Friday, July 25, 2014

Stemming the tide of teacher turnover

Several weeks ago in this blog I told you about the United States Department of Education's (USED)  new requirement for states to develop an educator equity plan to ensure every child has access to a quality education and quality educators.

Last week, it was my honor to represent Kentucky in a webinar sponsored by The Alliance for Excellence in Education and the New Teacher Center. The webinar focused on a recently released report, On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers. The report examines research on teacher turnover and performance, especially at  high-poverty schools. This reality seriously compromises the nation’s capacity to ensure that all students have access to skilled teaching. The report  makes five recommendations to stem the high rate of teacher turnover.  I suggest schools and districts review this report and perhaps view the video of the webcast available here.  Certainly improving the effectiveness of beginning teachers is an issue for us all. 

Equitable distribution of teachers will be a significant issue in the upcoming  school year due to a recent court case in California and the new USED requirement. This is an issue that we must address in a thoughtful and responsible manner for all concerned.   

Friday, July 18, 2014

Make It Real

While most of the country seems embroiled in a political fight around Common Core State Standards and their implementation, too many of our students are graduating from high school unprepared for the current workforce. An upcoming special report, No College = Low Wages, from the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics (KCEWS) brings this issue to the forefront. The report is due out on July 25, so be sure to check the KCEWS website for the full report once it is released.

The following highlights are based on the third of the total high school graduates from 2009-10 and 2011-12 who did not enroll in postsecondary programs. Of the third, 60 percent went directly into the workforce

     • On average, Kentucky’s public high school graduates from
        2011-12 earned $7,567 the year following graduation. After
         three years the 2009-10 graduates’ wages rose to $11,511.

     • Three years after high school, more than three out of four
        graduates from 2009-10 who did not attend postsecondary
        were earning less than full-time minimum wage.

     • Female graduates who did not attend postsecondary are earning
        30 percent less than male graduates.

     • African American highs school graduates who did not attend
        postsecondary were earning 30 percent less than their white

     • Graduates with 20 or more unexcused absences in their senior
        year earned up to 55 percent less than those with five or fewer

     • About 60 percent of the high school graduates, who did not
        attend postsecondary, work in three industry groups that have
        three of the four lowest average wages.

These facts should be a wakeup call to high school students and their parents. This is clear evidence that high schools must do a better job in preparing all graduates to enter postsecondary programs (one year, two year, or four year diploma or certification) prepared for credit bearing work and with the skills necessary to succeed in careers that pay a living wage.

We certainly can continue to discuss the right wording for standards and the right assessments to measure the standards, however, we need to make the discussion REAL! Too many of our high school students are leaving high school unprepared for postsecondary and unprepared for careers. We have made excellent progress in the last four years in addressing this situation; however, we have much more work to do. Let’s not get sidetracked with the political debates around standards and assessments, let’s stay focused on the getting ALL students prepared for THEIR FUTURE and not our past.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Closing the opportunity gap

Equal educational opportunity for all -- it was the basis of the lawsuit that triggered the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 and remains a basic tenent of the Kentucky Board of Education and Kentucky Department of Education today. A student's race, ethnic background, family income, unique challenge or zip code should not determine whether the child has access to a quality education. The sad reality is that in too many places it does.

This week I received a letter from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlining a new requirement for states to develop an educator equity plan to ensure every child has access to a quality education and quality educators. Here is an excerpt:

Equality of opportunity is a core American value.  Equal educational opportunity means ensuring schools have the resources they need to provide real and meaningful opportunities for all students to succeed, regardless of family income or race.  To accomplish this goal, students must have access to a safe and healthy place to learn, quality instructional materials and supports, rigorous expectations and course work, and, most critically, excellent educators to guide learning.  Yet family income and race still too often predict how likely a child is to attend a school staffed by great educators.  This inequity is unacceptable, and the time is now for us to work together to ensure all children have access to the high-quality education they deserve, and that all educators (including teachers, staff, principals, and superintendents) have the resources and support necessary to provide that education.

Over the past several months, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) has conducted outreach to Chief State School Officers, school districts, civil rights groups, teachers, principals, and other stakeholders to explore ways to tackle and resolve the disparities in access to great teachers that we know continue to exist.  Through this outreach, we heard that there is no single solution to this problem; we need a broad and systemic focus on supporting and improving teaching and learning, especially in our highest-need schools and for our highest-need students, including students with disabilities and English learners.  We heard that the best efforts will not only include recruiting, developing, and retaining great educators with the skills to teach all students, but will also build strong school leaders, create supportive working conditions, and address inequities in resources and supports for teachers.

Many of you have told me that you are ready for a renewed and deeper commitment to ensuring every student in every public school has equal access to great educators who set and maintain high expectations for every student.

To move us closer to this goal, the Department is embarking on a multifaceted strategy:

New State Educator Equity Plans:  The Department will ask that, in April 2015, each State educational agency (SEA) submit to the Department a new State Educator Equity Plan in accordance with the requirements of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA).  As required by ESEA, in its plan, each SEA must, among other things, describe the steps it will take to ensure that “poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers.”  To prepare a strong plan, each SEA will analyze what its stakeholders and data have to say about the root causes of inequities and will craft its own solutions.

The Department will issue guidance this fall to support SEAs in plan development and implementation.  I look forward to working with you to ensure that these plans translate to meaningful and comprehensive change for students.

Secretary Duncan's letter goes on to say that USED will support the development of these plans by releasing data on current conditions. This will include:
(1) comprehensive school and district level data reported directly by districts to the Department on metrics such as teacher experience; teacher absenteeism; teacher certification; access to preschool and rigorous course work, including science, mathematics, and Advanced Placement courses; and school expenditures
(2) state-specific teacher equity profiles, which will also be available to the public on the Department’s Web site.

In addition, USED will fund a new technical assistance network that will provide information, tools, and supports to all states as they develop and implement new State Educator Equity Plans.   

In reality, Kentucky has developed similar state plans since 2006 for Title I and Title II. As the secretary acknowledges..."this is not the first time that states, districts, and the federal government have tried to grapple with the complex challenge of ensuring equitable access to excellent educators, but previous efforts have not fully addressed the challenge."  

Certainly as we develop a new state plan in preparation for the April 2015 deadline, we will seek feedback from all stakeholders involved.   With the dedication to doing what's best for children that our educators and other stakeholders regularly exhibit, I have no doubt that Kentucky will once again be a shining example for other states of equal educational opportunity for all.