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.

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

The Importance of Family Engagement

Prichard Committee member Cory Curl writes about the importance of family engagement to the success of schools. In addition to being a Prichard Committee member, Curl has worked in the Tennessee Governor’s Office on education policy as well as for the Tennessee Department of Education.

One key takeaway from Curl’s article is the importance of training parents to be effective advocates not only for their own children, but their community’s schools.  Curl writes:

How can parents and families help their child’s school? My perspective is that the best things parents and families can do are to help their children learn at home, and to help other families do the same. In Kentucky, the Governor’s Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership (GCIPL), is a treasured resource to help parents learn about the education system and how to be education leaders. Most importantly, GCIPL guides parents in putting in practice what they have learned – and many end their training by launching a program in their child’s school or districts to help other parents.

Programs like GCIPL are also transformative in that they help parents and families understand what questions to ask administrators and teachers in their child’s school, to whom and how to ask the questions in order to both support the school’s efforts and spark action to make changes when needed.

Promoting community engagement around schools — rather than simply talking about the importance of community engagement — is critical to make schools successful.  Too often, parents don’t know how to be engaged or where to direct important questions.  Programs like GCIPL help address this concern and give parents the tools to be powerful advocates.  Education-minded groups in other states would do well to replicate a proven program like GCIPL.

For more from Cory Curl, read here.

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

Kentucky’s Impressive AP Gains

This graph tells an impressive story — and it is happening in Kentucky.

 

ky-ap2

How did they make it happen?

A few key takeaways from this article on Kentucky’s success:

Teachers receive extra training in the AP course content in the summer, the support of a mentor during the school year and $500 for being an AP teacher participating in training and a $100 bonus for each of their students who receives a qualifying score. This past summer, more than 1,000 teachers participated in AP and pre-AP training sessions at four locations in Kentucky.

Focusing on teacher training and support is a critical element of this program’s success.  Teachers are trained, they are paid extra, and they are supported over the course of the year.  This type of model would seem to hold promise for overall education improvements.  Provide teachers with targeted training, offer them the support of a trained mentor, and provide them with improved pay.

High standards alone are not enough.  Teachers must also be trained, supported, and adequately paid.  The Kentucky AP experience shows what can happen when ALL of those elements are included in a plan to improve student achievement.

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

 

Core Pioneers

Kentucky was the first state in the nation to adopt and implement the Common Core State Standards.  They’ve just finished their second year of Common Core tests.  So, how’s it going?

The good folks over at Hechinger Report have some analysis.

Here are some highlights:

1) Results are mixed.  This is to be expected.  It’s early on in the process.  Kentucky experienced similar “growing pains” with KERA and ultimately ended up with some pretty solid results — overall improvement on NAEP standings and stronger scores for low-income kids.  Are they where they want to be? No.  But the path of raising standards and focusing on both investment and equity has gotten results.  20 years ago, Kentucky and Tennessee were in roughly the same place in terms of NAEP standings.  Now, Kentucky’s students consistently test higher on NAEP.

2) The improvement is not fast enough. Scores on the Common Core tests are still pretty low.  So, state officials want faster improvement.  However, unlike the KERA reform, this reform has not been met with significant new investment in schools.  And, some advocates and even the Commissioner of Education are calling for a renewed commitment to investing in Kentucky schools.

3) It may be too much, too soon for some kids. Teachers and parents are expressing frustration over the “pushing down” of standards to lower and lower grade levels.  That is, what was once covered in 6th grade math is now expected in 5th grade.  There is some legitimate concern that younger children aren’t developmentally ready for what the Common Core expects.

4) There is some good news. Despite the somewhat bleak picture painted by Hechinger as they state, “Across the state, test scores are still dismal…,” a closer look at this year’s results offers some key points of optimism. Specifically, the Prichard Committee points out:

Looking at group patterns, students with disabilities improved in every subject, and the Gap, free and reduced meal, and African American groups improved in all but one–with most of those results being quite strong. 

So, other states should watch Kentucky — to see what’s working and what can be improved.  And Kentucky policymakers should focus on providing the necessary investments to make Common Core work.  Additionally, the Commissioner and Governor should be willing to make changes to implementation where necessary — and listen to educators for guidance on where those changes are needed.

