Friday, May 31, 2013

Summer Reading: Global Competition

Over the past few weeks, I have given several speeches that focus on the 3 E’s. I have been giving this speech for several years. The 3 E’s refer to education driving employment which drives a state and national economy. As part of my speech, I focus on the leadership of Kentucky in pushing the 3 E’s through Senate Bill 1 (2009). For summer reading, I am recommending that educators look closely at several publications. Jim Clifton wrote a book a few years ago entitled The Coming Jobs War. Also, Valerie Hannon and others have written an excellent book called Learning a Living. Finally, I recommend a McKinsey Center for Government report entitled Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works. All three of these publications provide excellent insight into the global competition for jobs and the potential impact on not only the U.S. economy but the global economy.

Jim Clifton offers several interesting statistics. There are 7 billion people on earth. More than 5 billion are age 15 or older. More than 3 billion people say they must work or want to work. Currently there are only 1.2 billion full-time, formal jobs. That means there is a shortfall of 1.8 billion jobs. Readers can see evidence of this with the global unemployment rate of more than 8 percent and the unemployment rates for 18-24 year olds in European countries (more than 25 percent in some countries).  Clifton talks additionally about the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is currently at $60 trillion. The U.S. has one-fourth of the GDP with a national GDP of more than $15 trillion. With projected population and economic growth, the world’s GDP will grow to $140 trillion. This offers enormous opportunities for the nations who seek economic growth. However, a key fundamental for economic growth is education and the creation of jobs. Clifton sums it up very well: “If countries fail at creating jobs, their societies will fall apart.”
In Hannon’s book (Learning a Living), and in the McKinsey report, there are many excellent U.S. and international examples of specific strategies states and nations are implementing to ensure education and job creation. In Kentucky, we have programs like Toyota Advanced Manufacturing and similar initiatives by UPS, Ford and GE.

At a recent global conference I attended, the discussion was lively around an interesting topic: Will this century be the “American” or “Asian” century?  Certainly, the last century was the American century, with tremendous economic leadership from the U.S. However, for the fastest growing economies, we have to look to China, India, and other Asian countries. It is important that the U.S. and Kentucky focus on the 3 E’s in order to remain competitive. I encourage readers to take the summer and read the publications I mentioned. I will return to this theme throughout the fall as Kentucky progresses on our journey to improve the 3 E’s.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Kentucky Teachers Speak, Others Listen

The nation is listening to Kentucky teachers.

It was my honor to attend an event in Washington, D.C. this week that highlighted the great work of our teachers. The event was sponsored by Learning Forward, formerly the National Staff Development Council, and was titled "Advancing the Common Core: State Strategies for Transforming Professional Learning."

At the event, Kentucky was highlighted for the extensive work that our teachers have done since the inception of the Common Core State Standards.  Kentucky teachers and professors were heavily involved in reviewing the standards and providing feedback to the committees that developed the common core. 

Kentucky teachers worked on a monthly basis, in regional networks, to translate the common core standards into language that teachers, students and parents could understand. Kentucky teachers became leaders, in every district in the state, to  prepare every teacher in Kentucky for implementation of the common core standards that we now call the Kentucky Core Academic Standards.

Kentucky teachers were the center of attention at the event this week. Numerous groups asked our teachers specific questions about the professional learning needs of teachers required to implement the common core in their own states. Most of the work highlighting Kentucky's focus on redesigning professional learning can be found in the Learning Forward report, “Seizing the Moment: State Lessons for Transforming Professional Learning.” Our work with Learning Forward will continue this year through funding from the Sandler Foundation.

The goal of professional learning is to provide teachers with just-in-time learning opportunities that are differentiated based on what each teacher needs to meet the learning needs of his or her students. A key tool in meeting this goal is the use of CIITS, the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System. It provides differentiated learning through a technology-based model.

Kentucky teachers have worked very hard over the last four years. They share the vision of helping every child reach college/career-readiness. Kentucky teachers have led the nation in the implementation of common core standards that provide the base for college- and career-ready expectations. They have done this in spite of no textbook funding for five years, no pay raise in five years, a 75 percent reduction in professional development funds and many other budget cuts that hamper services for children.

When I ask teachers why they continue to move forward in spite of all these budget and resource problems, I get the same answer: we do it for our children; we do it to ensure our children have hope; we do it for the same reason a teacher in Oklahoma covers her students with her own body as a tornado bears down on their school.

Some in Kentucky, for political purposes only, want to undermine the work of teachers. Some want to abandon the last four years of work on implementing common core standards because they believe there is a conspiracy to control the minds of our children. I will not honor that premise with a rebuttal. I only encourage those people to talk with Kentucky teachers and to look at their work. Also, I ask that they look closely at the results of implementing the Kentucky Core Academic Standards and the improvement in college/career-readiness rates.

