Sunday, August 31, 2014

Thanks, Bobby Jindal!

This from the Fordham Foundation:
It’s too soon to guess TIME Magazine’s person of the year, but a clear favorite has emerged for Common Core person of the year: the man, woman, or group that has done the most to advance the adoption and implementation of Common Core State Standards in the U.S.

Ladies and gentleman, for meritorious service 
to further the cause of rigorous academic standards and educational excellence,
please put your hands together for the governor of the great state of Louisiana, 
Common Core Man of the Year, Bobby Jindal!”
Jindal, as I’m sure you know, is suing the federal government over Common Core. And for this, he deserves enthusiastic cheers and undying gratitude from supporters of the Common Core State Standards. He has thrown into profound jeopardy the most effective talking point that their opponents have: that the feds forced national standards down the states’ throats and that Uncle Sam is illegally dictating what schools will teach. If this were true, any number of states, districts, or other stakeholders would have been in court ages ago. But they haven’t. The blunt fact of the matter is that this is powerful rhetoric atop an extremely weak legal case—like posting a “beware of dog” sign on your home when you own a beagle puppy.

Jindal’s suit alleges that the Department of Education forced adoption of Common Core through its Race to the Top program, which “required” states to “enter binding agreements to adopt and fully implement a single set of federally defined content standards and to utilize assessment products created by a federally sponsored ‘consortia.’”

The truth, of course, is that no state was forced to apply for RTTT funding (Louisiana did, won, and received $17.4 million). Fifteen states, insufficiently intimidated perhaps, skipped one of two main application rounds; four more didn’t apply at all. In all, nineteen states eschewed some part of the program, while a mere eighteen states plus the District of Columbia received RTTT dollars. Moreover, these federal aid-to-state programs, which condition federal subsidies on specific state actions, are legion—numbering a whopping 1,122 in 2010 alone. There is nothing particularly new, novel, or legally adventurous about any of this.

What’s in it for Bobby Jindal is clear enough. His about-face on Common Core has won him attaboys from the tea party, home of some of the most virulent anti-CCSS sentiment. Perhaps you heard that Jindal might be considering a run for the Oval Office in 2016?

But what’s good for Jindal is not good at all for his fellow Common Core opponents. And even they acknowledge that this suit will have little chance in court.

“The chances of prevailing are middling, at best,” blogs the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey.  “The courts in the past have been pretty lenient in cases in which Washington gets states to do its bidding in exchange for funding when the feds don’t have authority in the Constitution to do something.” McCluskey notes that the Jindal suit hinges largely on federal action “that doesn’t state outright that the Core must be adopted.”

Writing at The Federalist, Joy Pullman says “it’s about time someone with power and cojones took a stand,” while offering no opinion whatsoever on the likely outcome—but of course taking the opportunity to note yet again (cue the applause) that “federal laws explicitly prohibit the national government from directing, supervising, or controlling curriculum and instruction.”

Common Core, of course, does none of that. It doesn’t direct, supervise, or control anything, nor does the federal government direct, supervise, or control it. And about the last thing Common Core opponents should be seeking right now is a court decision saying so.

A mere 15 percent of Americans polled in the recent PDK/Gallup survey believe that “the federal government should have the greatest influence on what schools teach.” Nearly twice as many say it should be the states; nearly four times that number say it should be their local school board. That’s a rout. When the court decides, as it almost certainly has to that, no, in fact, no one forced Louisiana or any other state to adopt Common Core, the most effective anti-Common Core argument goes, “Poof!”

Common Core has been taking a beating in the court of public opinion.  So why overplay your hand and take it to an actual, real court? I have no idea.

Ask Bobby Jindal, the 2014 Common Core Man of the Year.
  This from the Times Picyeune:

No good reason for Gov. Jindal to be in court on Common Core: Editorial

Gov. Bobby Jindal is willing to spend $275,000 of Louisiana taxpayers' money -- maybe more -- to try to keep students here from being compared academically to children in other states. He is wasting the public's money. His fight against Common Core academic standards is irresponsible and unlikely to prevail.

Bobby Jindal Ames IA 2014
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (AP/Charlie Neibergall)
A state judge has already ruled against him. Even so, he filed a lawsuit Aug. 27 against the Obama administration -- which didn't create Common Core but is providing some funding for it.

