Friday, December 19, 2014

Education issues and the 2015 General Assembly

Season’s greetings! I hope that readers of this blog will take time over the next couple of weeks to relax and spend time with family and friends. The holiday season is an excellent time to recharge your batteries.  I plan to do just that, so this will be my last blog for 2014, but will return to the keyboard for a January 9, 2015 entry.

As we look forward to the New Year, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is preparing for a busy legislative session. Here are some of the hot topics we predict will be on the education agenda for the upcoming General Assembly.

     1)  Charter Schools – we will again see legislation to create charter "
     schools in Kentucky. Our state is one of only eight states without
     charters. I am hearing about the possibility of a small pilot of
     five to six charter schools in districts that have very low-performing
     schools with significant achievement gaps.

     2)  Teacher Pension Plan – the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System
     has asked the General Assembly to consider a plan that would require
     a $3.3 billion bond to shore up the underfunded retirement system.
     This system is critical for recruitment and retention of high-quality

     3)  School Funding – while 2015 is not a budget session, there are
     a number of funding issues that could surface. The Council for
     Better Education report recently released at the Kentucky
     Association of School Superintendents’ winter meeting will garner
     a lot of attention. The 
$2 billion-plus price tag is sure to get attention. |
     Also, KDE will be releasing a report on funding of the career and
     technical education programs in Kentucky. Finally, we may see
     discussion of impact of revenue shortfall and SEEK shortfall.

     4)  Dual Credit – a recent set of recommendations from the dual
     credit task force will generate discussion about how to ensure
     quality, access, funding, and transferability of courses.

     5)  Merging County Systems – several county school systems
     have been identified for state assistance and state management.
     Some county systems are very close to not having a 2 percent
     fund balance. The General Assembly previously enacted legislation
     that allowed a financially insolvent independent district to merge
     with a county system; however, currently there are no statutes that
     allow for the merger of an insolvent county system to merge with
     another system.

     6)  Closing Achievement Gaps – this issue will be part of the
     charter school issue but will also be an overarching theme of the
     Education Committees. The achievement gap in Kentucky begins
     before students enter kindergarten, continues throughout P-12,
     postsecondary, and is very obvious when we look at labor and salary
     studies for adults.

At the national level, KDE will be working to support reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – most recently dubbed the No Child Left Behind Act – and the Carl Perkins Act which is the primary vehicle for federal funding of career and technical education. We are very excited about the potential of both bills moving forward very quickly under the leadership of Sen. Alexander of Tennessee and Majority Leader McConnell.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A model for superintendent evaluation

At the December Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) meeting, the board finalized my evaluation and agreed upon the goals that will be used for my 2014-15 evaluation. Viewers may read my evaluation summary and see the goals that KBE set for me for 2014-15. The Kentucky Board of Education has utilized this process during my tenure and on numerous occasions the board has strongly recommended that local superintendents and school boards utilize a similar process. 

Over the past three years, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has worked with stakeholders to develop a superintendent professional growth and effectiveness system. Chief of Staff, Dr. Tommy Floyd, has led this work over the last 18 months and the advisory committee of stakeholders developed excellent resources that can be utilized by superintendents and school boards.

As with any initiative, there remain questions and concerns about the new Superintendent Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (SPGES). A visit to the webpage should provide readers with clarity on most issues. However, I did want to respond to one issue that surfaced in recent meetings with the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents (KASS). There was some confusion on training and if districts could utilize a model other than the state-developed model. 

As to the training, it has always been our intent that the Kentucky School Boards Association will take the lead on training. Also, the webpage for the SPGES has more than adequate materials for a local school board to become familiar with the new system. 

The issue about using a model other than the state model is very simple. According to statute, KRS 156.557 (6)(a), a local school board must approve a superintendent evaluation model and submit that model to the KDE for approval. School boards must decide by the end of this month as to their local model for evaluation of the superintendent for 2015-16 and submit that model to KDE for approval. If the model chosen by the local board is the state developed model, then a local board is assured of approval. Should a local board submit a locally developed model, then that model will be reviewed against the key requirements established by the superintendent evaluation task force. The confusion across the state seems to come from KSBA wanting to submit a model for approval. To be clear, KSBA is not a school district. However, a local school board could submit the KSBA model for consideration by KDE. 

For additional questions or concerns about the Superintendent Professional Growth and Effectiveness System, please contact Dr. Tommy Floyd, or (502)564-3141.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Kentucky Rising

“Kentucky's first settlers brought with them a dedication to democracy and a sense of limitless hope about the future. They were determined to participate in world progress in science, education, and manufacturing. The early years of statehood were an era of great optimism and progress and the eyes of the nation often focused on Kentucky. … Globally oriented Kentuckians were determined to transform the frontier into a network of communities exporting to the world market. …”

These words come from a book titled Kentucky Rising and while they describe Kentucky more than two centuries ago, they serve as inspiration today for a new initiative in our state on which work has already begun. We call it Kentucky Rising. 

In order for the economy of the Commonwealth to continue to grow and create jobs for our citizens, the education community must respond and create a stronger workforce that meets the requirements of foreign industries who are investing directly in Kentucky and industries that are creating trade with other countries. Kentucky Rising will establish criteria for a diploma/certificate/endorsement that certifies a high school graduate meets the requirements to take the next steps, whether that is pursuit of a career or postsecondary education, to ensure our workforce is an asset for global economic development. 

