Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Holliday Named President of State School Chiefs

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday has assumed the role of president of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). For the past year he served as the group’s president-elect.

“I am proud and very humbled to serve this outstanding organization,” Holliday said. “If you look at the accomplishments of CCSSO over the last five to six years, you see an organization that is certainly a strong leader in public education.”

The Council of Chief State School Officers is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses its views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public.

Holliday said as president of CCSSO, he will continue to push for action on education issues of importance.  During the upcoming year, he intends to focus on communication, collaboration, creativity, innovation and career-readiness.

·         Communication and Collaboration – The diversity of context and opinions among states is a strength of the organization, according to Holliday.

“CCSSO must continue to look for ways that all state voices are heard and valued and reach out to other national organizations,” Holliday said. “Our voice needs to be heard in administrative and teacher organizations and we must in turn listen and act on the feedback we receive from these organizations.”

·        Creativity and Innovation – The Innovation Lab Network focuses on developing innovative models to help more students reach college/career-ready standards. Holliday said its work must move from a handful of states, which includes Kentucky, to a national effort to find innovative practices that can be scaled to help more students be successful and reach college/career-ready standards.

·         Career-readiness -- Most states have done an excellent job defining and implementing college-ready strategies, according to Holliday. However, as a recent report from the Center on Education Progress pointed out, there is much work to do with career-ready definitions, measures, assessments and accountability, he said.  

Holliday notes that Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is leading the National Governors Association (NGA) Education and Workforce Committee as well as the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and has committed to focus on career-ready work with both organizations.  

“I think CCSSO has a great chance for synergy between our organization, NGA and SREB to emphasize career-ready work,” Holliday said.

Holliday hopes his work with CCSSO will not only have an impact on the future of children in the Commonwealth of Kentucky but also make a difference for the future of millions of children across the nation.

In December 2010, Holliday was named to the board of directors for CCSSO. He also serves on the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the Nation’s Report Card. In February 2012, he was named as a member of the national Commission on Standards and Performance Reporting, which developed rigorous accreditation standards for educator preparation that will raise the bar for preparation providers. Holliday has served as Kentucky’s commissioner of education since 2009.

SOURCE: KDE Press release:

Monday, December 30, 2013

Fiscal Fever Breaks

In numerous conversations over the past few years, and in comments on these pages, I have repeated the findings from a pair of Harvard economists whose study about the relationship between debt and Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and its effect on growth, caused concern. There was a lot of talk about the study during the most recent presidential election. I opined to my listeners and readers that despite the desperate need for the US government to stimulate more job production, great care had to be taken to assure that government debt did not exceed 90 percent of GDP, due to the drag on growth that it would surely produce. 

Today, I take it all back.

Thomas Herndon
I learned in a holiday chat with Mike Childress from UK's Center for Business and Economic Research that earlier this spring the Harvard study fell apart. The way the story goes, a grad student in economics at U Mass Amherst got a assignment from his econometrics professor to replicate the famous study, "Growth in a Time of Debt" by Reinhart and Rogoff. The famous study had been heavily relied on by many people - including many of those who guide national fiscal policy in Europe and America...and including your humble reporter.

Thomas Herndon, the 28-year-old grad student, dutifully obtained the data set from the authors and set about his task. But he could not replicate the study. The problem, it turns out, was the presence of several errors including an erroneous formula in a data cell, which then miscalculated effects.

This is yet another case underscoring the importance of peer review in the scholarly process.

So to recap recent revelations: The rich are getting richer and the middle class is not. CEO pay is through the roof while the average worker spends longer hours earning less money. The promised trickling down of economic benefits which should surely show up in such a disparate economic climate (if the trickle-down economic theory were true) has not materialized, and is showing no signs of doing so. Private sector job growth is slow. The rich are paying a lower percentage in taxes than was the case during more productive times.

I'm sensing a pattern here.

