Friday, August 30, 2013

Top 10 things you need to know about the Common Core

In the next few weeks, parents will receive information about the performance of their school system, school, and student.  Areas that will be reported include proficiency rates on state assessments in English/ language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.  Also, the reports will include information on achievement gaps, college/career-readiness, and high school graduation rates. Individual student reports will show parents how well their student is progressing toward the college/career-ready standard and how the student compares with other students in the school, district, state, and national levels.

These reports are built on the requirements from Senate Bill 1 (2009), the far-reaching education legislation that the General Assembly passed unanimously. The legislation required development of new standards that were more rigorous, fewer, and deeper. Also, there were requirements for the development of new assessments based on the standards and a new accountability system using the new assessments. To make certain the system was balanced, Senate Bill 1 also included program reviews in the arts and humanities, practical living, and writing.

Since the basis of Senate Bill 1 was the requirement for new academic standards that would ensure more of our Kentucky graduates are ready for college/career and to be competitive in today’s global market, I thought readers might be interested in more information about the standards that Kentucky adopted and implemented.

Kentucky educators have logged hundreds of thousands of hours over the past three years translating the standards into learning targets, aligning curriculum, professional learning on how to implement the standards, and developing assessments, lesson plans and interventions to help students meet the standards.

These standards were based on the work of educators in 48 states and many partners in higher education. These standards were originally called the Common Core State Standards. In Kentucky, our educators interpreted the standards so they are easily understood and developed the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. 

Here are the top 10 things readers need to know about the Common Core/Kentucky Core Academic Standards:
1.       Common Core is working!
Since implementation of the Common Core (Kentucky Core Academic Standards), we’ve seen improved college/career-readiness rates, improved graduation rates, lower remediation costs and more successful transitions to college and career.

2.       Common Core leaves Kentucky in control of its standards
Kentucky educators and the public provided input into the development of the standards so we, as a state, helped determined what they cover. Kentucky’s constitution calls for the state to establish a system of common schools, and common standards, as adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education under its authority, provide an equal opportunity for all students in the state to get a quality education.

3.       Common Core empowers local school districts and teachers.
They get to decide how the standards should be taught and develop the curriculum and resources that work best for their students while ensuring students learn the content and develop the skills they need for success.

4.       Common Core standards are more challenging.
In the past, many other states intentionally adopted lower standards in order to appear more successful under No Child Left Behind, cheating students of the level of preparation they deserved.  Although Kentucky was NOT one of those states, the new standards are more rigorous than Kentucky’s previous standards and on par with what are taught in leading countries around the world.

5.       Common Core is great for students.
It promotes creative and critical thinking over rote memorization, and prepares students with the collaboration, creativity and communication skills that the workplace demands.  By developing students’ ability to think, reason and problem solve, they can internalize their knowledge and apply it to various situations rather than just regurgitate it for a test.  It prepares students for success at every grade level and after graduation from high school.  Students who graduate college- and career-ready are more apt to complete college or postsecondary training and land higher paying jobs.

6.       Common Core is great for teachers.
The standards are clear, focused and easy for teachers and students to understand. In addition, common standards encourage teachers to collaborate, develop and share lessons, resources and what works in the classroom. This allows teachers to more easily individualize instruction to meet student needs and frees them up to create new, innovative, and more effective ways to actively engage students in the learning process. 

7.       Common Core is great for parents.
Because it is aligned with college- and career-expectations, students are better prepared for the demands they face after high school. College costs are reduced because there is less need for costly, remedial, non-credit bearing courses. Students are better prepared for success and are more likely to earn a college degree and/or get a job paying a living wage.

8.       Common Core is great for business and will move Kentucky forward. 
It equips students, our future workforce, with the skills that the workplace demands. A better prepared, more highly skilled workforce attracts new business to the state and allows current businesses to hire employees that are ready to work rather than having to spend money on extensive training or leaving jobs unfilled.

9.       Common Core is great for taxpayers.
By working with other states, Kentucky was able to develop and implement new college- and career-ready standards mandated by the Kentucky General Assembly and Senate Bill 1 (2009) at a much lower cost than doing this solely on our own. 

Plus, students who graduate from high school ready for college/career are more likely to be employed, pay taxes and have a positive impact on the state’s economy; they are less likely to be dependent on state-supported unemployment, welfare and health care benefits or end up in the prison system. This will have a positive impact on our long-term economy.

10. Abandoning the Common Core will be extremely costly to Kentucky taxpayers and have a negative impact on educators and student outcomes.
Since Senate Bill 1 (2009) requires new standards, Kentucky could not simply return to prior standards. We estimate it would take a minimum of $35 million to develop, train, and implement replacement standards in English/language arts and mathematics. Teachers would react very negatively to having to replace standards again just when they are getting used to new standards.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Supporting Kentucky’s future – or not?

