Friday, March 27, 2015

The changing odds on ESEA reauthorization

Over the past few months, I have written numerous blogs about the need for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). 

This past week, I joined 48 other state chiefs and deputies in Washington, D.C. to continue to push for reauthorization. We were honored to meet with President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Rep. John Kline (R-MN) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA). Sen. Alexander is chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee; Sen. Murray is the ranking member. Rep. Kline is chair of the House Workforce and Education committee.

ESEA reauthorization is critical. Let me offer a couple of reasons why. 
•  No Child Left Behind (2001) is broken and is no longer a valid method of accountability for our nation’s public schools. 
•  While waivers granted by the United States Department of Education have served as a stop-gap fix, the nation’s schools deserve stability and long term direction from Congress. 
•  The waiver process has led to the possibility of federal intrusion in states. For example, the original No Child Left Behind did not require states to address teacher evaluation; however, the waiver process has made that a requirement of states. 
•  While the Obama administration has been fairly flexible in the implementation of waivers, it is possible that the next administration could eliminate waivers or put more conditions into the waiver process that many states would not be able to implement.

Perhaps the key reason for reauthorization is the need for changes to the law of the land. If Kentucky were not able to get a waiver to NCLB, our school districts would have to notify parents that every school in their district was a low performing school (defined as not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress under NCLB). Losing a waiver and having to go back to NCLB requirements would mean that Kentucky school districts would lose flexibility on how they use more than $58 million in Title I monies and on other NCLB programs. In addition, school districts would be required to return to set asides for transportation, supplemental education services, school choice and professional development.

My take from the last week is that Sen. Alexander and Sen. Murray are working hard to find a way to get bipartisan support. Rep Kline is having difficulty getting enough Republican votes to pass a bill. The way the process should work is that House passes a bill, the Senate passes a bill, and then a conference committee is formed to work out the differences. Usually, the President and Sec. Duncan would be involved in working with the conference committee to get a bill that the President could sign.

I told an audience this week that in Kentucky we know a lot about basketball, bourbon and betting on horses. If I were to handicap the chances of ESEA reauthorization, it is probably an 80:1 shot that it will be reauthorized. I would encourage readers to let members of the Kentucky delegation (especially House members) know how important it is for Congress to reauthorize the nation's main law governing education. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Teachers’ voices make a difference

A guiding principle for our work in Kentucky is that we do the hard work of reform WITH teachers and not TO teachers. What does this principle look like in practice?

In 2011, Kentucky implemented the TELL Kentucky Survey to allow teacher voice on key working conditions such as facilities, resources, leadership, professional development, time, etc. In 2011, more than 80 percent of teachers in Kentucky responded to the survey and in 2013 administration, more than 86 percent of teachers responded. The 2015 survey is currently open for teacher response and within the first three weeks, more than 60 percent of teachers and other school-base personnel have responded.

When Kentucky adopted the Common Core State Standards for English/language arts and mathematics, teachers were heavily involved in the process. After adoption, teachers led the way through regional networks to unpack the standards and translate the standards
into teacher-, parent- and student-friendly language. When we began to prepare assessments based on the standards, teachers were heavily involved in the development of assessment items. Teachers have continued to be involved in sharing lesson plans, formative assessment items, and professional development resources through our statewide online instructional system.

We have utilized a similar process of teacher involvement in the development and implementation of science and social standards.

Teacher voice in the revision process for standards also is very important. In August, 2014, we launched the Kentucky Core Academic Standards Challenge. This online tool is a way for teachers, parents and all Kentucky residents to provide feedback on how to improve the English/language arts and mathematics standards. We have had more than 3,000 thoughtful responses to date and more than 80 percent of the responses have come from teachers. The survey remains open through the end of April.

Teachers also provided leadership in the development of the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System. A teacher-led committee developed the components of the model and continues to monitor the implementation and results from the model. Future changes to the model will be driven by the results and teacher voice.

There are many other examples of teacher voice in Kentucky.
     • The Hope Street Group utilizes teacher leaders to communicate directly 
        with teachers and encourage teachers to voice their opinions
        concerning current education issues.

     • There is significant collaboration among education groups to support
        National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) applicants and utilize
        current NBCTs as leaders and coaches.

     • Kentucky is working to develop career pathways for teachers to provide
        leadership opportunities that do not require a teacher to completely
        leave the classroom.

     • Teachers serve on numerous statewide advisory committees and
        provide voice for the profession when policy makers are considering
        changes that would impact classrooms.

Kentucky teachers are among the most professional and most dedicated educators I have worked with in my career and I look forward to seeing the results from the 2015 TELL Kentucky Survey. There will be reasons to celebrate, yet no doubt there will be areas that need to be addressed in order to improve the working conditions of our teachers. 

Thanks in advance to all of our teachers for taking time to complete the survey and for being leaders in Kentucky public education. Your voice is very important!