Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tonight in Richmond

Vintage Rock and Roll to benefit Richmond Area Arts Council. Tonight from 7 til 9. Irvine McDowell Park - Lancaster Ave down the block from EKU - click here for a map. Everyone can use a little stimulus.

School board review lauds Berman

This from C-J:
His commitment,innovation praised
Takes Same 1% Raise as Teachers

Saying the community is "fortunate to have a superintendent who is an innovative educator and instructional leader," the Jefferson County Board of Education unanimously approved a glowing evaluation of Superintendent Sheldon Berman Monday night.

"We wish to applaud Dr. Berman for his commitment to ensuring all our students are offered a high-quality education in a setting that supports them and meets their needs," Chairwoman Debbie Wesslund read from a board statement...

Dueling surveys recently yielded different results on Berman.

A survey of almost 1,000 teachers conducted by the Jefferson County Teachers Association gave him a "C" overall, with some teachers describing him as manipulative, self-serving and hypocritical...

An annual survey administered by the school district to 6,558 teachers, administrators and staff that was discussed at the meeting found that of the 4,670 who responded, more than 80 percent felt "the superintendent and central office administrators provide effective leadership for my school." ...

JCTA's Brent McKim told C-J, "The overwhelming number of teachers on my governing bodies would like to see him gone."

The teachers' union clashed with Berman after the contracts of more than a dozen non-tenured teachers were not renewed last year because of performance issues. Union members said the district was getting rid of the teachers without trying to help them.

Berman was correct to dump underperforming non-tenured teachers, some of whom had behaved terribly, and it seemed to this observer that he bend backwards to compromise. But criticism is part of being a superintendent, even if it is not always deserved.

On the other hand, Berman's self-assessment of the death of Pleasure Ridge Park High School football player Max Gilpin, appears to have been reduced to "the tragic death of a student athlete" - and tragic it was. But if he reflected critically upon his own handling of the disciplining of Principal David Johnson and the untimely release of the internal investigation - then, only under court order - C-J didn't report it. Berman chose to employ passive voice writing that, "situations created times of tension and difficulty."

Berman was also credited, even by McKim, for "the district's new student assignment plan to ensure diversity in schools and his efforts to make student instruction more inquiry-based."

C-J doesn't say, but it seems clear from the kinds of comments reported that Berman's evaluation was conducted behind closed doors. I'm generally in favor of everything being done in public. But it's very hard, in this case, to imagine any kind of meaningful public discussion of the year Berman has had without the whole scene turning into a circus.

School News from Around Kentucky

Mercer County Coach Arrives Leaving: One day after calling the chance to coach at Mercer “a special opportunity,” Weaver was on his way back to Madisonville after deciding to return to the job he had left behind. ...Weaver had spent the night in Harrodsburg and had met with the Mercer players...and then told Principal Terry Yates Wednesday morning that he had changed his mind. Well, isn't that special. (Advocate-Messenger)

Turmoil plagues Bath Board of Ed: Weeks of sometimes acrimonious debate among members of the Bath County Board of Education have spilled over into a board investigation of the county's weekly newspaper. The board voted 3-2 in May to have its attorney investigate the weekly Bath County News Outlook to see whether the paper had defamed board members in its coverage of the recent disputes. (H-L)

Judge denies change of venue in ex-teacher's sex abuse trial: A Fayette Circuit judge denied a motion Friday to move out of Fayette County the trial of a former Beaumont Middle School science teacher accused of raping and sodomizing two students in the late 1970s...Hubbard is charged with four counts of first-degree sodomy and one count of first-degree rape that stem from accusations from former students Thomas "Beau" Goodman III and Carol Lynne Maner, respectively. Hubbard's trial is scheduled for July 13 and 14. (H-L)

OpEd - Linchpin to education - teaching: After $2 billion in grants to schools yielded almost no improvement in student achievement, the Gates Foundation refocused its efforts this year on what really counts: teaching. This is one point on which research and common sense converge. The only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction. (H-L)

Kentucky schools’ healthy example could shape a national policy: It didn’t seem like a radical idea at the time. First, Ginger Gray, the food service director for Kenton County, Ky., schools, took away fried potato chips, offering students baked versions instead. Next, she phased out fruit drinks such as Kool-Aid in favor of 100 percent juices. She considered serving baked french fries. But they got soggy and unappetizing fast. And there’s one thing that every school food service director knows: You don’t mess with the fries. (WaPo by way of KSBA)

What now for schools in need?: If some of the 4,000 Boone County students who spend at least part of their day in a trailer instead of a classroom have a chance to attend school in a new building, would they really care if money for the project came from a casino in Florence?
Or would they care more about actually attending class in a building instead of a reconfigured mobile home? (Enquirer)

Leestown custodian's murder case waived to grand jury: A Fayette County grand jury will hear the case of a man charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a fellow custodian at Leestown Middle School. Brian Allen McGuire, 27, appeared Monday in district court for a preliminary hearing in the shooting death of José Daniel Donato on June 9. (H-L)

Beshear says cuts won’t come until mid-July: A new fiscal year begins Wednesday but state agencies won’ t know until mid-July how deep they must cut their budgets to balance the budget, Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday. (Bluegrass Politics)

Hat tip to KSBA.

Beshear Submits Application for $651 Million in State Fiscal Stabilization Fund

Funding will help reduce cuts
to state government and key priorities of
education, health care and public safety

FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 30, 2009) - Governor Beshear today, along with interim Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Noland, submitted Kentucky’s application to the U.S. Department of Education for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The fiscal stabilization portion of Kentucky’s ARRA funding is set to provide support for elementary, secondary and public higher education, as well as additional areas of governmental operation, including public safety. A total of $651 million is available to Kentucky from this Fund. Nationally, the ARRA provides $53.6 billion in grants to states to preserve funding in education and other priority areas.

“The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund dollars are a necessary part of addressing the massive budget shortfalls we face over the next couple of years, especially in crucial areas of K-12 and higher education,” said Gov. Beshear. “It is critical that we obtain Kentucky’s full share of the federal stimulus package so we can continue to best manage these trying economic times.”

55 percent of the funds will be used to fund gaps in the budget for FY10, while 45 percent will be held for FY11’s projected budget shortfalls. This funding is a key component of the budget balancing plan for FY 10 recommended by Governor Beshear and adopted by the General Assembly in the special session that ended last week.

As part of the application, states commit to continuing progress on four areas of educational reform. These include enhancing teacher effectiveness, improving the collection and use of data in educational settings, enhancing the quality of educational assessments and providing support for struggling schools.

32 states to date have been approved for funding through the stabilization fund.


RECESS: The Best of Jay Walking

Now let's take a minute (or 8) to relax and witness the adult achievement gap with funnyman Jay Leno.

Thanks Myra.

Governor's Office Verifies Statement on School Councils

It took some lawyers hunting for it, but this morning Jay Blanton with the Governor's office informed KSN&C that they found the regulation that verifies Education Cabinet Secretary Helen Mountjoy's assertion that,
"Every school in KY which is meeting the learning achievement goals set for it can apply and receive a waiver from any state regulation other than those mandated by federal statute, those concerning health and safety and those concerning the state’s system of assessment and accountability."

Working with KDE and the Governor's office, at some length yesterday, KSN&C tried to verify the claim but was only given KRS 160.345 which governs school council configurations; and KRS 156.072 which grants some waivers from reporting requirements if the local superintendent goes along - nothing that verified the statement above.

KDE spokesperson Lisa Gross told KSN&C that "neither Kevin Noland nor any other staff recall any districts asking for waivers under KRS 156.072 since it was enacted in 2000."

This morning, however, the governor's spokesperson, Jay Blanton, sent along a little "more info" in the form of KRS 156.160. It would seem to this non-lawyer that they found what they were looking for all along.

KRS 156.160 deals with the "Promulgation of administrative regulations by Kentucky Board of Education" Voluntary compliance and Penalties. At section Two, it reads,

(2) (a) At the request of a local board of education or a school council, a local school district superintendent shall request that the Kentucky Board of Education waive any administrative regulation promulgated by that board.