A joint meeting of the chairs and vice-chairs of the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB) and Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) and their agency heads is being planned for some time in January to gain support for the Kentucky Rising initiative. A statewide meeting to gain support from multiple partners will follow. In addition, a comprehensive needs-assessment will be completed to identify current initiatives and programs that should be integrated with Kentucky Rising. 

All of these activities will be used to gather input for creating a unified plan in which CPE, EPSB, KBE and the Kentucky Department of Education, and other partners will have key roles and responsibilities. Funding and staff support for Kentucky Rising will be managed through The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky.

This is an exciting venture that holds great promise for our children and our state. I will share more about Kentucky Rising as we move forward.

On another topic, I wanted to briefly follow up to my blog, Politics as usual or not?, from several weeks ago about federal waivers and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Since then, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) has notified Kentucky that our state is one of seven eligible to apply for a four-year renewal of its ESEA Flexibility Waiver (most states can apply for only a three-year renewal) and participate in an expedited review process. Our current waiver expires at the end of the current school year.

Kentucky was granted this opportunity because of the focused work that our educators, partners and state department staff have carried out to implement Kentucky’s plan under ESEA flexibility. By participating in the expedited review process, the due date for the revised waiver request will be January 30. USED will provide a final decision by the end of March.

As is customary when the waiver document is revised, it will be made available to education constituents, the public and the board for review and feedback before it is submitted. Any feedback that we receive is reported to USED as part of the waiver submission process.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The danger in oversimplifying achievement gaps

In several recent blogs, (Moving in the Right Direction and Making the Numbers Real), I congratulated Kentucky students and educators on the significant progress we are making in college/career-readiness rates and graduation rates. 

We are also beginning to see significant improvement in proficiency rates and our unduplicated gap group has improved in all areas. However, I did stress the need for Kentucky to redouble our efforts in closing significant achievement gaps. The Kentucky Department of Education will be developing very specific plans across curriculum, instruction, interventions, accountability and assessment to support schools and districts as they work to close the achievement gaps. 

In the coming weeks, achievement gap concerns will certainly continue to be a public and legislative focus. There are some stakeholders using the achievement gap issue to promote charter schools. There are others using the achievement gap to push for targeted funding. The public discourse will continue to grow in intensity and we may have some excellent recommendations and we may have some recommendations that are not based on research on how to close the gaps that have persisted for too long. 

I came across an excellent blog this week, that highlights some of the key challenges to using a simplistic approach of comparing student performance across groups of students. As the General Assembly, Kentucky Board of Education, school districts, and the public engage in discussion of achievement gaps, I would recommend reading this blog by the Albert Shanker Institute in preparation for those discussions.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Politics as usual or not?

As the dust settles from last week’s election, there is much talk and speculation about the impact the election may have on public education in this country. At least that has been a primary topic for discussion this week at the Council of Chief State School Officers Annual Policy Forum that I am attending.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attended the meeting and took it as his opportunity to roll out the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind waiver process to state education leaders.

In the past few months, I have been critical of Secretary Duncan and the waiver process (see my blogs, USED action contrary to state, federal lawThe good news and bad news on NCLB waivers). My criticism has been focused on the fact that the original language in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act said states could submit waiver requests to improve teaching and learning. As long as they met that goal, the waivers were unconditional. However, it appears in recent years waivers have become conditional – based on whether a state meets the requirements of the three guiding principles of college/career ready standards, a differentiated accountability system and educator evaluation. Additionally, I have expressed concerns about the time and resources involved at the state level in the waiver application process.

Listening to the Secretary talk about the upcoming waiver process, it was apparent that he and his team had listened not only to me, but also to other state chiefs. Secretary Duncan told us as did the communication and guidance from the U.S. Department of Education (USED) that the waiver process is being streamlined and states will be able to seek a three year extension and in some cases a four year waiver extension.

While I am confident that the Secretary and his staff have listened to our concerns, during our meeting, I asked him about his priorities given the recent election. Despite being there to talk about the waiver process, it was very clear that his priority was reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

I wholeheartedly agree! It is time for us to make reauthorization of No Child Left Behind the top priority. Given the new Senate leadership in Congress, I am hopeful that the Senate and House will be able to work in a bipartisan manner to pass legislation. While the waivers have been helpful, it is critical to have a long term solution through reauthorization. We will see in early January whether new congressional leadership works to govern or continues politics as usual. I certainly hope it is the former rather than the latter.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Community collaboration stretches preschool dollars

This week, Chief of Staff Tommy Floyd, who represents the Kentucky Department of Education on the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council, is my guest blogger. The topic is preschool and how to serve more children who could benefit from a quality early learning experience with the limited funding available.

Terry Holliday, Ph.D.
Education Commissioner

In the coming weeks, the Kentucky Department of Education will be releasing results from the Kindergarten readiness screen of students beginning school this year. Superintendents know how important this data is to students and their future. Children who start behind in school may stay behind. Yet, high quality preschool can make a difference.

We are fortunate this year that Gov. Steve Beshear and the state legislature provided districts with additional funding for preschool. That additional funding, however, came with an expansion of eligibility guidelines, which means many districts also saw their preschool enrollment increase this fall.

