Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cuts to higher ed cost jobs down the road

This from Ronnie Ellis in the Glasgow Daily Times:
Jobs, jobs, jobs – listen to Kentucky politicians from either party and you quickly learn his or her “top priority is good jobs and more good jobs.”

Gov. Matt Bevin
Jobs are the rationale used by Republicans who support right to work legislation. They are the justification offered by Democrats and Republicans who fall over one another to offer tax incentives for business or industry.

Jobs and the economy are also at the top of voters’ concerns in polls.

Hardly a week passes that I don’t find in my inbox an email from the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin proclaiming some expansion or re-location to Kentucky by an employer. The same was true for his Democratic predecessor Steve Beshear.

If one of those announcements pertained to your community it’s almost certain you saw a photograph in your hometown newspaper of local officials and state lawmakers celebrating (and of course, taking credit for) the announcement.

So imagine what the General Assembly would do if a Kentucky employer announced the company was eliminating nearly 800 jobs.

Lawmakers went to great lengths to offer help to western Kentucky aluminum smelters a couple of years ago. They have tried for several sessions to help A.K. Steel make upgrades to prevent the permanent loss of about 600 jobs. We’ve approved incentives for the Bourbon industry and the Ark Park (the last equal to this year’s additional 2 percent cuts to higher education).

Shouldn’t we support new or continued employment of several hundred people? For now, let’s dispense with arguments about the efficacy of incentives. No one wants to see their neighbors without work.

But this week when the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Linda Blackford reported the imminent loss of nearly 800 jobs, I didn’t hear a peep from our governor or most legislators even though those 780 or so jobs are spread throughout nearly every corner of the state.

Preserving those jobs wouldn’t require special legislation or incentives from state government. The jobs aren’t victims of foreign competition or declining markets. In fact, demand for their services has never been greater.

No, those jobs are disappearing because the governor and lawmakers continue to cut funding for universities and community colleges – despite a decade of preceding cuts and, for the first time in years, forecasts of state revenue growth.

And unlike jobs whose workers answer consumer calls or make auto parts or distill spirits, these soon to be out of work employees develop our future workforce, which would seem to benefit future job creation.

Heretofore the impact of declining state funding for higher education was borne almost entirely by students and their parents in the form of annual tuition increases. But after a decade of tuition hikes, the rising cost is pricing a college education out of reach for significant numbers of prospective students.

The easy justification lawmakers and Bevin use for this is the need to pour money into the state’s troubled pension plans. That need is absolutely real; but there was sufficient money to do that this year and still maintain funding for higher education at last year’s levels.

But there also appears to be a growing antipathy among some Republicans, including Bevin and several key Republican senators, toward higher education.

Of course their argument is bolstered by the excesses of some leaders in higher education.

Revelations of the over the top compensation for the immediate past president of the community college system and the president of the University of Louisville provide justifiable targets.

But the real victims of those abuses and the dwindling state support for higher education are today’s students – who just happen to be tomorrow’s workforce and taxpayers.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

FCPS Superintendent unveils his plan

This from the Herald-Leader:
Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk unveiled a plan Wednesday that he said will improve learning for all students during the 2016-17 school year and help Fayette become one of the best districts in the country by the academic year 2020-21.
FCPS Superintendent Manny Caulk

As part of his plan, Caulk said he will reorganize the central office to better support schools. The plan calls for rewriting job descriptions for all central office senior staff.

The Kentucky Department of Education recently found that Fayette County had significant academic challenges and district officials did not have the capacity to carry out the turnaround. However, Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt recently said he thought Caulk, who was hired last summer, could make the needed changes.

Caulk said his plan specifically addressed the state officials’ concerns about Fayette County. He said specific district officials will be held accountable for each of the 100 initiatives in his plan, which will be posted on the district’s website.

Caulk said in a 50-page-plus plan that while many children thrive, too many children are not receiving the support they need to be successful. Last year, fewer than six in 10 students in the district reached proficiency in reading and math.

“Alarming and unacceptable achievement disparities persist for students of color, students with special needs, students living in poverty or students whose native language is not English. For far too many of our students, demography continues to equal their destiny,” Caulk said.

“The fact that nearly half of our children are not meeting academic standards is unacceptable and represents a moral failure on the part of our entire community. But this failure is neither the result of maliciousness, nor incompetence on the part of our hard-working educators.”

He said the failure to ensure the success of all students is the result of a system that has not responded to evolving student demographics, community needs, societal trends and school expectations.