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

 

Core Defense

Gov. Steve Beshear and Commissioner Terry Holliday defend Kentucky’s participation in the Common Core in an op-ed in the Lane Report.

In the article, they note that Kentucky was the first state to teach and test using the Common Core State Standards. They also note that the stronger curriculum is yielding results in terms of increased graduation rates and a decreased need for remediation among high school graduates attending Kentucky colleges.

Kentucky’s leading role should be no surprise.  Since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, Kentucky has taken the lead on using rigorous, relevant curriculum and holding students to high standards.  The higher expectations combined with increased investment in schools helped Kentucky become one of the fastest-improving states on the NAEP.

The lesson of 20 years of progress is that successful reform requires meaningful investment.  Or, as Stu Silberman put it, Reform Without Funding is Dead.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport

Value-Added Value?

I wrote recently about the limited value of value-added data when it comes to predicting teacher effectiveness.

Now, more information has come out regarding the impact of value-added data on education policy.  Specifically, the impact the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) has had on Tennessee education outcomes.

TVAAS was included among a set of reforms adopted as part of the Education Improvement Act in Tennessee in 1992.  The EIA was passed in a response to a lawsuit regarding inequity in school funding.  A similar situation precipitated Kentucky’s Education Reform Act (KERA) in 1990.  Over the last 20 years, however, the two states have taken different approaches and have different results to show for their efforts.

Here’s the big takeaway from this piece on the utility of TVAAS data in terms of its impact on student achievement:

Tennessee received a D on K-12 achievement when compared to other states based on NAEP achievement levels and gains, poverty gaps, graduation rates, and Advanced Placement test scores (Quality Counts 2011, p. 46).  Educational progress made in other states on NAEP [from 1992 to 2011] lowered Tennessee’s rankings:

• from 36th/42 to 46th/52 in the nation in fourth-grade math[2]

• from 29th/42 to 42nd/52 in fourth-grade reading[3]

• from 35th/42 to 46th/52 in eighth-grade math

• from 25th/38 (1998) to 42nd/52 in eighth-grade reading.

That’s right. Tennessee has lost ground relative to other states since the implementation of its TVAAS system as well as its other education reforms adopted in 1992.  Funding inequity persists, and while the overall numbers in terms of student achievement have gone slightly up, other states have moved forward faster. That means Tennessee is essentially worse off relative to the country than it was when it started.

One key difference in Tennessee is persistently low investment in schools. Which highlights the need for Kentucky to continue its focus on investing in schools and doing what works to achieve proficiency.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport

 

Breaking Down the Test Results

The Prichard Blog has a nice breakdown of the recently released testing results in Kentucky.

It’s hard to say it’s all good news – but, there’s plenty of good news.  And of course, room for improvement.

Here are the key takeaways:

Looking at group patterns, students with disabilities improved in every subject, and the Gap, free and reduced meal, and African American groups improved in all but one–with most of those results being quite strong.   Students with limited English proficiency declined in all but one subject, and Asian students declined in three of six.
For all students, the pattern is strong growth in science, social studies and writing, moderate growth in reading and a small uptick in language mechanics, but a disturbing decline in mathematics.
Looking at the whole sweeping picture, I think the spotlight developments are:

  • Successes for the Gap group, free and reduced meal students, and students with disabilities.
  • Weaknesses for students with limited English proficiency and African-American, Asian, Hispanic students.
  • Growth in elementary writing and language mechanics, middle school reading and language mechanics, and high school science and social studies.
  • Troubling declines in elementary reading and science, middle school mathematics and science, and high school mathematics.

It’s important, then, that Kentucky keep focusing on next steps — and that investment in schools keeps up with a clear need to move toward greater proficiency.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport

Value-Added Caution

Lots of attention in the discussion around teacher quality focuses on value-added data and the ability to determine a teacher’s effectiveness from a single test score.

More recently, a study by researchers at Harvard has received lots of attention because it purports to indicate that replacing a bad teacher with a good one has significant lifetime impact on student earning potential.