With limited resources, many superintendents are asking: How can I stretch my state preschool funding so that more students will be ready when they start school?”

Terry Tolan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, and Rick Hulefeld, founder and executive director of Children, Inc. in northern Kentucky, recently shared with me a model that some districts are using that has allowed them to serve more preschoolers – for less – through collaboration with community programs like Head Start and STARS-rated early childhood centers.

Here’s one example: a private early childhood center in a district serves 18 children in the 4-year-old classroom, 12 of the children are from families whose income is at or below 160 percent of the federal poverty line. The school system places a half-time early childhood teacher in the center, and the early childhood center provides the half-time assistant. The school district would be reimbursed for the 12 children. The early learning center would still receive its usual child care reimbursement and parent co-pay.

How does this stretch the district’s preschool dollars? The district is not paying for a half- day teacher assistant. The district is not retrofitting and/or equipping another classroom or paying for janitor and/or utilities. It also may result in reduced transportation costs because parents may drop off and/or pick up their child before and after work. Most importantly, the school district has ensured that 18 children will be ready for kindergarten not just 12.

This model also offers many more benefits:  

•  The child spends more time in the classroom, less time being

•  There is greater alignment between the two halves of the day.
•  The child is in a full-day, full-year program that hopefully is more
    effective with the presence of the school district’s teacher.

•  The teacher has more contact with the family through the assistant
•  The transitions between home, school and child care seamless –
    a big support for working families.

•  The early learning center, which is typically open more than 10 hours a
    day benefits by reducing its staffing costs.

•  Other forms of sharing between the school and care provider may result,
    for example, around training.

It is important to note that many of the benefits listed still occur if the partnership takes place in the district’s classrooms with the district providing the half-day teacher and the early childhood organization providing the assistant and the wrap-around care.

Using a mixed model for delivering preschool will result in districts serving more children at reduced cost and, even more importantly, improve outcomes for children in the district.

As superintendents begin developing their 2015-16 budgets, I encourage them to consider this model and begin identifying potential early childhood partners in their community that may be willing to join with schools in an effort to ensure more students are ready for learning on their first day of school.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The nature of education

Kentucky has been featured in numerous state and national media sources recently for the improved performance in college- and career-readiness rates and graduation rates. As commissioner, I have been very proud of the efforts of teachers, administrators, students, and education partners in implementing Senate Bill 1 (2009) which required more rigorous standards, assessments, accountability model and professional development for teachers.

While there has been a lot of good news recently, as I look closely at the performance of our students and schools, there are areas that should be addressed. One of the major areas is the continued achievement gap between student groups. 

I have been very encouraged by recent developments in Fayette County. The local equity council has worked with the school administration and the school board to adopt and implement 10 major recommendations for closing achievement gaps. 

I have also been encouraged by the commitment in Jefferson County schools to address the hiring of minority teachers. I have made a commitment to the Kentucky Board of Education to redouble our state efforts on closing achievement gaps. 

At the December meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education, we have invited a national group, Education Trust, to present findings from their recent report that questions the ability of current state accountability models to address the achievement gap. Over the coming months, the state board will look at ways to improve the accountability model to address concerns about the achievement gap. Also, the department will be working closely with advisory groups to develop specific state strategies that could help schools and districts develop local plans to address achievement gaps.

The other concern I have is mathematics performance. Kentucky students are above national averages in reading and science as measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress; however, our mathematics performance is lagging the nation. In a recent report from the National Governor’s Association titled Unlocking Young Children’s Potential: Governors’ Role in Strengthening Early Mathematics Learning, I noted three recommendations that could address our mathematics performance.

1) There is a need for states to build support for early mathematics education within pre-kindergarten expansion, early literacy, STEM education and future workforce preparation.
2) States should align high-quality standards throughout the education pipeline and mathematics instruction should reflect current research. The report was clear that too often our early mathematics education provides less time and less rigor than needed to help build a mathematics literacy in children.
3) States need to look at changes to improve educator preparation and ways to support building early childhood and elementary teachers’ capacity in mathematics instruction.

Lots of great accomplishments and lots of work left to do. That is the nature of education!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Recognizing Teachers

Once again this week, the Ashland Teacher of the Year (TOY) program brought together some of Kentucky’s best educators for recognition in Frankfort. Our annual tribute to outstanding teachers in Kentucky is the highlight of the year for me. Our Kentucky teachers are by far the most professional and dedicated teachers in the nation, and it is my honor to work with them to help every child succeed.

The TOY program recognizes 24 outstanding teachers from across Kentucky. They are among hundreds of teachers nominated by their peers, students, parents or administrators. A team carefully screens the applications and then visits the teachers’ classrooms. A total of nine semifinalists are named – three elementary, three middle and three high school teachers. From these nine, an elementary, middle and high school state teacher of the year is named.

Our middle school teacher of the year is Faye Smith from Campbell County Middle School. Faye has taught mathematics for 27 years. She has coached her school’s Governor’s Cup team. Her professional affiliations include the Kentucky Association for Academic Competition, Math Counts Foundation, Kentucky Academic League (NKY) and National Council of Teachers of Math.

Our 2015 high school teacher of the year is Joshua Underwood who is a teacher at Mason County High School. Joshua’s professional affiliations include the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) and Kentucky Science Teachers Association. Josh is a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics teaching.