More teachers will be hired for gifted and talented students and those whose native language is not English.

Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association, praised the plan, as did parent Annette Jett.

Fayette County board member Amanda Ferguson said it was the most detailed plan she had seen from a superintendent since she had been on the school board.

There will be more racially diverse staff and existing staff will better help minority children, Caulk said.

Classroom instruction must meet the needs and learning styles of all students, assisting struggling learners while including enrichment, depth, and complexity for students who are ready to move ahead, he said. While some specialized programs provide high levels of rigor, students who do not enroll in those programs still need to be challenged, Caulk said. The district must do everything possible to focus on hiring and retaining more effective and diverse teachers, he said.

Caulk said the district will make better use of data. According to the district reviews Caulk recently commissioned, the district generates a significant amount of data but does not use the data to inform decisions or track progress.

Caulk, along with the United Way of the Bluegrass, will ask people in the community to give 10 volunteer hours each month to schools.

Also, Caulk will launch a family university to empower families about issues involving their students.

A districtwide high school student voice team will be created along with student voice teams at each high school.

In all, Caulk said, more than 12,750 people weighed in on the plan, called the “Blueprint for Student Success: Achieving Educational Excellence and Equity for All.”

Read more here:

EKU Board of Regents focused on how to move forward

Turner: Some EKU jobs will be cut 

This from the Richmond Register:
Because Eastern Kentucky University reallocated budget resources including staff reductions three years ago, its was able to absorb a 2-percent state funding cut for the current fiscal year that was imposed by Gov. Matt Bevin.

And because of EKU’s action in 2013, the university also will be better prepared to face 4.5-percent state funding cuts the state legislature in April enacted for each of the coming two years.

EKU Regents Chair Craig Turner offered those assessments Wednesday afternoon at the conclusion of a special called regents meeting. Nearly four hours of the meeting took place behind closed doors. It began at 9 a.m. and concluded shortly before 3 p.m.

Current conversations “are bad enough,” Turner said, but they would be “more dramatic” without the changes EKU made in 2013.

Since then, EKU has made much progress that can be attributed to those changes, Turner said. This past year, the university enjoyed its largest-ever enrollment, along with the most academically qualified students ever admitted. And in the past three years, retention and graduation rates have both improved.

The challenge for the administration and regents, Turner said, is to prevent decreased state funding from blunting that momentum.

“We’ve had a lot of discussion, a lot of thoughts about what the right decisions are for Eastern,” Turner said, as he addressed the board along with the administrators, faculty and staff who attended the meeting’s open session.

“The right decision for Eastern is not to look at a budget cut and say everybody gets cut exactly the same,” he continued. “We have to look at budget cuts” based on “how we’re going to be funded in the future.”

Kentucky’s universities will be forced to compete for funding based on enrollment, retention and graduation rates, Turner said. And EKU will have to make sure “that we excel at those three things better than anybody else.”

He complimented President Michael Benson, the faculty and staff on a good year in 2015-16. “Now somebody has thrown us a curve ball,” Turner said. But now the university will have to “play by new rules” and make “some tough decisions,” he added.

The administration has a good plan for 2016-17 that the board is “very comfortable with,” the chair said. And while some cuts will have to be made for the coming year, none would be “overly deep in essence.”

“What the board is really focusing on is how we move forward to 2017-18,” when another 4.5-percent state funding cut will take effect, Turner said. And that was “the basis of today’s meeting, for the most part. We obviously reviewed things that are going to take place in 2016-17,” he said, “and some jobs will be in jeopardy this fiscal year.”

Noting the job cuts by other institutions and that personnel is perhaps EKU’s greatest expense, Turner said, “I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that you can’t have the types of cuts we’ve had” without people being affected.

All areas of the university are being reviewed, “from athletics to academics to staff, etc.,” the chair said. No area, including health care, “will be exempt for our evaluation,” he added.

“We’ve asked the President’s Council today — we had a number of questions,” Turner said. “I think we asked for an awful lot of data. And a lot of that be returned to us for our June meeting.”

The regents then will begin making “the kind of decisions that will affect the 2017-18 year, primarily,” he said.

Another regents meeting in July is likely, Turner said.

Eastern is among the few state institutions that haven’t announced how they will proceed in wake of the new funding climate, Turner acknowledged. However, “We want to make the right decisions with everybody’s input,” he said.

The administration has formed two panels, academic and student/staff budget review committees, Turner noted.

