Friday, June 26, 2015

Did a focus on teacher evaluations work?

As I approach my retirement date of August 31, my last few blogs will focus on my thoughts about education initiatives at the state and national levels over the past six years. I caution readers that these blogs will reflect my thoughts and not those of the Kentucky Board of Education or the Kentucky Department of Education. My hope is that these last few blogs will encourage others to reflect and prepare for the future of education in Kentucky and across the nation.

As part of the Race to the Top (RTTT) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan promoted improvements in teacher and leader (principals) evaluation programs across the nation. With a little more than one year left in President Obama’s and Secretary Duncan’s terms, there will be a lot of debate as to whether the emphasis on teacher and leader evaluation programs has paid any dividends in improving educator effectiveness and/or improving student learning.

As I reflect on the last six plus years, there were several different approaches that states took to improve teacher and leader evaluation programs. There were states that took a fast track. Overnight, it seemed that several states had a plan for new teacher and leader evaluation programs. Some states, like Kentucky, took a slower approach and asked for delays from the United States Department of Education (USED) until the state had time to review research and make the transition to new standards and assessments.

States took different approaches as to components of teacher and leader evaluation systems. A number of states were quick to develop a weighted model for teacher evaluation. Many states interpreted the federal requirements as requiring student achievement to be weighted at least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation rating. Other states, including Kentucky, took a matrix approach that did not use weights but relied on principals and teachers to review the evidence from student learning and then using a matrix developed by the state come to agreement on the teacher’s rating for student achievement.

States took different approaches as far as the major purpose for new teacher and leader evaluation systems. Some states felt the new evaluation systems would drive a focus on student achievement and failure to improve student achievement would allow the state and school districts to dismiss ineffective teachers. Other states, like Kentucky, focused on teacher professional growth and effectiveness and did not see the new teacher evaluation system as primarily being an instrument for dismissal of ineffective teachers.

The time is fast approaching where every state will be reporting out the results from teacher and leader evaluation systems. USED has required a focus on distribution of effective teachers across school districts to ensure students in low performing schools have equal access to effective teachers as those in high performing schools.

Teacher preparation programs will be completing accreditation processes that require them to report on how well their graduates are doing on state teacher evaluations and with student achievement.

State tests will soon be reported across the nation. The 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress results will be released this fall.

There will be TONS of articles and opinions about the impact of Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind waivers.

I have a prediction about what we will see from all the data. Those who supported RTTT and NCLB waivers will present data to support the positive impact of these programs. Those who did not support RTTT and NCLB waivers will present data that show these programs did not have a positive impact.

As the results are reported, here are a few things to watch for:
     • Will every state report that they have over 90 percent of their teachers
        rated effective or highly effective? 
     • Will NAEP student achievement results show any improvement? 
     • Will state student learning results show any improvement? 
     • Are there large gaps between state achievement results and NAEP
     • How many state evaluation programs will be challenged in court as the
        impact of these programs start to impact teacher assignments? 
     • As Governor’s change and chief state school officers change, will the
        evaluation systems fall away and be replaced by more local control? 
     • Will teacher preparation programs utilize accreditation results to
        improve their programs? 
     • What role will the teacher evaluation debate play in local, state and
        national elections? 

I caution educators as they prepare for the bombardment of information this fall. In 43 years of education, I have learned that there will always be someone who thinks they have the latest and greatest answer to the perplexing problem of closing achievement gaps and improving student learning. However, my warning to those who will lead education for the next generation is that there is no silver bullet.

Education issues are very complex. Poverty, unequal opportunities, leadership, inadequate preparation programs, low morale, low teacher pay, community expectations, lack of parental involvement, and many other issues impact student learning. My advice? Education leaders should never focus on just one of these challenges. Instead, they must recognize that the public education system is multifaceted with many interconnections and they must work to improve the entire system in order to realize real progress. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

A moral imperative

This week, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) presented several regulations for final review by the Interim Joint Committee on Education. The regulations are the final step in revisions to the Unbridled Learning Accountability Model that was developed 5 years ago as a response to requirements in Senate Bill 1 (2009). One of the major changes to the regulations was the addition of a new measure called novice reduction. Several legislators had questions about this new measure and I thought you might be interested in understanding why the new measure was added.