This week, I was reading the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) legislative update and received an e-mail from Stu Silberman over at the Prichard Committee. Stu had been reading the same update. Here is the body of his e-mail.

The Southern Regional Education Board has released its most recent legislative update. As you will see in the chart below, Kentucky funding is falling behind and steps must be taken in this next session so we can be competitive.

K-12 Budget
Higher Ed Budget
Up 3 %
Up 2.4%
Up 4 %
Up 4% (approximate)
Up 13.9%
Up 34.2%
           (state universities)
Up 3.1%
           (state colleges)
Down 1.7%
Down 10.0%
Up 3.3%
Up 3.5%
South Carolina
Up 8.5%
Charters up 40%
Up 9.4%
      (4-year colleges & universities) Up 3.1%
      (2-year colleges)
Up 4.3%
Up 9%
*Also provided pay raises for teachers

In Kentucky, base student funding (SEEK) has remained flat in recent years, but an increase in the number of students has effectively cut per pupil spending. Basic grants (Flexible Focus Funds) that are used to implement Senate Bill 1 (2009) have been reduced by more than $61 million per year. The SREB report, however, shows other states are re-investing in education.

The Kentucky Board of Education is currently reviewing priorities for FY15-16 budget request. At a minimum KBE wants to see restoration of SEEK funding and Flexible Focus funding to 2008-09 levels. For SEEK, this would require an additional $60 million in FY15 and $90 million in FY16. This level of funding would only get us back to $3,866 per student which is woefully inadequate when compared to other states. To restore Flexible Focus Funds would require an additional $61 million in both FY15 and FY16. Flexible Focus Funds provide textbooks, digital resources for teaching/learning, extended school services, pre-school funding, and professional development to help educators implement Senate Bill 1 (2009).

Here is the big problem facing our legislators: there is no new money! Recently, the Consensus Forecasting Group, a non-partisan team of economists, predicted that FY15 state revenue would be fairly flat and indicated that with state obligations such as pensions and debt retirement, there is no new money for education.

Our schools have made remarkable progress in the last 25 years. More students are graduating from high school and reaching college- and career-readiness than at any point in our history. Our educators are taking money out of their own pockets to support children. Our parents are doing more fund raising to support basic needs in schools than ever before. However, this heroic effort by educators and parents cannot continue without a negative impact on morale. Teachers and parents will become extremely frustrated (if not already so) because they are being asked to fund items for students that should be provided through state and local funds.

The answer to this issue is NOT to pass on the reduced state funding costs to local property owners. Funding basic education needs through local property tax only exacerbates the inequities in education funding across 173 school districts (remember the Rose case). The answer to this issue is bold leadership from our state legislators.

As commissioner I am using this blog to announce my strong support for state legislators to address two possible funding sources during the 2014 session. I strongly support efforts at tax reform and also strongly support expanded gaming. These are not popular issues and they are extremely difficult to deal with during an election year, however, my job is to alert decision makers that without adequate funding, Kentucky educators will not be able to maintain current levels of student performance and certainly will not be able to continue improving student performance.

It is apparent from the SREB Report mentioned above that other states are re-investing in education because they know that education will have a positive impact on employment and the economy.

The upcoming session will be a make or break year for education in Kentucky. There are basically two choices – support restoration of funding for education so we can continue to make progress or don’t support restoration of funding. By not supporting restoration of funding, decision makers will be supporting the decline in outcomes for children that will have long term negative impacts on the futures of our children and the future of the Commonwealth.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Listening to Teacher Voices

This week, The New Teacher Project (TNTP) published  a follow-up report to its October 2012 study, “The Irreplaceables: Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools.” This year’s report, Perspectives from Irreplaceable Teachers,” was compiled from a survey of celebrated teachers across the nation.

The survey was completed by 117 of America’s best teachers, representing 36 states and all 10 of the nation’s largest school districts. The survey respondents were state and national award winners, National Board Certified Teachers, Milken Educator Award winners, Teach for America teachers, National Education Association (NES) members, and KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter school teachers. The summary findings were interesting.

1. When it comes to measuring success in the classroom, they want a wide array of factors. This is good news for Kentucky and other states that are developing teacher effectiveness systems that include multiple measures.

2. They attribute little of their success to formal preparation or professional development programs. This finding highlights the need for teacher preparation reform and reform from professional development to differentiated professional learning. Both of these issues are being addressed in Kentucky. Recent reports from the Council of Chief State School Officers and the new Commission on Accreditation of Educator Preparation standards will guide our work in Kentucky.

