentucky Association of School Administrators will be sharing the excellent work they are doing to develop standards for superintendents. Hopefully, school boards will utilize these standards in the selection, support and evaluation processes for their superintendent.

All of these things working together will ensure Kentucky children are reaching higher levels of achievement. Also, through clear goals and transparency, we will ensure we do not lose the trust of the citizens that we serve.