Unfortunately, it seems none of the media fawning over this study know how to use a calculator.

So, I break it down here:

This is the study that keeps getting attention around teacher quality and student earning potential. It was even mentioned in President Obama’s State of the Union back in 2012.  It keeps getting cited as further evidence that we need to fire more teachers to improve student achievement.

Here’s the finding that gets all the attention: A top 5 percent teacher (according to value-added modeling or VAM) can help a classroom of students (28) earn $250,000 more collectively over their lifetime.

Now, a quarter of a million sounds like a lot of money.

But, in their sample, a classroom was 28 students. So, that equates to $8928.57 per child over their lifetime. That’s right, NOT $8928.57 MORE per year, MORE over their whole life.

For more math fun, that’s $297.61 more per year over a thirty year career with a VAM-designated “great” teacher vs. with just an average teacher.

Yep, get your kid into a high value-added teacher’s classroom and they could be living in style, making a whole $300 more per year than their friends who had the misfortune of being in an average teacher’s room.

If we go all the way down to what VAM designates as “ineffective” teaching, you’d likely see that number double, or maybe go a little higher. So, let’s say it doubles plus some. Now, your kid has a low VAM teacher and the neighbor’s kid has a high VAM teacher. What’s that do to his or her life?

Well, it looks like this: The neighbor kid gets a starting job offer of $41,000 and your kid gets a starting offer of $40,000.

Wait, what? You mean VAM does not do anything more than that in terms of predicting teacher effect?

Um, no.

And so perhaps we shouldn’t be using value-added modeling for more than informing teachers about their students and their own performance. Using it as one small tool as they seek to continuously improve practice. One might even mention a VAM score on an evaluation — but one certainly wouldn’t base 35-50% of a teacher’s entire evaluation on such data. In light of these numbers from the Harvard researchers, that seems entirely irresponsible.

Perhaps there’s a lot more to teacher quality and teacher effect than a “value-added” score. Perhaps there’s real value added in the teacher who convinces a struggling kid to just stay in school one more year or the teacher who helps a child with the emotional issues surrounding divorce or abuse or drug use or any number of other challenges students (who are humans, not mere data points) face.

Alas, current trends in “education reform” are pushing us toward more widespread use of value-added data — using it to evaluate teachers and even publishing the results.

I can just hear the conversation now: Your kid got a “2” teacher mine got a “4.” My kid’s gonna make 500 bucks more a year than your kid. Unless, of course, the situation is reversed next year.

Stop the madness. Education is a people business. It’s about teachers (people) putting students (people) first.

I’m glad the researchers released this study. Despite their spurious conclusions, it finally tells us that we can and should focus less on a single value-added score and more on all the inputs at all levels that impact a child’s success in school and life.

As Kentucky considers teacher evaluation “reform,” caution should be used when deciding what (if any) role value-added scores will play in new evaluations.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport

Reform Without Funding is Dead

Or, that’s the claim essentially made by Stu Silberman here.

Silberman points out that as states like Kentucky continue to push forward on education reform, this time, they’re doing it without the commitment to funding that allowed Kentucky to be successful in the 1990s.

Specifically, he notes:

Funding cuts at the federal, state and local levels over the last several years
combined with the additional pressures and demands of high-level reform are
creating an environment for failure. Action to change this must come soon. Would
Kentucky have made the progress it has since 1990 without the supports for
teachers and students? The answer, clearly, is no. And unless we find a way to
support our teachers and kids this time around, we will see movement again – but
this time it will be in reverse.

Clearly, Silberman is not pleased with the trend of reform that says that we can improve schools without investing in them.  While it is true that simply spending more money won’t help, it is also true that targeted reforms without adequate financial support are doomed to fail.

Kentucky is a state that got education reform right in the 1990s and proceeded on a positive path into the 2000s.  Going backwards now should not be an option.