Public investments aimed at schools, pensions, unemployment insurance, healthcare and other supports for the common citizen are necessary and proper - and we should get back to a fiscal policy that stimulates economic growth while restraining only those who would gamble our economy away in market swaps or other unsecured schemes that produce no tangible value.

This from Paul Krugman in the NY Times:
In 2012 President Obama, ever hopeful that reason would prevail, predicted that his re-election would finally break the G.O.P.’s “fever.” It didn’t.

But the intransigence of the right wasn’t the only disease troubling America’s body politic in 2012. We were also suffering from fiscal fever: the insistence by virtually the entire political and media establishment that budget deficits were our most important and urgent economic problem, even though the federal government could borrow at incredibly low interest rates. Instead of talking about mass unemployment and soaring inequality, Washington was almost exclusively focused on the alleged need to slash spending (which would worsen the jobs crisis) and hack away at the social safety net (which would worsen inequality).

So the good news is that this fever, unlike the fever of the Tea Party, has finally broken. 

True, the fiscal scolds are still out there, and still getting worshipful treatment from some news organizations. As the Columbia Journalism Review recently noted, many reporters retain the habit of “treating deficit-cutting as a non-ideological objective while portraying other points of view as partisan or political.” But the scolds are no longer able to define the bounds of respectable opinion. For example, when the usual suspects recently piled on Senator Elizabeth Warren over her call for an expansion of Social Security, they clearly ended up enhancing her stature. 

What changed? I’d suggest that at least four things happened to discredit deficit-cutting ideology.
First, the political premise behind “centrism” — that moderate Republicans would be willing to meet Democrats halfway in a Grand Bargain combining tax hikes and spending cuts — became untenable. There are no moderate Republicans. To the extent that there are debates between the Tea Party and non-Tea Party wings of the G.O.P., they’re about political strategy, not policy substance. 

Second, a combination of rising tax receipts and falling spending has caused federal borrowing to plunge. This is actually a bad thing, because premature deficit-cutting damages our still-weak economy — in fact, we’d probably be close to full employment now but for the unprecedented fiscal austerity of the past three years. But a falling deficit has undermined the scare tactics so central to the “centrist” cause. Even longer-term projections of federal debt no longer look at all alarming. 

Speaking of scare tactics, 2013 was the year journalists and the public finally grew weary of the boys who cried wolf. There was a time when audiences listened raptly to forecasts of fiscal doom — for example, when Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairmen of Mr. Obama’s debt commission, warned that a severe fiscal crisis was likely within two years. But that was almost three years ago. 

Finally, over the course of 2013 the intellectual case for debt panic collapsed. Normally, technical debates among economists have relatively little impact on the political world, because politicians can almost always find experts — or, in many cases, “experts” — to tell them what they want to hear. But what happened in the year behind us may have been an exception. 

For those who missed it or have forgotten, for several years fiscal scolds in both Europe and the United States leaned heavily on a paper by two highly-respected economists, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, suggesting that government debt has severe negative effects on growth when it exceeds 90 percent of G.D.P. From the beginning, many economists expressed skepticism about this claim. In particular, it seemed immediately obvious that slow growth often causes high debt, not the other way around — as has surely been the case, for example, in both Japan and Italy. But in political circles the 90 percent claim nonetheless became gospel. 

Then Thomas Herndon, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, reworked the data, and found that the apparent cliff at 90 percent disappeared once you corrected a minor error and added a few more data points. 

Now, it’s not as if fiscal scolds really arrived at their position based on statistical evidence. As the old saying goes, they used Reinhart-Rogoff the way a drunk uses a lamppost — for support, not illumination. Still, they suddenly lost that support, and with it the ability to pretend that economic necessity justified their ideological agenda. 

Still, does any of this matter? You could argue that it doesn’t — that fiscal scolds may have lost control of the conversation, but that we’re still doing terrible things like cutting off benefits to the long-term unemployed. But while policy remains terrible, we’re finally starting to talk about real issues like inequality, not a fake fiscal crisis. And that has to be a move in the right direction.

