Category Archives: Schools

Performance Accountability for All Kentucky Public Schools, or Just Charter Schools?

Over the last year as Kentucky lawmakers, educators, and educational leaders have debated the merits of adopting charter school legislation, demands for accountability for charter schools from the traditional public education community were heard all over the state. In fact, concerns about accountability for Kentucky’s charter schools came second only to concerns about funding following children who exited traditional public schools to attend charter schools.

Personally, I welcome and encourage public accountability for schools specifically, and government more generally. I believe tax payers, students, and their parents should expect and demand transparency from public schools and school districts, and that schools should be held accountable for their outcomes, including students’ academic performance and authentic measures of students’ career and postsecondary readiness. I have encouraged that conversation with the consideration of charter school legislation in Kentucky, and I will be a fierce proponent of performance accountability for charter schools as they are established in Kentucky.

The end result of our charter accountability conversations is that Kentucky’s charter school law will hold Kentucky’s charter schools to a very high standard, as it should. Truthfully, there wasn’t much to debate, as charter school advocates in the state were as adamant about performance accountability for charter schools as charter school opponents were. Central to what charter school advocates argued for was providing charter schools with greater organizational and governance flexibility and autonomy in exchange for increased accountability. That’s what the new law now requires. Kentucky’s charters will participate in the same assessment and accountability system as traditional public schools in the state. Additionally, because charter contracts will be granted for periods of no longer than five years, charter schools will be required to make the case to their authorizers for charter renewal and continued existence based on their performance. As well, because no students will be assigned to or required to attend a Kentucky charter school, charter schools face consumer accountability, in that a failure to attract and retain students will result in the school having to close its doors for lack of enrollment and funding.

What is unfortunate but not surprising, however, is that I’ve never heard demands for performance accountability for Kentucky’s traditional public schools with anywhere near the same intensity as I have heard from educators and educational leaders concerning charter school accountability.  I don’t believe I have ever heard the school boards association, or teachers unions, or superintendents associations demanding that traditional public schools be held accountable for their outcomes. Do Kentucky’s educator and educational leadership organizations only believe in performance accountability for charter schools? Should traditional public schools simply be trusted to work hard and do the best they can with students? Given that a healthy and successful charter school sector in Kentucky is not likely to directly serve more than 5 or 6% of Kentucky’s public school students, a focus on performance accountability for only charter schools leaves the rest of Kentucky’s public school students in a bind.

Kentucky does have an assessment and accountability system for public schools, but that system has been woefully inadequate in holding schools accountable for closing achievement gaps and preparing students for success in careers and postsecondary education. Under that system gaps have grown in some school school districts. Further, the system is far from being transparent with parents about the performance of schools. For example, one Kentucky high school classified as Distinguished in the current school accountability system posted the following assessment results for the 2015-2016 academic year:

  • 39.6% of students scored proficient or higher on the K-PREP Language Mechanics assessment (lower than state average)
  • 47% of students scored proficient or higher on the English II End-of-Course assessment (lower than the state average),
  • 49% of students scored proficient or higher on the Algebra II End-of-Course assessment,
  • 20% of its students scored proficient t or higher on the Biology End-of-Course assessment (lower than the state average)
  • 47% of students scored proficient or higher on the U.S. History End-of-Course assessment (lower than the state average)

As troubling as those numbers are, those are the averages across all students. The scores for low-income students and students of color are much worse. There is absolutely nothing Distinguished about that school’s results. And while I celebrate the progress the school has made, or any school similarly situated, we are at best misleading parents and students when we say  school performance like that is distinguished. It is not. Yet I have not heard of teachers unions or organizations of school boards or educational leaders decrying the ineptitude of a school accountability system that inappropriately labels schools as being high achieving when we know in fact they are not.

It is past time for Kentucky’s educators and educational leaders to get serious about performance accountability for our public schools; as serious as they were about accountability for charter schools. Kentucky will not move the needle on postsecondary success, degree attainment, or workforce participation until we design and implement accountability systems that center on students’ academic achievement, significant and meaningful achievement growth, and authentic measures of college and career readiness.