But with much of the faculty unavailable during the summer, some discussions and decisions will have to wait until the fall, Turner said.

The board will want to have specific program reviews accomplished and reports delivered by Nov. 12, along with the results of a study on the reduction of reassigned faculty, Turner said, so the board can begin making decisions at its December meeting.

“We really have nothing to report to you today that basically says, ‛Here’s what’s going to happen,’” Turner said. “But we can tell you that there is a whole lot of information that is being requested.”
He pledged that: “Students will remain our priority and the quality of education will not be compromised” as efficiencies are made.

The board did take a few actions Wednesday. It reduced the number of meal service plans from eight to 13 and raised the price of the block membership seven-day meal plan by 8 percent and the block VIP plan by 15 percent.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Caulk to Unveil Entry Plan Findings

In November, newly selected Fayette County Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk asked the Fayette County Board of Education to invest $600,000 in an overall organizational and structural review of the district across 10 domains. The request fell on the heels of a damning 2014 report from state Auditor Adam Edelen that blasted the administration and left the district under a correction plan. District officials have spent months trying to address problems in financial and budget systems. Caulk said he was reviewing the district's correction plan to ensure that the problem "doesn't occur again." Problems. Now he's got reports.

Read more here:
The November press release stated, "The Kentucky Department of Education agreed to do the review of district career and technical offerings at no cost. That review began earlier this month with School Director Jack Hayes and Program Manager Kim Lyons coordinating the work with KDE. Contracts were awarded Monday to Cross & Joftus for a Comprehensive District Diagnostic, Review and Action Plan, and to Curriculum Management Solutions Inc. for audits of the English as a Second Language program and Gifted and Talented program."
This from FCPS (via email):
With just two days left in the school year, Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk will unveil the results of his “Listening, Learning and Leading” entry plan and the 100 things he’s now putting on the district’s “to-do” list.
“It’s fitting that we have the culmination of the school year this week coinciding with a new beginning and a new path forward for our district,” Caulk said. “As a leader new to Fayette County, I set out to identify the challenges and opportunities facing our school district by visiting every school and special program, reviewing documents, analyzing data and gathering stakeholder input through surveys, individual meetings, focus groups and listening sessions.”
The Fayette County Board of Education also agreed to commission five reviews to be conducted by independent auditors – a first for FCPS. Examinations included a review of the overall organization and structure across 10 domains, as well as audits of the district’s career and technical education program, services offered for students who have special needs, are learning English as a second language, or are identified as gifted and talented.
During Monday’s school board meeting, consultants who conducted the audits presented their findings. The board also received a report of the feedback from the entry plan survey and community listening sessions. 
Those reports are posted online at (emphasis added)
Tomorrow Caulk will officially release his entry plan report, which synthesizes those findings with his own assessment of the district and previous experience, and outlines the specific the district will undertake immediately to improve outcomes for all students during the 2016-17 school year.
The public is welcome and encouraged to attend two public presentations of the plan:
·         A press conference at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 25, in Conference Room C of the district office.
·         A public presentation beginning at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 25, in the auditorium at Bryan Station High School. Caulk will present an overview of his plan and then move into the cafeteria to give people the opportunity to ask specific questions in a small group setting.
The plan will also be available online tomorrow. “These are just the first of multiple opportunities over the coming weeks to learn more about these initiatives,” Caulk said. “I again want to thank our incredible students, employees, families and community members who contributed to this work.”
In all, more than 12,750 people participated through listening sessions, interviews, surveys and focus groups.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Core campaign: 50,000 miles and 173 districts

This from the Hechinger Report in the Courier-Journal:
Kentucky's education commissioner started a three-year trek in 2009 that would cover 50,000 miles as he crisscrossed the state to bring each of the 173 school districts the message: Kentucky was adopting tougher Common Core standards.

Commissioner Terry Holliday's typical day on the road would start at 7:30 a.m. when he'd meet with the principal of a local school. Then he’d go to another school and have a meeting with teachers. Lunch was whatever the school cafeteria offered, followed by more school visits and a town hall, PTA meeting or some club talk in the evening. Then he’d get into his old Ford, drive to the next town on the list and check in at his hotel, ready to do it all over again the next day.

“We were the first ones doing it. I needed to personally deliver the message to educators in the district and hear their concerns. We had to make sure we were paying attention to everyone,” Holliday recalled recently.