3. They have a love/hate relationship with their profession. “Respondents cherish the opportunity to make a difference in their students’ lives, but they feel beaten down by many other aspects of the profession – low pay, excessive bureaucracy, poor working conditions and ineffective leaders, and colleagues.”

Policy makers and legislators would be wise to listen to the voice of teachers. In Kentucky we have numerous processes in place to listen to our teachers. More than 42,000 teachers respond Our TELL Kentucky biennial working conditions survey in the spring of 2013. Our partners at the Prichard Committee, Kentucky Education Association and the Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky have launched several programs to provide a stronger voice to teachers in Kentucky.  

Our success in helping more children reach college/career-ready status depends heavily on teachers. We should listen to teachers and then act on their recommendations. Hopefully, this report from TNTP will serve as a conversation starter in schools, districts, and state agencies across the nation and encourage more decision makers to listen to teachers!

Friday, August 9, 2013

What now?

This week we had occasion to celebrate the progress we have made to date on raising the compulsory school attendance age to 18 in Kentucky.  As of August 8, 120 districts had passed a policy under Senate Bill 97 (2012) keeping students in school until they’re 18 or graduate and completed the documentation process with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).  At a luncheon for the Graduate Kentucky Coalition, KDE Associate Commissioner Susan Allred delivered the following message that I hope will resonate with our schools and districts, communities and lawmakers.  I want to share it with you in my blog this week.

What now?

I have been asked to answer the question, “Senate Bill 97 has passed and we have the necessary districts (for statewide implementation no later than 2017), what now?”

First, an action of this proportion must be put into an historical perspective.  Many years ago, I was a high school history teacher, but even before that I was inspired by great speeches and historical quotes.  Two of my favorites seem appropriate today.

William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.

And in September of 1962, John Kennedy said while addressing a crowd at Rice University, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

You have done an honorable thing.  You have done a difficult thing.  You have shown courage.

You have faced head-on the incredible fallacy of thinking that a 16-year old can drop out of school and be a productive citizen.  You have faced this because you know that gainful employment rarely happens in this day and age without advanced training or knowledge.  You have realized that businesses will not come to Kentucky unless they can find the educated workforce they need. 

You have done the honorable thing by saying that a student should have a greater opportunity and more time to be successful.  So, your boards of education have passed a policy that students will graduate and they will stay in your care until they are 18 or have that diploma.

Wow!  What have you done?  What now?

You see, now you are going to have students staying in school longer.  But who are these students?  What are their needs and how will we guide them into college- and career-readiness?

Some years ago, I was responsible for secondary education in a district of 3,900 students.  The drop out age in that state was 16.  Each year we had an average of 88 students leave school before they graduated. 

One day, I decided to drill down into the data and learn as much as I could about the 88 students.  What I found was somewhat surprising: most of our drop outs left us in October of their sophomore year; 12 of the 88 were seniors with less than a semester left until graduation; more girls than boys dropped out.  These students had some things in common:  attendance issues for at least six years before leaving school -- maybe they had a sentinel event such as drug addiction or pregnancy, and if the student entered our school in the 9th grade from another district and had failed at least one grade, they would become a drop out in our system. 

The solutions for these issues did not cost money.  They did take time and focused services.  Within two years that number of 88 dropouts was cut to 64; within four years it was 32.

The rationale behind offering planning grants to school districts in Kentucky that raised the dropout age is to allow districts time to define who these students are; determine why and when school is losing them; determine where in the education pipeline they are getting off track; collaborate with the available resources to strategically address the data and build a system of support.

It WILL take a village.  You must communicate with higher education, the courts, law enforcement, social services, churches, civic organizations -- with EVERYBODY -- that this is a new day and we NEED them to be a part of this solution.

In March of 2013, a regulation was finalized.  In my office, we fondly refer to it is Alternatives #19. Officially, its 704 KAR 19:002, Alternative education programs.  You may access it on the Kentucky Department of Education website with many ancillary materials to assist in implementing your alternatives for kids.

In Section 2. General Requirements, it says a district shall ensure that each alternative education program:

1. aligns with college and career readiness outcomes;
2. is not limited in scope or design; and
3. includes training to build capacity of staff and administrators to deliver high-quality services and programming that conform with best practices and guide all students to college and career readiness.

So what do we mean by alternative?

KRS 160.380 defines an alternative education program as a program that exists to meet the needs of students that cannot be addressed in a traditional classroom setting, but through the assignment of students to alternative classrooms, centers, or campuses that are designed to remediate academic performance, improve behavior, or provide an enhanced learning experience.

