Friday, August 15, 2014

Michelle Rhee leaving StudentsFirst

What should Rhee's Report Card say?

This from Politico's Morning Education via email:
The Huffington Post reports that Michelle Rhee, former D.C. schools chancellor, is stepping down as CEO of StudentsFirst. StudentsFirst spokesman Francisco Castillo confirmed to Morning Education that the group is zeroing in on a candidate for president who will manage day-to-day functions for the group, which is hoping to announce a name soon.

Rhee has recently taken on other education jobs, and her professional path hasn't exactly been a smooth ride. 'She's been really brutally attacked personally, and StudentsFirst has not been as effective as she wanted,' a former prominent StudentsFirst staffer, who declined to be named, told HuffPo. 'It's been frustrating. It's not totally shocking that eventually even she would decide to step away.'

The organization has recently pulled out of five states. Its relationship with a New Jersey partner organization ended about a year ago. And losing Rhee means StudentsFirst will lose its main attraction.

'While I respect Michelle Rhee's passion and tenacity, I don't agree with her approach to education,' American Federation of Teachers President told Morning Education upon hearing the news. 'For children to succeed, their schools need to be safe, collaborative and welcoming places that foster trust and high expectations, and have a spirit of real teamwork. The approach Michelle Rhee championed - resisting collaboration, fixating on testing, attacking teachers and dividing communities - is antithetical to that, and it undermined our working together to grow the capacity of our workforce, secure the resources our kids need, and build the confidence of parents and our broader communities in public education.'


Four years ago, former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee took her star power on Oprah to announce the creation of StudentsFirst. She set the sky-high goal of raising $1 billion to transform education policy nationwide. Now she's stepping down as CEO, and activists who share her vision say she never found a way to use her celebrity status to drive change. In fact, they say StudentsFirst was hobbled by a high staff turnover rate, embarrassing PR blunders and a lack of focus. She alienated activists who could have been allies and many saw her tactics as imperious, inflexible and often illogical. "There was a growing consensus in the education reform community that she didn't play well in the sandbox," one reform leader said. What was Rhee's biggest contribution to the cause, according to some activists? Drawing fire away from them as she positioned herself as the face of the national education reform movement.

This from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Can StudentsFirst survive without Michelle Rhee at the helm?

Former DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee will reportedly leave the top spot of the education reform advocacy group StudentsFirst, throwing into question the future of the 4-year-old organization she founded to transform American schools.

Her departure from the CEO role poses a challenge for StudentsFirst as Rhee was the focal point, a lightning rod for both controversy and fundraising. The organization has already pulled out of Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, and Minnesota.

The group remains active in Georgia. "StudentsFirst has no intentions of slowing down in Georgia. In fact, Georgia is one of the states where we're focused more heavily since we shifted resources away from other states. Michelle Rhee is fully committed to education reform and leading StudentsFirst," said spokesman Lane Wright.

As an ex StudentsFirst staffer told Huffington Post: "In practice, this has always been about Michelle. I'm not claiming that she's egomaniacal, but the power of this movement has been that this is a Democratic teacher of color, and so the ability of the traditionalists to write all this off as billionaire white male Republicans was very, very hard to do when Michelle had the profile that she did."

Writing in his popular education blog a year ago, Stanford professor emeritus Larry Cuban cautioned the future of StudentsFirst depended on the staying power of Rhee: “Compared with the efforts of the deep-pocketed Koch brothers in influencing state legislatures through the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC), or the well-funded Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Rhee’s organization is minor league in political acumen,  expertise, and experience in political advocacy. Nor does StudentsFirst have any bench strength; it is all Michelle. If  she leaves the organization out of fatigue or pique, no more StudentsFirst. Moreover, such political work to be effective is back-channel and under the media radar. Such work is not Michelle Rhee, considering her few years in Washington, D.C. and since.”...

State education waiver granted

This from the Ashland Daily Independent:
The United States Department of Education has approved Kentucky’s request for a one-year extension of its Elementary and Secondary Education Act flexibility waiver, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.

Kentucky’s waiver request includes flexibility on several provisions of NCLB that has allowed the state to implement initiatives to close achievement gaps, promote rigorous accountability, support effective instruction and leadership and ensure that all students are on track to graduate from high school college/career-ready.

“We are grateful to USED for allowing us to continue on our path to continuous improvement,” state education Commissioner Terry Holliday said, “but, this is only a stopgap measure. What Kentucky and all other states need is a long term plan for moving public education forward that is accomplished only through the reauthorization of ESEA.”
The state was first granted flexibility from some of the provisions of ESEA, reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, in February 2012. The waiver has allowed Kentucky to operate one system of accountability for both state and federal purposes and cleared the way for the state to move forward with its aggressive agenda for education reform laid out in Senate Bill 1 passed in 2009.
“Kentucky has been a model state with the implementation of new, more rigorous academic standards, balanced assessments and an accountability system that includes multiple measures of school success and promotes college/career-readiness for all students,” said Commissioner Terry Holliday. “We are seeing the fruits of those labors in improved college/career-readiness rates, high school graduation rates and lower remediation rates for students enrolling in postsecondary education.”
The measure was due for reauthorization in 2007, but Congress has not been able to agree on its terms.
Since 2011, 43 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico have requested NCLB waivers. Kentucky is one of 18 states that have been granted an extension to date.
This fall, Kentucky is implementing two important provisions of the waiver. A new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System for teachers and principals takes effect statewide, though it is not required to be used as a basis for personnel decisions until the 2015-16 school year – unless a district chooses to move forward with that stipulation this year.
In addition, new, more rigorous science standards, mandated by Senate Bill 1 and aligned with college/career-expectations, are being taught in Kentucky classrooms for the first time. In order to meet Senate Bill 1 and federal and requirements, current nationally norm-referenced science tests will continue until the launch of new aligned science assessments. A new test measuring the Kentucky Core Academic Standards in science is scheduled for use in spring 2016.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Kentucky Eligible to Share in Early Ed Funds

This from Politics K-12:

Obama Administration Unveils New Preschool Grant Program
Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia, which have already won federal grants to bolster their early-learning systems—or have robust early-childhood programs in place—could tap into even more money to improve preschool programs, under a new, $250 million "preschool development" grant competition announced by the Obama administration Wednesday.

And 15 states and Puerto Rico, which are just getting started on their early-learning programs would be able to compete, on a somewhat separate track, for a portion of those funds.

The preschool development grant program, which will be jointly administered by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, represents a relatively modest down payment on the Obama administration's much broader, $75 billion request for matching grants to help states cover the cost of a major expansion of early-childhood education programs. The bigger program is likely to go absolutely nowhere in a tight-fisted Congress, so this scaled-back version may be all the extra early-learning money states see from the feds for quite a while.

The administration will run one $80 million "development" grant competition for states that don't already have a robust early-childhood education program or haven't already won a Race to the Top Early Learning grant. The other competition will offer $160 million in "expansion" grants to states that already have successful preschool programs, or have already snagged a Race to the Top Early Learning grant.

The two-tiered system is a good way to make sure that all states have a shot at the funds, said Laura Bornfreund, the deputy director of the New America Foundation's early-learning program.

"It's important to recognize that states are in different places," she said. And she likes the focus in both grant competitions on quality, including ensuring that preschool teachers receive salaries comparable to their K-12 counterparts, and the programs' emphasis on providing strong links between early learning and K-12 so that student gains are sustained.

Both competitions would give states an edge for agreeing to funnel 50 percent of their funding to expanding preschool slots for low-income children. And both call for states make strong connections between early-learning programs and K-12.

Fifteen states and Puerto Rico would be eligible for the development grants that could span up to four years, and range in size from $5 million to $20 million, depending on a state's population. The states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. The department estimates that it will award somewhere between five and eight "development" grants.

States seeking development grants would have to submit a plan for increasing the number and percentage of children served in state-financed early-childhood education programs. And they would have to draft proposals to improve the quality of their early-learning programs through activities that sound pretty similar to the ones embraced by the Race to the Top early learning effort, including linking preschool and K-12 data, measuring program outcomes, and beefing up teacher training.

States that get "development" grants could allocate up to 35 percent of their awards to infrastructure and program quality improvements. (That's a big change from the draft guidance in May, which would have only allowed development states to use 10 percent of their awards for infrastucture.)

The change is a recognition that states without strong preschool programs really need to funnel money to building their programs up, Bornfreund said.

States that already have a Race to the Top early learning grant in hand, or already serve more than 10 percent of eligible children through state-financed early-childhood education programs could apply for an expansion grant.

That's 35 states and the District of Columbia. The complete list: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The administration expects to award between seven and 10 "expansion grants."

And it looks like the administration is aiming to fund a mix of Race to the Top early-learning winners, and non-winners—it has a competitive preference for each category.

Like the development grants, expansion grants could go for up to four years, and their amount is based on population. They would range from $10 million up to $35 million (that's just in case California is a winner). As with the development grants, states would have to write plans for boosting the number and percentage of students served by preschool programs, as well as detail their progress in serving low-income kids, and improving program quality.

In both competitions, states would get extra points for coming up with some of their own matching funds, with the biggest advantage going to states that agree to allocate 50 percent or more of their own funding. States also get an edge for coordinating the new preschool programs with existing ones (such as Head Start).
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan traveled to the Hug Me Tight Childlife Center in Pittsburgh on Wednesday to discuss the program.

And Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a key champion of the Preschool Development program in Congress, said the money will help get students ready for school.

"The earlier we can prepare students to succeed, the more likely they are to continue in their education and climb the ladder of opportunity," he said in a statement.

Applications for the program are due by Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. Awards will be made in December 2014.
Does all this sound very familiar? It should. The department put out draft guidance back in May and sought stakeholder input. The feds received more than 600 comments on the program.

Kentucky's Teacher Retirement System May Become One of the Worst-Funded in the US

This from WKMS:
New pension accounting standards could place Kentucky's teachers' retirement system among the worst-funded in the U.S.

The new standard from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, set to go into effect this year, will take a more holistic approach to government pension accounting. As a result, the state will be required to provide a more accurate accounting of its various pensions' liabilities.

As a result, the new standards will place the funding ratio of the KTRS pension to about 40-percent funded, said Chris Tobe, a Democratic candidate for state treasurer and former Kentucky Retirement Systems board member.

The current unfunded liability of the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System stands at 51.9 percent, which works out to about $14 billion in unfunded retirement moneys. Under the new federal standards, that liability will increase to about $22 billion, said KTRS legal counsel Beau Barnes.

The new standards will also require KTRS  to significantly lower investment returns that reflect the updated state of its books. Barnes said that could mean KTRS' return on investments dropping from 7.5 percent to about 5 percent. That could escalate the fund's overall liabilities because the majority of its funding—over 70 percent—is based on investment return.

"What GASB does is, it says you're not being funded on an actuarially sound basis," Barnes said. "Then at some point you're going to run out of money, and you can't earn 7.5 percent on dollars you don't have."
The General Assembly can do little about the situation until the 2015 session begin, Barnes said. Even then it will be a challenge because it's not a session in which the assembly will address budgetary issues.

During the 2014 legislative session, lawmakers put about $750 million into the fund—half of KTRS' original request of $1.4 billion.  The legislature also declined to take out a pension obligation bond to begin shoring up the pension, which Barnes said could be used like refinancing the mortgage on a house. Critics contend that that approach amounts to using more debt to pay off debt.

One such critic is Randolph Wieck, a Manual High School teacher leading a legal challenge against the General Assembly and Gov. Steve Beshear. Wieck alleges that the legislature and governor broke state law by underfunding KTRS for years.

"This is the low point of my career," Wieck said. "I've taught for 24 years, and I never thought at this point that I would have to be fiddling with a corrupt legislature and a union that doesn't have the starch to stand with its own members."

Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, has said that he doesn't support the challenge led by Wieck, which includes about 100 teachers.

Wieck said he's received a positive response from several lawmakers telling him that his group has a firm legal standing, but he declined to name which ones.

Barnes said he believes the legislature and the governor could be held liable for the underfunding situation, depending upon how much they have actually prevented from going into the fund.

The KTRS will release a full, detailed report on the new unfunded liability in December.

About 140,000 teachers are enrolled in the KTRS.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Florida School board considers 'opting out' district from testing

This from news-press:
FCAT. Florida Standards. Common core.

No matter what you call it, the school board wants it gone.

Board members unanimously expressed their disdain for standardized testing at the school board meeting Tuesday, pledging to research the possibility of "opting out" the entire district from standardized testing.

"There needs to be a come-to-Jesus meeting ... to talk about these issues point blank," Chairman Tom Scott said.

Board member Don Armstrong said the district cannot afford to continue testing at the current rate.

"A lot of our money is being poured out of this county to go to one company, I won't say names," he said. "But on this board or not on this board, I won't stand for it anymore."

Dozier asked the board to vote to "opt out" the entire district from testing. Some school districts have done this in Texas, but none in Florida.

"Why can't we be the first?" Dozier asked, prompting an applause in the audience.

Board members Mary Fischer and Cathleen Morgan voiced similar concerns.

"State assessments have been designed for kids to fail," Fischer said. "I've worked in school since 1960. Just follow the money, look it up on the Internet, it's about people making billions of dollars.
Scott urged the public to get involved.

"This is your school district, and the more parents making noise, the more likely people are going to hear it in Tallahassee," he told the audience. "I ask everyone here to find 10 other people who feel the way you do and start making some noise."

Superintendent Nancy Graham said the board should carefully research the possible ramifications of opting out.

"I'm not saying we can't do it, but we need to think about these things purposefully and intentionally," she said.

Three moms in attendance from the group Teaching Not Testing echoed the board's sentiment.
Tess Brennan, the mother of a second-grader, said her daughter can usually read at a fifth-grade reading level. But when her daughter missed answering three questions on an exam to take a bathroom break, it significantly hurt her overall score.

"She missed three questions because she had to poop," Brennan told the board. "It took three weeks to convince my child that she can still read. She can. She can devour a 100-page book in 45 minutes."
Relieving some of that testing pressure off students — and relieving the subsequent financial strain on the district — is one of the legislative goals for the upcoming year, said district lobbyist Bob Cerra.

Some of those efforts include allowing the district more flexibility in testing schedules, requiring the state to cover all testing costs and rejecting all unfunded state mandates.

"If they want to do it, they can pay for it," Cerra said.

Growing resistance to testing in Southwest Florida reflects many attitudes nationwide. Legislators in Texas passed a law in 2013 to sharply reduce the amount of standardized testing...

The Race is On

Two  Board Members Draw Challengers in Fayette County
Fayette County school board members Amanda Ferguson and Doug Barnett will have opposition in the Nov. 4 general election. The filing deadline for candidates passed on Tuesday.

District 4, an area in southeast Lexington that includes Ashland Elementary School, Morton Middle School and Henry Clay and Tates Creek high schools

challenger Murray
incumbent Ferguson

Natasha Murray, an educational consultant and research analyst for the Kentucky Department of Education, will oppose board member Amanda Ferguson

District 2 includes several schools in north Lexington, including Arlington Elementary School, Lexington Traditional Magnet and Bryan Station High School.

incumbent Barnett
challenger Cleveland

Doug Barnett, the board member representing District 2, will face Roger Cleveland, an associate professor in the College of Education at Eastern Kentucky University.

Read more here:

Notably, this year's race presents the community with two African American candidates. That is not remarkable in and of itself. But if both happen to be successful, they would join Daryl Love and the FCPS would (for the first time, I’m betting) have a majority of school board members who are persons of color.

Is race an issue in the Fayette County schools? If so, in what way? If not, why not?

That's just one of several questions Fayette County voters need to have answered before they go to the polls in November.

Accordingly, KSN&C is inviting each candidate to submit for publication a statement of 1,000 words or less outlining the candidate's platform, resume, or anything else the candidate would like to address. In addition, we invite the candidates to respond to the following ten questions:
  1. In redistricting, what will be your highest priority…
    ·         Doing the best for your board district, or
    ·         Doing the best for the entire system? 
  2. FCPS is currently undergoing an audit to determine, in part, whether an accounting error led to Board members being surprised by a $20 million deficit. How would a negative result impact your opinion of the Superintendent? How would a positive result impact your opinion of the Superintendent? 
  3. Do you support the passage of a charter school law in Kentucky? If so, what are the most important features of such a law? If not, why not?
  4. In your view, what have the Fayette County Schools done particularly well over the last five years? What has the district done poorly that you would hope to change?
  5. Has leadership played a role in existing district problems? If so, how?
  6. Cite your greatest personal accomplishment in public education. 
  7. What are your views on open data and the transparency of information about the schools? What kinds of information should be made public?
  8. In your view, what are the positives and negatives associated with today's "corporate school reform movement?" (college- and career-readiness and Common Core State Standards, high-stakes assessment (increased use of test scores to evaluate students, teachers and schools), weakening teacher tenure and teacher's unions, school choice, increased federal control over education, increasing class size...)
  9. Is race an issue in the Fayette County schools? If so, in what way? If not, why not?
  10. How much money do you plan to spend on your election? How much have you collected so far?
Candidates may send responses to the KSN&C Moderator at by the end of September and we will publish soon after. If you want us to use a different photo, please send that too. Each candidate's responses will be posted under their own entry - one for each candidate. We hope every candidate will respond to this request and allow the public a better understanding of the issues at stake and where each candidate stands.