Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Take on the Education Summit

The Education Summit has come to a conclusion and now the hard work of "education reform" is set to begin in earnest.  In his closing remarks, Governor Branstad shared that he will take the ideas from this Summit, and begin the work of preparing recommendations to present to the 2012 General Assembly.  He seems to be interested in collaboration and plans to present (in draft form) his recommendations to the state and receive feedback before the final version is presented for legislative action in January.

I was most interested in the keynote address by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.  In his address, he argues that Iowa schools are not getting any worse, but that they have rather maintained a status quo while other schools across the country have made significant improvements and reforms to their educational systems.  One need look no further than the fact that Iowa was last to adopt a statewide set of clear educational standards, and has yet to develop an assessment that properly aligns to those standards.  Secretary Duncan further outlined four key points that has led to the stagnation of Iowa education.
  1. Low standards
  2. Not showing leadership in innovation
  3. We have not been a leader in elevating teacher effectiveness
  4. A lack of leadership to provide quality early childhood education
The one area that I was interest in hearing about was the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (which we have all come to know as NCLB), and there does not seem to be any hope of this law being taken up by Congress anytime soon.  It was somewhat encouraging to hear that Secretary Duncan "...refuses to go through another year with a law that is so fundamentally flawed."

One of the issues that will be interesting to watch unfold over the next year or so will be this idea of pay for performance, or merit pay.  The new director of the Iowa Department of Education has some experience in this concept, and stated during one of the round table sessions that the idea of compensating teachers based solely on the number of years in the field and the amount of education is an antiquated system that should be carefully evaluated. 

It has been argued that Iowa does have a robust system of evaluation now in place, with the advent of the Iowa Teaching Standards.  Under this model, teachers who are new to the system go through a comprehensive evaluation based on these standards for the first two years of their careers, and after that they are given a comprehensive evaluation on a three year rotation.  During the off years, teachers are working on individual career (or professional) development plans.  In instances where a teacher is not meeting the standards, they can be placed on an "assistance" track.

In any event, evaluation systems are not, and should not be about a system of 'gotcha', but rather should be rooted in the idea of improvement.  All of us, no matter what our profession, should receive constructive feedback on how we are performing on a regular basis.  If you are doing the right things in your work, wouldn't you like to know it?  If there are areas that you can improve, wouldn't you like to know what they are?

I would be eager to hear your thoughts on this.  Should our teacher evaluation system be at least partially tied to student performance in the classroom?  Is it a problem that we treat every teacher the same? 

There was also some discussion about teacher preparation programs and how we go about preparing our teachers.  Most "educating" of a teacher takes place after the certificate is granted.  I think back on my own experience and the courses I took to get me ready for the classroom.  Once I stepped foot in that classroom, there was so much that I didn't know!  Think about that for a moment! 

The former Governor of North Carolina had a pretty strong message for those of us at the Summit.  Governor Jim Hunt is credited with leading his state through significant education reform.  He outlined four things that we should think about:
  1. Make sure teachers are better prepared
  2. Have stringent hiring practices
  3. Provide strong mentorship programs
  4. Evaluation of teachers should focus on improved practice and include the following components
    • student achievement
    • qualified observations
    • student feedback
There was quite a bit of discussion about the quality of the assessment that we use to measure our student achievement, and it was brought up that in schools where there is high student achievement and test scores, there are no multiple choice tests.  We should focus on quality over quantity.  This is one area where I couldn't agree more! 

Well, I could probably go on for quite a bit longer, but fear that I may have lost some readers by this point anyway.  If there was a controversial speaker, (and I am not arguing that there was), then it would probably have to be Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.  I felt that Governor Christie made some good points.  The most important thing he said was that we need to leave politics out of the argument.  It really doesn't matter what party you are aligned with, education reform needs to concern everyone.  While there will certainly be disagreements about how to proceed, I can imagine the most difficult hurdle to cross will be to see how the idea of merit pay, pay for performance (or whatever label you want to use) unfolds in this debate. 

As I stated at the beginning of this post, I didn't hear any new ideas.  We heard about how these ideas have been implemented in other states and hopefully will take some of these ideas and make them our own.  If we listen carefully, we can learn from the mistakes of others. 