Ironically, Gov. Jindal's office claims that the legal fees could be saved if only the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would agree to ditch Common Core.

BESE is right to stick with the new standards and the multi-state test that is aligned with them. Louisiana should set high expectations for students and prepare young people to compete for good jobs and colleges.

It is BESE that has the authority under the Louisiana Constitution to set education policy and carry it out. Gov. Jindal is the one who is interfering. BESE is just trying to defend itself.

The governor's office even fought the school board's contract with a lawyer who agreed to take the case for free. Meanwhile, the governor is paying his buddy Jimmy Faircloth and other lawyers on his team $225 per hour to represent him in state and federal court in the Common Core fight.

Mr. Faircloth's take could be as much as $75,000 for the state court case and $50,000 for the federal case.

That would add to the sizable amount of public money that has already gone to Mr. Faircloth, who is Gov. Jindal's former executive counsel. The Associated Press reported last year that he had received $1.1 million in no-bid legal work from state government. It sure is nice to be the favored lawyer for a litigious governor.

In addition to Mr. Faircloth, the Jindal administration has hired Baton Rouge lawyer Greg Murphy and the Long Law Firm to handle the Common Core dispute. Those two contracts could run as much as $75,000 each.

"These [legal] costs are minuscule compared to the millions of dollars we could save if  [education department and state school board] followed the law and followed the state procurement process. Quality, lower cost tests are available," a spokeswoman for the governor said.

That is an absurd argument. Gov. Jindal's concern isn't getting a cheaper test. He just wants to stop BESE and school Superintendent John White from buying the test developed by multiple states to align with the Common Core standards.

The governor is putting at risk millions of dollars the state and school systems have already spent on developing and implementing Common Core -- which he used to support.

Gov. Jindal signed the memorandum of understanding in 2010 for Louisiana to take part in creating the Common Core academic standards in English and math and a multistate test to measure student achievement.

His administration pushed in 2012 for legislation to strengthen the state's commitment to the new standards. And the state tried multiple times to get in on federal Race to the Top money to help pay for education reforms in Louisiana.

Now Gov. Jindal claims the Obama administration is interfering with the state's authority over education. According to the governor's lawsuit:  "Louisiana now finds itself trapped in a federal scheme to nationalize curriculum. What started as good state intentions has materialized into the federalization of education policy through federal economic incentives and duress."

That sounds downright nutty.

Common Core grew out of an initiative by the National Governor's Association. Louisiana teachers and education officials worked with representatives from other states to create the standards and test questions.

Gov. Jindal was in full support of that effort until some conservative political groups that he needs to further his national ambitions started fighting Common Core.

With the Legislature, BESE and Mr. White sticking with Common Core, the governor set out to undo the standards on his own.

That hasn't gone well. Baton Rouge District Judge Todd Hernandez ruled Aug. 19 that the governor's executive order forbidding Louisiana's Department of Education to buy new student tests was improper and harmful to families and schools. His ruling freed the Department of Education to purchase the new tests, which Mr. White said would happen immediately.

So, Gov. Jindal decided to see if he could do better in federal court. That's doubtful.

Unfortunately for Louisiana residents, he is going to spend a lot of their money to be told "no" by another judge.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ed Commissioner Issues State-wide Challenge on Common Core

Reacting to the national conversation surrounding Common Core State Standards - and the fact that Kentucky has been using them for five years now - Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday challenged all Kentuckians this morning to help our schools by doing something unthinkable - actually reading the Kentucky Core Academic Standards!

He also invited all Kentuckians to dig deeper than simply echoing current right-wing political rhetoric and offer changes or provide specific tweaks to the standards which have now been operating in the state for 5 years.

With Kentucky House Education Chair Derek Graham and representatives from a number of education groups present Holliday challenged educational professionals to read the standards, consider whether the standards are placed at the appropriate grade levels, edit them, and let KDE know if they have missed any standards, all for the purpose of helping each of our children continue down the road to college- and career-readiness.

The Commissioner remarked that nationally "common core standards" has been made a polarizing term such that political opinions have taken control over the standards themselves. He called for Kentucky to demonstrate its leadership - not by being for or against common core - but by focusing on what our children should know and be able to do to be ready for college and life.

