Friday, April 24, 2015

How Kentucky is creating responsive 21st-century schools

Over the past few weeks, I have been writing about the International Summit on the Teaching Profession that I attended recently. In last week’s blog, I highlighted the key ingredients for a responsive 21st-century school. I want to revisit those this week and briefly mention what is happening in Kentucky to address some of them.

Promoting effective school leadership
     • Empower teachers to play a role in decision making at the
        school level – Kentucky has long been a leader in this regard. 

        Kentucky teachers are heavily involved in what happens in a 
        school through the school-based decision making councils 
        and through professional learning communities. In addition, 
        every two years, we ask teachers to let us know how they are 
        involved in decision making at the school. The teacher survey 
        results can be found at 2015 results will be 
        public in June.

     • Provide opportunities for, and remove barriers to, continuing 
        professional development for principals – Kentucky has strong 
        principal development programs in our universities. Also, the 
        Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has worked with communities 
        across Kentucky to provide innovative and creative leadership 
        training to more than 100 principals the last few years. Kentucky 
        also is providing training to principals who are looking for ways to 
        improve student achievement in their schools. Through a partnership 
        with the National Institute for School Leadership, we are training 
        more than 100 principals a year.

Strengthening teachers’ confidence in their own abilities
     • Build teachers’ capacity to provide instruction to all types of 
        learners – The Kentucky Department of Education has offered 
        an online resource for a number of years where teachers can 
        access differentiated professional development aligned with the 
        special needs of students in their classrooms.

     • Support the development of interpersonal relationships/
        collaboration within the school – Many schools are providing 
        common planning time for teams of teachers to collaborate 
        and review student learning expectations, current student 
        performance and identify instructional techniques that help 
        improve student performance.

Innovating to create 21st-century learning environments
     • Create conditions conducive to innovation – Legislation 
        has enabled the state to create districts of innovation and
        for the Kentucky Board of Education to grant exemptions from 

        certain administrative regulations and statutory provisions 
        in an effort to improve student learning. As a result, Kentucky’s 
        districts of innovation are spawning new approaches to teaching 
        and learning. 

While there is much work to do in Kentucky, there is much we have accomplished. It is extremely important that we continue to look for ways to improve public perception of the value of the teaching profession. Our very future depends on our ability to recruit, support, and retain great teachers.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Creating a responsive 21st-century school

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I recently attended the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Part of the pre-reading for the conference was a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This report provides an excellent executive summary of recommendations for countries and states to implement in order to create a responsive 21st-century school. 

The three ingredients to create responsive schools are promoting effective teacher leadership, strengthening teachers’ confidence in their own abilities, and innovating to create 21st-century learning environments. Kentucky is hard at work on all three components. Here are some of the specific recommendations from the report. 

Promoting effective school leadership
     • empower teachers to play a role in decision making at the school level
     • provide opportunities for, and remove barriers to, continuing 
        professional development for principals
     • ensure that principals receive training in, and have opportunities to
        assume, instructional leadership

Strengthening teachers’ confidence in their own abilities
     • build teachers’ capacity to provide instruction to all types of learners
     • support the development of interpersonal relationships within the

     • encourage collaboration among teachers

Innovating to create 21st-century learning environments
     • collaborate and communicate
     • create conditions conducive to innovation
     • ensure coherence

Next week, I will provide brief summaries of how Kentucky is working on each of the recommendations. It is inspiring to know that many of the top performing countries in the world are working on these same issues along with Kentucky. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Why aren’t teachers valued more?

Recently, I had the privilege to attend the 5th annual International Summit on the Teaching Profession in Banff, Canada. I was part of a U.S. delegation comprised of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, teacher union representatives, classroom teachers (including a teacher from Spencer County, Ky.), chief state school officers from North Carolina and Nebraska and support staff from U.S. Department of Education. 

The international summits began in New York City and have expanded each year as their location has moved around the world. The primary focus has been to bring countries together to highlight key issues to enhance the teaching profession and take actions to address issues.

This year, one of the many interesting presentations came from Andreas Schleicher, who works at the Organization for Economic Collaboration and Development (OECD). Andreas is one of the world’s leading experts on education issues and he always has excellent presentations that are loaded with great information and policy recommendations. His presentation was based on a recent report from OECD titled Schools for 21st Century Learners: Strong Leaders, Confident Teachers, and Innovative Approaches. 

One chart showed teacher perceptions of the value their society places on the teaching profession. It was no surprise to see that many Asian countries, Finland and several other European countries had the highest percentage of teachers saying that their society valued the teaching profession. One of the lowest countries in the survey was the United States. Why do U.S. teachers believe that our society does not value the teaching profession?

Recently, I spoke to the annual Kentucky Education Association Delegate Assembly and I offered a couple of reasons as to why teachers in this country do not think that the U.S. society values the teaching profession.
     1.  Over emphasis on testing – the U.S is the only country in the world that seems totally fixated on annual testing. The U.S is fixated on using student test scores to evaluate teachers. The media reports are constantly focused on the singular issue of rankings on test scores and too many of our policy leaders “blame” teachers for poor academic performance of students in poverty.
     2.  Lack of teacher voice and leadership – throughout the recent international summit, a key theme emerged: that we must engage teachers in decision making and provide opportunities for teacher leadership in our schools without teachers having to completely give up teaching. Most of our international competitors have been working on career pathways for a number of years. In the U.S., we have always focused on years of experience and postgraduate degrees for teacher pay increases rather than focus on teacher performance and leadership roles.
     3.  Working conditions – it comes as no surprise that teachers do not believe society values the teaching profession given working conditions survey results in areas like school leadership, professional development, time, resources, community support and facilities. 
     4.  Teacher pay – in many countries starting teacher pay is similar to what comparable professions pay. In the US, starting teacher pay is well below what a starting engineer would receive.
     5.  Selectivity of teacher candidates – for years, the public has been bombarded with the concept that our teacher training programs are not recruiting from the best and brightest high school graduates. Countries like Singapore, Finland and South Korea are pointed to as examples of teacher training programs that recruit from the top 10 percent of high school graduates. An interesting slide in the presentation showed that this is not necessarily the case. This is an area that will need more research.