I challenge you to engage all the stakeholders in your community to make “enhanced learning experience” the definition of alternative.  Innovative approaches to keep students in school by building a goals-based individual learning plan can happen.  As a matter of fact, they must happen.

We have four districts that have been identified as districts of innovation.  They and the 96 districts that received a planning grant as well as innovative leaders in the other districts are going to help us define what works.  With Reg. 19 we will be tracking effective programs.  Help is on the way!

But it isn’t just about alternatives. It is about the quality of engagement of your students in each classroom, every day built around the Kentucky Core Academic Standards, systematic Response to Intervention support and vibrant superintendent, principal and teacher effectiveness systems.  All of these things must work together so smoothly that none of us veers off course.

You see, Senate Bill 1 and the Kentucky Board of Education have said, we will -- through Unbridled Learning --get every student to college- and career-readiness.  Is that bold?  Is that courageous?  Is that difficult?   Is that hard? Can we do it?

Well in 1969, we put a man on the moon with less technology than most of you have in your living room today.   That only happened because we, as a nation, said it was worth the sacrifice.  We defined what we wanted to do; we dedicated and redirected resources to do it in the face of political opposition; we enlisted men (mostly) and some women scientists and creative thinkers to solve the scientific gap that stood between us and the moon.

Getting all Kentucky children college- and career-ready is just as bold; just as courageous; just as important as settling Plymouth Rock, going to the moon or any other accomplishment.  The challenge will be, do we, as a commonwealth, have the common will to see that it is done for our children and their children?  Do we have the courage to set aside politics, community pressure for less, and our own biases and past experiences to make it happen?  

Passing SB 97 and raising the compulsory attendance age is an incredible first step, but it is only the beginning. You, I believe, are going to do it, not because it is easy, but because it is hard and because it is RIGHT.

Thank you for being the leaders that you are in this effort.  I’m from the Kentucky Department of Education and we are here to help you!  And you can quote me on that! 

Susan Allred
Interim Associate Commissioner
Kentucky Department of Education

Friday, August 2, 2013

Equality of access and opportunity for all

As we begin the 2013-14 school year, there is much to be proud of with regard to Kentucky P-12 education.

Since the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act and more recently with Senate Bill 1 of 2009, Kentucky has made significant improvements in raising graduation rates, lowering dropout rates, increasing college- and career-readiness rates and improving rankings on national assessments. However, as I look to challenges facing our educators, parents and students, I am concerned about state and federal budget cuts damaging educator morale and limiting the resources our children are able to access. Perhaps the most concern I have is the continuing gaps in equality of access, opportunity, and performance among our schools and our communities.

On a daily basis, I do a quick scan of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, state newspaper highlights, and education highlights from around the state, nation, and globe. Over the past few months, I have seen an increase in articles that deal with the challenges of equality of opportunity and the income inequality facing our country. 

Recently, the Equality of Opportunity Project released a major report. This report measures the likelihood of children from families who are in the bottom fifth of income averages being able to rise to the top fifth.
Courtesy: The Equality of Opportunity Project

Of course, education in the United States has always been touted as the way to level opportunity and achieve equality. As educators, we always look to education as the means for children to rise out of poverty and break the cycle of impoverishment into which they were born.

As an educator, this report causes me great concern. Looking at the largest 100 cities, what researchers  found was that there is less than an 8 percent likelihood that children of families in the bottom fifth for family income averages would likely escape poverty and rise to the top fifth. Louisville is our only Kentucky city in the top 100 and the rate there is 6.2 percent.

An editorial from Rebecca Strauss posted June 16, Schooling Ourselves in an Unequal America , talked about the “unequal America.” Ms. Strauss’ premise is that the wealthiest 10 percent of children in America receive some of the best education in the world and the quality keeps getting better.

However, our rankings among other industrialized countries show that America is losing ground. America is not getting worse, by most measures we are improving. The reason our rankings are slipping is due to the dramatic gains made by other countries and huge increases in poverty and widening equality, opportunity, and access gaps in America.

Ms. Strauss further suggests that money is not necessarily the issue. Her position is that other countries that have surpassed America spend about the same or less on education. She provides evidence that other countries make different choices in spending. She shows that other countries spend MORE on disadvantaged children and LESS on advantaged children.

As we watch our legislators and policy makers make decisions about funding and addressing equality of access, opportunity, and performance of ALL children, we should all be aware of these trends and the increasing gaps highlighted by the two sources referenced in this blog. These are extremely complex issues and some would even call them “wicked” problems. These issues will not be solved by reading a list of talking points prepared by a right or left leaning think tank. These issues can only be solved through honest and open dialogue between decision makers and higher expectations for equality from our communities.