He expressed his sincere hope that the greatest number of people accepting the challenge will be teachers, parents and college educators. He suggested small group meetings and parent feedback parties. He suggested that folks should get together and give a few comments back if you have concerns. And also let us know if you don't have concerns. We need to know both positions."But don't tell us its a communist conspiracy to take over our kids," he said, "tell us how to fix them."

The website will be open through April 30th. The commissioner will report the results of the challenge publicly, and take revisions to the Kentucky Board of Education and then to the General Assembly.

"It is a process that I hope will change the conversation," Holliday said.

Holliday: Current NCLB waiver process threatens teaching and learning

This from Brad Hughes at KSBA:
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday fired his second volley in two weeks against the U.S. Department of Education, this time accusing the agency of violating state and federal law in forcing Kentucky to rush its implementation of the Next-Generation science standards.

In his weekly Web blog Friday, Holliday confirmed that USED officials had rejected his agency’s request to delay measuring the science standards in the spring 2014 K-PREP exams – an action the commissioner said is illegal.

“USED expects Kentucky to give a science assessment that measures our previous science standards in spring 2015. This expectation not only violates our state law, but, also violates NCLB (the No Child Left Behind Act) that requires states to assess science (once in elementary and middle school) based on current state standards,” he said.

“This is only one example of how the current waiver process is stifling innovation and intruding on a state's ability to implement state requirements contained in state legislation. There are other Kentucky examples and, in a recent meeting with other state chiefs, I heard many similar stories from other states,” said Holliday, who also serves as the president of the board of the Council of Chief State School Officers, an organization of public officials who head state departments of elementary and secondary education.

Earlier this month, USED Secretary Arne Duncan approved requests by Kentucky and several other states for a one-year extended waiver of some NCLB mandates for the 2014-15 school year. The waiver process was created in response to a failure by Congress to complete reauthorization of NCLB. Those talks are ongoing between U.S. House and Senate negotiators.

A week ago in a separate blog, Holliday first complained that the waiver process was not what state education leaders had been led to believe would take place.

“There is significant evidence from many states that the waiver extension process has not been streamlined. State chiefs have reported to me and our Kentucky experience has shown that our staffs spent hundreds of hours in preparing what was supposed to have been a streamlined application (our initial waiver extension request was almost 200 pages). Also, our staff spent many hours in conference calls and rewriting our waiver application based on questions raised from USED staff,” he said.

“As one state chief, speaking only for Kentucky, it is time to end this process. It is time for Congress to act. We need a stable, long-range plan, not a series of cobbled-together waivers that take away staff time from the work of improving education for all children,” Holliday said.

In his latest blog, Holliday said the new science standards, required in 2009 when the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1, are being taught in Kentucky classrooms this year. But the commissioner said the implementation process needs time.

“We have learned from teachers that they need at least two years of implementing standards prior to assessing them. Additionally, Kentucky teachers and national science assessment experts told us that new science assessments will need to be very different than typical multiple-choice tests,” Holliday said. “We needed the waiver in order to provide time for our teachers to actually implement standards and develop new assessment items for field testing in spring of 2015. We committed to having an assessment of student achievement in science by 2016.”

Holliday, who championed Kentucky being the first state to adopt “common core standards” in English/language arts and math in 2010, wants the federal government to focus on its role in education, and let state and local school leaders to do their jobs.

“States are responsible for education. Local school districts have tremendous flexibility and control in implementing state expectations. The federal role is and should continue to be limited to support for disadvantaged children,” the commissioner said. “Hopefully, Congress will reauthorize NCLB soon and build in the flexibility for states and local school districts to be innovative in meeting the needs of all children by improving teaching and learning.”

Links to both of the Holliday’s Web blogs may be accessed here

Friday, August 22, 2014

Public support for Obama's school policies is plunging

This from SmallTalk:

That's the good news.

If you combine Bush and Obama, which is easy to do when it comes to education policy, we're coming up on 15 years of No Child Left Behind/Race To The Top (with waivers).