I will admit that, as Commissioner, I am part of a conspiracy. The conspiracy involves working with partners across the state and nation to help ALL students reach college- and career-readiness so that the futures of our children, state and nation are bright.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Learning from other countries

Last week, teams from Kentucky, Colorado and New York City participated in the semi-annual meeting of the Global Education Leaders’ Program (GELP). The Kentucky team included several Kentucky Department of Education folks, two local superintendents and a member of the Kentucky Board of Education. Travel and expenses for the U.S. teams were covered by a grant from the Gates Foundation.  

The purpose of GELP is to learn from each other about education initiatives across the globe and to discuss ways to lead innovation to ensure more students are successful. The semi-annual meetings are led by the Innovation Unit from the United Kingdom.

I thought readers might be interested in a few of the insights we gained from the meeting.

Standards – When we discussed learning standards with other nations, it was apparent that most of the nations that are recognized as leaders in education have national standards. Finland made a presentation on the development process for their national standards. The process is driven by the Ministry of Education, however, local schools and teachers have a lot of flexibility in adopting curriculum and implementation of the standards. Australia has national standards that were developed using a similar process. The other nations or states present included British Columbia, China, South Korea, Victoria, New Zealand, and India. All of these provinces/nations also use national standards as a way to set expectations for student learning and ensure that graduates are globally competitive.

Teacher Effectiveness – One of the most respected countries in the world for the preparation and support of teachers is Finland. During the meeting, we were able to spend a great deal of time learning the details on how Finland changed teacher preparation, selection, and professional development. A key word for Finland is trust. Finland does not have a national testing system and there is no accountability system in place. Finland trusts teachers and local municipalities to provide an excellent education for all children. Finland and South Korea are well known for the selectivity of teacher candidates. South Korea draws teacher candidates from the top 10 percent of graduates and then provides full funding for a college education. Finland also recruits from the top 10 percent and has 10 applicants for every one position in teacher preparation.

Assessment – One of the most striking things we learned came from the Chinese delegation. China (Shanghai) is well known for being number one in math and reading on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. However, China is not very happy with its education system. The Chinese are pushing for more creativity and problem solving skills for students. The Chinese recognize that their schools do a great job in preparing students for assessments that measure basic skills, however, they also understand that in order for their economy to continue to grow they must have graduates who have the 21st-century skills of creativity, collaboration, communication and problem solving.

The collective work of the GELP community has led to publication of an excellent book that I highly recommend – Redesigning Education: Shaping Learning Systems Around the Globe. It is interesting that we in the states are still debating things like common core standards, teacher preparation and standardized testing while the nations we compete against globally have moved well beyond this debate. When you get outside of the United States, you see a world that understands this century will probably be the “Asia Century” due to the rapid expansion of economies in China and India.

When I talk to key business leaders in Kentucky, most of them tell me that their business interests are spread globally and the Kentucky education system must increase the focus on preparing students for the 21st century and global competition. Our General Assembly got that message when they passed Senate Bill 1 in 2009. By participating in the GELP program, we are keeping Kentucky at the forefront of education not only in the U.S. but also across the globe. Many countries were very interested in our implementation process for common core standards and districts of innovation. 

It was very satisfying to see that Kentucky is keeping up with the world!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Common Core – Part 2

In last week’s blog, I discussed some of the misinformation that is circulating about Common Core State Standards that Kentucky adopted in 2010. This adoption was based on the requirements of Senate Bill 1 (2009) that required new standards, assessments and an accountability system for Kentucky that would improve the college- and career-readiness rates of our graduating high school seniors. I provided factual information to show that the standards were not part of a federal mandate and that the development of the standards was definitely driven by states with full and open participation by teachers and college professors.

This week, I would like to briefly review how  the Kentucky Board of Education adopted the standards as the Kentucky Core Academic Standards and how test items were developed that measure student performance against the standards.

All during the development of the common core standards, the state’s teachers and professors were heavily involved in providing feedback and edits. The final product reflected Kentucky feedback.

Once we had the final draft of the common core standards, we formalized a model to ensure teachers from every school district were involved in translating the standards into teacher- and student-friendly language. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) worked closely with every school district in the state and the eight regional education cooperatives to establish a math, language arts and leadership network in each region that was staffed by coordinators both from KDE and also colleges across Kentucky. Every school district was asked to send three math teachers, three language arts teachers, three principals, and three central office leaders who would be charged with developing a plan to implement the standards in their district and schools. Special care was taken to ensure we had representation from teachers of special education and English Language Learners.  These networks met monthly to translate the standards and develop models for implementation.