It’s been six years since Kentucky became the first state to adopt the tougher educational standards that detail what students need to know in English and math in each grade. The efforts paid off, and Kentucky has not seen the strong opt-out movements that have roiled another eager adopter, New York state. There have been some state bills introduced to overturn Kentucky’s Common Core, but not the level of political opposition seen in such places as North Carolina and Louisiana.

Even as test scores dipped more than 20 percentage points in the first year of the more rigorous Common Core tests, the transition, for the most part, has been smooth.

Scott Sargrad, managing director of K-12 education policy at the Center for American Progress, said, “Kentucky is a great example what can happen when all stakeholders are involved from the beginning.”

In addition to Holliday making visits to every school district, and marking them off with yellow tacks back at his office in Frankfort, many organizations at the state and local level were involved.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a big supporter of the Common Core (and among the many funders of The Hechinger Report) made a half-million-dollar grant to an education nonprofit (the Kentucky Chamber Foundation), which then disbursed it in smaller amounts to local groups that introduced Common Core to their communities.

The Department of Education selected a group of 500 math and 500 English teachers to create model curricula for teachers to use as they got familiar with the new standards. Teachers also received 18 hours’ worth of training on the standards.

As president of the 15th District PTA, which oversees the parent associations of individual schools, Heather Wampler received a $75,000 grant to gather educators and school board members to explain the new standards. Parents and community leaders were invited to meetings that ran in the evenings in school auditoriums and local centers.

Wampler estimates that between July 2011 and February 2013 her group held more than 300 meetings that reached over 850,000 individuals.

County and state efforts were coordinated so that Wampler’s PTA trained other PTAs throughout the state, which then ran their own community meetings. And Wampler and her team created videos and posted them on YouTube to train parents.

Sometimes the meetings did more than just explain the new standards. There were also calls to action for parents to intervene early with their kids.

Holliday, who retired from the Kentucky Department of Education in 2015, says that being first helped his state avoid the political problems that plagued the adoption process in many other states.
“The whole time, I was travelling and meeting with educators, I got a lot of questions but I never got pushback against Common Core. People understood that we needed higher standards.”

More than five years after adopting Common Core, Kentucky’s black-white achievement gap is widening

Now the state is rolling out new ideas for closing it

Common Core State Standards is a good idea, but expecting Common Core - or any any set of curriculum standards - to close achievement gaps is just wishful hoping, or political posturing perhaps. Common Core will close achievement gaps when it assures every student is healthy, has educated parents, and provides them with safe communities to live in. In the meantime we may need to content ourselves with Common Core helping all students achieve more than they once did.

This from the Hechringer Report:
The second-graders in Sarah Bowling’s class at Dunn Elementary were on a scavenger hunt to find “arrays.”
The bookshelf had a picture of three rows of five fish. The door had an image of four rows with three beach pails in each. Several other pictures were strategically placed in different corners of the brightly decorated classroom. The students cradled clipboards with a worksheet as they moved from spot to spot, writing out mathematical expressions such as: 5+5+5 = 15 and 3+3+3+3+3=15, to convince themselves that three fives is the same as five threes.

But three of the students were seated on the carpet in the middle of the room. They were getting “Dolphin time” — individualized instruction with Bowling, who was talking them through the difference between rows and columns.
Two dolphins on the rug are African-American. While the classes at Dunn Elementary have kids of all skill levels mixed together, there is, on average, a persistent gap between many kids of color and the rest of the students.
The different levels are designated as tiers. “Tier-3” kids, such as the dolphins, are those not meeting expectations on in-class tests, and Bowling was working to catch them up. Students don’t start taking standardized tests until third grade, but Bowling is still tracking her students closely.

A lot is at stake. It was hoped that the persistent gap would be closing by now. It’s been over five years since Kentucky adopted the Common Core, guidelines for what students need to know in math and the English language arts in each grade.

Introduced as an ambitious educational reform at the end of the last decade to make sure that, across the U.S., students graduating from the K-12 system are college and career ready, Common Core has ramped up academic expectations that schools everywhere, including those in Kentucky, are still far from meeting.

Kentucky stepped into the national spotlight in 2010 when it became the first state to adopt the standards after the Obama administration offered federal money to help pay the costs. (Over 40 other states and the District of Columbia eventually adopted the Common Core.) On Kentucky’s previous state tests, tied to its old standards, over 70 percent of elementary school students scored at a level of “proficiency” or better in both reading and math. Once the state introduced the Common Core-aligned tests in the spring of 2012, that percentage dropped 28 points in reading (to 48 percent) and 33 points in math (to 40 percent), according to the Kentucky Department of Education. Middle and high school students’ scores also dropped.