Finally, our 2015 elementary school teacher of the year and the 2015 Kentucky Teacher of the Year is Sarah Reed, a 3rd grade teacher at Field Elementary in Jefferson County. Sarah is an 18-year veteran and holds National Board certification. Her professional affiliations include Kentucky Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Kentucky Reading Council, Kentucky Reading Project, Jefferson County Teachers Association, KEA and the National Education Association (NEA).

It was great to recognize these excellent teachers who represent more 40,000 outstanding teachers in Kentucky. Governor Beshear congratulated the teachers on their terrific work and the impact they have on children.

I also want to personally thank Ashland, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jim O’Brien. Through Jim’s leadership, the Kentucky Teacher of the Year program has become one of the premier state recognition programs in the nation. Jim will be retiring from Ashland this year and has turned the TOY program over to the President of Valvoline. I know that the future of the TOY program is in good hands and we will continue long into the future to take time to recognize the tremendous contribution that our teachers make to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The path to student success

This week, Joellen Killion from Learning Forward and Karen Kidwell, Director, Division of Program Standards with the Kentucky Department of Education, team up for a guest blog on the importance of professional learning and a new resource that can help ensure meaningful and effective professional learning opportunities, which are critical to the continuous improvement process and our overall success.

Since Senate Bill 1 (2009), Kentucky has been leading the nation in education reform. To accomplish its goal, the department of education has examined every system, input, output, and outcome to focus and align efforts to ensure that every school and district has effective leadership, every classroom has an effective teacher, and every student graduates ready for college, career and civic life.

To achieve these results every Kentucky educator shares a collective responsibility to contribute to the success of each other and every student. All educators therefore must have the capacity for excellent performance in their individual roles and understand and communicate about how the Professional Growth and Effectiveness system works to create conditions in which educators and students succeed. 

Professional learning is the primary vehicle to support educators’ professional growth and continuous improvement. Educator learning that aligns with Kentucky’s new professional learning definition and standards ensures that educators engage in sustained, job-embedded, collaborative learning to support the critical and necessary shifts in practice to achieve the goals of Senate Bill 1 (2009).

To guide implementation of professional learning that aligns with the revised regulation (704 KAR 3.035) in every school and district across Kentucky, the Model Curriculum Framework has been revised to include a more detailed section on effective professional learning. The extended professional learning guidance resulted from a three-year initiative, facilitated by Learning Forward and funded by the Sandler, Bill and Melinda Gates, and MetLife Foundations. The initiative involved a wide range of state and national education stakeholders including the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Governors Association, National Association of State Boards of Education, critical friends from six states, Kentucky educators, and representatives from Kentucky associations and education partners. 

The guidance on professional learning provides suggestions for school councils, professional development coordinators, school, district, and regional cooperative staff who plan and facilitate professional learning, providers and vendors offering services to Kentucky educators, and institutes of higher education. 

What can you expect to find in this resource?
— a seven step process for planning, implementing, and evaluating professional learning
— five questions for improving professional learning
— key roles and responsibilities for effective professional learning
— explicit connections to the Professional Growth Plan (PGP) process
— a sample professional learning plan aligned to the Standards for Professional Learning
— a self-assessment of the state of professional learning in your school/district
— links to multiple resources to support professional learning aligned to Kentucky’s new Standards for Professional Learning
— Kentucky’s Rubric for Exemplary Professional Learning

Higher levels of student engagement and success in school occur only when educators are supported in improving their own knowledge, attitudes, skills, aspirations and beliefs, and when they work collaboratively to extend and refine their practice and student success. Professional learning, implemented well, is the path to that success. Take the time to access this guidance and use it as you engage in continuous improvement at the regional, district, school, team, and individual levels to ensure that your efforts reflect the standards and effective practices illustrated. Your success in professional learning makes a difference – for Kentucky’s educators and students!

You’ll find the professional learning guidance here.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Making the numbers real

As we looked more closely at numbers from the Unbridled Learning Accountability System this week, there was much to celebrate. School report cards showed more students reached college- and career-readiness, more students graduated, reading and math scores improved at elementary and middle school, and high school Advanced Placement and ACT results are at all-time highs.

This data is great news, but the numbers do not always tell the full story. This week, I had the opportunity to make those numbers real by visiting two school districts.

My first visit was to Floyd County on Monday night. In 1997, Floyd County was among the lowest performing school districts in Kentucky. A state audit labeled the district as a "ship that had lost its rudder." The district went under state management.

Throughout the last six years, Floyd County has undergone a major metamorphosis. The district has moved from one of the lowest performers to one of the top performers in the state –graduation rates and college/career-readiness rates are among the highest in Kentucky – and every school in the district has achieved distinguished or proficient status.

On Monday night, I witnessed a major celebration in the high school gym – every school in the district was represented by students, parents, school staff, cheerleaders, and bands. I have never seen a celebration of academic achievement like I saw in Floyd County on Monday night. Congratulations to the entire Floyd County team, community, school board, and Superintendent Henry Webb. The pride has been restored in Floyd County and the future is very bright.