That will make 15 straight years of corporate-style, top-down, metrics-driven, test-based reform. That includes more than 6 years of Arne Duncan's unfettered, single-handed use of federal dollars to impose a system which promotes  mayoral control of   the schools, coupled with the closing thousands of public schools and replacing them with privately-run charters. This strategy, based on the notion of a speedy "radical disruption," has steamrolled along like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no need for a bipartisan consensus and with token opposition from Republicans.

It's likely that, in upcoming mid-term elections, it will be the Republicans who benefit from the growing public disenchantment with current education policies. (This despite the fact that mainline Republicans like Bush and Christie have been strong supporters of Duncan-ism.)

The Hill reports that Obama/Duncan school reform is faring poorly in the arena of public opinion -- meaning among the folks who use and pay for the nation's public schools and the folks who vote. Public support for President Obama’s education policies is plunging, according to the latest Gallup/PDK survey.
Only 27 percent of people give Obama an “A” or “B” for his support of public schools, down 9 percent from last year, in a new poll from PDK/Gallup that was released Wednesday. An equal amount of people — 27 percent — said Obama deserves a failing grade on education.
The survey shows a growing disenchantment with top-down reform including imposed Common Core standards. Opposition to Common Core seems evenly distributed between right and left.
Fifty-six percent of respondents said they believe their local school board should have the greatest influence in deciding the curriculum. Only 28 percent of Democrats said the federal government should have the greatest control, while 45 percent of Democrats said the local school board should be in charge.
The Gallup poll found that 81% of the public had heard of Common Core, with 60% opposing it. The most common reason cited for opposition was the belief that the standards limit the flexibility of teachers.

This administration, despite its call for "better" tests, will go down as the greatest over-testers of children in history. The attachment of Common Core to a never-ending battery of standardized tests doesn't sit well with teachers or parents, and has cost Obama a splintering of his previously formidable base among teacher unions--the largest unions in the land.
An area where a majority of Democrats and Republicans agreed is a negative view of standardized testing. A majority of all respondents in the poll — 54 percent — said they don’t think standardized testing helps schools or teachers. And parents of public school students viewed testing even more negatively, with 68 percent saying it isn’t helpful.
Among the likely political victims of Duncanism are a group of big-city mayors who capitalized on the mayoral-control fad to push local versions of corporate-style reform. In addition to control of school policy, these mayors captured control over school contracts, prime real estate, and thousands of patronage jobs.

Case in point:  Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is now heading into an election campaign with sinking ratings, mainly resulting from his faithful implementation of Obama/Duncan school policies--despite massive public opposition.

Remember, it was Duncan back in 2009, who promised that he would make mayoral control his number-one priority.
"At the end of my tenure, if only seven mayors are in control, I think I will have failed." 

Duncan Listens to Gates, Offers One Year Delay on New Test Consequences

Here it comes. Two months ago the Gates Foundation called for a pause in Common Core testing. More recently Gene Wilhoit signaled a change in policy relative to testing. Arne Duncan is now trying to weasel himself out of virtually every statement he's ever made about education reform. And Monday, Terry Holliday is set to make a major announcement on state curriculum. Gee whiz. Could this have anything to do with Common Core losing the public relations battle nationally?

Remember President Clinton's effort to create voluntary national social studies standards? When they were attacked and became unpopular, the policy changed and they went away.

This from Living in Dialogue:
His Master's Voice
After five years at his post, Secretary Duncan indicates he is now “listening to teachers on testing.” His statement, released this morning, offers a thorough repudiation of teaching to the test, but little substance regarding federal policies, beyond offering states the chance to request a year’s delay in the use of scores from new tests on teacher evaluations. [note: the headline on Duncan's post has been changed to "A Back to School Conversation with Teachers and School Leaders."]
This reflects, once again, that the Department of Ed is closely listening to the Gates Foundation, which called for such a moratorium just two months ago. It is an acknowledgement of the fast-growing rejection of Common Core and associated tests, and in particular, an effort to shore up support among teachers by providing some level of reassurance that they will not be punished immediately by these tests.
There was a shift in tone, however.