In closing, it would be easy to find an excuse and lay the blame at the feet of someone else.  I don't want to do that, I instead want to be part of the solution.  However, I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the fact that no matter what we do, it is not going to happen without the financial support of the state.  To expect great education reform on a zero percent allowable growth model; well how can we even say that with a straight face?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Adequate Yearly Progress

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires all students to be proficient in the areas of math and reading by 2014.  To reach this benchmark, the Iowa Department of Education requires school districts to report annually on "Adequate Yearly Progress".  Since 2003, the percentage of students who are required to be proficient increases until reaching 100 percent, in 2014.  What this means is that each year, the bar is raised a little higher.  Obviously that makes it more difficult to meet the benchmark.

The legislation also asks districts to report on sub-groups including minority, low SES (Socio-economic Status), special education, and ELL (English Language Learner).  The benchmarking for all sub-groups is the same.  If you saw the news release yesterday from the Des Moines Register on the Iowa Department of Education report, several educators pointed out this very fact to the public.

Please be patient, I know you want to know if we met our AYP, but I think it is important to provide this background information so you have context. 

The way that proficiency is determined in Iowa is based on the ITBS/ITED tests, and specifically a student is considered proficient if they score at the 41st percentile.  To understand what that means, you first need to understand that a percentile rank, is just that; a rank.  Students take the test and are ranked, basically 1-100.  If you achieve a 41, that means that you did better than 41 percent of students who took that test.  You can see the problem here, can't you?!  If we continue to rank students from 1-100 to obtain proficiency, it becomes mathematically impossible for everyone to achieve 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

Incidentally, to further understand how the percentile rank works and how the 41st percentile stacks up, you need to understand that a 50 is the median score, which makes a 41 one standard deviation off the median (for you statisticians out there).

Okay, so here we are in 2012.  Yesterday the report came out on the heels of the Education Summit that will be held next week in Des Moines.  The report alleges that other states are surpassing Iowa on the NAEP Test (National Assessment of Educational Progress).  This is stated even though Iowa students continue to post high scores on ITBS/ITED.  The hypothesis is that the Iowa Tests do not possess the rigor that other official assessment do from other states.

There could be some truth to that statement.  Back when the standards movement was launched and NCLB came to fruition, Iowa was the only state in the country to not adopt either a statewide set of standards or a state test.  Instead, Iowa elected to leave this work up to individual districts and tried to fit a square peg into a round hole by decreeing that the ITBS would be the statewide assessment. 

Here we are 10 years later, Common Core is the new buzz word, and work is progressing on a new statewide assessment.  I guess we could argue that we are better late than never.

Okay, we have digressed quite a bit in this post, so it is about time to get back to the topic at hand.  When a school district misses AYP for any group or sub-group, they are placed on what is referred to as the "watch list".  In 2009-2010, Hudson Middle School was on the watch list because one of the sub-groups didn't meet AYP (sorry, I am not giving it up that easy).  If a school misses AYP two years in a row, they are designated a SINA (School in Need of Assistance).  This is not a fun place to be, nor is it something to aspire to.  The problem is, that as long as measuring stick is based on a percentile rank and the bar continues to raise each year, the number of schools designated SINA will increase to a point where mathematically everyone is on the list!  Enough suspense already:  all of the schools in the Hudson Community School District met Adequate Yearly Progress, we are not on any lists.

That is certainly good news, but it is no time to rest on our laurels.  We absolutely need to expect that our schools are superb, and that we are teaching the right things to ensure that our students are prepared to be citizens in the 21st Century.  It is imperative that we are not only teaching the right things in our classrooms, but that we are also assessing the right things in our classrooms.  Does it make sense to you that we are using a multiple choice test that does not require any writing or critical thinking?  Does it make sense that we are using a test that requires a student to fill in a bunch of bubbles with a pencil?  Where is the authentic assessment in that?

As I stated earlier, the Education Summit is next week.  I am eager to attend and here what the Governor has to say about his plan to make Iowa number one in education again.  Here is my final point before I wrap this diatribe up for the week.

NCLB is up for renewal.  Wait, NCLB has been up for renewal for several years.  The architect of NCLB was Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts (interesting fact: many people blame former President George W. Bush for NCLB; not true).  When Senator Kennedy passed away, his chairmanship went to our own Senator Harkin.  The honorable Senator will be in attendance at the Summit next week.  If you get a chance, please tell him that it is time to get this legislation moving again.