The network members then returned to their schools and districts and helped plan for implementation at the local level. These networks have continued to meet to develop resources for teachers and leaders to use as they implement the standards. Kentucky has been recognized at the national level by many sources as having an excellent model for implementation of the standards. Many states have utilized the model that we developed in Kentucky. The key driver of the model was the continued collaboration of teachers and professors to ensure alignment of expectations for college and career readiness from K-12 through postsecondary.

Once teachers translated the standards, Kentucky procured the services of Pearson through a competitive bid process to develop grades 3-8 assessments in English/language arts and mathematics aligned to the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. In addition, ACT had an existing product that we procured for high school courses. From the bid to writing test items, teachers in Kentucky were involved and continue to be engaged in the process of refining standards implementation.

I am extremely proud of Kentucky teachers and leaders for their work. They have shown the nation that Kentucky is focused on college- and career-readiness for all students and the results are certainly starting to show great promise. Look at scores for ACT, NAEP, WorkKeys, and any other assessment of college/career-readiness and you will see our children are making progress.

Do we have a ways to go? Absolutely.  However, I know Kentucky educators are up to the challenge and will stay the course on the Kentucky Core Academic Standards and fully implementing Senate Bill 1.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Common Core – Part 1

Over the last few weeks, there seems to have been a lot of misinformation being pushed by folks who are not supportive of more rigorous standards for students that will enable our high school graduates to compete on an international level and also achieve readiness for college and careers. These standards were developed by teachers, college professors, and national education organizations. The standards were called the Common Core State Standards and were eventually adopted by 45 states with Kentucky leading the way. I thought my blog this week and next might help provide accurate information from someone who was actually in attendance at many of the national meetings and also in attendance at all of the state meetings when decisions were being made to adopt the common core standards.

In Kentucky, the main driver for adopting the Common Core State Standards was Senate Bill 1 passed in 2009 by an overwhelming vote of the Kentucky General Assembly.  When I came to Kentucky to interview for the commissioner's position in late spring of 2009, the key questions from the Kentucky Board of Education related to Senate Bill 1 implementation. Once I was appointed commissioner, I worked closely with Sen. Ken Winters and Rep. Carl Rollins and other key legislators to form a Senate Bill 1 steering committee. Bob King, President of the Council on Postsecondary Education, and Phil Rogers, then Executive Director of the Professional Standards Board, were also key partners on the steering committee. From the very first meeting with the steering committee and with the Interim Joint Education Committee, it was very clear that Senate Bill 1 had been passed with the expectation that Kentucky would adopt the standards being developed by the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers which eventually became the Common Core State Standards. So, let me be clear. Anyone who says the General Assembly did not support or was not aware of the standards that were being developed and eventually approved by the Kentucky Board of Education is either not aware of the events that transpired in Kentucky or is trying to deceive the public.

Another myth that seems to be circulating is that the standards were developed in secret. Again, this statement is either made by someone who was not aware of the actual events or by someone purposefully trying to misinform the public. The standards were developed with significant input from Kentucky teachers and college professors. There were several iterations of the standards that were publicized for teacher and public feedback. Kentucky teachers were very positive about the standards and felt that their collective voices had been heard.

My final note for this week is the myth that this is a national curriculum and the federal government is trying to control what is taught to our children. This accusation is so ludicrous that it really does not deserve an explanation, however, let me make two key points. The standards were developed by teachers, college professors, and national education organizations by analyzing what the top countries in the world education rankings are expecting of students in order to ensure college/career readiness and international competitiveness of their high school graduates. From the summer of 2009 until present day, I have been present at all national meetings between National Governor's Association and Council of Chief State School Officers where the standards were reviewed and finalized. At no meeting was there anyone from the federal government dictating or even suggesting what should be included in the standards. My second point is that, the federal government is barred by law from dictating a national curriculum. The Kentucky Board of Education and the Kentucky Department of Education are barred by state law from requiring a certain curriculum. All curriculum decisions rest with schools and districts.

Next week, I will review the actual steps taken in Kentucky to ensure teachers, parents, and communities were prepared for the standards -- which in Kentucky are called the Kentucky Core Academic Standards.  Kentucky teachers actually took the Common Core State Standards and interpreted the standards for teacher use.

The ultimate measure of whatever standards we implement per Senate Bill 1 will be the percentage of students who graduate from our high schools that are college- and career-ready. Since the implementation of the Kentucky Core Academic Standards in our state, we have moved from 34 percent of our graduates who are college/career- ready to 47 percent of our graduates reaching college- and career-readiness.

Kentucky citizens may want to know the real facts rather than listen to a bunch of misinformation from people who either are not aware of the real events or who are attempting to deceive the public. A key question might be to ask these folks what their agenda really is. Our agenda at the Kentucky Department of Education and Kentucky Board of Education is to help more children graduate with the skills needed to be successful in college and careers.