Friday, September 27, 2013

Results show progress; work to be done

This week, we released the Unbridled Learning assessment and accountability results from the 2012-13 school year. We have some really positive news. Our cohort graduation rate is 86.1 percent which places us among the top states. Our college- and career-ready rate is 54 percent which is 20 percent higher than our 2010 baseline. It is clear that Kentucky educators are helping more students reach success.

While we have made tremendous progress the last few years, but we have much work to do. I am concerned that students are not making sufficient progress on assessments in grades 3-10 on states tests. These tests measure progress of students toward the goal of college- and career-readiness. Our performance on language arts and math improved, however, the improvement will need to accelerate if we are to maintain and continue to improve our graduation rates and the rate of graduates who achieve college- and career-ready status.

Over the coming months, we will be providing schools and districts with best practices on raising proficiency and closing achievement gaps for all groups of students. It is essential that every classroom, every school and every district in Kentucky have in place a system of interventions to help students when they are struggling academically.

I am very proud of the work of educators in Kentucky. Kentucky has been featured in numerous national publications for our work in college- and career-ready standards, assessments and accountability. I have full confidence that our students, teachers, administrators and parents will continue to push for more student success.

To find out more about your local schools' performance take a look at our easy-to-read online School Report Cards.

Terry Holliday, Ph.D.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lack of Zzzs Can Lead to More Cs, Ds and Fs

If you’ve ever had a middle or high school student or taught one, you are probably acutely aware of the subject of my blog this week – insufficient sleep in adolescents.  My thanks to the Kentucky Sleep Society’s Adolescent Sleep Task Force, chaired by Sarah Honaker, Ph.D., C.B.S.M. for contributing this guest blog.

It will come as no surprise to many educators that the vast majority of adolescent are achieving less than optimal sleep, impairing their ability to learn.  The National Sleep Foundation’s “Sleep in America” poll from 2006 includes disturbing data about this widespread public health problem.  They found that only 20 percent of adolescents were getting the optimal amount of sleep (9 hours or more per night), with 45 percent of adolescents sleeping less than eight hours per night.  Insufficient sleep among children in this age group has also been associated with mental health difficulties, substance use, and risky decision-making. 

There are many factors contributing to the lack of sleep among our young people, including busy schedules, poor sleep habits, and a biological tendency to stay up later coupled with early school start times.  Many studies have demonstrated a delay in the adolescent sleep cycle, which is associated with puberty.  On average, a “natural” bedtime for an adolescent is between 10 and 11 p.m., making it very difficult to achieve the recommended 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep on school nights in particular.  As a result adolescents are prone to nap after school and oversleep on weekends, perhaps understandable but often resulting in even less sleep on weeknights. 

The Kentucky Sleep Society’s Adolescent Sleep Task Force was formed to disseminate information to adolescents and their families about healthy sleep habits, and information to educators about the positive impacts associated with later school start times.  In an upcoming blog, we will discuss tips on healthy sleep for adolescents and families and provide links to handouts for families.   

Friday, September 13, 2013

Well-educated workforce key to Kentucky’s prosperity

This week, I read a report from the Economic Analysis and Research Network titled “A Well-Educated Workforce is Key to State Prosperity.” The report began by asking the question – “What can state governments do to boost the economic well-being of their people?” The report summarizes that incomes and wages increase when productivity increases. There are several key policy levers to increase productivity: investments in public infrastructure, in technological innovation at public universities and in workers through the education and training systems.

Many states, including Kentucky, have been taking the opposite approach to investment in the workforce. We have seen in the last four years, major reductions to base funding for our K-12 and our higher education systems. Recently, one state, Florida, took an approach of trying to lure employers from Kentucky to the sunshine state. This strategy does not work in the long run since there is very little investment in helping to make the existing workforce more productive.

The report provides several key findings that our policy makers in Kentucky need to review.

