Kentucky Teachers Lead, Grow Through Hope Street Program

From a Hope Street Group press release:

“If teachers became more engaged in self-advocacy and policy development, their classrooms would reflect those changes.”

These words were spoken by Angela Gunter, a Daviess County English language teacher. This year, Gunter is leading 55 teachers across southern and western Kentucky’s Green River Regional Educational Cooperative region in implementing Student Growth Goal action research in English Language Arts classrooms. She also counts this school year as her first as a Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow.

Through the Kentucky State Teacher Fellows Program, Hope Street Group, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, is working in close partnership with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), the Kentucky Teachers Association (KEA), the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, and The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky to provide a group of public school teachers, who are chosen through a rigorous selection process, with skills around peer and community engagement, data collection, and communication strategies, while giving them opportunities to amplify positive teacher voice to inform policy decisions. Hope Street Group launched the program with great success in Kentucky in 2013, replicating it in Hawai’i in 2014 and then in North Carolina and Tennessee in 2015.

Last year, in a statewide data collection in collaboration with the KDE and KEA, Kentucky State Teacher Fellows (STFs) sought teacher solutions from their peers regarding optimizing teacher time, using teacher leaders to impact professional and student learning, as well as utilizing the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System, the state’s educator evaluation system. The Kentucky STFs led focus groups and gathered survey data with their peers across the state and, ultimately, engaged over 20% of all Kentucky teachers. Their findings were turned into actionable recommendations to further support educators in the state. KDE has taken these recommendations and begun acting upon the solutions.

“KEA is glad to partner with Hope Street Group to make sure that policymakers take seriously what the real education experts–Kentucky’s classroom teachers–know about what works to improve student learning,” KEA Executive Director Mary Ann Blankenship said.

The work of the first cohort of the Kentucky STFs has led to their growth as teacher leaders and advocates for their profession. In addition to providing recommendations to KDE, they have met with legislators and hosted school visits, and have written op-eds and essays that have been published in news outlets across the state and nation. The way in which the STFs have contributed to the state’s education policy decisions reaffirmed the decision by Carrie Wedding, a 5th and 6th grade special education teacher, to remain in the program.

“During my time as a Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow, I feel that I have built bridges among teachers to positively impact student learning,” Wedding reflected. “When teachers open their doors and hearts in order to have open dialogue about students, cultures and minds shift.”

Wedding, who is among 24 other teachers in Hope Street Group’s Kentucky STF program this year, is collaborating with Gunter to create a series of teacher articles for the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer around critical education topics that impact the local community.

“The 2015 Hope Street Group Kentucky STFs are about the business of leveraging the expertise and cumulative voice of teachers to shape policy at the local, state, and national level,” Brad Clark, Kentucky State Teacher Fellows Program Director stated. “By working with our local and state partners, STFs accelerate the opportunities for Kentucky teachers to develop the dispositions, knowledge, and skills necessary to deeply impact teaching and learning.”

Kentucky educators can participate in the work of this year’s 25 STFs and contribute their voice to meaningful policy action by finding the 2015 Kentucky State Teacher Fellow in their region here.

Hope Street Group is a national organization that works to ensure every American will have access to tools and options leading to economic opportunity and prosperity. For more information, visit:

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

No Silver Bullets

Prichard Committee Associate Executive Director Cory Curl offers some thoughts on powerful concepts that can help change and improve education — not one silver bullet, but several key ideas that can help make sense of what works and what doesn’t.

In this post, she highlights the need for a focus on quality work:

The challenge for all of us is to ensure that students throughout Kentucky are engaged in quality work that leads to real learning – particularly for students of color, students in poverty, students with disabilities, and those in other student groups that so urgently need access to the most stellar opportunities to learn, to grow, to succeed – to absolutely captivate their teachers, their families, and their communities.


For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Commissioner Pruitt

The Kentucky Board of Education has come to terms with Stephen Pruitt and he will become the next Commissioner of Education.

Here’s the press release:

Today, the Kentucky Board of Education officially named Stephen L. Pruitt as the sixth Kentucky Commissioner of Education. Pruitt is currently senior vice president at Achieve, Inc., an independent,
nonpartisan, nonprofit education reform organization, where he has served since 2010.
Following a five-month search process, the board extended an offer of employment to Pruitt last month and directed Board Chair Roger Marcum to negotiate a contract.
At today’s meeting, the board ratified Pruitt’s contract. It calls for him to be paid $240,000 annually over the course of the 4-year contract.
“The Commonwealth has a rich history of and commitment to improving the lives of its children through public education. I am honored to serve as Kentucky’s next commissioner of education and be able to continue that tradition,” Pruitt said after signing the contract. “I am excited to work alongside Kentucky’s educators and education shareholders to support our students, so they can graduate college/career-ready, realize success in their postsecondary endeavors,
get good jobs and help Kentucky prosper.”
In addition to working at Achieve, Dr. Pruitt’s prior experience includes chief of staff, associate state superintendent, director of academic standards, and science and mathematics program manager with the Georgia Department of Education; and high school chemistry teacher in Fayetteville and Tyrone, Georgia. He earned a
bachelor’s degree from North Georgia College and State University; a master’s from the University of West Georgia and a Doctorate of Philosophy from Auburn University.
Pruitt is a native of Talmo, Georgia. He and his wife have two children, a son in college and a daughter who is a high school junior and will be attending public school in Kentucky once the family relocates.
Dr. Pruitt’s first official day on the job will be Friday, October 16.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

High School Scores Rising

The Prichard Blog has the story on improving high school scores and an analysis of the results at all levels.

Here’s a key excerpt:

In Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning system, overall scores are the quickest summary of results for a public school, district, or the entire state. An overall score combines multiple measures to calculate a single number on a 0 to 100 scale that sums up student and program performance.

For our state as a whole, the high school overall score rose 1.5 points from 2014 to 2015, but the elementary and middle overall scores declined.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport


The PGES Student Growth Component

This article was submitted by Cora Wigger, a graduate student in public policy at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education.

Examining TPGES’s Student Growth Component

The 2014-2015 school year was the first where all schools in the state fully implemented the Kentucky Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES), and beginning in 2015-2016 all schools and districts will be required by the state to use the results of PGES evaluations for decision-making for professional development and retention plans. Now is a particularly critical time for the state to be evaluating both the structure and rollout of PGES in order to make any final changes before stakes are officially attached to the system.

PGES Overview:

If you follow teacher evaluation systems in other states or in the national conversation, you’ve probably come across the terms “Value Added Models” (VAM) (a calculation of student test scores that attributes to the teacher the growth of a student beyond what would have been predicted) and “Student Learning Objectives” (SLO’s) (individualized learning goals developed and assessed for each of a teacher’s students). Kentucky uses both of these in the Student Growth portion of their teacher evaluation system (TPGES), but refrains from using the often politicized terms.  Smart, since not all VAMs and SLOs are created equal.

Kentucky’s Student Growth Goals, a take on SLO’s, are a strong pedagogical tool, and Kentucky’s push to use this strategy statewide is ambitious and forward-thinking, because they’re not easy to implement and monitor. Available research generally supports the idea that SLO’s have a positive effect on student learning, and the individualized nature of goal-development promotes teacher buy-in for the evaluation system. However, there is little evidence that SLO’s are a valid or reliable tool for measuring teacher effectiveness for evaluation (see Morgan & Lacireno, 2013). While the process of creating and using these student growth goals may be beneficial for both teacher practice and student learning, their use in TPGES for determining a teacher effectiveness score and subsequent teacher development and retention needs may not end up being a responsible or accurate measurement approach.

The second component of a teacher’s student growth score uses a student’s change in test scores as compared to their academic peers to determine the teacher’s contribution to that student’s academic growth. Kentucky’s approach here maximizes teacher buy-in by limiting the application of test score data to teachers who actually taught the students being tested in a given year (as compared to some systems that hold all teachers in a school accountable for students’ test scores, even those teaching untested subjects). Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) are determined for each tested student in at least their second year of consecutive testing by comparing each students’ current year scores to other students state-wide with the same scores on the previous year’s test. SGP is determined based on what percentile each student falls in according to their current test score compared to other students with the same test score from the year before. A teacher’s Median Student Growth Percentile (MSGP) is determined from the median of all of that teacher’s students’ SGPs. As complicated an explanation as that may be, compared to other Value Added Models, Kentucky’s is extremely simple. Some VAMs, for instance, take student background or teacher experience into account. And by basing the final SGP score on percentiles instead of raw scores, the TPGES model necessitates that there will always be students with a low SGP and a high SGP, even if all students do better (or worse) than would have been predicted.

The SGP approach also limits the years and subjects for which an assessment-based growth score can be calculated, because it requires consecutive years of test data in the same subject, greatly reducing the number of teachers able to receive a score from the pool of teachers who teach tested subjects. It also averages scores over three years, when available, which is statistically great, but for new teachers it makes each year hold more weight than for those with more experience. Overall, the use of SGP’s for student growth measurement is a potentially invalid and unreliable statistical tool that doesn’t utilize much of the available test data for determining teacher contribution to student growth.