 

Kentucky’s Economy and Workforce Demands Have Changed, Most High Schools Have Not

In generations past, a sizable percentage of young men and women graduated high school with education and skills sufficient for getting a job and earning a wage adequate for supporting themselves and a family. Truthfully, the jobs they walked into typically didn’t require much skill, at least not upon entry. And many of the skills they would need for the job could be learned relatively quickly on the job. But that reality is no more. Our economy has changed. Many if not most of the jobs high school graduates of generations past walked into with minimal skill levels no longer exist. In fact, both nationally and in Kentucky, there are many more low skill workers looking for jobs than there are low skill jobs for them.

Most conversations about America’s and Kentucky’s over-supply of low skill workers and under-supply of middle skill workers lead to a single conclusion: Because the high school diploma is no longer adequate for preparing workers for high demand, decent wage jobs, all of our students must go on to college to earn a postsecondary credential, preferably a degree of some sort. But even with substantially increasing the percentage of young Kentuckians who go on to successfully earn certifications and degrees in high wage, high demand fields at postsecondary institutions, there will remain a significant minority of Kentucky high school graduates who do not pursue further formal education and training. So in addition to increasing enrollment and success at postsecondary institutions, we must also demand much more of Kentucky’s high schools.

As Kentucky’s economy and workforce demands have changed, most of Kentucky’s high schools have not. But they must.  It’s not that hard to graduate high school in Kentucky today. And while it’s great that Kentucky’s high school graduation rates have increased considerably in recent years, and a lot of hard work has gone into improving that rate, in comparison to many of its neighboring and nearby states, Kentucky’s minimum graduation requirements are not very rigorous.

Kentucky has no minimum testing requirement for graduation. High school students are required to take End-of-course (EOC) examinations in a few subject areas, but those exams have minimal to no impact on students’ course or high school completion. Scores on those examinations tell that story. In the 2014-2015 school yearly, just under 57% of Kentucky high school students scored Proficient or Distinguished on the English II EOC. Those percentages are 38% for Algebra II, 39% for Biology, and 57% for U.S History.

Further, Kentucky is one of the states that has retained a single pathway and set of requirements for high school graduation. With that single pathway for all students regardless of their intended post-high school plans, Kentucky’s minimum requirements are neither academically rigorous enough to prepare students for success at a four-year college, nor rigorous enough in career and technical education to ensure that students graduate with an in-demand certification or skill.

Even with Kentucky’s relatively watered down definition of what it means to be career-ready, in the 2014-2015 school year, only 67% of Kentucky’s high school graduates reached the state’s college and/or career ready benchmark. Here’s what that means:

  • Many of the students in that 67%, even while designated as career ready, had no industry recognized certification or skill that would lead to gainful employment.
  • Even more disturbing, 33% of the students who earned Kentucky high school diplomas didn’t meet the state’s low bar for career readiness. That means Kentucky is granting high school diplomas to students who we acknowledge have little more than a hope and a prayer of landing a job that pays a decent wage. That means Kentucky’s high school diploma is little more than a certificate of completion; and absolutely not a marker of quality academic and/or career preparation. While many Kentucky high school graduates are well prepared for college or a career, such preparation is not an expectation for graduation in Kentucky. That’s unacceptable. Kentucky’s high schools must better prepare students for postsecondary and workforce success, and expect more of its graduates.

Postsecondary training and education are critical to preparing a competitive workforce for Kentucky, but high schools have to do their part as well. High school curriculum, experiences, and expectations must change with the state’s workforce demands. Kentucky’s high schools must change if the Commonwealth is to reach its full economic potential.

Fundamental Education Reform in Kentucky: An Economic Imperative

I love being a Kentuckian. Our state has been blessed with unbelievable natural beauty and some of the friendliest, good-natured, hardworking people you could ever hope to meet. My wife and I thank God daily for the blessings of our Kentucky home, church family, and friends. But there remains tremendous untapped potential in our state. We have not yet become the state that we can be, that we should be. And central to our untapped potential is a public education system that while much better than it has been in generations past, is still in dire need of reform.

Kentucky has made significant strides in public education since the early 1990s. The passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) and other subsequent reforms have been good for Kentucky’s children. But the academic performance and employment and earnings outcomes for our low income children and children of color is drastically different from performance and outcomes for our middle income and White children. That reality is crippling our state.

Much work remains to be done to improve the education attainment, employment, and earnings outcomes for all of Kentucky’s students, but drastic improvement in performance and employment outcomes for our low income children and children of color is both a moral and economic imperative. We are a state that has for years ranked near the bottom in labor force participation. In 2015 we ranked 47th out of the 50 U.S. states and DC, with a labor force participation rate of 57.9%. We lead only Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia in labor force participation. While those are fine states, we can do better. In sum, not nearly enough Kentuckians are working, and a major factor contributing to our labor force woes is our failure to equip all of our students with the knowledge and skills needed for gainful employment. That failure has in turn led to our challenges with attracting companies with high wage jobs to Kentucky, jobs that require a pipeline of skilled workers. There is no doubt about it, we have to do better.

First, there must be acknowledgement by education leaders and policy makers that current academic and performance outcomes for our students are unacceptable. Period.

Second, leaders must acknowledge that what’s happened and what’s happening in Kentucky’s public schools contributes to the current racial and socioeconomic performance and outcomes gaps. Leaders and policy makers seem content with pointing to out-of-school factors which contribute to gaps, but most leaders seem unwilling to admit that school factors have contributed to the problem as well. While our schools are not wholly responsible for the gaps, our schools have played a role and continue to play a role in the maintenance and in some cases exacerbation of performance and outcomes gaps.

The frequently heard refrain that “we’re working to ensure that all kids learn” is meaningless when what we are doing doesn’t lead to all kids learning. Leaders have talked about public schooling working for all kids in Kentucky for a long time, but low income kids and kids of color continue to be left behind. It’s past time for state and school leaders to acknowledge that what we’ve been doing in the name of all kids hasn’t worked for all kids; and begin exploring what we can do different to ensure that low income kids are learning, that Black kids are learning, that Latino kids are learning, etc.

Third, leaders must commit to fundamental change; not tinkering here and there, but fundamental change in our state’s public education system. The magnitude of socioeconomic and racial performance and outcomes gaps in Kentucky are such that tinkering with the system will get us nowhere. Fundamental reform to Kentucky’s public education system is an absolute necessity. Reform is needed in every area, from the recruitment, selection, and training of teachers and leaders, all the way to the mechanisms we use for holding schools, leaders, and teachers accountable for student learning and outcomes, and everything in between. A system that produces such disparate outcomes for different groups of children is fundamentally broken, and nothing short of large scale reform is worthy of consideration.

We can and we must reform Kentucky’s public education system to be responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable children; reform is both a moral and an economic imperative. The health of our state’s economy is dependent on our ability to better prepare all of our children for success. We cannot afford to prepare only some of our children for gainful employment, and lives as civically responsible, tax-paying citizens of our state. All Kentuckians’ futures are inextricably bound together.

Teaching Today: Change is Afoot

DSC00329Teaching today is a much different profession than it was 30 years ago. Truthfully, it is significantly different from what it was nearly 15 years ago when I became a teacher. And the profession is likely to change even more in the next five to ten years. While some veteran teachers argue that many of the current changes to teaching are unspeakable, I am convinced that much of the reform to teaching is for the best (best for children, that is). Here are just a few areas where the teaching profession today and moving forward is significantly different from what it was just a generation ago.