Scores have been edging up ever since. By spring 2015, 54 percent of Kentucky elementary school students were proficient in the English language arts and 49 percent were proficient in math.

Despite that improvement, within those numbers are hidden divisions that have existed for decades. Breaking the scores down shows that African-American students fare much worse than their white peers.

In spring 2015, in the elementary grades, 33 percent of black students were proficient in reading, versus 58 percent of white students; in math, the breakdown was 31 percent to 52 percent, according to Kentucky Department of Education figures.

And those gaps, in many cases, have widened, according to an analysis of state testing data by The Hechinger Report and the Courier-Journal.

In Jefferson County Public Schools in 2011-12, the first year of Common Core testing, 25 percent of black third-graders were proficient or better in reading, compared to 54 percent of white third-graders. By 2015, when the majority of those same students likely had reached sixth grade, the percentage of proficient black sixth-graders had inched up 2 points while that of white sixth-graders had increased more than 4 points.

The students at Dunn Elementary, located in a leafy and affluent section of Louisville, had average scores about 20 points higher than the rest of the state. From 2012 to 2015, its white and black students saw improvement on reading tests, and the black students in many cases outscored their black peers in the rest of the district. But at the same time, white students at Dunn scored proficient or better in both math and reading at more than double the percentage of black students.
Closing these gaps was one of the goals of Common Core reform.
In the past, “Schools that were in low-income areas and predominately served students of color often had very low standards for their students that did not prepare them adequately. When the [Common Core] standards were first introduced, I sent them to my sister, a college professor of English, and she wrote back right away, ‘Yeah, this is what you need to succeed in college,’ ” said Sonja Brookins Santelises, vice president of K-12 policy and practice at the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based research group.
Now, Kentucky finds itself at a crossroads. With four years’ worth of testing to show after its quick embrace of Common Core, it’s clear that raising standards was not enough to help all learners. In a state that has tried and failed for decades to eradicate disparities for its low-income and black students, Santelises said, “We knew that the tougher standards had to be followed up with extra attention to students who were behind.” The recent results have sparked new ideas and fueled a redoubled effort to reach those kids.

Dolphin time

“Array” was not a term commonly heard in a second-grade math class before Common Core. It’s a computing term that allows users to scale up large amounts of data in list-like sets handy for programming. But Common Core introduced arrays as a way for students to grasp that adding groups of numbers together is a form of multiplication.

Part of Common Core’s mission was to streamline math, cutting out the fluff that bogged down old standards in many states, and focusing instead on learning concepts in a progression that will teach kids what they need to know to master algebra in high school. Heather McGovern, a former teacher (now a counselor) at Bowen Elementary, also in Louisville, said “the previous standards were bulky.” Common Core has made it easier to teach time, for example, by splitting learning about hours and minutes into separate strands across three grades instead of grouping them together.

The Common Core was also intended to add a deeper level of inquiry to math class: making the ability to describe how you arrived at a solution as important as memorizing facts. Teachers are supposed to make children partners in the acquisition of knowledge, helping them to see that math isn’t only — or even mainly — about right answers, it’s about exploration and discovery, and the sort of critical thinking and problem-solving they’ll do in college some day.

Back at Dunn, Bowling was very explicit about students’ need to master repeated addition before moving on.
“Is multiplication the standard for second grade?” she asked the class of 24 kids.
“Nooooo,” they roared back knowingly.

“That’s right!” Bowling affirmed. Multiplication doesn’t come until third grade, but at Dunn, educators want students to be able to see how their learning will progress.

“When we have the foundation for understanding how we can add up groups of things, we’ll then be able to understand multiplication.”

Standing off to the side and periodically asking the students to tie their shoelaces or say, “Excuse me” as they pranced about the room, Principal Tracy Barber explained that “Dolphin time” is a reference to the Dunn mascot. Calling the group that needs extra help something special is a way to get the Tier-3 students to feel encouraged rather than discouraged about the distance they need to go to catch up with their peers.

“No kiddo is stigmatized. It’s all hands on deck till all my students meet the standards,” Barber added.

One of the students looked up from the floor and announced to his two friends, “This is hard.”
Barber knows it. In practice, getting everyone to that “foundation for understanding” requires plenty of attention and effort by the teachers.