Also this week, I visited East Carter High School in Carter County. A few years ago, this school was labeled a priority school and was in the bottom 5 percent of schools in Kentucky. With a lot of hard work by students, staff and the community, the school has moved from the bottom to the top 5 percent in the state. College- and career-readiness rates have climbed from 23 percent a few years ago to 94 percent. Graduation rates are approaching 100 percent. It was apparent in visiting East Carter that the pride has been restored not only at the high school but throughout the county.

This dramatic turnaround in a short time is not only something to celebrate, but also an example for other schools about what is possible. It was my honor to recognize East Carter as a new "hub" school for Kentucky. A hub school is a priority school that has made extraordinary improvement -- one that other schools can visit to learn best practices in improving student learning. We also have hub schools in Pulaski County and Simpson County.

As I read press clippings from across the Commonwealth of Kentucky this week, I saw many communities celebrating the improvements in student learning results. What I saw during these two school visits was the real people behind the numbers. I saw pride in the community, the school, the staff and the students.

At the Floyd County event, I heard the Speaker of the House recount the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act with a great deal of pride. What Kentucky educators and students have shown since the passage of KERA in 1990, is that Kentucky can compete with anyone. Kentucky educators and students can achieve at high levels.

We know there remains much work to do, however, we need to take time to reflect on the amazing progress made and the impact the numbers have on student’s lives.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Moving in the right direction

The Kentucky Department of Education just released the third year of results under the Unbridled Learning College/Career-Readiness for All accountability model, and while we still have much work to do, the data show we are moving in the right direction and there is much reason to celebrate.

The eyes of the nation have been focused on Kentucky since we became the first state to adopt new English/language arts and mathematics standards, as mandated by Senate Bill 1 (2009). While we saw a big drop in student performance that first year, as expected due to the increased rigor of the standards, we are starting to see some significant progress, as predicted, in student performance evidenced by results on the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP). Kentucky students are proving to the rest of the nation that the standards are working and helping to better prepare them for college and careers.

Since teachers first taught the new Kentucky Core Academic Standards in the 2011-12 school year, the percentages of students performing at the Proficient and Distinguished levels in reading and mathematics are up between two and nine percentage points, with the largest gains coming at the elementary level, followed by middle school. Gains at the high school level, however, have not been as strong and, in fact, are nonexistent in math. We believe there are several reasons for this. First, we have only one test in reading and one in math at the high school level through our End-of-Course system. Second, these classes are not as well aligned with the new standards as those at the earlier levels. And finally, students have not benefited from the strong foundation laid by more rigorous coursework in elementary and middle school, so there may be some learning gaps. We will be addressing all of these issues in coming months.

We also saw some positive news with our student groups that traditionally underperform compared with their peers. The percentage of students in this “gap group” (African American, Hispanic, Native American, special education, poverty and limited English proficiency students) scoring at the top levels of Proficient or Distinguished is up in most cases from when we implemented Unbridled Learning three years ago. Granted, we still have a long way to go, but we are moving in the right direction.

In addition, the four-year high school graduation rate is up from 86.1 percent in 2012-13 to 87.4 percent in the 2013-14 school year – another positive move.

As the name states, our ultimate goal under this system of assessment and accountability, created as a result of Senate Bill 1 (2009), is to ensure all of our students graduate from high school ready for the next step in life – whether that is a two-year or a four-year college, a postsecondary training program, the military or the workforce.  We’ve made great progress toward that goal in the past five years.  

When we first started measuring the readiness of our students, only about a third (34 percent) had the knowledge and skills needed to be successful at the next level. Today, I’m happy to report that we’ve nearly doubled that number, with a college/career-readiness rate of 62.3 percent. We estimate that this amounts to a cost savings for students and parents of nearly $15 million – money they’ll save by not having to enroll in non-credit-bearing postsecondary remedial courses.

Readers can see all the results for the state and any school or district through the online School Report Cards. I invite you to take a look for yourself.

Public education in Kentucky is moving in the right direction – thanks to the hard work of our teachers, administrators and students.  We all should take time to celebrate their success, but also consider what the data tell us about how we can help even more students become proficient and prepared for success – college- and career-ready – in the coming year. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Apology to teachers

This week, we sent out an apology to Kentucky teachers. We apologized for the software glitches that teachers were confronted with when they tried to complete the components of the new evaluation system. What happened that warrants an apology?

Kentucky has worked closely with teacher, principal, superintendent, school board and parent organizations to develop a system called the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES). This system is in response to federal and state requirements to develop evaluation systems that use student growth as a significant factor. The work has been ongoing for almost 5 years now. In collaboration with teachers, principals, and superintendents, KDE designed software to support the new PGES.

For teachers, the new software system provides them with access to content standards, standards rewritten into “I can” statements, lesson planning tools, assessment design tools, student performance, professional development, and the components of the new Teacher Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (TPGES). The effectiveness system components in the software are self-reflection, professional growth plan, peer and supervisor observation data, student growth data, and student voice data. The components are grouped together in our state software system within the Educator Development Suite (EDS). By using the software, principals can keep up with the components of the effectiveness system for each teacher they supervise and teachers are able to manage the evidences of the system without having to keep a paper portfolio (paperwork reduction).