  • Job Security Fewer teachers today, and most likely even future teachers going forward, will enjoy the degree of job security that teachers in previous eras enjoyed. A high degree of job security has certainly made teaching attractive for some. The reality of the profession has been that regardless of whether a teacher is effective, he can usually manage to find and keep a teaching job somewhere (often teaching our most vulnerable children). That era, however, is coming to an end. For many teachers today and most teachers tomorrow, job security will be dependent on their effectiveness. Teachers who cannot demonstrate their effectiveness, through their students’ performance on standardized examinations, will find themselves struggling to keep their jobs.
  • Seniority For generations, more senior teachers have enjoyed the privileges of having first dibs on ‘choice’ teaching assignments and greater protection during reductions in force (RIF). During RIFs it has been customary for teachers last hired to be the first ones let go, while teachers with seniority have been protected; a practice commonly known as LIFO (Last In, First Out). While LIFO and other teacher seniority provisions remain a part of some teachers’ collective bargaining agreements, such provisions are becoming less common. And in cases where seniority provisions haven’t been completely negotiated away by school districts, seniority privileges are being curtailed, giving district and school level administrators greater discretion in teacher hiring and retention. It will soon be the norm in public school districts that teachers’ hiring, retention, and transfer will be based on their effectiveness, not their seniority.
  • Teacher Salary Public school teachers’ salaries have long been determined by their years of teaching experience and their level of education (bachelors, masters, doctoral degrees). In such systems, all teachers with five years of experience and a masters degree would have the same base salary, regardless of their effectiveness. But teacher pay is now being reconsidered. Policy makers, researchers, and educational leaders are questioning whether current teacher salary models makes sense in the current era of performance-based accountability. States, school districts, and charter schools are now experimenting with different approaches to teacher pay including merit pay, performance pay, performance bonuses, differentiated pay by subject area, and market-based salaries. Aspiring teachers and teachers who are relatively early in their careers should expect that in the near future their pay will be be at least in part based on their effectiveness (as measured by their students’ performance on standardized examinations).
  • Teacher Leadership While teachers have always been called on to lead in various capacities, teachers are now being asked to take on school-level leadership roles like never before. Much of the change in the expectation that teachers lead may be attributed to the increasing popularity of distributed and shared leadership models in P12 schools. Anyone going into teaching or intending to stay there should expect to take on significant formal and/or informal school leadership roles throughout their career. Such roles might include department chair, subject area lead, professional learning community (PLC) lead, peer mentor, trainer, and school or district level curriculum leadership positions.

The 30-Year Teacher is Gone and She’s Not Coming Back

If colleges of teacher education and school districts are waiting for the flood of young people who intend to spend the next thirty years of their lives as classroom teachers, they will be sorely disappointed. The reality, whether you want to face it or not, is the vast majority aspiring young professionals, even those potentially interested in pursuing careers in education, are not interested in starting a job at 22 that they will do for the rest of their working lives. That proposition just isn’t appealing to the current 18-22 year old. And to be honest, it never particularly appealed to this 35-year old. Most college-age young people are looking for their first job, their start at a career; not knowing what they might be doing in the next 5 years, much less 25 years.

So what does all this mean? Well, contrary to what some believe, it’s not the end of the world or the end of the teaching profession. It just means the field has to adapt to this era and be more flexible with how we ensure that children are receiving high quality instruction; even if new models of teaching look significantly different than current ones. And rather than trying to force young people who might be excellent teachers (even if only for the first part of their career) into the mold of the 30-year teacher, colleges of teacher education and school districts should practice embracing the diversity, energy, fresh ideas, and diverse perspectives young professionals can bring to teaching and to the children they will serve. There shouldn’t be the expectation that young people can only go into education if it’s what they intend to do forever. And to be completely honest with you, I don’t want a teaching profession where no one has any interest  in ever doing anything else, or where there are no teachers who have ever done anything other than teach. That time-warped conceptualization of the profession in part contributes to the current instructional and leadership stagnation common to some schools and school districts. Personally, I think it would fantastic to have a talented young woman begin her career as a high school English teacher then make her way into a communications position somewhere; or an energetic and ambitious young man begin his career as a middle school teacher and move into a training and development position with a Fortune 500 company. I am a big proponent of rethinking the profession in ways that make it a more appealing place for teachers to stay, but everyone doesn’t have to stay, nor should they.

With that said, schools must have veteran educators who commit to careers in teaching long-term. In fact, I argue that such veterans are critically essential elements for the success of any school or school district. Schools and charter management organization’s (CMO) would be extremely shortsighted to dismiss the critical importance of master teachers whose expertise comes only with experience. Any organizations thinking in that way would be wise to reconsider their staffing models and teacher career ladders.

But master teachers are not the norm. Even with the current school staffing model where the majority of school staff are long-term veteran educators, only a quarter to a third of teachers at most could be legitimately characterized as master teachers. Very few teachers are exceptional. Most teachers are average. Some teachers are below average. That’s no slight to teachers, it’s just the truth. But average is okay. If most of my daughter’s teachers end up being average with the occasional exceptional teacher sprinkled into her academic career I’ll be a happy camper. In fact, whether it’s instruction for my child or service at Starbucks, I should expect average; expecting the exceptional is unreasonable. Exceptional service/instruction/expertise is just a treat, not something you get all the time. We ought to think of exceptional teaching or service like we think of a truly exquisite glass of wine or a very rare Bourbon (for you Kentuckians). Most of us just don’t have that stuff every night with dinner.