For more on education policy in Kentucky, follow us on Twitter @KyEdReport

Kentucky and Tennessee — Football and Schools

My column that appeared in the Hendersonville Star-News on Friday, December 2, 2011:

As I watched UK claim its first football victory over UT in 26 years, I began to ponder what might happen if the tables were turned. How would Tennesseans react if Kentucky beat Tennessee in football 26 years in a row? Already, the first coach to lose to Kentucky in 26 years is facing some griping from Vols fans. Lose to UK two years in a row and there will certainly be talk of a coach on the “hot seat.” While Tennessee certainly owns football supremacy, at least Kentucky has basketball.

There is, however, one arena in which Kentucky consistently beats Tennessee: Education. Since the 1991 passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, Kentucky schools have been on a tireless forward march. Indicator after indicator demonstrates that Kentucky has far out-paced Tennessee in education results over the last twenty years. And, Kentucky keeps moving forward. Meanwhile, Tennesseans watch as reform efforts here get off to noble starts only to fizzle out when the going gets tough (Career Ladder, BEP 2.0).

Let’s take a look at the indicators to see just where we stand in relation to our neighbor to the north. For starters, eight states test 100% of high school graduates on the ACT. Of those eight states, Tennessee ranks 7th in statewide average score. Perhaps not surprisingly, Tennessee spends less per pupil than all of the states ahead of us. Kentucky is one of those states and spends $1000-$1500 more per pupil (depending on the source) than we do.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the one test that students in all states take in 4th and 8th grade. It measures proficiency levels in math, reading, science and writing. Year after year, Kentucky’s students demonstrate greater proficiency than Tennessee’s. The most recent results in math and reading showed that Kentucky’s students tested 8 points ahead of Tennessee in reading and 10 points ahead in math. These numbers held even when looking at those students on free and reduced lunch. In Science, Kentucky’s 4th graders hold a 13-point lead over Tennessee’s; by 8th grade that lead expands to 18 points.

Finally, in terms of college degree attainment, nearly one in three Kentuckians holds a 4-year degree. On the other hand, barely one in five Tennesseans has a college diploma. An individual with a college diploma has been shown to earn $1 million more over a lifetime than a high school graduate. Moreover, if you’re a business deciding where to locate, you’ll find Kentucky has more college graduates available. If you took 1000 Tennesseans and 1000 Kentuckians to a job interview, 100 more of those Kentuckians (300 vs. 200) would have a college degree. That makes it difficult for Tennessee to compete.

So, let’s assume we don’t want to keep on losing to Kentucky. And, we should certainly be outraged by the consistent beating we’re taking. What do we do?

Over the last twenty years, Kentucky has maintained a focus on bold reform with three essential components: 1) Invest in schools 2) Invest in teachers and 3) Invest in students. As I noted, Kentucky spends $1000-$1500 more per student than Tennessee. Teachers there also make about $2000 more per year than Tennessee’s.

Kentucky’s success is not just about more money, though. It’s about smart investments that get proven results. Kentucky invests in teachers by way of the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program (KTIP). KTIP is an intensive first-year teaching experience during which new teachers are assigned a mentor and an advisor from a local university. Those two individuals along with the school’s principal form the new teacher’s internship committee. The teacher is observed at least nine times in that first year and given constant feedback. At the end of the year, the teacher is either recommended for a teaching license, recommended for an additional KTIP year, or not advanced to a full teaching license. This focus on the critical first year of teaching, while certainly not perfect, does emphasize teacher development and demonstrate Kentucky’s commitment to ensuring that proven teachers stay in the profession. While Tennessee has adopted new evaluations, there is no support structure similar to Kentucky’s for new teachers.

Kentucky has also committed to extra learning time – providing targeted tutoring to students most in need of extra assistance. Again, this research-based approach is paying dividends as can be seen by Kentucky’s solid NAEP and ACT performance. Smart investments, not just throwing money at the problem, pay off in the long term.

For 26 years, the last Saturday in November has meant certain victory for Tennessee football. I have no doubt that UT will again claim victory over Kentucky – maybe for another 26 years. While the folks on Coach Dooley’s staff focus on getting the football right, we have a more important challenge – building strong, effective schools. Tennessee children should have more to look forward to than singing Rocky Top in Neyland Stadium as UK heads back to Lexington after another loss.

For more on education policy in Kentucky, follow us @KyEdReport