Second-graders at Louisville's Dunn Elementary
Dunn serves more than 600 kids in mostly white, middle-class Windy Hills, in the East End of Louisville. But it pulls 15 percent of its students from downtown and Portland, a neighborhood in the West End. They’re a mix of black and white students, and most are low-income. (At Dunn, 19 percent of students receive free or reduced-price school lunch.)

The kids from the other parts of the city are bussed here as part of a managed choice plan. The plan means that unlike schools in many big urban districts, every school here has some level of racial and economic diversity. It also means that in Louisville the achievement gap is everyone’s problem. Even here in the affluent suburbs, a big part of Barber’s job is to make sure that every child, whether from down the street or downtown, is making progress.

“Every fall I sit down with the scores and think about what can be done to help the learners who are behind,” Barber said.

When she became principal in August 2014, Barber started the tier system. Though students of all levels are in the same classroom most of the time, advanced students are sometimes pulled out for enrichment and the children not meeting expectations get more time with the teacher.
Barber isn’t sure yet if the sort of individual instruction Tier-3 students are getting with Bowling is working.
“There are some kiddos who start school behind. They aren’t coming from a print-rich environment, they don’t have the same word acquisition,” she said.
That’s why this summer the school is going further to reach its neediest kids: Teachers at Dunn are volunteering their time for a three-day camp for entering kindergarteners, to teach them the key concepts they’ll need to know before school starts.

Behind even before starting school

Hold a book, name different colors, count up to 30, recognize letters and name parts of the body such as the nose, elbows, knees and stomach.

While these tasks may sound easy, only half of the 7,000 children entering kindergarten every year in the Jefferson County Public Schools are deemed ready by Kentucky’s school readiness assessment (known as Brigance), according to Jimmy Wathen, an early education specialist at JCPS.

As many researchers have noted, socio-economic differences among families — which often track with race — account for one of the main reasons some students start school knowing their ABCs and numbers, and others don’t. And when kids start behind, it’s tough for them to catch up.

This summer, it’s not only Dunn kids who are getting interventions before they start school. A private group has raised nearly a million dollars to run a four-week kindergarten preparedness program for 1,200 students in Louisville; it may eventually expand to reach all kids entering kindergarten in Jefferson County each fall.

The program is an extension of the George Unseld Early Childhood Learning Center in Newburg, a mostly African-American area. The center opened in 2013 to address the achievement gap, and today it educates about 350 3- to 5-year olds who are from low-income families or who have learning disabilities; it also provides extra supports, like dental and vision care.

A visit to the center on an early spring day found the kids coming back from planting sunflowers in the garden and having story time with a book that taught them the names of all the vegetables. The children are in mixed-age classrooms where the student-to-teacher ratio is 10-to-1. They are assessed regularly.

Data suggest programs like this could help shrink the achievement gap. The children who attended the equivalent of one week or less of the four-week camp scored 47 percent on the Brigance test, while those who attended the equivalent of three weeks or more scored 74 percent, according to figures provided by JCPS.

A question of resources

Other educators think that the state and the Jefferson County Public Schools will have to take much more radical steps to give black and low-income students what they need to compete on a level playing field with their peers.

Kevin Cosby is head of the historically black Simmons College and pastor of St. Stephen Church. He’s been working to improve the education of the black community in Louisville for more than three decades. The idea of Common Core resonated with him after former state commissioner of education Terry Holliday visited the church to promote it.

Holliday “talked convincingly about how schools were failing African-American children and that the new Common Core state standards would change that,” Cosby said.

But with the gap stubbornly wide five years after implementation, Cosby said that the challenge as he sees it is “that the core is not always common.” If he had his druthers, he said, schools would have longer hours, provide children with three meals and help them do their homework. Schools would also be open on Saturdays and through the summer.

“Another issue is that black students need to have their culture celebrated, which schools run by white females do not do,” he said. “Only by being proud of their history can students reach their highest levels of achievement.”

Now Cosby said he is “an ally” of voices that advocate for more resources to be shifted to zip codes where predominately students of color live. This is the goal of Jerry Stephenson, the minister at the Midwest Church of Christ who leads the “Pastors in Action Coalition,” a group of 50 Kentucky pastors who aim to bring charter schools to the state (Kentucky is currently one of eight states without charter schools). A bill was introduced to the state legislature in March and was passed in the Senate but killed in the House.

The moral imperative

In Kentucky, African-American males are more likely to go to prison than complete a four-year college degree, Terry Holliday said in a recent interview. It’s one of the main reasons he brought Common Core to Kentucky.

