Kentucky Teachers Talk Education Funding

The Prichard Blog features two teachers talking about the importance of a legislative commitment to education funding.

First up is Kim Delaney, a first grade teacher in Boone County.

Here is the central portion of her argument:

First grade has changed a lot since you and I were in a classroom. The days of Dick and Jane basal readers have passed. I have the responsibility to teach    24 students, and sometimes more, to read. First grade students are required to read 67 words per minute in fiction as well as non-fiction texts by the end    of first grade. We expect our children to be equipped and prepared to be college- and career-ready to compete in a global society. Despite the    responsibility I have for those 24 students, I am given 11 reading textbooks to use with them. This is a tragedy. Children learn to read by holding a book    in their hands, tracking print, looking at pictures and more. My children must have the tools they need to read in order to learn to think critically and    to become accomplished readers and writers.

 Standards require my students to be able to research and utilize technology, yet I have three desktop computers for 24 students to share.

 We can accept no further cuts to education for our children and grandchildren.

Next, Michelle Rynbrandt-Hendricks, currently a 4th grade teacher in Bullitt County, offers her thoughts.  She talks about what it’s like being a high school special education teacher, a job she previously held.

Here’s what she has to say:

The reality is that teachers will do what it takes to make things happen for kids. Teachers will buy Kyle a new pair of shoes when his are so full of holes    and won’t stay on his feet, they will pitch in to pay a plumber to fix the toilet for the family who can’t flush theirs, they will beg for someone to give  Andy a haircut; get the heat turned on where Morgan lives and make sure Jamie and her 3-year-old little brother have presents from Santa.

  Teachers always have been and always will be givers. They are fiercely protective of their charges. Just because teachers and other school employees will    move mountains in order to get what their kids need, doesn’t mean they should have to move mountains.

  Fully funding education means that the above situations don’t have to be so common. Safe and functional spaces for kids to learn, fair compensation and a    protected retirement for teachers, adequate support for professional development and training so that teachers can be prepared for the subjects they   teach–these things should not be the exception. Fully funding education should be the rule.

Kentucky teachers are speaking out about the needs of their students — and their own very real needs.  Teachers, as Michelle notes, deserve professional compensation and a secure retirement. Students deserve safe spaces to learn and adequate learning materials (textbooks, technology, classroom supplies).

Kentucky is in danger of falling behind after years of making great gains.  As these teachers note, Kentucky students deserve better — and they can’t wait for the legislature to put it off until a more comfortable budget year.  Leadership requires tough choices.  The question is: Will Kentucky’s legislators lead, or will they allow Kentucky to fall behind?

 

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

 

 

Investing in the Power of Education

Daviess County educator Jana Bryant offers her take on the need for investing in Kentucky’s schools:

Kentucky is making great progress increasing college- and career-readiness, but this progress cannot continue by failing to fund needs like textbooks and technology, necessary teacher training to implement the Common Core, and support services that increase opportunities to uplift underperforming and underrepresented students suffering from academic defeat and under realized potential.

Jana is the latest in a chorus of teacher voices singing out in the name of improved funding for Kentucky’s schools.  The song is the same:  We’ve done well, but that progress will stop unless Kentucky commits to continued investment in its public schools.

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

The “War” for Teaching Talent

Stu Silberman from the Prichard Committee turns over his blog at EdWeek to Ellen Behrstock-Sherratt who discussed the need for a War for Talent in Teaching.

Sheratt argues that baby-boomer retirements and a growing focus on the importance of teacher quality mean states and districts must do more to improve the teaching field, including improving HR practices.

Here are a few key takeaways:

Teaching must    both be and be perceived to be an exciting career for college students with many other options – including in law, business, and other    high-paying fields that are aggressively recruiting the next generation of talent.

How to do this? Better pay, paid professional development, targeted marketing that highlights the strengths of the profession.

I’ve written before about the importance of improving teacher pay.

And that is very important.  Governor Beshear has made a commitment to at least giving Kentucky teachers a well-deserved raise.

It’s also important to increase the respect afforded teachers.  Paid professional development is a part of that.  A marketing campaign highlighting the amazing things teachers do every day can help, too.

But, it’s frustrating to hear again and again about how important teacher quality is and not to hear about realistic, focused plans to improve compensation and the professional environment for teachers.

States can make investments in improving pay and support for teachers, but they choose not to. While many states have changed teacher evaluation and added some use of test scores to evaluate teachers, those same states have not placed a similar focus on improving pay.

While 2% for Kentucky teachers this year is a good start, it’s not the move toward winning the “talent war” Kentucky or other states need.

Choosing investments in schools, including better pay and support for teachers, is critical to improving education outcomes.  It requires difficult choices and the prioritization of education over other budget items.  That means leadership.  The lack of which will mean we’ll continue reading stories about America’s struggling education system for years to come.

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

 

Kentucky Schools SEEK Funding Restoration

Gaming, Tax Reform among ideas for generating revenue for schools

Kentucky’s public schools are seeking a restoration of funding to 2008 levels in the 2014 budget year.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Kentucky school districts want to go back to 2008 funding levels.  That’s because funding has steadily been decreasing for Kentucky public schools.  First, the economic collapse in 2008 caused tough budget years.  Then, the legislature faced its own budget challenges because of a failure to address public pension underfunding.  So, the Kentucky General Assembly didn’t decrease funding in the SEEK formula, they just left it the same.  However, the number of students in Kentucky schools steadily increased over the past five years.  Meaning schools and districts are operating on less dollars per pupil than they were just 5 years ago.

In addition to flat SEEK funding, “flexible funds” for schools have actually decreased.  So, districts are left to either make up the funds locally (difficult in many rural communities) or, go without.  Districts report cutting items like foreign language and school counseling, even eliminating the use of buses for extra-curricular activities.

While districts have so far gotten by, they say that if the trend continues, more serious program cuts are on the way.

For their part, lawmakers have generally sounded unsympathetic, noting they’ve had to balance some tough budgets.  Of course, it was the General Assembly that failed to properly fund promised pensions in the past — so, they created the mess they now complain about.

That said, Governor Beshear has talked about both tax reform and expanded gaming as ways to generate revenue to mitigate the state’s budget woes.

Both Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and Prichard Committee Executive Director Stu Silberman have been calling for a renewed commitment to proper funding of Kentucky’s schools.

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

Blankenship: Professional Pay Needed for Teachers

Over at Education Week, Prichard Committee Executive Director Stu Silberman interviewed Kentucky Education Association Executive Director Mary Ann Blankenship.

Among the highlights, Blankenship noted that teacher pay in Kentucky has remained essentially flat over the past 5 years, with some teachers actually seeing less take home pay now than they did then.

She also noted that funding cuts in recent years have meant teachers are spending more and more of their own money on school resources.

Like Silberman and Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, Blankenship is challenging Kentucky policy makers to put schools first in the 2014 legislative session. Not only do teachers need professional pay, the schools where they teach need adequate resources.  With less state funding, those two essentials are becoming more and more difficult to provide.

Blankenship noted that Kentucky continues to make significant gains in education achievement and that teachers have been very responsive to a fast-changing education environment in light of the move to Common Core.

But, with all those challenges, the reality of lower pay and fewer resources will eventually take a toll.  Kentucky must act now to reverse that cycle — policy makers must ensure better, smarter pay and adequate resources for schools in order to ensure that progress is not slowed.

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