Beginning in the 1996-97 school year, a request for waiver of any administrative regulation shall be submitted to the Kentucky Board of Education in writing with appropriate justification for the waiver. The Kentucky Board of Education may approve the request when the school district or school has demonstrated circumstances that may include but are not limited to the following:

1. An alternative approach will achieve the same result required by the administrative regulation;
2. Implementation of the administrative regulation will cause a hardship on the school district or school or jeopardize the continuation or development of programs; or
3. There is a finding of good cause for the waiver.
(b) The following shall not be subject to waiver:
1. Administrative regulations relating to health and safety;
2. Administrative regulations relating to civil rights;
3. Administrative regulations required by federal law; and
4. Administrative regulations promulgated in accordance with KRS 158.6451, 158.6453, 158.6455, 158.685, and this section, relating to measurement of performance outcomes and determination of successful districts or schools, except upon issues relating to the grade configuration of schools.

(c) Any waiver granted under this subsection shall be subject to revocation upon a determination by the Kentucky Board of Education that the school district or school holding the waiver has subsequently failed to meet the intent of the waiver.

Good. That clears that up.

In practice, it's nowhere near apparent that this approaches the kind of flexibility to waive regulations and board of education policies that would typically be offered charter schools. But Gross says, "Districts have asked for waivers of provisions of regs, which they can do under KRS 156.160" and that was the case with the example Gross cited yesterday regarding Ft. Thomas and the approval of common transportation carriers.

Now the state is only left with the larger problem of getting Education Secretary Arne Duncan to see things that way, from his point of view. And that doesn't appear to be happening.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Governor Not Pushing Charters at this time, but Will Apply for Federal Grant

Since desegregation, whenever a president was serious about accomplishing a particular national educational goal, they would get the states attention with a carrot and a stick, just the way President Lyndon B. Johnson taught them to do.

Being a southerner, LBJ knew the south was not going to desegregate its schools on the strength of a Supreme Court ruling alone. Following the Brown v Board of Education decision, 101 of 128 southern legislators vowed to defy the court's order by signing the Southern Manifesto. But the combination of the Civil Rights Act and the $4 billion Elementary and Secondary Education Act, in 1964 and 5, made it possible to hit reluctant school districts in the wallet if they failed to desegregate the schools. Then, of course, there were the federal troops.

Today KSN&C spoke to US Department of Education Press Secretary John White who is concerned with the current reauthorization of ESEA, now known as No Child Left Behind.

Tying each states' share of federal grant dollars to accomplishing Education Secretary Arne Duncan's goals, it is a strong inducement, indeed.

This was the case with Margart Spellings and No Child Left Behind. Kentucky resisted implementing the onerous portions of NCLB's assessment program because it forced the state to ruin a testing system that was somewhat experimental from the git go. In the end, Kentucky took the money - and ultimately passed Senate Bill 1, unanimously, saying it was time to relook KERA anyway. Kentucky couldn't afford to dismiss its share of the millions.

These days, the bait is billions.

White told KSN&C that "with the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind Duncan would like to create more freedom" and "give educators the ability to think differently" about the schools." Part of thinking differently includes "welcoming charter schools."

Duncan has recently stated that those states lacking a charter law would be putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Since then, Governor Beshear met with Duncan and returned to Kentucky confident that Kentucky's school council law (KRS 160.345) would keep the state from being placed in jeopardy.

But I've been having a hard time seeing how that's likely to help.

Education Cabinet Secretary Helen Mountjoy has stated that

"Every school in KY which is meeting the learning achievement goals set for it can apply and receive a waiver from any state regulation other than those mandated by federal statute, those concerning health and safety and those concerning the state’s system of assessment and accountability."

But I can't find that in the law. All I see is an opportunity to waive "the administrative structure" of the council by proposing an alternative model.

KDE spokesperson Lisa Gross offered,

KRS 156.072 which says "a district superintendent (on request of the local BOE or an SBDM council) can submit a request to the KY Board of Education for a waiver rom a reporting requirement established by any other KRS that requires paperwork to be submitted to the KBE or KDE. Exceptions include paperwork necessary under federal law or related to health, safety or civil rights.

Gross said she "doesn't recall any specific instances of waivers being requested under this statute." But she is aware that,

"Districts can and do sometimes ask for waivers of specific regulations. Usually, a district BOE (rather than an SBDM council) will ask for a waiver of a specific regulation, and the KY Board of Education will review the request and make a decision. For instance, at the June KBE meeting, a request from the Ft. Thomas Independent district was on the agenda. The district asked for a waiver of 702 KAR 5:060, section 6(2), which relates to approval of common transportation carriers by local BOEs. Ft. Thomas asked that it be allowed to have a one-time annual approval of all certified common carriers to be used for the entire school year, instead of approving those on a case-by-case basis (as is called for in the regulation).

Under the school council law there have been a total of 20 exemptions granted - "13 in one-school district; 7 because of test scores," Gross said.

Asked if Duncan has changed his position on the issue, White said, "No."

Asked if he knew of any states that might be allowed an exception, White said, "No."

"If Kentucky was not open to welcoming these educational entrepreneurs that would certainly hurt your chances," White said. It's a competitive grant and other states are welcoming them."

Governor's office spokesperson Jay Blanton echoed Mountjoy's statement telling KSN&C,

Kentucky’s General Assembly has never taken up a Charter School bill probably because since 1991, all of our schools have elected school based decision making councils who make significant decisions about the governance of their schools.

While we are not at this time pushing a proposal for a charter school system, Kentucky will be applying for Race to the Top Grants.

Kentucky will offer a quality competitive application.

Kentucky has a strong history of education reform. Our system already provides for tremendous local control with rules in place that allow the takeover and reform of failing schools.

Every school in KY which is meeting the learning achievement goals set for it can apply and receive a waiver from any state regulation other than those mandated by federal statute, those concerning health and safety and those concerning the state’s
system of assessment and accountability.

Schools and districts are encouraged to use additional assessment programs as they find them helpful to identify and implement new approaches to enhance student

Besides Jefferson and Fayette counties, an average school district in KY has about 2250 students. Most of these are in locations where charter school companies are unlikely to invest. So, we have tried to replicate an alternative approach that offers “Charter-like” opportunities for each student – something that most other states are unable to do.

The Governor and Secretary Duncan have spoken. They talked about Kentucky’s historic reforms and the need for the federal government to financially support our
efforts to design a better system of assessment and accountability as prescribed in Senate Bill 1, which could serve as a national model.

Gov. Beshear did not talk to Sec. Duncan about creating charter schools, but did talk about how School Based Decision Making councils allow a lot of the autonomy and local control that charter schools can provide.

Blanton is correct to place the responsibility where it belongs - with the General Assembly which is ultimatlely responsible. But it's hard to square the governor's hopes with White's statement,

Race to the Top is a competitive grant that, in the end, will be judged by peer reviewers not by ED staff. The Secretary has announced publicly on several occasions that charter laws are among the criteria that will be used to judge Race to the Top applications. So states that do not have charter laws will certainly be at a disadvantage. These laws are not a “litmus test,” so states without charter laws (or with weak laws) will not be disqualified from Race to the Top – but they will be at a competitive disadvantage in the peer review process relative to other states.

My read is that Kentucky can compete for funds, but at a disadvantage, and that probably means fewer dollars for Kentucky kids. And, that's bad.

Legislators should start talking now - before the next session. There's a lot to hash out. In the meantime, the education cabinet ought to rethink its rationale.

Dramatic Reductions in School Disciplinary Actions Reported

Todays release of the ninth annual report produced by the Kentucky Center for School Safety and is cause for celebration.

Most importantly, these data show a dramatic reduction over the five-year period under study here in:
  • Total disciplinary actions for Part I offenses,
  • Total disciplinary actions for Part II offenses, and
  • Disciplinary actions for the most serious offenses of aggravated assault, arson, larceny/theft and burglary.
Furthermore, encouraging developments can be seen in:
  • The steady decline in disciplinary actions for Board Violations that has occurred over the past five years
  • A 34.3% decrease in drug abuse incidents from the 2003-2004 peak in these incidents,
  • A 10.0% decrease in suspensions for board policy violations from last year's total, and an 17.4% decrease from the 2003-2004 peak in these incidents; and
  • An 11.8% decrease in corporal punishments from last year’s total and a 36.4% decrease over the five-year period. In 2007-2008, 52 districts throughout the state used corporal punishment at least once during the school year.