Corporate influence hurts more than helps education

Former FCPS teacher Jim Hanna takes a big swing at Kentucky's version of corporate education reform in today's Herald-Leader. Surprisingly, what he is reacting to is the donation of Bob Sexton's papers (and some of the Prichard Committee) to the UK library (where I'm sitting right now, by the way). The news apparently caused him to choke.

Say what you will about Sexton, Silberman, and the Prichard Committee's philosophies, but their impact on state education policy is undeniable and preserving Sexton's papers for scholarly study is very important...and a long way from a publicity stunt.

But an intriguing set of questions surround the issues raised in Hanna's piece - questions I have been studying for a couple of decades now. Just how did corporate education reform manifest itself in Kentucky? What drove the change? Who was doing the thinking? What deals were stuck? And whose plans were followed? Did Sexton really get the reform he envisioned? And Jim's question: Was Sexton really a shill for corporate interests?

The same set of policy confusions that saw Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush join hands around NCLB were present in Kentucky. Republicans and Democrats have been generally indistinguishable on education policy over the past decade or two. Both are present on the Prichard Committee, and that accounts for some percentage of its strength. It has only been since the Republican National Committee's defection from Common Core last April (originally a Republican idea, but the defection occurred in response to Obama's full-throated endorsement of CCSS) that has splintered the group into factions - generally along the lines of pro or anti-Obama factions. It remains to be seen how the diminishing influence of TEA Party activism in the wake of this year's government shutdown might impact the strength of that opposition.

Some of Jim's facts are a bit skewed (Kentucky has generally ranked much higher in road funding than school funding; and formative assessment is a good idea whether there is a summative assessment or not) and some of the history is twisted (such as KERA "introducing politics into the schools" - Ha! In a state where, historically, some number of people would be shot on election day over school trustee elections and the jobs that would be derived from them?) but still, he raises some interesting questions - questions mostly raised by Diane Ravitch on the national scene. And Ravitch has some delicious ironies of her own.

This from Jim Hanna in the Herald-Leader:

It's hard to grin when you're choking on your breakfast, but that's what I had to do when I read the Nov. 20 article. The news of this publicity stunt was pretty hard to swallow.

I don't mean to personally disrespect my friends on the Prichard Committee, or Stu Silberman, or the memory of Robert Sexton, whom I met only once. He seemed like a nice fellow.
But I must point out the truth.

The Prichard Committee has had a negative effect on Kentucky schools, and Sexton, in his role a director, was a shill for corporate influences which have had a deleterious role in education.

Readers will remember that, for decades, schools in Kentucky suffered under niggardly attention from the commonwealth's politicians. Underfunding, consolidation and shenanigans on the local level were chronic problems. Just like roads, bridges, sewers and such, the schools were not maintained at an adequate level.

The Kentucky Education Reform Act had a couple of laudable goals: to increase and equalize funding and to stop nepotism and corruption at the county level.

However, another facet of KERA has been counter-productive and damaging to our schools. So-called "education reform" introduced politics into schools and classrooms.

The Prichard Committee, funded by corporate interests, has pushed for an education system run by testing, platitudes and public-relations hype. This top-down, corporate model is focused on politicians and bureaucrats rather than teachers and students.

This can be seen in many ways. Standardized testing rules the day. In classrooms, even elementary school students are subject to testing pressure, such as frequent "learning checks" or "exit slips." Such things are not designed by teachers to help students, but mandated by bureaucrats and "experts" to increase scores on tests.

Somehow, the state cannot afford new textbooks, but can spend millions of Kentucky dollars on tests from out-of-state corporations.

In Fayette County, there's no money for school nurses, but we can pay to hire the superintendent of a neighboring county to try to increase test scores.

Statewide, our schools are subjected to unproven policies that are really public-attention grabs: replacing the failed KERA with Senate Bill 1, raising the dropout age, increasing graduation rates and implementing common core standards.