For the past 3 years, KDE has used the Unbridled Learning accountability model. One of the concerns we have heard from education groups, civil rights groups and conservative groups is that the accountability model was not pushing hard enough on closing achievement gaps. While the accountability model did have a measure of efforts to close the achievement gap, many groups felt that individual groups of students were not as evident as they had been under No Child Left Behind. As I looked at the results from 2014 assessments, I became convinced that we needed more focus on the performance of individual groups of students. 

With our state assessments, students receive ratings of distinguished, proficient, apprentice, or novice. The novice level is very low and represents student performance that is several levels below college- and career-ready work. Here are some startling numbers.

Percentage Novice Students
Elementary Math
MS Reading
MS Math
HS English II
HS Algebra II
All students
African American
Limited English
Free/Reduced Meals
Individual Education Plan
Gap Group

While the percentages are very concerning, the real numbers are even more alarming. We have more than 80,000 students performing at the novice level in reading and more than 60,000 students performing at the novice level in math. These are the students who will be challenged to complete high school. These are the students who will not reach college- and career-readiness. These are the students who will need social services. These are the students who have a high likelihood of incarceration. These are the students that Kentucky must care more about and provide intervention for before it is too late.

KDE will be focusing efforts on helping schools and districts implement specific strategies to address this high percentage of novice students. We will provide specific support around reading and numeracy programs. We will provide support for positive behavior interventions to address student behavior that interferes with learning. We will provide support for culturally responsive instruction. We will also provide a significant focus on accountability and incentives for schools, districts, and educators for helping move novice students to apprenticeship levels or above. 

This issue is moral imperative for our Commonwealth and a major civil rights issue for our communities. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Career and tech ed is key to workforce development

For too long, parents, students and educators have thought of career and technical education (CTE) as a second-class education. Many are of the opinion that a 4-year degree is the only pathway to becoming a productive citizen. This belief has led to many students missing out on opportunities that could have led to careers that pay a middle class wage or above. It has also led to many students racking up a lot of debt and obtaining 4-year degrees that do not lead to careers. The unemployment and underemployment rates for students with a 4-year degree have been increasing significantly in recent years. 

Employers tell us there are huge gaps between what is needed in the workforce and the skills that U.S. workers have. There are more than 5 million jobs unfilled in the U.S. due to employers not being able to find workers with the skills needed for the jobs. 

In Kentucky, it is time to act. 

Over the past two years, Kentucky has been involved in several initiatives that helped us work toward a strategic plan to elevate and integrate career and technical education. A national task force report from the Council of Chief State School Officers, a Kentucky-specific study of career and technical education by the Southern Regional Education Board, a gap analysis of the Kentucky career and technical program compared against leading states and countries that was completed by the National Center for Education and the Economy, and a financial study completed by Miller and Associates. The financial study was presented to the Kentucky Board of Education this week and there were seven specific recommendations.

1. Base funding for Career and Technical Education on state goals and business and industry needs. 
2. Convene a committee to explore ways of funding state operated and locally operated centers equally. 
3. Provide adequate funding for CTE in order to accomplish state determined priorities. 
4. Create a proactive, intentional process of funding large equipment purchases and maintaining and/or upgrading current equipment. 
5. Allow locally operated centers and schools to set a budget for the entire school year. 
6. Consider an additional per-pupil funding formula weight tied to state-prioritized occupational and program areas based on state and regional industry needs. 
7. Explore CTE performance funding. 

The next steps for the CTE plan include the development of draft legislation titled the Kentucky Economic Competitiveness Act. The Education Commission of the States is supporting us in looking at model legislation from other states. We will provide a brief overview of the CTE work to date at the July meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Education. The Kentucky Board of Education will review the outline for the draft legislation at the August meeting. 

Finally, we will be working with advisory groups over the next three months to finalize cost estimates related to the recommendations above. A statewide committee that has been working with the National Governor’s Association on workforce and economic development issues will provide support and coordination for this work. 

EVERY state in the nation is working on workforce development and economic development issues. Jobs and improving the quality of life for our citizens are at stake. I feel confident that Kentucky will rise to the top based on our history of collaboration and innovation.