KCSS Executive Director Jon Akers told KSN&C he is pleased by the trend and believes that, while no place is perfectly safe all the time, he believes that Kentucky schools are safer today than they were ten years ago. Akers cited several factors that may account for the trend.

  • General public and professional awareness over the past decade
  • Better intelligence, where law enforcement and schools officials more readily share information about possible problems
  • students let teachers know when another student displays a troubling change in behavior
  • Educators are much more proactive and oriented toward prevention
  • Educators monitor better; more actively monitoring students, not just passively being present
  • Fewer drugs in school
  • It's much more common to see the whole school staff pulling together

And Akers is in a good position to hear the anecdotal data about school safety that is not readily apparent from the report. Not only is he the former principal at Bryan Station and Dunbar high schools in Fayette County, but his organization has conducted over 4,000 training sessions involving more than 230,000 school and law enforcement personnel over the past ten years. "They're hungry for it," he says of school safety protocols and data.

But trends in school disciplinary data are not easily tracked. And it's not always possible to know, for example if a decrease in suspensions means lax enforcement or improved student behavior; does it mean a retreat from a no-tolerance policy or an increase is supervisory personnel?

Nevertheless, not all the news from this report is good news. The number of disciplinary actions for terroristic threatening increased 74.2% over the five-year period and 11.9% between 2006-2007 and 2007-2008.

But is this really bad news? This is roughly the same time frame that bullying has come into the spotlight. I asked Akers about this and he agreed. The increased attention paid to student threats ultimately led to House Bill 91 - the anti-bully bill. "There's been a crack down on bullying," Akers said. A decade ago, school officials might not have considered a "hit list" to be a serious threat. "Today they treat it very differently," Aker said. And the same goes for some kid who writes a note saying "I'm going to get you."

Akers also said he believes high school principals are doing a better job of correctly identifying the elements of Kentucky law that distinguish the various levels of assault. "They're not just calling a fight aggravated assault if it doesn't meet the requirements of the law," he said. For example, a determination of first degree assault requires that a deadly weapon was used or that the perpetrator displayed extreme indifference to human life. The degree of injury matters. Whether the victim is a protected individual, like a teacher, matters.

Furthermore, disciplinary actions for alcohol violations increased 27.1% between 2006-2007 and 2007-2008. Additionally, Expulsions without Services for Law violations increased 20.5% over the five-year period and 56.7% from 2006-2007 to 2007-2008. These findings suggest that, despite the general good news regarding school safety in Kentucky, there are still areas where further study and efforts are needed.

Due to enhanced data collection procedures, this year’s report again provides information on board and Law Violations with regard to grade level, school type, socio-economic indicators, and drug use and distribution. This additional information offers a richer database and affords advanced exploration of the complexities of student behavior. Additionally, for the first time, this report includes a comparison of disciplinary actions between those students who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and those who do not.

These enhanced data collection procedures allowed us to identify distinct disciplinary action patterns by grade level, Board, and Law Violations. These data reveal that disciplinary actions for both Law and Board Violations increase dramatically between 5th and 6th grades and 8th and 9th grades. This pattern has held true for four years and supports a variety of anecdotal evidence that suggests these transition years are particularly difficult and that transition may lead to these increases in disciplinary actions.

Despite these enhancements, there are still shortcomings in the data collection process that, when addressed, will allow for much richer data analysis than is currently possible. The most important of these shortcomings involves the current inability to connect each disciplinary action to a particular student through a unique identifier. Currently, the discipline data are reported by infraction and disciplinary action. Although individual-level data (gender, ethnicity, grade, lunch type, special education classification, limited English proficiency, mobility, etc.) are available at the school level, we currently do not have access to that information. This makes it impossible for us to match disciplinary actions with individuals. If we had that capability, data analysis could be more thorough and detailed. For example, examination of offender recidivism is currently not possible...

SOURE: Kentucky Center for School Safety

Thoughts on a Charter School Law for Kentucky

I'm just spit-ballin' here. But based on the National Alliance on Public Charter Schools recent recommendations titled, "A New Model Law For Supporting The Growth Of High-Quality Public Charter Schools," I tried to imagine a law that fits Kentucky's reluctance toward charter schools while satisfying federal expectations and preserving what it means to be a charter school. It also serves as a reminder of the multiple ways a school council is not a charter school. While this list is not the product of sufficient research, and I reserve the right to change my mind later on some of this, I hope it might become a conversation starter in the right circles.

1) The growth of public charter schools in the state should be closely monitored by the General Assembly to assure that all constitutional requirements are satisfied and that a reasonable amount of growth in the number of charter schools is set for any given year.

2) Public charter schools may include new start-ups and public school conver­sions where requested by the school council. The General Assembly will study the efficacy and specific purposes for which virtual schools may be appropriate prior to issuing any charters for virtual schools.

3) Charter schools may be authorized only by application to the Kentucky Education Cabinet except for any legislatively chartered schools as the General assembly may choose to create. There will be no limit on the number of charter schools one provider may establish in the state except for those limitations as the General Assembly may impose on the number of new charter schools in a given year.

4) Anyone holding a charter for schooling in Kentucky shall submit to a reporting program designed by the General Assembly based on objective data, and overseen by the Kentucky Education Cabinet, which will, in turn, assure that all chartering entities receive the appropriate amount of state funding and assure public accountability for all such expenditures.

5) A transparent charter application, review, and decision-making process will be developed by the General Assembly including compre­hensive academic, operational, governance, and performance application requirements, with such applications reviewed and acted upon by the Education cabinet.

6) Comprehensive public charter school monitoring and data collection processes will be developed by the General Assembly to assure that all charter holders can verify public charter school compliance with applicable law and their performance-based contracts.

7) The General Assembly will draft clear processes for renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions, including school closure and dissolution procedures to be used by all charter holders.

8) Performance-based charter contracts will be required, with such contracts created as separate post-application documents between charter holders and the Kentucky Education Cabinet, detailing academic performance expectations, opera­tional performance expectations, and charter holder rights and responsibilities.

9) The General Assembly will draft legislation specifying the parameters of fiscally and legally autonomous schools, including the creation of independent public charter school boards possessing most of the powers granted to other traditional public school district boards.

10) The General Assembly will draft legislation that provides for clear student recruitment, enrollment and lottery procedures, which must be followed by all public charter schools.

11) The General Assembly will draft legislation that provides automatic exemptions from many state laws, except for those covering health, safety, civil rights, student achievement assessment and accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information requirements, and generally accepted accounting principles.

12) Public charter schools will be exempt from any outside collective bargaining agreements, while not interfering with laws and other appli­cable rules protecting the rights of employees to organize and be free from discrimination.

13) Educational service providers will be allowed providing there is a clear performance contract between the independent public charter school board and the service provider and there are no conflicts of interest between the two entities.

14) Multi-school charter contracts and multi-charter contract boards will be permitted such that an independent public charter school board may oversee multiple schools linked under a single charter contract or may hold multiple charter contracts.

15) The General Assembly will study extra-curricular and interscholastic activities eligibility and access to determine (a) under what conditions public charter school students and employees are eligible for state- and district-sponsored interscholastic leagues, competitions, awards, scholarships, and recognition programs (b) if, and to what extent, public charter schools will be required to provide extra-curricular and interscholastic athletic activities (c) or if, charter school students will have access to those activities at traditional public schools for a fee via mutual agreement.

16) The General Assembly will draft legislation clarifying the identification of special education responsibilities, including determination of the local education agency (LEA) responsible for such services and how and where such services are to be funded (especially for low-incidence/high cost cases).

17) The General Assembly will draft legislation providing equitable operational funding and equal access to all state and federal categorical funding, flowing to the charter school in a timely fashion and in the same proportional amount as district schools following eligibility criteria consistent with all other public schools.

18) The General Assembly will draft legislation providing equitable access to capital funding and facilities, including multiple provisions such as: a per-pupil facility allowance (equal to statewide average per-pupil capital costs); facility grant and revolving loan programs; a charter school bonding authority (or access to all relevant state tax-exempt bonding authorities available to all other public schools); the right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed or unused public school facility or property; and clarity that no state or local entity may impose any facility-related requirements that are stricter than those applied to traditional public schools.