For the first time, instead of starting out complaining about how far behind our schools are, Duncan begins with praise.
America’s students have posted some unprecedented achievements in the last year – the highest high school graduation rate in the nation’s history, and sharp cuts in dropout rates and increases in college enrollment, especially for groups that in the past have lagged significantly. For these achievements, we should celebrate America’s teachers, principals, and students and their families.
He goes on to acknowledge the concerns he has heard about testing. These concerns have been raised loudly since he first arrived in office in 2009 – he has made similar statements in the past, condemning teaching to the test. But his policies have not changed.
We have the usual slippery language:
Federal policy rightly stays out of picking those individual measures, but ensures that in evaluating teachers, states and districts include student growth, and consider multiple measures.
To be clear, ever since Race to the Top and the NCLB waivers came along, federal policy has REQUIRED states to make test scores a significant part – which has been interpreted to mean at least 30% — of a teacher’s evaluation.

The news that educator support for Common Core is dropping like a stone has the Department of Education looking for ways to stem the tide. Being able to point to teacher support has been one of the most important lines of defense for the beleaguered project. And while this past year was supposed to be the time when educators would become more familiar and knowledgeable about the standards, that familiarity has apparently bred contempt.

And there is a well-founded fear that new tests aligned with CC will make things much worse, as we have seen in states like Kentucky and New York, where CC aligned tests sent proficiency levels down to about 30%.

Much of this statement repeats rhetoric we have heard before. Duncan said in 2010, “Don’t teach to the test.” And then the magic of “multiple measures” was supposed to make the pressure go away. These kind of statements are meaningless when federal policy mandates the use of test scores for teacher evaluations and the closing of schools.

This kind of talk is cheap. The real question is how federal policies that promote teaching to the test will change. The bottom line is contained in this paragraph:
States will have the opportunity to request a delay in when test results matter for teacher evaluation during this transition. As we always have, we’ll work with them in a spirit of flexibility to develop a plan that works, but typically I’d expect this to mean that states that request this delay will push back by one year (to 2015-16) the time when student growth measures based on new state assessments become part of their evaluation systems.
But a one year deferral does not do much to fundamentally alter the systemic change that is under way. The new Common Core tests are still being rolled out and will be given this coming spring. This only amounts to a one year delay to the time when those scores will be used for evaluative purposes.
Duncan makes it clear that the purpose of this delay is to allow for a successful transition to the new standards, testing and evaluation systems. There is actually no real change in any of the substance of any of these programs, and he reiterates the Department’s commitment to the new tests.
If Duncan is serious in his concern about tests that are “sucking the oxygen” out of schools, he should begin to listen to teachers when they tell him to stop using these tests for their evaluations and to close schools. Until then, test scores will continue to rob children of the vital learning environments they need, and teachers will continue to object.

What do you think? Is Duncan’s statement cause for celebration?

And this from Curmudgucation:
Duncan is shocked-- shocked!!-- that anyone would think it's a good idea to make a high stakes test the measure of student achievement or teacher effectiveness.  "Growth is what matters. No teacher or school should be judged on any one test, or tests alone –" And here comes the vertiginous woozies (dibs on this as a band name) again, because that would be a heartening quote if it did not come from the very same office which decreed that by order of the federal government high stakes tests must be used as a measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Duncan is talking about this test-based evaluation of students and teachers as if it just spontaneously occurred, like some sort of weird virus suddenly passed around at state ed department sleepover camp, and not a rule that Duncan's office demanded everyone follow. Has Duncan forgotten that he just made the entire state of Washington declare itself a Failing School Disaster Zone precisely because they refused to use high stakes tests as a measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness? 

Holliday to make "Major Announcement" on Kentucky Core Academic Standards Monday

This from KDE via press release:
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday will make a major announcement concerning the Kentucky Core Academic Standards in English/language arts and mathematics on Monday, August 25 at 10 a.m. at the:
Woodford County High School, Media Center
180 Frankfort St.
Versailles, KY 40383
The Kentucky Board of Education adopted the standards, which represent the minimum of what students should know and be able to do at each grade level, in 2010 and they have been taught in Kentucky classrooms since the 2011-12 school year.  

The standards were the result of Senate Bill 1 (2009) that mandated new, more rigorous academic standards in all content areas.

Lives of Curiosity and Conseqences

In case you missed EKU's Convocation...