1.  Overwhelmingly, high-wage states are states with a well-educated workforce. There is a clear and strong correlation between the educational attainment of a state’s workforce and median wages in the state;
2. States can build a strong foundation for economic success and shared prosperity by investing in education; 
3. Cutting taxes to capture private investment from other states is a race-to-the-bottom strategy that undermines ability to invest in education (I hope Gov. Scott in Florida reads this);
4. States can increase the strength of their economies and their ability to grow and attract high-wage employers by investing in education and increasing number of well-educated workers, and;
5. Investing in education is also good for state budgets in the long run, since workers with higher incomes contribute more through taxes over the course of their lifetimes.

As I reported to the Interim Joint Subcommittee for P-12 education this week, it is time to reinvest in Kentucky education.

For a number of years, Kentucky educators have done significantly more with less. Kentucky education is one of the fastest improving education systems in the nation. However, our educators have hit a wall. Without significant reinvestment in P-12 education, we will begin losing ground. When we lose ground as a state, we have a less well-educated workforce. When we have a less well-educated workforce than our neighbors, we lose jobs and potential employers who pay living wages.

This conversation needs to happen in every community. Every superintendent, teacher, parent and business leader needs to have this conversation with their local school boards and state legislators. We are not going to “cut” our way to prosperity in Kentucky. Investments in education today will pay huge dividends in the short and long term.

Specifically, I am pushing for three major priorities. 

1. Restore the basic SEEK funding per pupil to $3,866 (this will cost $60 million in FY15 and $90 million in FY16 (due to growth and keeping former dropouts in school).
2. Restore funds for safe schools, extended school services, textbooks and preschool. These funds were originally part of the KERA in 1990. We need $60 million each year of the budget.
3. Restore funds to expand access to broadband and network services to our school districts Also, provide a $50 million, 5-year bond to replace aging technology equipment. ($20 million in FY 15 and $20 million in FY16).

While there are many other needs, these are the basic priorities. In a recent meeting with all local superintendents in Kentucky, there was almost universal agreement on these priorities. It is time to connect the dots that a well-educated work force is the key to our Commonwealth’s prosperity.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Educational choices and where they may lead

This week, I reviewed a report issued by the American Institute for Research titled “Higher Education Pays; But a Lot More for Some Graduates Than for Others.”  The report underscored the point that the success we have with our focus on college- and career-readiness will have a big impact on the long range economy of Kentucky and the future of our high school graduates.  

Students who do not graduate with the skills needed to be successful in college and careers, often have to take remedial courses for which they do not receive college credit.  Furthermore, many of these students borrow money to take these courses. Currently, the student loan debt is over $1 trillion and increasing every year. This debt burden will have a negative impact on our national and state economy and on the future of these high school graduates.

The core problem is that many students and parents do not know what it takes to be college- and career-ready. In addition, many students do not know the potential earnings for careers before they enroll in a postsecondary program and before they take on loans to pay for it. The report offered four important lessons that parents and students should know.

1. Some short-term, higher education credentials are worth as much as long-term ones. In Texas, some technical associate degrees pay $11,000 more than a bachelor’s degree. Also, credential programs that take 1-2 years to complete pay more in the long term than those that can be completed in less than 1 year.

2. Where you study affects earnings but less than some may think. The more exclusive higher education programs that are more costly may not provide as much of an earnings advantage as parents may think.

 3. What you study matters more than where you study. Parents and students should look at this report to see which areas pay more in the short and long term. Graduates with engineering and health degrees earn more than graduates in music, liberal arts, and philosophy.

4. The S in STEM is often oversold. Biology and chemistry degrees are not paying as much as engineering, computer and information science and mathematics.
There will be exceptions to the lessons learned in this report. It is crucial that parents and students do their homework prior to applying to a postsecondary program.

Also, it is critical that parents and students begin very early in the school career to ensure the students are on track for college- and career-readiness. In Kentucky, we begin providing this information as early as 3rd grade.

In the next few weeks, parents will receive student test scores which show college- and career-readiness. No matter what level the child is in school, this is an excellent time to have a conversation with your student about college- and career-readiness expectations and to lay the groundwork for postsecondary education options.