19) The General Assembly will draft legislation providing access to relevant employee retirement systems, with the option to participate in a similar manner to all other public schools.

20) The General Assembly will study transportation issues related to those public charter school students who qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program.

Reform 2.0: Prichard Goes Back to School

“The quality of an education system
cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”

“The only way to improve outcomes
is to improve instruction.”

“High performance requires
every child to succeed.”

--Michael Barber of McKinsey & Co.

The Prichard Committee has been looking to recalibrate its approach to school reform in Kentucky in the aftermath of Senate Bill 1.

To do so, they're going back to the very fundamentals Ed Prichard professed. It's all about quality teaching. And, nothing in the system should get in the way of the teacher or the student. This is clearly the right focus. (No mention of block schedules, multi-aged grouping, or assessment systems that measure school progress.)

To hone their views, Prichard turned to McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm that has studied the achievement gap and its impact on the American economy. And they've been reading McKinsey's "How the World's Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top."

The attempt here is to identify the most successful practices of the world's most successful schools, including:

In a Prichard press release: Bold actions for education improvement, the Committee expanded upon McKinsey's focus calling for:

  • Quality teaching in every classroom
  • Principal leadership in schools
  • Ongoing education for teachers, principals and superintendents
  • An expansion of early childhood education (an on-going Prichard Committee focus)
  • Engaging parents and communities in school improvement (Prichard's central approach)
  • Raising expectations and changing school and community culture to reflect the changing world, and using technology as a tool in that work

The press release closes with these "building blocks of a world-class education system,"

Standards and Accountability: Globally-benchmarked standards; Good, transparent data; Every child is always on the agenda to challenge inequality

Human Capital: Recruit great people and train them well; Continuous improvement of pedagogical skills and knowledge; Great leadership at the school level

Structure and Organization: Effective, enabling central department and agencies; Capacity to manage change and engage communities at every level; Operational responsibility and budgets significantly devolved to school level

Note: The Prichard Committee clearly understands that charter schools and school councils - while complimentary concepts - are not the same thing. Perhaps they mentioned this to the governor in a report they recently sent, but they stop short of putting charter schools on their agenda despite McKinsey's recommendation.

NCATE Bids Bye Bye to Bureaucratic Baloney

This from Ed Week by way of EdNews:

NCATE Offers Multiple Paths to Reaccreditation
As part of the first major overhaul of its system in nearly a decade, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education will give education schools a choice of two different pathways for seeking reaccreditation, officials for the group announced [last week].

Under the first option, schools must commit to working toward a higher level of performance on NCATE’s six standards. Alternatively, institutions can propose and undertake a major research project, or a partnership with a school district, to further the knowledge base on effective teacher preparation.

The changes will come concurrent with a reduction in the amount of paperwork and data schools must submit for review as part of reaccreditation.

“This is not a minor tinkering,” James G. Cibulka, the president of the group, said in a recent interview. “It is a major redesign to accomplish some ambitious, but essential, goals.”

The plans have already won applause from some high-profile figures in teacher education circles, including some critics.

The redesign “hits on a lot of the right issues,” said Arthur E. Levine, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, who released a 2006 report lambasting the quality of most education schools and recommending that NCATE be replaced with a new accreditation body.

“I also think it’s bold, to the extent that NCATE is a membership group and has a board of people who aren’t necessarily unhappy with what existed before,” Mr. Levine added.

The Washington-based group...accredits about half the nation’s schools of education.

“What happened before with the one-size-fits-all system is that it aimed at the middle,” [said Richard L. Schwab, the dean of the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut]. “It didn’t really help anyone as much as it could have.”

The two pathways attempt to respond to those issues. Under the first pathway, a school can earn reaccreditation by engaging in a cycle of “continuous improvement.” ... Under the redesign, schools seeking reaccreditation would submit data over time showing how they are striving for the “target,” or highest level of performance, on the NCATE standards.

Moving to the target level on the clinical-fieldwork standard, for instance, would require programs to expand student-teaching to yearlong experiences and to integrate teacher-candidates into professional-learning communities in schools.

Under the second of the reaccreditation pathways, deemed the “transformation initiative,” institutions could propose and undertake a major research project or a partnership with a local school district to address the specific needs of that district.

The projects must be designed to build the field’s knowledge base of effective teacher-preparation practices, and will push especially the research institutions toward applying their expertise in local communities. They could work, for example, to try to address the problem of high rates of attrition in challenging urban environments.

NCATE will permit consortia of schools to apply for the transformation initiative to allow the schools to pool their resources and benefit from collective expertise.

The group is already piloting some model examples of the transformation initiative. ...In Tennessee, the state board of regents has proposed moving its education schools toward a teacher-residency system, in which candidates have yearlong clinical experiences in schools supplemented by coursework.

...All schools will also face fewer paperwork requirements. Data reporting will focus on outcomes, rather than on processes.

“[The redesign] takes out a lot of the bureaucratic baloney, and is going to hold us accountable for actually walking the walk,” said Mr. Schwab, the Connecticut dean. “That’s a big-change leap from the old days of NCATE when they’d count the number of books in the library and look at the syllabuses you taught.” ...

Friday, June 26, 2009

BBA Calls for Expansion of NAEP

The Accountability Committee of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education campaign has released its report with recommendations for the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The new BBA report recommends that ESEA expand the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test given to a representative sample of the nation's students, to cover a broad range of subjects, not only math and reading, to counteract the narrowing of the curriculum spurred in recent years by NCLB. And the report further recommends that ESEA permit states flexibility in designing their accountability systems, provided these systems include qualitative evaluation of school quality and do not rely primarily on standardized test scores to judge the success of schools. At its meeting in February, 2009, the BBA Accountability Committee enunciated the principles it would incorporate into its report.

Here is a video summary of that meeting.

14 states now have double-digit unemployment

New data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that five more states -- Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee -- had crossed into double-digit unemployment, while Michigan's unemployment rate rose from 12.9% to 14.1% in a single month.

14 U.S. states are now in double-digit unemployment and many continuing to see large increases month to month.

Michigan's job situation has gone from bad to worse with the recent bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler, while in Oregon, May unemployment of 12.4% represents a 33-year high. Although officials from Oregon say they are starting to see a slowdown in the pace of job loss, they also fear that jobs will remain scarce well into the next decade.

A front-page Washington Post story on June 21 described the same trend nationwide and said new jobs were the missing ingredient in a long-awaited economic recovery.

Despite signs that the recession gripping the nation's economy may be easing, the unemployment rate is projected to continue rising for another year before topping out in double digits, a prospect that threatens to slow growth, increase poverty and further complicate the Obama administration's message of optimism about the economic outlook.

The likelihood of severe unemployment extending into the 2010 midterm elections and beyond poses a significant political hurdle to President Obama and congressional Democrats, who are already under fire for what critics label profligate spending. Continuing high unemployment rates would undercut the fundamental argument behind much of that spending: the promise that it will create new jobs and improve the prospects of working Americans, which Obama has called the ultimate measure of a healthy economy.

Hat tip to EPI.

Then I Suppose a Few Gitmo Detainees are Out of the Question

Paducah's West End Residents
Reject Middle School

This from the Paducah Sun (subscription):

Two points became clear Thursday night at a West End Neighborhood Association meeting: Danette Humphrey, chairwoman of the Paducah school board, said the board is interested in possibly building a new Paducah Middle School on the former Westwood Country Club property.

Association members oppose the idea.

More than 50 West End residents filed into First Christian Church, and got to speak with Humphrey and school board vice chairman Carl LeBuhn.

In a vote by show of hands on which residents wanted a new school in the neighborhood, one hand went up.

Association members drove their point home with transparencies, shown on an overhead projector, listing complaints.

“You can see them here,” said C.A. Rawlings, association president. “Traffic with school buses, trucks and parents’ cars. Trespassing with students walking across yards.”

Rawlings also listed concerns about trash, noise and nearby property values. ...

Hat tip to KSBA.

PRP Coaches Say Stinson Did Nothing Wrong

"I look in the mirror every day
to see if I could have done anything differently."
-- PRP Assistant Football Coach Adam Donnelly

This from C-J:
Three assistant football coaches for Pleasure Ridge Park High School say they never heard former head coach David Stinson use profanity, ridicule players for getting a drink or deny players water during the Aug. 20, 2008 practice in which a player collapsed and later died after running wind sprints, according to depositions filed Thursday.