Most teachers, just like most doctors, lawyers, professors, baristas, musicians, and engineers, are average. Most of us, regardless of what we do, are not exceptional. If we were all exceptional, exceptional wouldn’t be exceptional, it would be average. So the rhetoric that everyone coming into the teaching profession ought to be on a track to become a master teacher doesn’t hold water. The reality has never truly matched that rhetoric, but the rhetoric, and in some cases restrictive policies and practices which institutionalize the rhetoric, have kept some very talented young (and older) people from considering teaching. We’ve often scared away or locked out people who could make noteworthy instructional contributions for 3, 4, or 5 years.

I am incredibly grateful for the career teachers that have served children so well for so long. I have been taught by and mentored by more than a few phenomenal career educators. I owe much of the success I’ve enjoyed in my career to them. But the world is changing and the teaching profession has to change with it, whether you like it or not. I’ll talk more about those changes in my next post; but my advice to educators, educational leaders, and colleges of teacher education is to get in front of this change and help to shape where the teaching profession goes rather than allow change to drag you along kicking an screaming.

 

 

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) Braces for Big Cuts Despite Governor’s Pledge

With the state of North Carolina facing an estimated $2.4 million budget shortfall, Governor Bev Perdue pledged last night in her state of the state address to protect teacher and teacher assistant positions. But Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) superintendent Peter Gormon isn’t buying it. Gormon still projects a $100 million shortfall and the elimination of roughly 1500 jobs (over 600 teachers) for CMS. Given that Gov Perdue has not yet said how she will protect teacher and teacher assistant jobs, Gorman is probably wise. With cuts to other areas of the state budget, Perdue may be able to salvage a significant number of teaching jobs across the state, but given the severity of the projected budget shortfall, I think it would be more than a stretch to think that she can save them all. But maybe I’m the pessimist. I hope I am wrong and Gov. Perdue does in fact pull a rabbit out of her hat. North Carolina’s children and schools could sure use it.

MD Proposal to Share “Suspected Gang Activity” with Schools: Potential for Problems

In response to the 2009 gang-related beating death of a 14 year-old child, the Maryland House Speaker is proposing the sharing of suspected gang activity information with public schools. If passed, the bill would allow unprecedented coordination of information on suspected gang activity of public school students between law enforcement and school officials. As anyone would expect, serious concerns about the bill have been raised. In particular, civil liberties groups contend that the sharing of such sensitive information could have “dramatic and unintended consequences if used incorrectly” (Davis & Birnbaum, 2010).

Let me say first that I believe the bill has great intentions, but serious questions remain if something like this is going to be considered. First comes the question of consitiutionality, which I am not really qualified to discuss, but I suspect that such a proposal could be a threat to privacy rights. Next is the question of what school district/school officials would have access to this sensitive information. Third, I have serious concerns about the use of the phrase “suspected gang activity.” What specific critieria would be used to determine what children are placed on this list to share information about? We have seen time and time again that the suspicions of police are not always warranted or correct, and in some instances those suspcions are fueled by prejudice. I fear that young people could be labeled as “suspected gang members” for reasons including style of dress, neighborhood, or family activities. If these young people are misidentified and that misinformation is passed on to schools, their reputations and school careers could suffer irreparable damage.

In my own adolescence, I have been “supected” by the police of engaging in illegal activity more times than I care to remember. I have been wrongly suspected of having drugs, wrongly suspected of driving a stolen vehicle, and wrongly suspected of stealing. For me, those suspicions resulted in being detained, searched, and harassed by the police. But if this bill is passed, young people in Maryland who are unjustly “suspected” of engaging in gang activity would have that misinformation passed on to their schools, potentially casting them in a negative light that would be difficult if not impossible for them to shed. I agree with the Maryland House Speaker that It is imperative that we get youth violent crime under control in our schools and our communities, but we must do it in a way that is fair to all young people.