The system was designed by teachers for teachers; however, the last few weeks have been very difficult for teachers and principals. The first component of the EDS was the teacher self-reflection. Teachers are asked to utilize the Charlotte Danielson framework for Effective Teaching and identify areas of strength and areas of improvement. This should have been very easy to use and not require too much teacher time. The reality is that the software had a number of problems. Teachers had difficulty logging in. Teachers, who did not save their work often, lost it. The software did not have an auto-save capacity and the time out restrictions were too tight. All in all, many teachers struggled with the software during the early part of the school year when they had little time to spare.

KDE and the software provider have been working overtime to correct the problems. As of this week, we now have more than 32,000 teachers who have successfully started or completed their self-reflection. Many teachers have now moved on to the professional growth plan, observations, and student growth goals. The data are showing that most of the software problems have been addressed and repaired.

As commissioner, I wanted to offer my sincere apology to the many teachers and principals who experienced frustration with the software that was supposed to make their job easier – not more difficult. I wanted to thank teachers and principals for their patience and persistence in dealing with the software problems.

We have worked almost five years together to develop a system that elevates the teaching profession and focuses on professional growth of teachers and principals. We will continue to monitor the software and the teacher experience with the software very closely. As teachers discover problems or concerns with the software, please let the Help Desk know of the problems so that we can quickly address the issues.

It is my hope that the rest of the year and the required components of the new system go very smoothly and that teachers feel they are supported in their efforts to grow professionally.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Putting aside micromanagement for the sake of students

Last week, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) held the second annual Superintendent Summit; almost all 173 school districts were represented either by the superintendent or their designee. The summit is designed so that superintendents can provide feedback on KDE initiatives and they can hear from each other about best practices happening in each district.

We asked for superintendents to respond to three basic questions about KDE/Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) initiatives: What is working well? What needs to be improved? What specific suggestions do you have for improvement? We then compile the superintendent responses and provide a summary of the feedback. Throughout the school year, KDE reacts to concerns and suggestions and provides a summary at the next summit on specific actions KDE/KBE took to address the superintendent’s feedback.

During this year’s summit, I was reminded that every level of an organization believes the level above is micromanaging. Superintendents were certainly clear that they had concerns about KDE micromanagement of local districts and KDE oversight of data and evidences for specific state programs. Of course, principals usually express similar concerns about superintendents and teachers express similar concerns about principals and district office. This reminder was significant because as a state chief, I have expressed similar concerns with the United States Department of Education (USED). Many of my fellow state chiefs also have expressed similar concerns.

Readers may remember several recent posts related to my concerns with USED over the No Child Left Behind waiver process (USED action contrary to state, federal law; The good news and bad news on NCLB waivers; Congressional inaction leaving education behind). As a result of my blogs and expressions of concerns by other state chiefs, Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked for a meeting with the board of directors of the Council of Chief State School Officers. That meeting was held on September 12.

The meeting was a very productive. Secretary Duncan and his team wanted to hear our specific concerns about the waiver process. The concerns expressed by my fellow chiefs were very much the same that I had written about. Secretary Duncan and his team had already prepared some possible solutions to our concerns. Secretary Duncan apologized for the breakdown in communication with regard to Kentucky’s waiver request around science assessments. All in all, the chiefs felt they had been listened to and USED was responding to our concerns. Just like my meeting with local superintendents, a leader should listen to concerns from the field and respond with improvements where possible and explain why certain concerns cannot be addressed.

While the chiefs certainly appreciate Sec. Duncan listening and responding to our concerns, the entire basis for the conversation needs to change. Congress needs to do its job. Education must not fall victim to micromanagement by political interests on either side of the aisle – if it does, our children are the ones who lose. Congress needs to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) and allow states the flexibility to manage K-12 education as long as there is a focus on improving teaching and learning.

With upcoming mid-term elections, the electorate has an opportunity to send our elected officials a message – do your job!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Feedback is critical to success

Kentucky began implementing a new state accountability system in 2011-12. The system is called Unbridled Learning. It was built on the requirements of Senate Bill 1 (2009) and is used to meet both state accountability requirements as well as the federal requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education/No Child Left Behind Act.

The system has been very successful in pushing improvements in the percentage of students who graduate from high school ready for college and career. The system has also been successful in increasing high school graduation rates and the percentage of students who are ready for school when they enter kindergarten. We have also started to see significant improvement in areas such as ACT, grades 3-6 reading and math and closing of achievement gaps for several of our student groups.

While we have seen success in some areas, we have not improved in 7th- and 8th-grade math and language arts achievement and we have not improved as quickly as needed to close the achievement gap and boost student performance on high school end-of-course tests.

We originally committed to a three-year window for implementation of the Unbridled Learning model before we made any significant changes. School year 2013-14 completed that three year cycle and we are tentatively scheduled to share results publicly on October 2.

This summer, we began gathering feedback from our stakeholders so that, at the October Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) meeting, we could provide recommendations for any changes to the Unbridled Learning system. We have met with advisory groups representing students, parents, business, teachers, principals, school boards and numerous advocacy groups. We had an online tool for the public to provide feedback also. This week we gathered superintendents from all of our 173 school districts and provided them with the results of the feedback and polled the superintendents on their support for the numerous recommendations we had received.