"To my knowledge, he's never denied players water," said Adam Donnelly, the former offensive line coach, in a deposition taken this month.

Some of the coaches' statements are at odds with what players, witnesses and Stinson have previously told police.

Donnelly and coaches Steve Deacon and Jason Cook, who wore a "Support our Stinson" arm band during his deposition, defended the head coach's actions and their own during the Aug. 20 practice where 15-year-old sophomore lineman Max Gilpin collapsed from heat stroke. He died three days later....

Beshear says stimulus funds won’t offset cost of new tax breaks

This from Bluegrass Politics:
FRANKFORT — State officials are still trying to determine how much the state must cut from its budget because lawmakers approved a host of tax breaks included in a bill that was signed into law on Friday by Gov. Steve Beshear...

Beshear had been planning on trimming 2.6 percent from most state agencies, excluding Medicaid, higher education, the per-pupil spending formula for K-12 education and a handful of other programs. Now, most state agencies will take much larger cuts to offset the cost of the three new incentive programs, which take effect in the next few months.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, suggested on Wednesday that
Beshear could use more federal stimulus money to offset the cost of the incentive programs, but Beshear has no such plans, said spokesman Jay Blanton.

“We have no intention to dip further into the stimulus funds — the 45 percent set aside for the next fiscal year — to make up additional cuts,” Blanton said....

Charter Schools: A Tale of Two States

This from WFPL:
The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan has been making noise lately about charter schools — and he’s announced he wants to see more of them. Duncan’s enthusiasm is encouraging those in the charter school movement nationwide, but the appeal of these schools in this region is mixed...

Indiana Democrats have proposed halting charters for new schools. It’s part of the debate on the state budget now being drafted in Indianapolis. Critics supporting that move are citing last week’s study from a Stanford University research center that found students at charters didn’t perform any better than those at public schools.

But there are really no heated debates about charters in Kentucky, which is one of 10 states with no charter schools...

Even in Indiana’s most of the 50 charter schools are in Indianapolis and Gary, while the charter school movement has never taken hold in Kentucky. But people in Frankfort were listening to Arne Duncan’s speech this week, including Education Cabinet Secretary Helen Mountjoy. Ask her about charter schools, and she lists Kentucky’s efforts on education reform.

“We certainly feel that we have an alternative that is meeting many of the same things,” Mountjoy says, “particularly in the areas of autonomy and being able to make decisions at the school level, in managing a budget, in hiring staff, in choosing instructional materials, and on and on.”

Those facets of the state’s education system grew after the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act, or KERA, was enacted to reduce economic disparity between schools.

But it’s not clear if those and recent efforts to improve education will be enough to satisfy Arne Duncan to give any of the $5 billion in federal grants to Kentucky — even though Gov. Steve Beshear met with him earlier this month to extol Kentucky efforts.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


The Kentucky Board of Education will hold a special meeting on Thursday, July 2, at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Lexington.

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. The board will enter into closed session to discuss reference feedback on candidates for the position of commissioner of education.

A full agenda follows.

JULY 2, 2009


Thursday, July 2, 2009


9:00 a.m. - Adjournment (EDT)
(Note: The day's meeting includes a working lunch.)

I. Call to Order
II. Roll Call
III. Discussion of reference feedback and individual candidates for commissioner's position [Closed session per KRS 61.810 (1)(f)]
IV. Adjournment

SOURCE: KDE press release.

KSU to Open Boarding School for AfrAm Males

This from the State Journal:

Male boarding school may open by 2010

Kentucky State University could open a boarding school aimed at preparing African American males for college as soon as 2010, according to President Mary Sias.

High school students would live in campus dorms, with their own teachers and an on-site principal. They would have access to KSU facilities and dual credit courses, bridging them into college life.

The plan is part of an effort to increase the number of black men who earn postsecondary degrees, Sias told The State Journal.

“We believe it’s a good way to save those students, and actually stop many black males from dropping out,” she said.“We, as a nation, are going to have to figure out how to push more African American and Hispanic students, and other students of color, through that pipeline (from high school to college).”...

Hat Tip to KSBA

Beshear: New tax breaks mean bigger budget cuts

This from John Stamper and Jack Brammer at Bluegrass Politics:

Lawmakers plugged the state’s projected $1 billion budget shortfall on Wednesday, but not before approving a passel of expensive tax breaks that Gov. Steve Beshear said would bring deeper cuts than planned to most state agencies.

The list of last-minute tax breaks inserted into the economic incentives bill includes an exemption of active-duty military pay from the state’s income tax, a car trade-in benefit that will reduce taxes on new vehicle purchases, and a tax credit of up to $5,000 for those buying a newly-built house.

Previously, Beshear had said most state agencies other than Medicaid, higher education and the per-pupil funding formula for K-12 education would face 2.6 percent cuts. But the new tax breaks will “seriously and significantly increase those cuts,” Beshear said....

State Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, said it was irresponsible of lawmakers to create the new tax credits without providing new revenue to pay for them. Eventually, he said, “we’re going to have to reduce human services and education more because we didn’t pay for it.”

Europe's Independent School Debate: different names, same idea

According to comments in The Independent, in Sweden anyone can set up a school and get government money for it. The money follows the child, so the more children one attracts, the more money one gets. Folks can also set up the kind of school they want which apparently impacts who can attend. A lot of parent groups have set up schools. Success seems to depend on the social and economic context. As ambiguous evidence from the US suggests, what works in Sweden's homogeneous society will not necessarily work everywhere.

One significant problem facing Kentucky will be designing a charter school law that does not exacerbate the existing separation between the "haves" and the "have nots," while qualifying Kentucky for federal dollars. Simply leaving it to local school councils to decide whether or not to seek a charter - with their naturally localized view - will do more harm to some children, and the constitution, than anyone should want.

Of course, Kentucky could always follow (soon-to-be-former) South Carolina Governor Mark Sandford's lead and refuse the money.

This from Hilary Wilce in The Independent (UK):

'What's so great about schools in Sweden?
Are they really so good we should copy them?'
...Like all education journalists, I've had my ear bashed repeatedly about the wonders of this region's schooling systems, from Finland's fabulous primary schools to the miracles of Danish kindergartens. The current darling is Sweden's system of state-funded independent schools, and if the Conservatives get in at the next election, we will apparently see a lot of these "free" schools [in England].

Like our academies, the schools are free to do their own thing while broadly staying in line with the mainstream curriculum, although a big difference is that for-profit companies are allowed to run them. The schools get good results, and pupils and parents seem to like them.

But the schools appear to be able to screen out at least some children with special needs, and it's hard to say how much of their success stems from attracting middle-class families - and thereby increasing the kind of educational apartheid that is so harmful to poorer pupils and to society in general.

So the short answer ...is that there are NO magic solutions in education, and it is no good looking for them. Every incoming politician should be forced to write this out 100 times. Scandinavian countries invest heavily in their school and have cohesive cultures with relatively small gaps between the highest and lowest earners. These things are the true bedrock of their flourishing educational systems, not anything else....

Drunk Mum Kneed Principal in the Pills

Bad Day in a Tough Job

This from the Daily Telegraph (Brisbane, Australia):
A woman was so drunk that she could not recall punching, spitting at and kneeing her daughter's school principal in the groin, a court has been told.

Karen Lee Pommer, 47, attacked Jeff Munce when she went to pick up her eight-year-old daughter from Warrigal Road State School ...the Brisbane District Court was told today.

The court was told Pommer entered the school grounds screaming obscenities while the students waited to be collected at the end of the day.

When Mr Munce approached her she punched his head repeatedly, then kneed him in the groin and spat in his face.

She also slapped and spat at another mother who tried to intervene.

The court was told Pommer - who was infected with hepatitis C - then spat at and bit three police officers who arrived to arrest her.

None of her victims contracted the highly infectious disease.

When she was hauled into the police vehicle, she then wriggled free from her handcuffs and smashed one of the windows, the court was told.

Defence barrister Jann Taylor said Pommer, a chronic alcoholic, had been suffering an "alcohol-induced blackout'' when she went to the school.