The ability of teachers to run their classrooms and of principals to run schools and to back up teachers, has been subverted by questionable testing and monitoring schemes implemented by the state school board in Frankfort, with complicity by the Prichard Committee and its moneyed backers.
Teacher professionalism and political strength has been undermined for the past two decades. Our high schools are becoming diploma mills (with colleges soon to follow, under similar pressure).

Teachers know that reform isn't working; parents are finding out. There is already a growing, nationwide movement against testing (an old nemesis) and common core standards (a new one).
Meanwhile, the politicians and bureaucrats act as though everything is OK. The article about the priests and acolytes of reform getting their shrine is an effort at convincing parents of this.

Parents shouldn't believe it. They should take any story about public-education reform with a large grain of salt. They should refuse to allow their children to take these standardized tests.

And they should remember, as I did with a smile, a delicious irony: The committee which has done so much to harm education while pretending to help is named for Ed Prichard, whose vote fraud conviction made him the most infamous crook in Kentucky political history.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/12/30/3010158/corporate-influence-hurts-more.html#storylink=cpy

Monday, December 23, 2013

The 2013 Darwin Awards Are Out!

This from My Underwood Typewriter:
The Darwins Are Out!!!!

Yes, it’s that magical time of year again when the Darwin Awards are bestowed, honoring the least evolved among us.
Here Is The Glorious Winner:

1. When his .38 caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California would-be robber James Elliot did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked.
And Now, The Honorable Mentions:

2. The chef at a hotel in Switzerland lost a finger in a meat cutting machine and after a little shopping around, submitted a claim to his insurance company. The company expecting negligence sent out one of its men to have a look for himself. He tried the machine and he also lost a finger. The chef’s claim was approved.
3. A man who shoveled snow for an hour to clear a space for his car during a blizzard in Chicago returned with his vehicle to find a woman had taken the space. Understandably, he shot her.
4. After stopping for drinks at an illegal bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 mental patients he was supposed to be transporting from Harare to Bulawayo had escaped. Not wanting to admit his incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride. He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital, telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre fantasies. The deception wasn’t discovered for 3 days.
5. An American teenager was in the hospital recovering from serious head wounds received from an oncoming train. When asked how he received the injuries, the lad told police that he was simply trying to see how close he could get his head to a moving train before he was hit.
6. A man walked into a Louisiana Circle-K, put a $20 bill on the counter, and asked for change. When the clerk opened the cash drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register, which the clerk promptly provided. The man took the cash from the clerk and fled, leaving the $20 bill on the counter. The total amount of cash he got from the drawer… $15. [If someone points a gun at you and gives you money, is a crime committed?]
7. Seems an Arkansas guy wanted some beer pretty badly. He decided that he’d just throw a cinder block through a liquor store window, grab some booze, and run. So he lifted the cinder block and heaved it over his head at the window. The cinder block bounced back and hit the would-be thief on the head, knocking him unconscious. The liquor store window was made of Plexiglas. The whole event was caught on videotape.
8. As a female shopper exited a New York convenience store, a man grabbed her purse and ran. The clerk called 911 immediately, and the woman was able to give them a detailed description of the snatcher. Within minutes, the police apprehended the snatcher. They put him in the car and drove back to the store. The thief was then taken out of the car and told to stand there for a positive ID. To which he replied, “Yes, officer, that’s her. That’s the lady I stole the purse from.”
9. The Ann Arbor News crime column reported that a man walked into a Burger King in Ypsilanti, Michigan at 5 A.M., flashed a gun, and demanded cash. The clerk turned him down because he said he couldn’t open the cash register without a food order. When the man ordered onion rings, the clerk said they weren’t available for breakfast… The frustrated gunman walked away. [*A 5-STAR STUPIDITY AWARD WINNER]
10. When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street by sucking on a hose, he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find a very sick man curled up next to a motor home near spilled sewage. A police spokesman said that the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline, but he plugged his siphon hose into the motor home’s sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the vehicle declined to press charges saying that it was the best laugh he’d ever had and the perp had been punished enough!
In the interest of bettering mankind, please share these with friends and family…. unless of course one of these individuals by chance is a distant relative or long lost friend. In that case, be glad they are distant and hope they remain lost.
They walk among us, they can reproduce.