What happens now? Next month, the KBE will review all of the feedback and the results of the superintendent survey on recommendations. Kentucky Department of Education staff will take direction from KBE on what changes need to be made to the accountability system and will modify existing regulatory language to reflect those changes.  In December, staff will present proposed revisions of the regulatory language for a first reading. Second reading of regulatory changes will occur in February and, if approved, the regulatory changes will start moving through the legislative review process. There are many opportunities for public comment along the way. If the revised regulation becomes law, the changes will not take effect until the 2015-16 school year. School districts will continue to operate under the existing Unbridled Learning accountability model for the 2014-15 school year.

This process sounds complicated and, at times, it can be confusing to teachers, parents, and administrators. However, it is critical to engage all stakeholders in gaining feedback. The strength of our Kentucky education improvements has been and will continue to be collaboration and communication with all stakeholders.

Kentucky education results will continue to improve as long as we listen to concerns from all groups and make improvements. Feedback and action on the feedback are critical to the success of our students, schools and districts, and meeting our goal of college/career-readiness of all students.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Examining dual credit inequities

Dual credit is one of several strategies that has proven effective in helping more students reach college- and career-readiness and achieve success at the postsecondary level. So, it makes sense to fully utilize this strategy to help us reach our goal of college/career-readiness for all students and our ultimate goal of a better prepared workforce.

However, in June, Council on Postsecondary Education President Robert King, Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority Executive Director Carl Rollins and I received a letter from House Education Chair Derrick Graham and Senate Education Chair Mike Wilson. The letter expressed concerns that members of the General Assembly were hearing from constituents about consistency in implementation of dual credit policies across the Commonwealth. The letter asked President King, Dr. Rollins and me to pull together a task force to look at the concerns with dual credit policy implementation and bring back recommendations around access, finance, quality, and transfer of credit.

This week, the dual credit task force had the first of its three planned meetings; the agenda focused on a national perspective and how Kentucky compares. Dr. Jennifer Zinth, from the Education Commission of the States, provided the group with an excellent review of current state policies and best practices for dual credit. The next presenter, Dr. Amy Loyd, shared information from the Harvard Pathways to Prosperity Project, Jobs for the Future dual enrollment strategies and data from a national review of early college programs.  I encourage you to click on the links above to view their presentations.

The task force agenda for the Sept. 26 meeting at the Council for Postsecondary Education will focus on Kentucky-specific issues. The group will hear updates from CPE, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities on how higher education institutions are implementing current dual credit policies in our state. The presentation will focus on access, finance, course quality and transfer of credits. 

Also, KDE will be updating the dual credit survey – first completed in 2013. We will be providing superintendents with survey access at the September 11 Superintendent Summit and ask for a quick response so that we can provide a state perspective at the Sept. 26 task force meeting. 

Finally, at the next meeting we will be inviting a number of best practice sites from across Kentucky to provide examples of the high performing dual credit programs in Kentucky.

Should readers have questions or comments about the dual credit task force, please contact Marissa Hancock in our Office of Career and Technical Education.  We expect to issue a final task force report and recommendations in December.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Standards on trial in the court of public opinion

Abraham Lincoln once said, "Public opinion in this country is everything." And whether you subscribe to that notion or not, the recent release of two national polls on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) would seem, at least on the surface, to be a blow to standards supporters.

The first results came from the Education Next (EdNext) poll that has been given annually for about 14 years. When asked the question about support for the Common Core State Standards the following groups responded.

Support for CCSS

In another poll released last week, we saw similar results.  The PDK/Gallup poll, which has been around for more than 50 years and is one of the most respected of the polls, indicated 60 percent of respondents oppose using CCSS in their local schools to guide what teachers teach; 18 percent of respondents said the standards were too challenging; 40 percent said the standards were not challenging enough; and 36 percent said the standards were just right.

Both polls showed an erosion in support for the CCSS from the previous year. In 2012, hardly anyone in the general public had even heard of the CCSS. Why such a steep drop in such a short time and why do we see such a steep drop in teacher support?

In a pre-release media call for the PDK/Gallup poll last week, I made the following points.
     1) There has been a significant increase in media reporting about CCSS. Depending on your media source, the public has been confronted with a barrage of information, some factual, some not, that has led to a polarization of opinions with regard to the Common Core State Standards.
     2) With the rush to implement No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver requirements for standards, assessments and teacher evaluations, the general public and especially teachers have connected CCSS with federal overreach.
     3) With the rush to implement NCLB waiver requirements in some states, teachers feel they have not been provided adequate support in training or resources to implement the standards. With the rush to assess the standards and utilize the results from testing in waiver-required teacher evaluation systems, again, teachers feel they are being held accountable for implementing standards, assessments, and teacher evaluation systems without adequate support and time.

When we dig deep and go back to the PDK poll in the late 1980’s, we find tremendous support for the concept of more rigorous standards that all states would adhere to in order for more students to reach college- and career-readiness. Even in the current polling, when the term Common Core was removed, there was a majority of support for more rigorous state standards across all states.

Several positive things happened last week as the polls were being released. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that the United States Department of Education (USED) would relax the timeline for states that need more time to implement teacher evaluation systems that use test scores as part of the evaluation. Also, Sec. Duncan announced his concerns about “too much testing” in our schools. The PDK/Gallup poll indicated that the general public would support Sec. Duncan’s concerns about too much testing. More than 50 percent of those polled said standardized tests are not helpful; however, in excess of 80 percent support college placement tests, grade placement tests, and exit exams. It appears the public supports testing as long as the purpose of testing is clear.

