Voluntary Vouchers?

Gary Houchens writes about an interesting approach to vouchers in Kentucky. I’m not sure this proposal will go very far, but here’s a summary of the proposal:

HB 384 would allow private citizens or corporations to make donations to tuition assistance programs that would provide subsidies for children who cannot afford private school tuition, and then receive a credit on their state tax bill for half the amount of their donation.  These tuition assistance programs would provide help to poor and middle class families with annual household incomes up to $60,000, with $10,000 added to that threshold for each additional school-aged child in the family.

Also, HB 384 would allow citizens and companies to make similar donations to the Commonwealth School Improvement Fund (CSIF), which was established by the state legislature several years ago to support struggling public schools in their improvement efforts.  These donations would also be subject to the 50% state tax credit.  In this way, HB 384 is a great mechanism for supporting both public and non-public schools.

Gary explains his reasons for supporting the legislation in his post.

Here are some thoughts I have on the pros and cons of this approach:

PROS

Donations to the fund are strictly voluntary. No tax dollars go directly to supporting schools accepting the tuition assistance (voucher).

Because the program is a tax credit, per pupil dollars are not directly taken from school systems in the way they are in traditional voucher programs.

The bill also encourages funding for a school improvement program designed to help struggling schools – I find the approach of offering more support/assistance to struggling schools preferable to punishing those schools.

CONS

The funding may vary from year to year, so it is not clear what happens if donations aren’t enough to cover commitments as the voucher program expands.

Ultimately, there would be an adjustment to funds public school systems receive as the SEEK formula is calculated in years following a student leaving via a voucher

The uncertainty of the funding may discourage some families from accepting the voucher, thus limiting any positive impact it may have

School improvement funding should not be contingent on voluntary funds

I think the idea of providing tax credits to individuals and corporations who support a school improvement fund is a novel approach to a particularly tricky problem. Likewise, because the donations are voluntary and the ultimate cost in terms of public dollars, even with tax credits, is likely minimal – this voucher scheme seems less onerous than others around the country.

It will be interesting to see how the program evolves if it receives sufficient support to become law.

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

 

Professional Development: Accepted and Expected

This article was submitted by Hope Street Group Fellows Kip Hottman and Angela Baker. Baker teaches English/Language Arts and Journalism in Berea Community Schools. Read her full bio. Hottman is a Spanish teacher at Oldham County High School. Read his full bio.

Kentucky Education Report continues to seek submissions from teachers who wish to comment on education policy in Kentucky.

This year Kentucky joined many states throughout the U.S. in implementing a more comprehensive teacher evaluation program. Kentucky teachers have been piloting the new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) for the last two years, but this year full implementation is occurring, with full accountability being postponed until the 2015-2016 school year.

Across the nation many teachers are taking part in initiatives that integrate and embed professional learning within the teacher evaluation. While professional development has been part of teachers’ ongoing training throughout schools for years, school administrators and local decision making councils are currently looking at how to improve individual teacher’s skills. PGES will allow individual teachers to tailor their professional learning to their needs rather than enduring school-wide professional development that most likely does not match their individual areas of improvement. At the heart of the decision making about a teacher’s effectiveness is data; data about his or her students (such as summative test scores and daily, formative academic gains), classroom observations and teacher reflection. With information from multiple measures, teachers, through collaboration with the administrator, are able to create student-centered goals and increasingly intentional plans to improve their effectiveness.

In October of 2013 Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, visited Williamsburg, Kentucky to encourage and acknowledge the state’s efforts within Early Childhood Development. At the town hall convening, Secretary Duncan was asked to provide a specific example of a teacher evaluation system in the United States that is successful. He immediately responded with Montgomery County, Maryland, and their use of a program called Peer Assistance and Review (PAR – http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~ngt/par/)

The purpose of the PAR program is to assist all teachers to meet standards for proficient teaching. It is a program that has been instituted to truly help teachers be as successful as possible, continue to learn and continue to grow as an educator. The system was instituted in the early 2000’s and uses multiple measures to determine a teacher’s professional development (PD) needs. The multiple measures are as follows:

  • Formal and informal observations by school administration or a consulting teacher
  • Student achievement data
  • Non-evaluative observations by a staff development teacher, reading specialist, math specialist or math content coach
  • Student learning objective data
  • Peer walk-throughs
  • Formative assessment data and marking period data

When Assistant Principal Greg Mullenholz of Maryvale Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland was asked about strengths and weaknesses of the PAR program, he said, “The evaluation has an outcome that is rooted in Professional Development. Meaning, the observation of the teacher is used to analyze the effectiveness of their practice. A problem that could arise if the observation isn’t solid because the goal will be misaligned to the actual need of the teacher. The support structure also has to be in place so the Professional Development will be available once a goal is defined.”

In the past, growth was viewed as a common thread amongst departments in schools, and most teachers focused on the same goal as their peers. The PAR program is groundbreaking because it is teacher-centered as they have the opportunity to create their own professional growth goal. The teacher is held accountable for his or her goal and provides evidence of change in student achievement through their adopted changes in practice.

Mr. Mullenholz also discussed his personal opinion of PAR and its effect on growing teachers professionally through collaboration: “Since its implementation over a decade ago, PAR has been a strong model. I love that it was collaboratively developed and that the school system and the union are both architects. The “peer” part is critical as the evaluation or observation must have an expectation for improvement in the teacher’s practice, or there is no set-up for success.”

While Montgomery County School district implemented an evaluation system with an eye toward teacher development, others took this one step further and created incentives for improved performance. One example of this is the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in San Fernando, California.

The Vaughn Next Century Learning Center has a history of offering high quality professional development integrated with teacher evaluation for performance pay over an interval of several years. They also use the PAR program and, like other teacher evaluation systems, professional development needs are determined by a combination of test scores and areas of need identified through observations by both lead teachers and administrators. As an independent charter school, the curriculum committee looks at the needs of the entire school and plans professional development based on numerous local factors.

Nicole Mohr, teacher and Curriculum committee Chair to the Board of Directors at the Vaughn Center stated, “It is an ever growing, ever changing process. Teachers who are on the performance assistance and review team meet regularly, several times a year and each summer to discuss how the program is meeting the needs of the school.” Most schools meet regularly to desegregate data from state tests, other assessments and even non-cognitive data to make plans to improve the school.

Teachers receive pay incentives based on numerous areas: their skills/knowledge base (Designing Coherent Instruction, Managing Classroom Procedures, Managing Student Behavior, Engaging Students in Learning, Reflecting on Teaching, and Showing Professionalism) evaluated during observations, contingency base (student attendance), outcomes base (graduation rate and Average Percentage Increased), expertise base (department chair, coach, mentor, tutor, etc) and measurable student growth.

Ms. Mohr cautioned that the downside of incentives or merit pay is “[teachers] may look for ways to prove [they] are meeting the requirements rather than looking for ways to improve [instructional practices]”. Authentically excellent teachers usually do have the evidence to prove they are meeting expectations, which shows the overall importance and benefit of accountability.” While accountability may mean merit pay for some, for most schools evaluation is used to make decisions about retention.

Mella Baxter, English and reading teacher in Flagler County Schools in Florida is at a school that does not use PAR but is integrating professional development with teacher evaluation. Ms. Baxter stated, “[Professional Development] is not differentiated by individual teacher needs, but rather each Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting focuses on how to get highly effective in one of the indicators on the evaluation tool. Then the rest of the PLC teachers work together to create lessons, assessment, etc. based on student data designed to get students to the level they need to be for teachers to get a highly effective rating.”

Aligning the professional development to the evaluation tool that is then linked to best practices seems to be a simple and effective idea. Ms. Baxter, who is also a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, is designing a space on the Virtual Engagement Platform for Hope Street Group that will list indicators for Florida’s teacher evaluation tool and link each one to resources that will help teachers achieve a highly effective rating in that category. Her plan is to allow teachers to “further individually tailor their PD.” Once completed it will allow features such as uploading videos of teachers as exemplars or to attain feedback.

Teachers are more than capable of designing evaluative tools that encompass the complexity of the teaching profession. The most effective teachers are life-long learners. Professional development ought not to be a matter of compliance; it ought to be a tool for satisfying a teacher’s quest for daily improvement of practice. Being treated like a professional is a first step toward redesigning a career ladder that will keep the best teachers in the classroom and proud to be there helping American students.

More on Career Pathways for Teachers

More on Peer Assistance and Review (PAR)

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

 

Core Reversal

Legislation (HB33) has been filed in the Kentucky General Assembly that would repeal the Common Core State Standards now in place in Kentucky and prohibit adoption or use of the Next Generation Science Standards.

Governor Steve Beshear previously stood up for the science standards when a committee of legislators opposed them.

Here’s a legislative summary including a list of bill sponsors:

HB 33 (BR 97) – T. Kerr, L. Bechler, R. Bunch, K. Imes, T. Moore, S. Santoro, D. St. Onge

AN ACT relating to public school standards.
Create a new section to KRS Chapter 158 to prohibit the Kentucky Board of Education and the Kentucky Department of Education from implementing the English language arts and mathematics academic content standards developed by the Common Core Standards Initiative and the science academic content standards developed by the Next Generation Science Standards Initiative; require the state board to recommend new content standards to school districts and schools after consultation with the Council on Postsecondary Education; require public involvement in standards development; clarify the authority of the local board of education to adopt standards which differ from or exceed the standards approved by the state board; clarify that the school-based decision making councils shall develop policies based upon the standards adopted by the local boards of education; prohibit state officials from ceding control of education content standards and assessments; prohibit withholding of state funds from school districts for adopting different academic content standards; amend KRS 156.070 to limit disclosure of personally identifiable information; direct the Kentucky Board of Education to require that the Department of Education and all school districts adhere to transparency and privacy standards when outsourcing data and Web-based tasks to vendors; clarify vendor contract requirements; amend KRS 158.6453 to permit a local board of education to supplement the state board-approved academic content standards with higher and more rigorous standards and require school councils to use them to fulfill curriculum policy requirements; amend KRS 160.345 to clarify school council curriculum policy authority.

More on Kentucky’s experience with Common Core:

Core Defense

Core Pioneers

Kicking PARCC to the Curb

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

Charter Legislation Filed

As predicted by Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, legislation allowing charter schools in Kentucky has been filed for this legislative session.

Kentucky is one of 8 states that doesn’t allow charter schools, and in spite of two decades of steady education progress, there is some pressure to authorize charters for districts with a significant number of “low-performing” schools.

Holliday has suggested probably allowing four or five charters to start, and the most likely location would be Jefferson County Public Schools.

Here’s the summary of the bill, which includes the current House sponsors:

HB 174/LM/AA (BR 237) – B. Montell, R. Benvenuti III, J. Fischer, M. Harmon, A. Koenig, S. Lee, J. Miller, T. Moore, D. Osborne, D. St. Onge, R. Webber

AN ACT relating to charter schools and making an appropriation therefor.
Create new sections of KRS Chapter 160 to describe the intent of the General Assembly and the purposes of authorizing public charter schools; define terms; establish the Kentucky Public Charter School Commission and identify membership selection and responsibilities of members; outline the requirements and limitations on the establishment of charter schools including identification of charter school authorizers; describe responsibilities of authorizers; describe charter school application, renewal, and revocation processes; establish the Kentucky Public Charter School Commission trust fund and identify uses of the fund; create a new section of KRS Chapter 159 to identify student enrollment and withdrawal requirements to be followed by a charter school; create a new section of KRS Chapter 161 to identify employment conditions for charter school staff; create a new section of KRS Chapter 157 to require local, state, and federal funds to be distributed to charter schools using formulas and allocation processes used in public schools; amend KRS 161.220 to include a teacher employed by a board of directors of a public charter school as a member within the state retirement system; amend KRS 161.220 to include employees of boards of directors of public charter schools in the state-sponsored retirement system; amend KRS 78.510 to include noncertified employees of public charter schools in the state-sponsored retirement system.

 

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

PGES Skepticism

Gary Houchens expressed skepticism about the ability of Kentucky’s new teacher evaluation system (PGES) to effectively differentiate teacher performance back in 2013.  And he has noted since that he remains skeptical.

Houchens cites research that suggests that not much changes in terms of measurable teacher performance no matter the evaluation tool. More specifically, he notes that despite spending significant dollars on new systems, many states still weren’t seeing much differentiation among teachers on evaluations.

He writes:

Last Spring I wrote about a New York Times article exploring the results of new teacher evaluations in multiple states, including Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, Connecticut, and Washington, DC.  After investing millions of dollars and thousands of hours in new evaluation systems designed to better distinguish levels of teacher performance, these states found that principals were still rating more than 90 percent of all teachers as effective or highly effective. Only tiny percentages of teachers were identified as “ineffective” or “developing.”

It would seem these efforts were a monumental waste of time and money with only a handful of possible explanations for the results.

Houchens then goes on to note that leadership at the principal level is what makes an impact on teaching practice, regardless of the evaluation model used.

He notes:

Furthermore, Murphy and colleagues identify four larger categories of principal behaviors that make a difference in teaching quality:

…providing actionable feedback to teachers…developing communities of practice in which teachers share goals, work, and responsibility for student outcomes…offering abundant support for the work of teachers..and creating systems in which teachers have the opportunity to routinely develop and refine their skills.

None of these principal activities must rely on the teacher evaluation system for their effectiveness.  In fact, these activities are most likely high-leverage behaviors even under the old, clunky teacher evaluation system.  Perhaps we could save all this time and money we are currently investing in PGES and focus, instead, on leadership behaviors that really make a difference.

I want to zoom in on the actionable feedback piece of the research cited by Houchens. To me, that is the biggest shortcoming in most evaluation systems. That is, even if principals found areas for improvement for a specific teacher, directing them to ways to improve practice can at times prove difficult. Content-specific professional development may not be readily available, for example. Access to mentors and coaches is often limited, if it exists at all.

And, as Houchens notes, time constraints placed on principals may prevent them from providing the coaching/guidance teachers most need.

One of the biggest complainst I hear from teachers, regardless of the evaluation model used, is that professional development is not connected in any way to what’s written on the evaluation.

A teacher rated “meets expectations” (a 3 on Tennessee’s 1-5 teacher rating system), likely has earned 1s or 2s in some categories of the rubric. Yet the attendant professional development is simply not offered or available. That’s just one example of actionable feedback.  So, teacher X now knows he is struggling in a few areas, but doesn’t know quite what to do to improve.

It could be something as simple as release time to observe other teachers who are strong where that teacher is weak. So, while mentors and coaches are helpful, the solution doesn’t necessarily have to carry a high cost.

Moreover, what is the cost of NOT investing in teachers to help them improve practice? First, it’s disrespectful to teachers as professionals. Professional educators want to improve their practice. An evaluation system that identifies areas for improvement but fails to provide actionable feedback on how to improve is insulting and demoralizing. Second, it’s not fair to students. School leaders know that a certain teacher needs help in specific areas, but that help is not provided. So, students continue to miss out on the best possible instruction.

How we treat teachers says a lot about how much we truly value our students. Treating them like professionals may carry costs in terms of both time and money. But those costs are worth it if we truly want every child to have access to a great education.

And, as Houchens notes, maybe instead of spending on fancy new evaluation systems with tremendous potential, we should spend on leadership development and training as well as provision of the feedback mechanisms that will truly improve instructional practice.

 

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

Charters, Pensions, and Funding

Those are the Big 3 issues identified by Commissioner Terry Holliday for the 2015 legislative session.

Holliday outlined his thoughts on the 2015 session in a December post on his blog.

He notes that if charters are adopted at all, it will likely be a small pilot program that would allow for a handful of charters in districts with especially troubling achievement gaps (likely JCPS).

The Prichard Committee has been reviewing the research on charters and will likely weigh-in at some point, too.

Teacher pension reform has been and will continue to be a hot legislative topic.

Essentially, the Kentucky General Assembly balanced the state budget for years in part by under-funding the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System.

Now, their negligence has caught up with them and teachers may see benefit changes or reductions in future payments by way of adjusted (down) cost-0f-living increases.

Holliday also says that while the session is not a budget session, some funding issues may surface.

Another potential topic of interest is allowing school systems to merge in order to maximize financial efficiency.

Tune in this session for more on the big education issues facing Kentucky policymakers.

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

 

Pension Reform in 2015?

Kentucky legislators will consider a number of plans designed to reform the state’s pension plan for teachers, the Courier-Journal reports.

The Kentucky General Assembly has been tinkering with the pension plan in recent years in an attempt to shore up unfunded liabilities.

Proposals this year would seek to adjust future benefit payments and decrease cost-of-living increases.

The shortfall is a result of lack of proper funding over time by the General Assembly.

Some proposals would continue the practice of using borrowing through bonds to fund pension obligations, but it is likely that changes to benefits will also be required.

According to the report, a number of lawmakers oppose additional bonds to fund the system and are looking at more significant reform.

From the story:

So far, legislators have pre-filed at least four bills that would alter some aspect of teacher pensions, and leaders from both the House and Senate say any bonding needs to be paired with reforms.

“There is not a lot of enthusiasm for borrowing more money to pay off the KTRS debt without structural changes accompanying that effort,” said Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

 

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

Career Pathways for Kentucky Teachers

Brian Bishop of Hope Street Group offers his thoughts on moving beyond the one-lane dirt road that currently makes up the career pathway for teachers.

Bishop notes:

As my time with teachers has evolved, I have learned one very disturbing fact about the current design of our education system: Teachers are limited in how they can further their career. When a teacher starts to teach, professional advancement is really limited. A teacher can attain their master’s degree and get a small pay bump, or a teacher can become a National Board Certified Teacher and get another small incremental pay raise. Short of these methods, there is no other real systemic opportunity that allows the teacher to do what they love to do and advance their career while remaining in the classroom a the same time.

Bishop outlines the problem, notes there are solutions, and says it is now time to move beyond talking and start acting on improving career pathways for teachers.

Read it all here.

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

Charter Schools in Kentucky?

Would adding charter schools to the mix help Kentucky reach its education goals? That’s the question the Prichard Committee is asking.

The answer, so far, is mixed. That’s because Prichard is looking at research on charters and finding out that the results of charters are mixed. Some do very well, some do not so well, and most are no better or worse than traditional public schools.

And the Prichard folks note that Kentucky made a different choice in terms of reform direction back in 1990 and that it has served the Commonwealth quite well.

That said, they are going to be doing more to understand if charter schools would be a useful tool as Kentucky seeks to continue improving its public schools.

Here’s a snapshot of the research, from CREDO, that demonstrates the results of America’s two-decade plus experiment with charter schools:

More on charter schools:

Kentucky Chamber Backs Charters

Charter Lessons from Ohio

Does Kentucky Need Charter Schools?

Rand Paul Gets it Wrong on Charter Schools

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

 

PGES and the New Teacher

Todd County Central High School Science Teacher Pennye Rogers, a 2014-15 Hope Street Group Fellow, talks about the new PGES evaluation system and what it means for the beginning teacher.

Here are some highlights of what she has to say over at the Prichard Blog:

 I have heard conversations that stated: “PGES is not good for new teachers.” The explanation was that new teachers don’t have the skills necessary to promote student growth, nor are they competent in the strategies to teach the content. But, it is my understanding that the peer observer is to encourage the observed teacher to reflect upon his/her teaching practices and guide them toward improvement. It is important to note that a single peer observation may not be enough in this situation. However, a new teacher would most likely have a mentor already through the KY Teacher Internship Program. I find it disturbing that new teachers who have the potential to become great teachers may be let go at an increased rate and blamed on PGES because he/she cannot score high enough on the evaluation scale! New teachers simply don’t have the experience and confidence necessary to excel in all areas evaluated.

Here, Rogers is recommending that administrators take note of the potential impact of PGES on a new teacher. Additionally, a new teacher’s KTIP mentor should assist that teacher in advocating for his/her needs as it relates to the evaluation.

The KTIP program is a fairly intense mentorship of first-year teachers that provides support, feedback, and guidance in the critical early phase of teaching. Combining effective mentorship with the new evaluation model is an important element in the future success of PGES.

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