As I look forward to my retirement after 43 years in education, I am very concerned about the public’s perception of public schools and even more concerned that teachers in the U.S. do not feel that the public values the teaching profession. If policy leaders at the local, state and national level do not address teacher perceptions in this area, we will have extreme difficulty in the future recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers.

In the coming months, Kentucky will receive the 2015 results from the TELL Kentucky working conditions survey. Kentucky has the highest percentage of teacher respondents of any state in the nation. Using the results from this survey to address key policy issues during the 2016 session of the General Assembly could go a long way in addressing teacher concerns about the value the public puts on the teaching profession.

Friday, April 3, 2015

What does the ESEA waiver extension mean for us?

My blog this week is written by Kentucky Department of Education Chief of Staff Tommy Floyd and Executive Director of the Kentucky Board of Education, Mary Ann Miller.  Though it was a team effort, Mary Ann was primarily responsible for our waiver application.  They share what the waiver means for Kentucky.

Terry Holliday, Ph.D.

Education Commissioner

This week, we received some good news – the United States Department of Education (USED) approved Kentucky’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility waiver extension request. The waiver, which was to expire at the end of the current school year, now will run through the end of the 2018-19 school year. Kentucky was one of only a handful of states allowed to apply for a four-year waiver extension because of our demonstrated successes.

Seemingly countless hours were spent preparing the nearly 200 page request and in communication with USED staff on the fine points and clarifications needed in order to receive approval – all with good reason. We didn’t want schools and districts to have to take a step back to the prescriptive nature of federal accountability.

In 2001, Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The measure took effect on January 8, 2002 and has been the law of the land ever since, even as the time for congressional reauthorization in 2007 passed. In last week’s blog, Commissioner Terry Holliday explained the need for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Until reauthorization occurs, however, the waiver is essential to prevent school districts from facing negative consequences under NCLB.

   • Annual performance determinations, known as Adequate Yearly
      Progress (AYP), would use only proficiency as the indicator.

   • All students would have to demonstrate proficiency in reading/
arts and mathematics (a laudable, but unrealistic goal).
   • A school would be identified as failing if it missed AYP for even one   
      student group. Schools that are identified as failing would be required to
      implement a series of interventions that increase in severity over several 

      years, with no differentiation between the lowest performing schools
 those needing help in only a few areas.
   • Districts would have to reserve up to 30 percent of their Title I, Part A 
      allocation to provide mandatory professional development,
educational services (SES), and public school choice;
      districts also would 
face funding limits and mandated SES.
   • The hiring of paraprofessionals with Title I, Part A funds would be 
      restricted for LEAs that miss AYP and fail to make progress toward 
      reaching annual objectives for highly-qualified teachers.
   • For districts in improvement, the percentage of Title II, Part A funds 
      available to be transferred into Title I, Part A would be restricted to 
      no more than 50 percent; also districts would have to notify the 
      state 30 days prior to making a transfer of funds to a different category
      of need.

   • Spending requirements for Rural and Low-Income School funding
be tied to accountability.

Moreover, Kentucky would have to operate under a dual system of accountability, responding to federal AYP requirements while also moving forward with Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning system based on the Kentucky General Assembly’s Senate Bill 1 (2009). This would cause undue confusion for parents, students and educators. For example, schools could be labeled as failing under federal benchmarks, but successful under state benchmarks.

Because of the waiver, districts have been freed from these requirements, allowing them to serve more schools with better quality academic services in order to meet the needs of students. The state has implemented regulations and statutes that have allowed us to build a single, aligned system of accountability, using multiple measures and focused on college- and career-readiness for all students. Additionally, all Priority and Focus schools and districts have an improvement plan aligned with Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) strategic goals.

The waiver provides the opportunity to:

    • implement the latest revisions to the accountability system approved by 
      the Kentucky Board of Education that aim to make the system more fair,
      valid and reliable

   • use one accountability system (Unbridled Learning), focused on 
      continuous improvement, for state and federal purposes
   • implement a new statewide plan that will close achievement gaps by 
      providing additional supports to schools and districts, and reducing the 
      number of students scoring Novice on the state tests
   • continue our focus on increasing the college- and career-readiness 
      rate and the graduation rate
   • move forward with the aligned, statewide evaluation system for
 principals and superintendents that stresses professional
 effectiveness and continuous improvement
   • strengthens the supports for Priority Schools that do not exit this 
      status in three years

Kentucky is currently seen as a national leader in educational improvement. This great work across our Commonwealth is taking place thanks to daily leadership in buildings and districts adhering to a demanding system that is achieving results for students. We know that students, teachers, principals, superintendents, support staff and local board members will benefit from the continuance and enhancement of our current Kentucky Unbridled Learning for ALL accountability model that is provided by our waiver extension.

Until ESEA is reauthorized, the four-year waiver is our “best bet” to continue the progress made in Kentucky districts for the benefit of students.