"She was ridiculously drunk to the point of no recollection,'' Ms Taylor said....

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

School News from Around Kentucky

NKU alters admissions process: Students that want to start at Northern Kentucky University in August but have not yet applied may have to wait until January. Facing a record number of applications and declining state budgets that could help hire more professors and find more classroom space, NKU said Tuesday that applicants with more than one academic deficiency based on standardized-test scores who apply after July 1 will be deferred to the spring semester. Students with one or fewer academic deficiencies will be admitted for the fall, NKU said. It already has added 300 regular admission students for next year, but the flow of more than 6,500 freshman applications, up 36 percent from a year ago, has overwhelmed its available resources. (Enquirer)

Educators learn how to restrain students: For four days, a group of Northern Kentucky educators studied Aikido with an instructor in a Cold Spring school's basement, learning how to restrain a student without causing any injury, but still forcing compliance. (Enquirer)

Nelson County students continue writing portfolios: Nelson County Schools students are still performing well with their writing skills even though the state isn’t currently testing them. Elementary Instructional Supervisor Gregory Hash presented writing portfolio results to the Nelson County School Board Tuesday at its regular meeting. The district had chosen to go ahead and give the students writing portfolio testing even though the state legislature has passed a law removing that part of the state’s annual school testing. “We still want to go ahead with writing because the state will add writing back in at some point,” he said. (Kentucky Standard)

First Lady Jane Beshear’s Reading Recommendations: Top 10 Summer Reads

1. Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis: “I read this classic series to my sons Andy and Jeff when they were little. From the first book to the last, this series is brimming over with tales of magic, adventure and daydreaming. Families could read one book a week between July 4th and Labor Day to finish the whole series!” (All Ages)

2. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, Paul Fleischman: “This Newberry Medal Award (1989) winner is a great way to introduce children to poetry while make it tangible, interactive and fun. Friends or siblings can take separate parts of the poems and read them allowed in tandem with each other.” (Ages: 8-12).

3. Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes, Mollie Katzen. “Getting kids into the kitchen and learning how to cook is a great way to teach about food, health and nutrition using the bounty of summer produce.” (Ages: 4-8).

4. The Coal Tattoo, Silas House: “Silas House is a Kentucky treasure, and has become nationally known for his stories about Kentucky’s Appalachian hills. This book would be ideal for high school students, who definitely will want to read his other works—Clay’s Quilt and A Parchment of Leaves—upon finishing.” (Ages: 14-17).

5. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick: “An award-winning book from Scholastic, this innovative work tells a unique tale based on a historical, true story using equal parts written text and elaborate illustration.” (Ages: 8-14).

6. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, Jeanne Birdsall: “A breezy, light and whimsical work that follows the summer adventures of four sisters—a perfect outdoor read for an afternoon in the sun!” (Ages: 10-14).

7. Fantastic Mr. Fox, Roald Dahl: “As one of the most prolific and influential young adult authors of the 20th Century, Dahl shines with this book as with all his works. By the end, readers, too, will want to join in with the taunts of the farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean.” Ages: 7-11).

8. The Eleventh Hour, Graeme Base: “An interactive and gorgeously illustrated ‘mystery’ tale where readers can follow along and track clues as to who may have eaten all the food at Horace the Elephant’s birthday party.” (Ages: 4-8).

9. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg: “A book about a precocious 12-year-old who runs away to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her exciting adventures will captivate students.” (Ages: 10-15).

10. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak: “I can’t wait to read this beautifully illustrated, spirited book to my grandsons. It’s one of my favorites.” (Ages: Birth-4).

Quick Hits

High court: Schools are required to pay for private special education: Students do not need to have attended public-school special education to receive district reimbursement for private-school tuition, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday. Some school leaders fear the decision could drive up costs, while special-education advocates said it may cause school districts to improve services. Both sides worry the ruling has the potential to reduce cooperation between public schools and families. (Wall Street Journal), (New York Times)

Educators say early intervention may help curb dropout rate: Educators examined why students leave school and how they can entice more of them to stay during a Maryland dropout-prevention summit. Students who by the end of sixth grade are failing math and English, attending only sporadically or behaving poorly are at risk for dropping out, said Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland's state superintendent. (The Sun)

NYC principals say educators need time to prepare for the school year: A decision to eliminate two days for staff development before the start of the New York City school year has been criticized by the head of the principals' union, who says educators need that time to prepare. "It's very important that we set the tone correctly on Day One," said the union president. "You can't set it if you're trying to do 15 things at one time." (The New York Times)

Internet helps students learn with a global perspective: Some high-school students are working with teens around the world to expand their cultural horizons and learn more about other countries. "It's far more interesting to hear a person your age tell about the volcano than to read in a book about a volcano," said assistant teacher Natacha Steimer after a student in Guatemala told Maryland children about one he visits regularly. (The Washington Post)

ACLU: Black students in Mich. are more likely to be suspended, expelled: Black students in Michigan are suspended and expelled at a disproportionate rate when compared with their white peers, according to a American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan report. The group recommends that more uniform discipline policies be adopted. (The Detroit News)

Unions seek bigger role in charter schools: As the Obama administration pushes for more charter schools, a teachers' union is pushing for a bigger role in them. It's a new development for the charter school movement, a small but growing -- and controversial -- effort to create new, more autonomous public schools, usually in cities where traditional schools have failed. On Tuesday in New York, the United Federation of Teachers expects to formalize a contract with teachers at Green Dot New York Charter School in the Bronx, a high school run by Green Dot, a nonprofit group that operates charter schools. Ten other New York charter schools are unionized. (Boston Globe)

More Arizona students test out of ELL classes: The number of Arizona students moving from English-language-learning programs into traditional classrooms for the upcoming school year has nearly doubled from two years ago to 40,000. State schools Superintendent Tom Horne credits the increase to a new four-hour course that teaches grammar, reading and writing. But some educators say the true effect of the new program will not be known until current elementary-school students reach middle school, where English-language learners tend to fall behind their peers. (The Arizona Republic)

Hundreds of NYC teachers await hearings in "rubber rooms": About 700 New York City teachers are paid to sit and surf the Internet, read, write or do just about anything for eight hours a day while they await hearings for an array of alleged offenses. The practice, which has increased since Mayor Michael Bloomberg gained greater control over the schools, costs the city about $65 million annually. (Google/The Associated Press)

Department of Education wants to leave NCLB behind: The Department of Education is working to dismantle a red schoolhouse in front of its Washington offices that became a symbol of No Child Left Behind during the Bush administration. With the law now being called by its original name, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the department is working to rebrand it and is considering a contest to rename NCLB. (Washington Post)

Educational extremes can be found 20 miles apart in Los Angeles: A suburban high school with few low-income students and a dropout rate near zero and an urban campus where free lunch is ubiquitous and only a fourth of the students make it to graduation in four years exemplify the extremes of public schools, according to this article. Poverty and crime make it difficult for students at the urban school to stay motivated, says its principal, while the suburban students are focused on preparing for college. (Los Angeles Times)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Georgia Principal Arrested in Cheating Investigation

This from Teacher Mag:

A suburban Atlanta principal who resigned during an investigation into cheating on students' standardized tests was arrested Friday and accused of altering public documents.

The school's assistant principal also turned herself in to local police Thursday night in a case that the head of a state teacher's group described as rare. School officials allege that the two changed answers on fifth-grade standardized tests to improve scores and help their school meet federal achievement standards.

Former Dekalb County principal James Berry was arrested at his home on charges of altering public documents, a felony...

Model State Charter School Law Unveiled

This from Ed Week:
The nation’s leading charter school organization has unveiled a proposal aimed at overhauling the wide range of state laws that govern the publicly funded schools, as well as establishing charter laws in the 10 states that don’t yet allow the schools to operate.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which is hosting its annual convention this week in Washington, has designed a model state law that, among other things, calls for better access to facilities and other capital resources, stricter accountability for the local school boards and other entities that authorize charters, and performance contracts...

Beshear Confident Ky Eligible for Stimulus Money after Talk with Duncan

But the Talk was Not about Charters!?

OK, so, Beshear and Duncan met. They talked about school councils, but not about charters. And based on that conversation, the governor is now confident that Kentucky's lack of charter school legislation will not be a barrier to receiving federal Race to the Top discretionary grant funding.