In a 2015 blog post before he stepped down, Holliday argued that it was a “moral imperative” for the state to help more students reach a higher level of learning. To make his case, he presented some “startling numbers” about the present-day situation.

“We have more than 80,000 students performing at the novice level in reading and more than 60,000 students performing at the novice level in math,” he wrote. “These are the students who will be challenged to complete high school. These are the students who will not reach college- and career-readiness. These are the students who will need social services. These are the students who have a high likelihood of incarceration. These are the students that Kentucky must care more about and provide intervention for before it is too late.”

The inauguration of Gov. Matt Bevin has since put Kentucky’s Common Core reforms in limbo. Bevin campaigned against Common Core, although his administration may only “tweak the standards,” in the words of the new state education commissioner, Stephen Pruitt, who previously worked at the nonprofit Achieve, a major supporter of Common Core.

Common Core’s staying power now depends on politics — and on whether the state’s achievement gap finally starts to shrink.

Pruitt is encouraged by the current efforts at schools such as at Dunn to address the individual needs of students. In a similar vein, the Kentucky Department of Education recently started the Novice Reduction for Gap Closure program, which is focused entirely on closing the state’s achievement gap. Among other things, it helps teachers become more sensitive and culturally attuned to the level of diversity in their classrooms. An online platform shares the advice of teachers with experience in diverse schools, and the state is working with districts to suggest interventions teachers can use to reach students. Pruitt expects these new efforts to close what he calls “the opportunity gap.”

More than five years in, Kentucky may be ahead of the rest of the country on its use of the Common Core, but Common Core’s supporters say the state and the standards still need more time to move the needle.

“We’re still at the start of implementation,” said Education Trust’s Santelises. “It’ll take longer to see the results of Common Core.”
In the interest of full disclosure, I was interviewed by author for this report.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fewer standardized tests: Education commissioner talks major changes

This from WLKY Video:
Fewer standardized tests for your kids and less importance placed on them: These are two of the big changes the Kentucky education commissioner hopes to bring schools across the commonwealth in the next year.
Ed Commissioner Stephen Pruitt
Stephen Pruitt sat down with WLKY’s Ben Jackey to talk about the major changes ahead for students, teachers and parents.

Pruitt traveled to 11 cities to hear what communities had to say about Kentucky's accountability model, the measure of whether a school is successful or failing.

Pruitt wants to revamp the model to reduce the weight of testing on a school's label.
Some question if that would water-down the system.

“People are frustrated with tests just dominating the whole conversation,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt inherited a state-accountability model almost entirely composed of standardized test results. 
By the 2017-18 school year, that will change. Pruitt awaits input from across the commonwealth, but plans a major shift to include things like advanced classes opportunities, art options and school environment -- all to help determine whether a school is succeeding or failing.

“It can't be just about the test. If it is, I think we're losing out on the focus of ensuring that we have good citizens when they graduate and not just good test-takers,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt also wants to move away from percentile ranking system. Which means a district like Jefferson County Public Schools may not be classified as performing in the lowest quarter of the state in comparison to other districts as it is now.

When asked if this would weaken the accountability model, Pruitt said he felt it would make it stronger by measuring a variety of factors that affect good and bad test results.

Pruitt plans to talk with districts about the number of standardized tests they implement in order to get a better predictor of how students are faring before the state K-prep test.

Pruitt said it is on him and his team to help teachers with the state teaching standards so they know where their student is, without more tests.

“And then you get into the whole issue of test prep. We need to figure out that the best test prep in the world is just good teaching,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt delayed the roll-out of the next generation standard testing when he arrived in October.

It was supposed to happen this year, but will instead go into effect in 2017-18 along with the new accountability model, which right now has no definitive timetable for completion.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Funding Down, Tuition Up

State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Quality and Affordability at Public Colleges 

This from the Center on Budget and Priorities:

Years of cuts in state funding for public colleges and universities have driven up tuition and harmed students’ educational experiences by forcing faculty reductions, fewer course offerings, and campus closings.  These choices have made college less affordable and less accessible for students who need degrees to succeed in today’s economy.