Education inequality worsening; Ky.'s future jeopardized without support for poor schools, kids

This from the Herald-Leader:
In a state where more than one in four children live in poverty, the education gaps between lower- and higher-income Kentuckians are widening.

If the injustice of that does not alarm you, consider the economics: Today's students will be the single biggest factor in Kentucky's ability to compete. We are failing them — and failing our future.

The funding gap between poor and richer public school districts is almost back to pre-KERA levels.
The state is spending $4 million less on preschool now than four years ago and is ending child-care subsidies to thousands of working-poor families.

More than 96,000 college students who qualified for need-based state financial aid didn't get it this year because the money had run out.

Five years of state funding cuts, plus the federal sequester cuts, have fallen hard on schools across the state, but are especially onerous in places where local tax increases can't begin to make up the difference.

In a poor place like Letcher County, as staff writer Linda Blackford reported last week, a 4 percent increase in the local property tax yields $57 per student, compared with $188 per student in Lexington. Poverty creates enough obstacles, especially for kids growing up in one of the many families ravaged by parental drug abuse. The last thing these kids need are deeply inferior schools.
Unequal funding was the injustice at the heart of the constitutional argument that produced the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 and a penny sales tax increase to fund it.

By the late 1990s, the gap in per-pupil state and local revenues between the wealthiest 20 percent of school districts and the poorest 20 percent had been whittled from $1,598 to $580.

But by 2010, the gap had ballooned to $1,206, even when adjusted for inflation, according to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, and has probably kept widening since then.

While Gov. Steve Beshear and lawmakers tried to spare basic school funding from the deep cuts that have been made to the rest of education and state government, basic state support for schools is $64 million less than it was in 2008-09, according to the Department of Education.

The cuts to every other part of education — from extended school services to teacher development and replacing ragged textbooks — have been even deeper.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday is seeking an additional $336 million in the 2014-16 biennium just to get education funding back to where it was in 2008.

Meanwhile, Kentucky's colleges and universities produced more graduates than ever before in 2011-12. But the graduation rate for low-income students seeking bachelor's degrees fell — from 46.2 percent to 34.5 percent. The graduation rate for minorities also dropped, from 37 percent to 34 percent, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education reported last week.

Unless these inequities are remedied — and that will require money — Kentucky should prepare to resume its former place at the bottom of all education rankings.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/12/22/3000654/education-inequality-worsening.html#storylink=cpy

European Scholars: PISA Rankings Are “Utterly Wrong” and “Meaningless”

This from Diane Ravitch:
Professor Svend Kreiner, a prominent statistician and psychometrician at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Dr. Hugh Morrison of Queens University in Belfast have published studies blasting the reliability and validity of the PISA league tables. They describe PISA’s rankings as “useless,” “utterly wrong,” and “meaningless.”

According to TES (London),

“Professor Svend Kreiner, a statistician from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said that an inappropriate model is used to calculate the Pisa rankings every three years. In a paper published this summer, he challenges their reliability and shows how they fluctuate significantly according to which test questions are used. He reveals how, in the 2006 reading rankings, Canada could have been positioned anywhere between second and 25th, Japan between eighth and 40th and the UK between 14th and 30th.

“Dr Hugh Morrison, from Queens University Belfast in Northern Ireland, goes further, saying that the model Pisa uses to calculate the rankings is, on its own terms, “utterly wrong” because it contains a “profound” conceptual error. For this reason, the mathematician claims, “Pisa will never work”.
“The academics’ papers have serious implications for politicians, including England’s education secretary Michael Gove, who justified his sweeping reforms by stating that England “plummeted” down the Pisa rankings between 2000 and 2009.