Really? I'm confused. That chat must have broken the Guiness record for the number of winks and nods in one conversation.

I just don't see how having school councils is equivalent to having charter schools.

Could Duncan possibly bend that far? Is it possible he will accept this argument from Kentucky while the other 49 states will be required to have permissive laws? If so, Governor Beshear and Helen Mountjoy will have pulled off the diplomatic deal of the century. But in the end, the qualifications for receiving federal dollars are whatever Duncan says they are. So be it.

But it also occurs to me, that in making that argument, the governor could be throwing the state open to massive charter schooling. I'm not at all sure that's intended or good for the state - the track record for charters being as suspect as it is.

Will Duncan insist that school councils be given the authority to decide whether or not a given school will go under a charter? Will they truly be allowed to operate outside the control of the local school board? Can they decide to waive state regulations?

If Duncan insists that states remove limits on the number of charters and Kentucky says councils have that kind of latitude, then what is to prevent any/every school in the state from bailing out the minute KDE propounds some regulation local council members find onerous? And if that happens, wouldn't the disequalizing effect virtually guarantee a challenge before the Kentucky Supreme Court at some point?

Did the Kentucky Association of School Councils just get a major boost in political influence?

Please, somebody explain all this to me.

It occurs to me that there could be some things worse than a charter school law. Like no law.

This from Brad Hughes at KSBA:

Site-based councils should address
issue of state's lack of charter schools
After a meeting last week with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Gov. Steve Beshear doesn’t see Kentucky’s lack of charter schools as an impediment to the state being able to go after part of a $4.35 billion pot of funds for innovative education programs.

The discussions at the 2009 Governors Education Symposium in Raleigh, N.C., on June 14 and 15 followed Duncan’s warning the previous week that the 10 states without charter schools – including Kentucky – “put themselves at a competitive disadvantage” for the money from the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education funding that is part of the federal stimulus law. “States that do not have public charter laws or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools will jeopardize their applications under the Race to the Top Fund,” Duncan told a conference call of education reporters on June 8.

Beshear, who confirmed his plans via Twitter announcement to meet with Duncan, came away from the meeting feeling positive that Kentucky will be able to compete for any Race to the Top funds it seeks, according to a statement released by the governor’s office.

“The Governor and Secretary Duncan did talk. They spoke about Kentucky’s historic reforms and the need for the federal government to financially support our efforts to design a better system of assessment and accountability as prescribed in Senate Bill 1, which could serve as a national model.

“Gov. Beshear did not talk about creating charter schools, but did talk about how SBDM councils allow a lot of the autonomy and local control that charter schools can provide.

“We feel that Kentucky will be very competitive because of our school reform efforts, SBDM councils and the local control that they provide,” the statement read...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Duncan: Charters Have Role in Turnarounds

“The charter movement is putting itself at risk
by allowing too many second-rate and
third-rate schools to exist.”
-- Arne Duncan

This from Politics K-12:
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this morning asked charter school operators to play a major role in turning around the nation's lowest-performing

"Today, I am challenging you to adapt your educational model to turning around our lowest-performing schools. I need you to go outside your comfort zones and go to under-served rural communities and small cities," he said to the attendees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools' ninth annual conference, which kicked off this morning at Washington's convention center...
And the New York Times reports Duncan warned advocates of the charter schools that low-quality institutions are giving their movement a black eye. “The charter movement is putting itself at risk by allowing too many second-rate and third-rate schools to exist,” Mr. Duncan says in prepared remarks.

The ABC's of LGBT

This from the Los Angeles Times:

It's high time that schools took anti-bullying measures more seriously. We just never thought that would include requiring fifth-graders to recite the meaning of each letter in LGBT.

In attempting to discourage taunting of gay students, the Alameda Unified School District turned what should be a basic lesson on treating others kindly into a primer on sexual identity. Its new anti-bullying curriculum for kindergartners through fifth-graders will begin in the fall and focus solely on gay and lesbian issues -- as if harassment based on race, religion or failure to wear cool clothes were nonexistent. Parents who might object cannot opt their children out of it. It's a heavy-handed approach to take with students at a tender age....

Tennessee Charter Schools Bill on Fast Track in House

Kentucky on the Side Track

This from Ed Week:

A revived bill to expand who would be eligible to attend charter schools in Tennessee was on a fast track for a full House vote Wednesday.

Under the new proposal, children in school systems with at least 14,000 students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches would be eligible to enroll. Preference would be given to students with failing grades or those from failing schools. "That was a good compromise because these are the students that we most want to reach," said the measure's sponsor, Rep. Beth Harwell...

Football and Heat

This from C-J:
If the death last year of a Louisville-area football player isn't enough to move the Kentucky High School Athletic Association to action, maybe the recent wave of oppressive heat will be.

It's nearing one year since the death of 15-year-old Max Gilpin, the Pleasure Park Ridge High School football player who died of heat stroke last August. The inexcusable delay of Jefferson County Public Schools' investigation into the tragedy is old news by now.

There's another pressing issue at hand: how to implement changes to school athletic policy before football tryouts begin in July.

That's the charge of the KHSAA, and so far, with less than a month before players return to the field, they've failed to do it....

Judge: JCPS must turn over Gilpin interviews

This from Toni Konz at C-J:
Jefferson County Public Schools must give the commonwealth attorney's office its interviews with players, coaches and other witnesses that are part of its investigation into football player Max Gilpin's death last fall, a judge ruled Friday.

Circuit Judge Susan Schultz Gibson ordered district officials to turn over the interviews that prosecutors had subpoenaed for its criminal case against Jason Stinson, Max's former head football coach at Pleasure Ridge Park High School.

However, the judge ruled that those interviews must be sealed from the public "until further order of the court." And she instructed the school board to notify the court "when the investigation is complete." ...

Schultz Gibson ruled that while prosecutors may have those statements, the rest of the district's findings don't have to be released until district officials close their investigation.

The judge said that the "release of the (school board) investigation to the public while the investigation is ongoing could potentially result in a chilling effect, which would call into question the truthfulness and accuracy of any subsequent statements and contribute to the very problem of conflicting testimony."

She noted the school system has "publicly stated" that the investigation will be released, meaning "the public will ultimately have access to the same materials requested now by the commonwealth." ...

Conduct Open Search for Ed Chief

Take a lesson from botched job in 2007

To update the KSN&C record, I had a couple of versions of the same letter in the Herald-Leader and Courier-Journal today.

Ed Commish Search Story updated: here and here.

Warning: The Herald-Leader story carries a photo of a rabid chipmunk! Allowing small children to view such photos could cause bad dreams and emotional distress.

What A Shot!

Ever try to get inside the mind of an eighth grader? Here's why it's so great.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Merlene Davis Tells the Truth...Mainly

Who Controls history, controls the past.
Who controls the past, controls the present.

Arguments over history are almost always arguments over the present and I suspect an article last month by Merlene Davis in the Herald-Leader is no exception.

Davis re-visions the Fayette County Schools Equity Council and bestows upon Superintendent Stu Silberman the nod of acceptance from local civil rights leaders. Hers is essentially a story about race relations in the Fayette County schools from 1993 to the present. Certain heroes of the past are identified, and exalted. Some history is forgotten, while other history is remembered; revising the story for future generations.

I believe the story would benefit from a fuller exploration. Davis seems to prefer to “print the legend.”

Her legend is justified by the unmistakable arc of history - 400 years of oppression of African Americans – from slavery through Jim Crow and the civil rights movement to today’s search for meaning among our multi-racial citizenry with our multi-racial president. And to be sure, Davis’s heroes are deserving of much credit. I can only imagine the courage and personal resolve necessary to fight for civil rights over a period of decades. But that story should be told in a balanced fashion. Her heroes have never been mistaken for Dr King.

As befits her style, Susan Weston posted a response to the Davis column that was at once forward-looking and retrospectively gentle with all parties.

In those earlier days Davis describes, the Fayette issues were far from unique. In every school system that serves black students, there are enduring questions about whether success for those children is truly a priority. What stood out was that, in Fayette, the questions at last got a wide hearing, and the concerns finally got enough attention to generate substantive action. Some other districts now seem to be moving on a similar path.