Years of cuts have made college less affordable and less accessible for students.Though some states have begun to restore some of the deep cuts in financial support for public two- and four-year colleges since the recession hit, their support remains far below previous levels.  In total, after adjusting for inflation, of the states that have enacted full higher education budgets for the current school year, funding for public two- and four-year colleges is $8.7 billion below what it was just prior to the recession.[2]  

As states have slashed higher education funding, the price of attending public colleges has risen significantly faster than the growth in median income.  For the average student, increases in federal student aid and the availability of tax credits have not kept up, jeopardizing the ability of many to afford the college education that is key to their long-term financial success.

States that renew their commitment to a high-quality, affordable system of public higher education by increasing the revenue these schools receive will help build a stronger middle class and develop the entrepreneurs and skilled workers that are needed in the new century.

Figure 1
Of the states that have finalized their higher education budgets for the current school year, after adjusting for inflation:[3]
  • Forty-five states — all except Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming — are spending less per student in the 2015-16 school year than they did before the recession.[4]
  • States cut funding deeply after the recession hit.  The average state is spending $1,525, or 17 percent, less per student than before the recession.
  • Per-student funding in eight states — Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina — is down by more than 30 percent since the start of the recession.
  • In 11 states, per-student funding fell over the last year.  Of these, three states — Arkansas, Kentucky, and Vermont — have cut per-student higher education funding for the last two consecutive years.
  • In the last year, 38 states increased funding per student.  Per-student funding rose $275, or 4 percent, nationally.
Deep state funding cuts have had major consequences for public colleges and universities.  States (and to a lesser extent localities) provide roughly 54 percent of the costs of teaching and instruction at these schools.[5]  Schools have made up the difference with tuition increases, cuts to educational or other services, or both.

Since the recession took hold, higher education institutions have:
  • Increased tuition.  Public colleges and universities across the country have increased tuition to compensate for declining state funding and rising costs.  Annual published tuition at four-year public colleges has risen by $2,333, or 33 percent, since the 2007-08 school year.[6]  In Arizona, published tuition at four-year schools is up nearly 90 percent, while in six other states — Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, and Louisiana — published tuition is up more than 60 percent. 
These sharp tuition increases have accelerated longer-term trends of college becoming less affordable and costs shifting from states to students.  Over the last 20 years, the price of attending a four-year public college or university has grown significantly faster than the median income.[7]  Although federal student aid and tax credits have risen, on average they have fallen short of covering the tuition increases.
  • Diminished academic opportunities and student services.  Tuition increases have compensated for only part of the revenue loss resulting from state funding cuts.  Over the past several years, public colleges and universities have cut faculty positions, eliminated course offerings, closed campuses, and reduced student services, among other cuts.
A large and growing share of future jobs will require college-educated workers.[8]  Sufficient public investment in higher education to keep quality high and tuition affordable, and to provide financial aid to students who need it most, would help states develop the skilled and diverse workforce they will need to compete for these jobs. 
Figure 2

Sufficient public investment can only occur, however, if policymakers make sound tax and budget decisions.  State revenues have improved significantly since the depths of the recession but are still only modestly above pre-recession levels.[9]  To make college more affordable and increase access to higher education, many states need to supplement that revenue growth with new revenue to fully make up for years of severe cuts.

But just as the opportunity to invest is emerging, lawmakers in a number of states are jeopardizing it by entertaining tax cuts that in many cases would give the biggest breaks to the wealthiest taxpayers.  In recent years, states such as Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Arizona have enacted large-scale tax cuts that limit resources available for higher education.  And in Illinois and Pennsylvania ongoing attempts to find necessary resources after large tax cuts threaten current and future higher education funding.

States Have Reversed Some Funding Cuts, but They Must Do Much More

State and local tax revenue is a major source of support for public colleges and universities.  Unlike private institutions, which rely more heavily on charitable donations and large endowments to help fund instruction, public two- and four-year colleges typically rely heavily on state and local appropriations.  In 2015, state and local dollars constituted 54 percent of the funds these institutions used directly for teaching and instruction.[10]

While states have begun to restore funding, resources are well below what they were in 2008 — 17 percent per student lower — even as state revenues have returned to pre-recession levels.  (See Figures 1 and 2.)  In the states that have finalized their higher education budgets for the current 2015-16 school year compared with the 2007-08 school year, when the recession hit, adjusted for inflation:
  • State spending on higher education nationwide is down an average of $1,525 per student, or 17 percent.
  • In only four states ― Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming ― is per-student funding now above its 2008 pre-recession levels.
  • 25 states have cut funding per student by more than 20 percent.
  • Eight states have cut funding per student by more than 30 percent.
  • Arizona has cut funding by more than half.[11]