“The questions used for Pisa vary between countries and between students participating in the same assessment. In Pisa 2006, for example, half the students were not asked any reading questions but were allocated “plausible” reading scores to help calculate their countries’ rankings.

“To work out these “plausible” values, Pisa uses the Rasch model, a statistical way of “scaling” up the results it does have. But Professor Kreiner says this model can only work if the questions that Pisa uses are of the same level of difficulty for each of the participating countries. He believes his research proves that this is not the case, and therefore the comparisons that Pisa makes between countries are “useless”.

“When the academic first raised the issue in 2011, the OECD countered by suggesting that he had been able to find such wild fluctuations in rankings only by deliberately selecting particular small groupings of questions to prove his point. But Professor Kreiner’s new paper uses the same groups of questions as Pisa and comes up with very similar results to his initial analysis.

“He is sceptical about the whole concept of Pisa. “It is meaningless to try to compare reading in Chinese with reading in Danish,” he said.

“Dr Morrison said that the Rasch model made the “impossible” claim of being able to measure ability independently of the questions that students answer. “I am certain this (problem) cannot be answered,” he told TES.”

To read Dr. Kreiner’s studies, google his name.

Local Kentucky School Tax Revenue and Results, A Complicated Matter

This from WFPL:
As we reported Thursday, the amount of local revenue that school districts could potentially generate by raising taxes varies widely. Some of the richer areas can raise hundreds of dollars more per student than others. Some say that's created another type of inequity in school funding over the past few years while per-pupil spending at the state level has deceased.

Per a suggestion via Twitter, I checked out the top ten and bottom ten districts that were featured in the report by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, which showed these funding differences.
Interestingly, many of the school districts that were able to generate the lowest amount of per-pupil spending by raising local taxes the maximum amount allowed (4 percent) outranked several of the top ten districts, according to the state's accountability system.

For example, Jefferson, Newport, Covington, and Bellevue are part of the top ten districts that are able to raise the most local tax revenue. But all 10 districts in the bottom 10 are ranked equally or higher than those districts.

Kentucky Center for Economic Policy
But Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday says you need to be careful when considering the factors that go into this analysis.

"There's just so many complications. I don't think you can make any blanket statements about that," he says.

Holliday says some of these districts may look very different in terms of how many students they serve to the make up of student demographics.

"It could have to do with poverty, it could have to do with size of school, it could be that they have more teachers with master's degrees. So it gets very complicated when you're trying to correlate amount spent or the amount available to spend per student," he says.

But money matters, Holliday says. Over the last three years over 1,800 teaching positions have been lost, he says.

When you talk to education financial experts, their thoughts on how to fund public education vary.Lawrence Picus, professor of education finance and policy at the Rossier School of Education at University of Southern California, says it's not safe to assume that a district getting high scores and spending more money should be able to get the same results with less money just because another district is doing it.

"You've got to look at the characteristics of the children, there's lots of differences that effect those things. But who's finding efficient ways to do it or ways to drive how they allocate their resources in ways that research suggests they're most likely to improve student learning?" he says.

Holliday says more changes in school funding need to happen.

The 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act ensured that all schools receive equitable funding, but that conversation has changed over the past several years, he says.

Any new public education funding reforms in Kentucky could include putting more emphasis on the needs of schools and districts that have more at-risk students. Holliday is also asking that the state government supply the education department with adequate funding to meet the requirements it set in 2009 with Senate Bill 1.

"Adequacy in my mind means how much money do we need to have reasonable assurance that every child is going to be able to meet the standards that our state has established for all students," Picus says.

This is a tough question to answer and includes different models, he says, adding that every state approaches it differently.

For example, some states have built public school systems around how much money is needed and then funding that amount, he says. Other states put larger emphasis on how much money the state has and trying to distribute that equitably. Some states like Kentucky give school districts the opportunity to raise taxes individually too. California, he notes, has no control at the district level to raise revenue through taxes.

"There's 50 states, there's 50 different systems," Picus says.