Stay tuned, I will let you know what I learn on Monday.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Board of Directors Sets Legislative Priorities for the 2012 General Assembly

At the Board meeting held on July 18th, the Board of Directors finalized and set a list of priorities for the 2012 General Assembly.  Those priorities were submitted to the Iowa Association of School Boards, and the delegate assembly will ratify the final platform at the convention, which will be held in November.  Among the priorities submitted were the following:
  1. Supports preserving the integrity of the statewide penny sales tax for school infrastructure, including tax equity provisions of buying down the highest additional levy rates to the state average.
  2. Supports giving school districts and the AEAS the option to reduce staff to respond to reductions in funding or to comply with an arbitrator's award.  Districts and AEA's should not be required to use the teacher contract termination procedures in Iowa Code 279.13 for such staff reductions.
  3. Requires arbitrators to first consider local conditions and ability to pay; once the arbitrator determines the district has the ability to pay, the arbitrator should determine comparability.
  4. Supports the revision of code and administrative regulations to permit the use of funds generated by modified allowable growth for dropout prevention for the development and implementation of innovative and creative broad uses including, but not restricted to, prevention programs and remediation programs for dropouts and potential dropouts and also for such dropout prevention programs and activities provided in general for students regardless of identification as dropout or potential dropouts.  In the aforementioned programs in keeping with the amount of time assigned to such prevention  and remediation pogroms rather than being applicable for only those times that the employee is working directly and exclusively with previously identified dropouts or potential dropouts.  Also, up to five percent of these funds should be available to provide for the administration and supervision of such prevention and remediation pogroms.
  5. Supports efforts to complete collective bargaining as a statewide unit.
In other action, the Board approved bids for the fuel, dairy, and bread contracts for the 2011-2012 school year, passed a resolution calling for the renewal of the Revenue Purpose Statement on the September ballot, passed the second reading of Board Policy Code 701.4 (GASB 54), and approved the purchase of curriculum material for the high school Science and English department.

We are still searching for candidates to run for the school board for the term beginning in September!  The filing deadline is August 5th, so time is quickly running out.  If you have questions about board service or know of someone who would make a good school board member, please have them call my office at 988-3233.  You can speak with the business manager about filing papers.  Please consider serving in this very important role!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Good Luck to the Class of 2011!

HEF Scholarship Winners Hanging Out Before the Parade
 In just a few short weeks, the graduating class of 2011 will begin a new journey.  Some will be headed off to college, while others will enter the work force or enter the workforce and become Contributing Citizens.

On Saturday several students who received scholarships from the Hudson Education Fund participated in the Hudson Days Parade.  We wish all our recent graduates all the best.  You will be missed!

There is no doubt it was a hot day, but I can certainly tell you that it was nothing compared to last years parade.  Of course I can't complain because I was asked to drive one of the pickup trucks, a brand new Ford courtesy of Colwell Ford.  A special thank you to Bill Colwell for providing the nice rides for us!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Legislative Session Ends

Well, I guess the good news is that the legislature has finally wrapped up the 2011 General Session.  Who would have thought that it would carry on this long?  There was quite a bit of activity in regard to the education budget, but I want to just spend a few moments letting you know what the key points are for our school district.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the allowable growth rate for this school year was set at zero.  We had anticipated this and budgeted accordingly.  The main point here is that we are on the budget guarantee, which allows for a 1% increase in the Regular Program District Cost.  That is an approximate increase of $41,000 in revenue.  Interestingly, the budget guarantee is funded solely through property taxes.  If allowable growth had been set at a range between 1% and 3%, it would not have impacted the growth of the Regular Program District Cost; however it would have actually lowered your property taxes.  It is pretty difficult to explain using this blog, but if you would like to come in and visit with me I would be happy to explain how the budget guarantee works and the impact it has on property taxes.

The budget bill that was passed also provides for 2% allowable growth in fiscal year 2013.  You will recall that the Governor insisted on 0% allowable growth for FY13.  It will be worth watching in the next thirty days to see if he uses his line item veto pen to strike this from the budget.

The district also utilizes the Instructional Support Levy for General Fund Expenses.  Part of this levy in the past has been a state match of 25% of the total levy based on a formula.  The state has always underfunded their part of this agreement, but nonetheless, Hudson stood to receive approximately $13,000 in state aid for the instruction support program.  All state aid for the instructional support program has been eliminated from the budget.  This will have a negative impact on our spending authority.

Those are the main points.  I will be back to you soon, we just need to wait to see if the Governor signs the bill in total or strikes parts with the line item veto.