Davis has long been an advocate for civil rights in a town that doesn't always want to hear about its past. As a long-time columnist, Davis baby-sits African American issues to a citizenry that needs to hear it. She also deserves much credit for her support of GLBT equality, which illogically, puts her at odds with much of her core African American constituency; less so her white liberal readers.

But Davis also serves as a mouthpiece for a select group of activists whose work, while vital to Lexington's (and as Weston astutely points out, the state's) future, was at times more about criticizing school leaders than it was about seeking solutions to identified problems. As has been true of other political groups, these leaders wanted the issue more.

And that's what struck me about the article - Davis's loyalty. In politics, loyalty is coin of the realm and being a columnist is a political job of its own sort. But sometimes one’s loyalty conflicts with one’s ideology. Davis seems to lean toward loyalty. I tend to lean the other way.

"Stand with anybody that stands right,
stand with him while he is right
and part with him when he goes wrong."
— Abraham Lincoln

Davis notes that “the numerous squeaky wheels that had demanded academic and cultural turnarounds in Fayette County five short years ago have been oiled.” (More on this later.)

I have no doubt that that is true.

But have the old complaints disappeared? If not, just what oil was used to squelch the squeek?

Davis rightly credits the leadership of Fayette County Superintendent Stu Silberman for “changing the culture“ but also credits those activists who came before and “continually aired the dirty laundry of a district that had allowed children's education to fall well behind personal agendas.” She does not say what the alleged personal agendas were.

Neither does she say who’s minding the laundry these days. Silberman may be one heck of a superintendent, but what do the data say? Davis cites a soon-to-be-released Equity Council report that shows the achievement gap and the over-identification of blacks in special education classes have persisted as problems during Silberman's tenure. I don't know if the report addresses it, but the percentage of African American teachers has declined as well. If those issues screamed from news pages nearly every day in the late 1990s, but the data have not improved, yet the news pages are silent today; who's not doing their job?

Back in those days, Lexington-Fayette Urban League President PG Peeples was admittedly angry.
  • There was a large achievement gap: there still is.
  • Black students were overrepresented in the special education population: they still are.
  • The burden of balancing diversity in the schools rested almost solely on blacks: so far as I know, that got fixed.
  • Under former Superintendent Peter Flynn the district played games by hiding relevant student achievement data from the school board: the sun now shines on school data. I remember former board and Equity Council member Nancy Stage's exasperation at one particular meeting in the mid 90’s when it was pointed out that the district was coding schools data to shield the identity of the individual schools, therefore removing public scrutiny.
  • In 1998 the Equity Council threatened to resign en masse when Flynn told them they could not investigate personnel matters: access to personnel information being limited by state law. (H-L May 6, 1998)
  • In the mid-1980s, the Kentucky Human Rights Commission criticized the Fayette County school district for having fewer black teachers than three decades earlier, when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools. In 1984, 11.6 percent of teachers were black. (H-L June 3, 2001)
  • There were too few African American teachers to serve as role models for our black students: district sources tell me there is no expectation placed on principals to recruit and retain people of color at all. In 2007-2008, only 10.2% of Fayette County’s certified staff was African American (274, compared to 2,684 whites); only9.2% of the classroom teachedrs. This would have been cause for complaint in 2001 when Lisa Deffendall, writing for the Herald-Leader, reported the district's total work force was 84 percent white, 14 percent black and 2 percent other races. (H-L June 8, 2001)
  • That year former Superintendent Robin Fankhauser demoted two black school administrators and laid off 310 workers, 19% of whom were African American, prompting cries of racism: Spurred on by then US Representative Ernie Fletcher, Peeples, Rev Bob Brown and others rallied under the banner of “No Confidence. No Trust.”
  • One of the school administrators whose demotion was being protested was Louis Hughley Jr., who called Fankhauser’s staff reduction plan racist. Hughley complained but predicted that black advocates wouldn't have the stamina to keep the issue alive. Hughley is a Lexington native who attended local public schools and then taught in them for 26 years. He said he's seen "one-night stand" protests too many times before. (H-L June 3, 2001) "I called it periodic civil war," P.G. Peeples told Davis. Hughley went on to become Principal of Knight Middle School in Jefferson County where his CATS Index of 62.9 places Knight among the lowest performing middle schools in the state, meeting only one of ten measurable objectives. I can’t imagine Stu Silberman NOT demoting any Fayette County principal with similar numbers. Hughley raised eyebrows when he wrote to Fayette Circuit Judge Louis Paisley, in 2000, asking for leniency for convicted child molester Ron Berry. A Louisville jury convicted Berry of 12 counts of sodomy with boys under 16 years old and recommended that he serve three years in prison. Hughley said, Berry had “suffered enough and deserves no further punishment." Hughley made news recently when he issued a directive to his Knight faculty that they could no longer have students removed from class for failure to follow directions, profanity or vulgarity...and more; the kind of discipline policy that permits poor discipline. The edict was later rescinded.
Davis remembers the good Equity Council, the bad central office and the ugly achievement gap. But I have a lot of personal memories (and records) from that period as well. What she says is true enough, but it is totally slanted and much is left out.

For all the good it did, the Equity Council was like the worst school your child might attend; where the cool kids ran the show and only certain kids got to play. It’s easy enough to justify historically marginalized folks asserting themselves, but as a member committed to helping, I’d have to say it didn’t always make sense. If one were willing to sit by and say “Yes, PG! Brilliant, PG!” Then, all was well. But if one raised a serious issue, even an issue council members said was a problem…well...get this:
On a couple of occasions the Equity Council had complained about the over-identification of African Americans in special education classes. I had asked the Council to investigate a situation in the medical community where it appeared that hyperactive poor children (without insurance) were being forced into special education referrals for “Other Health Impairment” but the Equity Council did not see fit to even look into it. Instead, I was told the Equity Council was deeply concerned about such issues and it would be assigned to a committee. I never heard another word about it. The Equity Consultant never contacted me for more information. In fact the only time I ever heard Peeples bring the issue up was when a presentation was made to the board, with the press in attendance, about the status of our district’s special education program. Peeples again expressed its deep concern that African
American students were over-identified in special education.

When one is named to the Equity Council the first order of business is supposed to be the member’s assignment to committee. But I was denied participation in committee meetings and wasn’t even assigned to a committee for 15 months. I finally complained out loud - Equity Council style - only to be criticized by Davis as being against the council.

But what really hacked folks off was when I blew the whistle on Equity Council leadership for pushing black members off the council when they disagreed with Peeple’s leadership. In a letter to the school board I revealed that two African American members (Virgil Covington and Wanda Garr) reported receiving threatening “visits,” and feeling “unwelcome,” the latter courageously confirming her concerns in an open meeting.

Davis wrote that I had “done nothing constructive” since being on the council and wondered aloud if I had “ever bothered to look into why so many black boys are assigned to special-education classes.” (H-L Feb 1, 2001)
By the time Silberman was hired, in 2004, we had gone through five superintendents in three years, including two interims. I had written an OpEd in the Herald-Leader on the crisis of leadership that existed in the Fayette County school; and now believe that Silberman has completely cured that particular issue. (H-L May 10, 2004)

But as Davis points out, “Silberman…has not been seen walking on water.”

After he had been in Fayette County for about a year, Silberman was interviewed by District Administration Magazine. They wrote,

When he took the position this past summer, he became the sixth superintendent since 1994. But he's quick to note in his sweet southern drawl that the turnover wasn't due to his predecessors' failures. Fayette has suffered some hard fiscal knocks--including being labeled a "hold harmless" district, with stagnant state funding since 1992, because it's considered property-rich. The financial situation translated into staff and student programming needs going unfulfilled.
But when interviewed by Davis he said, "It was a pretty tough place to come to...Overall, the culture of the district was pretty toxic."

My take, which I shared with him at the time, was that Fayette County had a lot of talent, but needed a strong leader. They got it. But they did not get a super-human savior whose best rhetoric and effort would eliminate the powerful social and economic factors that make achievement gaps so tough for schools alone to cure.

"Culture is established from the top down," Peeples told Davis. We've come a long way but we're not there yet."

“Millions of miles,” according to Silberman.

Or hundreds, if one looks at the data.