This from Michael Benson in the Huffington Post:

 Lessons Learned from Wilbur and Orville Wright

Just north up the interstate from where we live in Kentucky is the birthplace of aviation. That two brothers, bicycle makers and mechanics, from Dayton, Ohio, forever transformed the manner in which we now navigate the world is nothing short of miraculous. 

Upon returning from a recent trip to China, I disembarked from the Boeing aircraft and marveled -- again -- at how planes fly and how convenient, safe, and relatively economical air travel has become in our world. Perhaps we take it too much for granted, but I will never cease to be amazed at how far the aviation industry has come from the Wright Brothers' first flight on that brisk December day in 1903 at Kill Devil Hills.

Never was this brought into clearer focus for me than when I visited the National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and made my way through the hangars of aircraft, displays, rockets, and missiles. The day was capped by heading into downtown Dayton to see the Wrights' bicycle shop on West Third Street.

It was then that I decided to study two individuals about whom I knew very little: Wilbur and Orville Wright.
The first book I read on the Wright's was To Conquer the Air by James Tobin. Wanting to know more about their story and the impact of their discoveries and life's work, I also read "The Wright Way" by Mark Eppler. In this latter book, Mr. Eppler observes that there really is no modern-day parallel to what Wilbur and Orville accomplished. The closest analogy, according to Mr. Eppler, would be if Neil Armstrong assembled a rocket in his garage in his spare time to transport him to the moon while holding down a full-time job.

In reading about the Wright's, I was immediately struck by two prevailing themes throughout their lives: curiosity and consequences.

Wilbur and Orville were driven by an insatiable curiosity not just about the mystery of flight but also about everything around them. This is what motivated and drove them in all they undertook: to figure things out, how they worked, and what made them go. Their belief in their abilities as researchers and scientists led to the construction of a wind tunnel, which in turn, resulted in their groundbreaking findings relative to lift, drag, and wing design.

Wilbur and Orville were able to unlock the mystery of these heretofore intractable problems along with the seemingly impossible task of controlling a heavier than air machine. This led to progressively more impressive discoveries, patents, and breakthroughs propelling the aviation industry forward at a staggering rate.
Heartbroken by Wilbur's untimely death at the incredibly young age of 45, Milton Wright wrote this in his diary:
A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadily, he lived and died.
Much can be learned from the lives of these two remarkable brothers from the most modest and ordinary of backgrounds. Grit, determination, persistence, discipline... and curiosity. These traits led them to lead lives of consequences and should serve as a tremendous inspiration for all of us.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

State auditor announces release date for FCPS audit

This from WKYT (video):
Public school audits are nothing new to the state auditor's office. But State Auditor Adam Edelen said his office's audit of Fayette County Public Schools has been different.

Edelen said, "This is something unique to Fayette County that we haven't seen in a whole lot of other places is how public the allegations have been which means we've got an obligation to make the findings very public."

The audit started in the Spring. Allegations from the Fayette County district budget director regarding the integrity of the budget process for Fayette County Public Schools. A budget shortfall of $20 million was announced by Superintendent Tom Shelton earlier in the year. The district budget director claimed it was budget mismanagement. Shelton claimed there was no mismanagement. "after seeing the allegations made, certainly disfunction on the school board, we had no choice but to conduct an examination," Edelen explained.

Edelen said he can't release details of the findings, but said the report should "clear the air" and point out specific areas for the school system that need immediate attention.

"It's important that people's reputations be restored if they're cleared. And it's important that people be held to account if there are findings that lead us to another conclusion," Edelen said.

The audit report is expected to be released in mid-September.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Michelle Rhee leaving StudentsFirst

What should Rhee's Report Card say?

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

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

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

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


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

This from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Can StudentsFirst survive without Michelle Rhee at the helm?

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

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

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

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

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

State education waiver granted

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

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

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

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Kentucky Eligible to Share in Early Ed Funds

This from Politics K-12:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About 140,000 teachers are enrolled in the KTRS.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Florida School board considers 'opting out' district from testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board members Mary Fischer and Cathleen Morgan voiced similar concerns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Race is On

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

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

challenger Murray
incumbent Ferguson

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

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

incumbent Barnett
challenger Cleveland

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

Read more here:

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

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

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

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