However, it may not much matter. Kentucky allows districts to determine the weight that MSGP scores receive, theoretically allowing this score to make up as little as 5% of the overall student growth score for a teacher. So while it may not be as statistically sound or reliable as is ideal, districts have the ability to nearly completely leave it out of teachers’ final effectiveness scores. However, this then places all of the weight (for untested teachers) and nearly all of the weight (for tested teachers in districts that place little importance on MSGP) on student growth goals, which I have already demonstrated may be a flawed source for teacher evaluation.

The theory behind having an effective teacher evaluation model is that you will improve students’ education by improving the teachers – either by changing which teachers are in the work force or by identifying areas of weakness and tailoring professional development around those areas and for those teachers. But I will not be surprised if we come to see that TPGES isn’t so great at the identification of strong and weak teachers and areas of practice, given its not so strong measurement tools. However, if done well, the use of student growth goals accompanying TPGES may directly improve the education our students receive by giving teachers a powerful tool for offering individualized education to every student. And ultimately, that’s the purpose of any teacher evaluation system. I would be wary, however, to overuse TPGES in more high-stakes decisions that impact teachers, like pay scales or dismissals, as the system may not be up to snuff to be able to give us that kind of reliable information.

Morgan, C., Lacireno-Paquet, N. (2013) Overview of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs): Review of the Literature. Regional Education Laboratory at EDC.

For more on Student Learning Objectives and how they may impact teacher performance and student outcomes, see an analysis of Denver’s ProComp System.

For more on some of the challenges of VAM alluded to in Wigger’s analysis, see Some Inconvenient Facts About VAM.

For a look at some of the challenges posed by Tennessee’s relatively sophisticated VAM model, see The Worst Teachers


For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

JCPS and Teacher Compensation

An analysis of teacher compensation I did for Nashville included Louisville and four other districts. The districts were chosen because they were demographically similar to Nashville.

So, how does Louisville’s teacher compensation stack up to 5 other urban districts with a similar profile?

Here are the numbers:

                                  Start                    10                          20                      TOP

MNPS                     $42,082                $44,536                 $54,800              $55,757

Louisville              $41,756                $53,759                 $69,514                $70,636

Charlotte               $37,946               $46,008                $53,954                $58,525

Austin                     $46,401               $48,837                $55,477                 $70,751

Atlanta                   $44,312               $54,167                 $62,075                 $66,467

Denver                   $38,765              $47,136                 $53,838*

*Denver has a teacher compensation system known as ProComp and the highest step is 13. Teachers in Denver earn the base pay indicated plus are eligible for incentives and base pay increases based on professional development, advanced degrees, and measures of student outcomes.

Based on these numbers, Louisville offers competitive starting pay and long-term earnings there are among the best — outpacing even the much-larger city of Atlanta.

A more comprehensive analysis might include additional cities and factors such as cost of living. Of course, the cost to live in Louisville is less than Atlanta or Denver — but including cities such as Memphis, Indianapolis, and Columbus might yield even more useful information.

That said, JCPS appears to be doing well by its teachers in terms of pay.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport


Seeking a Commissioner

With the retirement of Commissioner Terry Holliday, Kentucky finds itself searching for a new Commissioner of Education.  Here’s the official job posting:

The Kentucky Board of Education invites applications and nominations for the position of Commissioner of Education. The Commissioner reports to the 11-member Kentucky Board of Education and leads the Kentucky Department of Education in providing resources and guidance to Kentucky’s public schools and districts as they implement the Commonwealth’s P-12 education requirements. The department also serves as the Commonwealth’s liaison for federal education requirements and funding opportunities. Located in Frankfort, Kentucky, the department has approximately 1,100 full-time employees (includes the Kentucky School for the Deaf, Kentucky School for the Blind, Kentucky Department of Education Frankfort-based employees, Office of Career and Technical Education Frankfort-based central office staff and 53 area technical centers).

The board is seeking an individual who shares its commitment to putting the needs and interests of students first and foremost and preparing them for success in their education, career and citizenship. Partnering with educators to collectively deliver on this promise presents the selected person the chance to apply innovative approaches in order to move students beyond college- and career-readiness toward global competency. The individual also must pursue difficult issues with a firmness of purpose, exhibit respect of others, show consistency and depth of thought, and present a deep appreciation and respect for diversity and inclusion.
The successful candidate must provide leadership that assists the board in developing the vision, strategy and objectives to advance the Commonwealth’s priorities of rigorous standards–based education. Further, the commissioner must build consensus among constituency groups such as legislative, business, community and school leaders.
An advanced degree is required. The successful candidate must have experience in leading complex organizations as well as a deep commitment to reaching proficiency in teaching and learning for all Kentucky schools.
Greenwood/Asher & Associates, Inc. is assisting the Kentucky Board of Education in the search. Initial screening of applications will begin immediately and will continue until an appointment is made. For best consideration, submit your materials by July 17, 2015. Individuals who wish to nominate a candidate should submit a letter of nomination including contact information for the nominee. Application materials should include a letter addressing how the candidate’s experiences match the position requirements, a curriculum vitae or resume and five references. Submission of materials as PDF attachments is strongly encouraged. Confidential inquiries, nominations and application materials should be directed to:
Jan Greenwood, Betty Turner Asher, Partners
Greenwood/Asher & Associates, Inc.
42 Business Centre Drive, Suite 206
Miramar Beach, Florida 32550
Phone: 850-650-2277 / Fax: 850-650-2272
To see the posting at the Department’s site, click here.
For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport


PBL as Turnaround Strategy

One elementary school in Lexington is using Project-Based Learning to turnaround its performance. An article detailing the approach also notes it is a multi-year commitment focused on success, not immediate results.

I previously wrote about Danville’s use of PBL as a hopeful experiment and an interesting reconnection to Kentucky’s KERA reforms of the 1990s.

Now, it seems Mary Todd Elementary in Lexington is embracing the approach as a way to improve results for the school. Interestingly, the emphasis on hands-on learning means field trips and technology are needed — that is, more investment in the school.

From the story:

The school in north Lexington is trying to transform student achievement with a concept called project-based learning. It is a system in which students learn classroom subjects by doing meaningful projects that relate to real situations in the community. The concept prepares students for college and careers, Kirchner said.
It is a three-to five-year process, “not a quick fix,” she said.

First- and third-graders are trying the method first, and Kirchner hopes to implement it schoolwide by 2017.
The transformation is needed in part because Mary Todd is considered a low-performing school. It had a score of 52.9 out of 100 in Kentucky’s testing and accountability program in 2013-14. Mary Todd is classified by the state as “needs improvement/progressing” as opposed to “proficient” or “distinguished.”
The story is an interesting one because of the approach — using more field trips, hands-on experiences, and projects to promote the learning students need to excel.
Rather than attempting to improve test scores by endless drilling, this approach focuses on providing education that illuminates concepts through experience.
And the school’s principal notes the effort doesn’t come without a cost:
The achievement gap between poor, disabled and minority students and other students is not going to close immediately, Kirchner said.

“Nor is it going to close based on the budget and staffing that we are given by the school district,” she said.
To do PBL well, it takes a commitment of time and an investment of resources.
For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport



How to Become a Teacher in Kentucky

The Prichard Blog has a guest post up from Gabe Duverge at Campbellsville University. The post goes into detail on the steps one must take to become a Kentucky teacher.

The post is especially timely in light of another recent article detailing the loss of so many of Kentucky’s early career teachers.

Duverge starts out with a note for those who are called to teach:

Politician Brad Henry once said, “A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination and instill a love of learning.” Teachers can have a truly profound impact on their students, from pre-K to adulthood. But there are requirements to be considered qualified to teach. Although these requirements vary by state, Kentucky has some of the most stringent standards in the nation. This guide will help you navigate the complex, and occasionally confusing, world of Kentucky regulations so you can understand what you need to do to follow your passion and change the lives of others in the classroom.

And, as promised, the post details the steps necessary to become a teacher — from undergraduate education to internship to graduate work and everything else. It’s a direct and straightforward approach to what can seem a complex process.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Common Core Success

The Wall Street Journal has a story out today on Kentucky’s success with the Common Core State Standards and the relatively minimal pushback the standards have seen there relative to other states.

I’ve written before about Kentucky’s Common Core pioneering and the early start and strong communication tactics used to help ensure success there.

Specifically, on communication and community engagement, it has been noted:

Regarding the success of these efforts, the report notes:

The expansive outreach campaign has helped the vast majority of teachers feel comfortable and ready to teach the Common Core standards. Last November and December, the Kentucky Department of Education conducted an anonymous, voluntary survey to gauge educator attitudes about the state’s new standards. According to survey findings, 86 percent of respondents believe that they are prepared to teach the standards, and 90 percent believe that the new standards are more rigorous than the previous standards.

Despite an earlier report noting some fairly dismal scores as the state shifted to Common Core, current trends indicate an improvement in both scores and high school graduation rates.

Kentucky has, since 1990, been an education policy pioneer. One hallmark of the success experienced in the Bluegrass State is an aggressive communication strategy that includes all stakeholders. Additionally, the state engages both educators and the business community early on in any reform discussion.

While it may be too late for some states currently struggling to get a handle on Common Core dissent, Kentucky’s experience suggests a model for other states in terms of how to handle education reform generally.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport