Friday, October 24, 2014

Kentucky's Middle School Teachers Need More Math Training, Education Commissioner Says

Following Kentucky’s across-the-board embrace of Common Core in 2010, eight regional leadership networks were developed to scale up the work of teacher training - thanks to a KDE grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The leadership networks were multi-agency teams of K-12 and higher education professionals whose purpose was to provide the necessary teacher training for successful implementation of Common Core. Everybody cooperated. Faculty members from UK, U of L, Eastern, Northern, Western, Morehead, and Murray attended the state-designed trainings, and returned home to train the teachers in their regions along with the teacher education candidates in their universities. This also caused universities to realign the curriculum within their teacher education courses to assure proper instruction of future teachers. The effort was meant to build the capacity in every Kentucky teacher to refine new learning into more powerful lessons and assessments. 

So it was a bit shocking to those stalwart soldiers at the local level to hear that Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday’s told WFPL radio, this week, that middle and elementary school teachers have not received adequate training in their university's preparation programs. “This is something we’re finding pretty persistent across the commonwealth,” he said. 

Reaction from those on the front line was total dismay. 

This from WFPL:
Math is the gatekeeper for students' school success, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday recently told WFPL. 

“If a student does not do well in Algebra 1 in high school, or does not pass eighth grade math, those students will not be successful in reaching college and career ready status,” he said.

 Education Commissioner Terry Holliday
The No. 1 predictor of successfully reaching college and career readiness—an element of state accountability—is eighth grade math scores, Holliday said. Reading is important, but math is the foundation. 

Kentucky’s middle school math scores have not been as high as the education department would like (45 percent of eighth grade students are proficient or above according to the latest data), and Holliday said that’s partly because middle school math teachers aren’t receiving the training they need to teach Kentucky's new standards. 

The state was the first to adopt the Common Core Standards (now called the Kentucky Core Academic Standards), which is supposed to improve how and what students learn in English language arts and math. These new standards are more difficult and are meant to help states that adopted them (which is most) compete with our international peers. 

But it also means middle school math teachers are now teaching some content, like in Algebra I, that was previously taught in high school, Holliday said. 

Teaching new standards affects all grade levels. But middle and elementary school teachers have not received adequate training in their college's or university's preparation programs, which Holliday said needs to change. 

“This is something we’re finding pretty persistent across the commonwealth,” he said.
Middle and elementary school teachers aren’t required to take math courses for their certificate according guidelines by the Education Profession Standards Board, which determines what kind of training teachers need to work in the state.  

The change will need to come in part by the EPSB and teacher prep programs at colleges and universities, said Holliday. Among the ideas, he said, is to have elementary or middle school teachers with a focus, like math, which is something high school teachers have.  

“This is what Finland and other leading countries do,” he said.  

There are potential changes that may come in the next few years, said Holliday. He added the state needs to look at its licensure and program approval systems and determine what kind of correlation exists between teacher certification requirements and how kids perform in math at certain grade levels.
The Commissioner “failed to do his homework,” one teacher educator told KSN&C. “Not only have I received intensive training on the new common core standards, and returned to teach methods students, and train teachers in the state on what they mean as far as content and teaching practice, but our Math Department also received training and served on many committees in the early stages of development.”  

Regarding the program requirements for teacher education candidates, “All I can say is whoever shared this information evidently does not know what they are talking about,” the professor said. “Our middle school students take 24 to 27 hours of math and our elementary students take 9 -12 hours. These hours do not include methods - which would add an additional 3 hours.”
KSN&C wrote to KDE spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez to see if the Commissioner would consider clarifying his statements for the record. And he did.

Rodriguez provided some context to the Commissioner’s comments. The interview was a follow up to an Unbridled Learning media webcast where Dr. Holliday was asked about middle school math scores. He noted at that time that middle school mathematics teachers are being required to teach concepts that once were the domain of high school teachers and not all have the content knowledge to do that. 

“While the networks were an excellent collaboration of higher education and K-12, my remarks are based on hundreds of one-on-one discussions with classroom teachers who were certainly aware of the standards, however, expressed a need for additional content knowledge and support,” Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said.
Rodriguez said that Holliday has been working closely with EPSB and CPE leaders for several years to enhance teacher preparation programs. She described it as “a very cooperative and collaborative partnership” that includes examining teacher preparation programs, trainings and professional learning. Eastern Kentucky University, along with other Kentucky public and private higher education institutions, has been involved in this work, including participating in development of a proposal for the Vanguard Project which addresses reform in teacher preparation.
KSN&C wondered, "Is he really suggesting departmentalizing elementary and middle schools, like high schools?"
As the story noted, Dr. Holliday suggested that schools have some teachers with a mathematics content focus. It is common for elementary and middle schools to have teachers who have a literacy focus now. He was suggesting that it would be valuable for them to also have teachers with a mathematics content focus.
“As a chief, I support looking at our international competitors. Many of which require math specialization at the upper elementary and middle school levels. Marc Tucker and many other education writers support this change in certification requirements,” Holliday said.

Proposal to shore up KTRS won’t add to state debt, officials say

This from KSBA:

The state legislature will convene in a short, odd-year session in January, and officials who are trying to shore up the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System hope lawmakers will consider an option for a partial fix to reduce the system’s unfunded liability.

That’s because their proposed refinancing plan involving a pension obligation bond will be fueled only by existing dollars.
However, the option being offered by KTRS will “almost certainly” require amendment of the 2014-16 budget, for which a super-majority vote – three-fifths, or 60 percent – of lawmakers is needed, said Beau Barnes, KTRS’ deputy executive secretary of operations and general counsel.
This “does make it more difficult for passage,” said KSBA Associate Executive Director David Baird, who is among the KSBA representatives who have met with KTRS leaders to discuss the proposal. “However, because KTRS is not asking for more money – just bonding authority – there is no effect to the budget.”
With the implementation of changes by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, the teachers’ retirement system’s unfunded liability is growing from $13.9 billion to about $22 billion, or from 51.9 percent funded to 42.38 percent.
The 2014-16 state budget directed that as debt service is retired on three outstanding bonds, that money would be maintained in future budgets to help the KTRS pension fund. By the time the bonds are paid off in 2024, that would amount to $116 million annually.
“This is much appreciated, but is far less than what is needed,” Barnes said.
The option being proposed by KTRS would take that money, and other revenue streams that are already in the budget for the pension fund, and convert them as debt service on a new, 30-year, $3.3 billion bond issue that would cover the additional funding needed to provide the full annual required contribution to the pension fund for seven years.
Barnes said the primary reason additional funding is needed to pay off the unfunded liability is the flat 13-year investment market that affected all investors.
Failure to address the problem will create what Barnes calls “negative compounding,” in which the unfunded liability continues to grow, the funded status declines and the sum needed to make the fund actuarially sound increases dramatically.
As it is, just to meet the current monthly retirement payroll, KTRS will have to sell some of its assets this year. That, in turn, leaves less money to invest.
Baird called the pension obligation bond plan “a sound and workable solution.” The association’s board of directors will be asked to endorse it as part of its 2015 legislative platform.
Tom Shelton, chairman of the KTRS Board, believes this option “is the right thing to do.”
“We want to make sure we work toward having a pension fund that’s actuarially sound and when this amount of money is owed to the system, it puts us in a precarious situation for the future. So we’d like to see this happen and to make sure we receive the required annual contribution from here on out as well so we don’t end up back in this situation,” said Shelton, who also is superintendent of Fayette County Schools.
Shelton said he knows lawmakers are hesitant to take on additional debt, “but I don’t see it as additional debt because they already owe the debt – they owe it to the teachers and the members of the teachers’ retirement system, so it’s really just restructuring the debt and allowing the system to take advantage of the funds to maintain a better financial status while making that commitment for members of the system.”
Meetings are continuing among KTRS staff and lawmakers and their staff on finding a long-term funding solution. Barnes described the meetings as “very positive.”
Shelton said a long-term solution could rest with an idea being discussed by the Council for Better Education, which he heads. The group is researching a new funding model for education, he said, and is looking at funding the pension, as well as health and life insurance benefits, as part of the cost of education. Those benefits now are allocated separately from the basic state funding formula.
“It can’t be seen as a separate item even though it’s managed at the state level. It has to be seen as a part of the cost of doing business for education because our pension benefits that retirees receive are really just deferred compensation that they didn’t earn while they were teaching and retirement is just a reward for a life of service in teaching,” Shelton said.


 School board members have a stake in the health of KTRS
Local school board members should be concerned about the unfunded liability in the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System because of its potential effect on the work force of their school district, Campbell County school board Chairwoman Janis Winbigler said. “I don’t necessarily think that’s one of the issues that has been on their radar, because it’s more of a state issue than a local issue,” she said.
Winbigler’s own concern about the system is both professional and personal, as a longtime educator who is currently director of student services for Bellevue Independent Schools.
“It’s been one of the biggest benefits across the state for teachers, just to have that secure retirement system – and it’s a good retirement system. And it’s going to be more and more difficult – salaries have been pretty flat – without the good retirement system in place, to attract individuals to the education field,” she said.
The more experienced teachers are concerned and keeping a closer eye on the situation, but, Winbigler said, “I even have individuals who are thinking about going into education who have had an eye on it and making the comment that they’re unsure because they’re not sure about the retirement.”
Teachers count on their pension, because they do not receive Social Security, a fact that the public in general does not understand, she said, and when they do, “they’re shocked.”
Winbigler said she also is worried as an educator. “There almost has to be changes to the retirement system and it concerns me not knowing what those changes may be for me, eventually, as a retiree or even now in terms of attracting young individuals into the profession,” she said.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Have Years of Teacher-Bashing Produced a Short Supply?

Steep Drops Seen in Teacher-Prep Enrollment Numbers

 California and other big states particularly hard hit, raising supply concerns

This from Education Week:
Fresh from the United States Air Force, Zachary Branson, 33, wanted a career with a structured day and hours that would allow him to be home in time to watch his kids in the evening. But just a month into his online teacher-preparation program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, he had something of a crisis of faith.

It was brought on, he said, by the sense of being in the middle of an ideological war that surfaced in everything from state-level education policy on down to his course textbook, which had a distinct anti-standardized-testing bent.

"I feel like teachers are becoming a wedge politically, and I don't want anything to do with that," Mr. Branson said.

He's not alone in having qualms about entering the teaching profession.

Massive changes to the profession, coupled with budget woes, appear to be shaking the image of teaching as a stable, engaging career. Nationwide, enrollments in university teacher-preparation programs have fallen by about 10 percent from 2004 to 2012, according to federal estimates from the U.S. Department of Education's postsecondary data collection.

Some large states, like heavyweight California, appear to have been particularly hard hit. The Golden State lost some 22,000 teacher-prep enrollments, or 53 percent, between 2008-09 and 2012-13, according to a report its credentialing body issued earlier this month.

"It is an alarming trend," said Mary Vixie Sandy, the executive director of the California Commission on Teaching Credentials, which enforces the state's teacher-preparation standards. "We are going to see it play out in this year and in the coming year with an increase in demand, and a not very deep pool of teachers to fulfill that demand."

Weak Economy?

The federal data, from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, show an overall drop in education degree programs across all institutions.

Separate state-by-state enrollment data collected under Title II of the Higher Education Act, meanwhile, suggest that the decline in teacher-preparation enrollments has accelerated in recent years, particularly since 2010. Under that collection, California, New York, and Texas, among the largest producers of teachers, have seen steep drops. (See chart.)

As befits a labor market that tends to be regional, though, the declines don't appear to be uniform across the country; some states have maintained stable supplies of teacher-candidates. (The Title II data, unlike the postsecondary collection, include teachers enrolled in nondegree-granting alternative-certification programs.)

Though the decline is probably due to a multitude of factors, the reason topping many analysts' list is the budget crunch that hit the nation in 2008. In California, Ms. Sandy believes that the state's layoffs of some 30,000 teachers during the Great Recession sent a clear message to potential candidates that the profession was no longer a reliable one.

"We've had a period of time with reductions, layoffs, the whole accountability concern about whether schools are producing results—it may not have been the most attractive time for young, talented individuals to go into teaching," Ms. Sandy said. "How we turn that narrative around is a very important question for the state."

Perceptions of Teaching

If an uncertain economy is one likely explanation for the drop, analysts also point to other, less tangible causes: lots of press around changes to teachers' evaluations, more rigorous academic-content standards, and the perception in some quarters that teachers are being blamed for schools' problems.

"Whether or not it's actually that much more difficult of an occupation than it used to be, there's certainly a lot of press about teacher-evaluation systems, about upheaval," said Robert E. Floden, the co-director for the education policy center at Michigan State University, in East Lansing. "All those things that are in the press are bound to have some effect on people thinking about what they want to do."

North Carolina may be the epicenter for such stories. Last year, lawmakers there eliminated teacher tenure, only to have a state court restore it in May. And after much public lamenting over the state's low average teacher salaries in comparison with those of other states, legislators finally boosted pay in August.

But those increases are coupled with a salary-schedule overhaul under which some teachers are seeing increases of 15 percent or higher while others are barely getting raises. Meanwhile, the elimination of a pay premium of 10 percent for earning a master's degree is likely to suppress enrollments in master's programs.

Mr. Branson, the North Carolina teacher-candidate, said he's tried to stay away from the policy debates in the state. A pep talk from a friend has him, for now, determined to continue with his preparation program.

"I really don't want to get caught up in someone else's ideological fight and I've done a really good job of not paying attention to that," he said. "But it doesn't seem very stable right now. People tend to go for careers that are very stable."

In all, enrollments in University of North Carolina teaching programs, the largest source of teachers for the state, have fallen by 17 percent from 2010-11 to 2012-13, said Alisa Chapman, the vice president for academic and university programs at UNC.

Assessing how the enrollment declines are playing out on the ground can be tricky, given varied patterns across credentialing areas. Colleges typically produce far more elementary teachers than there are jobs, but not enough math, science, and special education teachers to meet demand.
"Where we've been hit and where school districts are hit are not so much the special subject areas like music or Spanish, but in the low-incidence special ed programs," such as speech-language pathology, said Beverly Young, the assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs for the California State University system, the largest producer of teachers in the state. "Those are always hard to attract students into."

In Colorado, where data show a 5 percent decline in enrollments from 2012-13 over the previous school year—after a boom a few years earlier—the biggest worry is in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Those are subjects in which officials say education schools already weren't producing enough teachers to help meet state goals for increasing jobs in those sectors.

"We don't have enough graduates to teach STEM and build the capacity of our STEM workforce," said Jennifer Arzberger, the educator-preparation project manager for the state education department.
The enrollment downturns already appear to be contributing to some unsettling hiring patterns. Texas districts like Dallas and Houston have been recruiting heavily—from North Carolina. San Francisco, caught between a pool of fewer teachers and more competition for them from nearby districts, currently has more than two dozen teachers on emergency credentials, the San Francisco Chronicle recently reported.

Long-Term Trend?

Districts may also begin looking to different pipelines for teachers, which can have consequences on overall educator quality. The Title II data show that, as enrollments in North Carolina's traditional university-based programs have declined, more teachers have entered through alternative routes.
But that's worrisome, Ms. Chapman said, given state data suggesting that, with the exception of those who come through Teach For America, high school teachers prepared in alternative programs perform somewhat less well than UNC graduates.

Also unclear is whether the downturn in enrollments is a short-term phenomenon or the harbinger of future shortages. Most of the federal data is, after all, on a lag time of about two years.
"It's hard to project what's going to happen," Mr. Floden said. "Is this a long-term trend? Gosh, I don't know."

The lag time means that states like California might face shortages for some time, even if enrollment begins to tick upwards. In California, Ms. Sandy said that early indications are that the state issued more teaching credentials in 2013-14. But it won't know for a few more months if those are for teaching jobs or other types of positions.

In North Carolina, Ms. Chapman believes the state is at the point where it needs to create recruitment incentives, such as by establishing a merit-based scholarship program based on getting teachers in the highest-need subjects. (The legislature eliminated a well-regarded scholarship program in 2011.)
The pressure is on colleges to ramp up their recruitment efforts, too. Ms. Arzberger said she's already seen signs in downtown Denver promoting the University of Colorado, Denver's teacher-preparation offerings.

"I remember walking on the 16th Street Mall and seeing ads all over, pins and buttons," she said. "They have some neat things happening."