A few other items of note from the recent polls:
     • Charter Schools – the PDK poll shows 70 percent support, EdNext shows 54 percent support
      • Vouchers – the PDK poll shows 63 percent oppose with EdNext showing 51 percent support

While the department's own anonymous survey of nearly 7,000 Kentucky teachers earlier this year showed stronger support for the standards than is evidenced nationwide, Kentucky is being proactive with regard to CCSS. This week, I announced the Kentucky Core Academic Standards Challenge, which will inform our regular review of the standards taught in our classrooms. I urge all readers, regardless of your opinion on the standards, to take the challenge.  It will be open until April 30, 2015.

Friday, August 22, 2014

USED action contrary to state, federal law

For readers who missed my blog last week, you may want to review the good news and bad news about No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers. In the blog I said, “I believe the current waiver process represents a major federal intrusion into the rights of each state to develop, implement, and manage the public education of the state.” This created quite a stir in certain circles.

Let me explain my thinking on that by first giving a little background on NCLB waivers. In the original No Child Left Behind Act (2001) language, Section 9401 (b) provides the following guidance:

(1) IN GENERAL – A State educational agency, local educational agency, or Indian tribe that desires a waiver shall submit a waiver request to the Secretary that –
(A) identifies the Federal programs affected by the requested

(B) describes which Federal statutory or regulatory requirements 
             are to be waived and how the waiving of those requirements
             will –

            (i) increase the quality of instruction for students; and
            (ii) improve the academic achievement of students;
(C) describes, for each school year, specific, measurable
             educational goals, in accordance with section 1111(b),
             for the State educational agency and for each local
             educational agency, Indian tribe, or school that would 

             be affected by the waiver and the methods to be 
             used to measure annually progress for meeting such
             goals and outcomes;

(D) explains how the waiver will assist the State educational
             agency and each affected local educational agency, Indian
             tribe, or school in reaching those goals; and

(E) describes how schools will continue to provide assistance
             to the same populations served by programs for which
             waivers are requested.

What this language describes is a state-led waiver process to encourage innovation to improve instruction and student achievement outcomes for the students served by the NCLB law. The current waiver process being implemented by the U. S. Department of Education (USED) is a conditional waiver process. States must submit waiver plans that meet three basic conditions:
     • standards/assessments
     • accountability systems
     • teacher/leader effectiveness 
In exchange for meeting these conditions, states are granted 11-13 waivers from the original requirements of NCLB.

Originally, this was a great deal for Kentucky since we had a state law (Senate Bill 1 – 2009) that required the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) to implement new standards/assessments, accountability systems, and teacher/principal evaluations. As Commissioner, I was fully supportive of Secretary Duncan's waiver process since the reform efforts were a great match for Kentucky. However, the waiver process has now started to stifle innovation and have a negative impact on improving instruction and student achievement. 

Here is one case in point. Kentucky adopted new science standards as required by Senate Bill 1. Our teachers began to implement these standards this school year. We have learned from teachers that they need at least two years of implementing standards prior to assessing them. Additionally, Kentucky teachers and national science assessment experts told us that new science assessments will need to be very different than typical multiple choice tests. Students will actually need to do science and exhibit scientific thinking. Our National Assessment of Educational Progress has given us an early look at this type of assessment through the Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment. Kentucky wanted to develop a model of science assessment using Kentucky teachers and national experts that would provide innovative ways to measure student achievement in science and provide teachers with much more meaningful feedback on student performance throughout the school year so that teachers could improve instruction and student achievement. 

Kentucky requested a one-year waiver from science assessment from the USED. We needed the waiver in order to provide time for our teachers to actually implement standards and develop new assessment items for field testing in spring of 2015. We committed to having an assessment of student achievement in science by 2016. 

Despite having set a precedent for this type of waiver by granting the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessment consortia states a waiver from accountability and reporting math and language arts assessments for the 2014 year, USED rejected our request. Obviously we were stretching the limits of USED staff to provide a state-led waiver request that meets the original requirements of Sec 9401 of NCLB. 

This is only one example of how the current waiver process is stifling innovation and intruding on a state's ability to implement state requirements contained in state legislation. There are other Kentucky examples and, in a recent meeting with other state chiefs, I heard many similar stories from other states.

What now? USED expects Kentucky to give a science assessment that measures our previous science standards in spring 2015. This expectation not only violates our state law, but, also violates NCLB that requires states to assess science (once in elementary and middle school) based on current state standards.

Kentucky and many other states supported the waiver process since we had state laws matching the conditional requirements. Kentucky will be able to sustain our efforts for years to come; however, I do have concerns about other states that used the leverage of the Race to the Top (RTTT) grant and waiver process to implement reforms without state law. What happens when the current administration departs? What happens as the waiver process continues to become even more prescriptive and time consuming?

States are responsible for education. Local school districts have tremendous flexibility and control in implementing state expectations. The federal role is and should continue to be limited to support for disadvantaged children. Hopefully, Congress will reauthorize NCLB soon and build in the flexibility for states and local school districts to be innovative in meeting the needs of all children by improving teaching and learning.

Next week, I will review recent results from national polls showing the impact of RTTT and NCLB waivers on public opinion related to Common Core standards, standardized tests, and teacher evaluation.