Thursday, December 31, 2009

Short wish for you . . .

Final post of the year to wish you a HAPPY NEW YEAR!


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reform efforts result in what?

I found this short article on Larry Cuban’s sight to be closely aligned with my concerns about state and national reform and again made me reflect on our the future. The article references a federal study mapping state proficiency standards against NAEP scores. The study compares state proficiency scores in grades 4 and 8 in reading and math against the predicted NAEP score to determine if states are lowering proficiency standards in the face of the negative consequences of NCLB.

The topic reinforces for me the concern I have with the focus on common core standards, assessments, and more seat time in the form of additional credits for graduation. These seem to be what we hear from in the other Washington and is certainly embedded in our state’s move to Core 24. We will need to wait to find out what will happen in the next legislative session when congress takes up revisions to ESEA, but the current discussions signal more of the same.

When will there be a better balance of “basic skills” being pushed by these current reform efforts ad what we have learned are essential skills for young people to experience success in post high school learning and work? Are people in positions of authority at the national and state level reading books such as Pink’s A Whole New Mind, Zhao’s Catching Up or Leading the Way, Friedman’s The World Is Flat, and Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need - and What We Can Do About It,? If yes, then why does the focus continue to be on more of the same which leads to what Rona Wilensky describes in the Cuban article and that is reinforced in these books?

I believe that we have found this balance in our Classroom 10 initiative and that we must find ways to maintain focus during the next round of federal and state changes. Engaging young people in the learning focus of Classroom 10 will provide them with the basic skills and the enhanced skills that position them for success and that will open many doors not available to those with a focus on only Core 24 learning.

Before closing, here is a shot of my grandson flying his first kite. Couldn’t be better!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The levy message . . .

I am beginning to think about what and how much information to share next week with staff concerning the levies. It is essential that all of us have a common understanding of the importance of these measures to who we are and to our ability to support adult and student learning. The operations levy provides us with about one out of five of every dollar we spend or about five times as much as we needed to adjust to balance this year’s budget. All of us felt these adjustments, but they would seem very minor compared to what would be necessary if this measure were not to pass. Simply stated, this local revenue provides us with the opportunity to create a comprehensive program for young people and learning opportunities for adults.

The technology levy is the major funding source for this program. Two out of every three dollars we spend on hardware, software, and support comes from this levy. Our program has expanded rapidly and is about to be augmented with the purchase of about 2100 new machines. Thanks to our tech fusion staff we are providing learning opportunities that you will not find in many other districts. Again, we would not be able to provide the equipment or learning opportunities in the absence of this funding.

So, what to share in a short period of time? I also want to share some thoughts on our Classroom 10 journey which makes it even more difficult to identify what is essential to present. Not unlike what teachers decide every day.

Here is one picture from today at the beach. It was a clear, beautiful, crisp day that I thoroughly enjoyed. We topped it off by watching Alvin, his brothers, and some Chipettes in the Squeakquel.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Our Christmas . . .

I stayed offline since before Christmas, three days is a long time for me. Hope your Christmas was wonderful and that you continue to enjoy peace and love with family and friends. I have included a few shots of our day.

We are spending the next week at Ocean Shores with our grandkids. I intend for more relaxation than work, but we’ll see how it goes. Our granddaughter is 10 and presents no problem by herself, but sometimes in combination with her brother who is 3 it can be quite different. He has the capacity to push one’s buttons including mine.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The conference concludes with . . .

The climate conference has concluded with some agreements that don’t do enough, but the leaders did change the tone and kept it from ending with nothing. The agreements and pledges to cut emissions are not going to keep us below the 2degrees Celsius warming threshold scientists warn could be disastrous, but it is a start. Though much of what was accomplished was pledged before the conference, the $100 billion annually pledged by 2020 to support developing countries and the movement by China to become more transparent were positive steps.

Here is an interesting White House transcript that highlights the meeting President Obama had with leaders from India, Brazil, South Africa, and China that supported the agreements that were reached. What appeared earlier in the week as almost a lost cause was changed through the interactions of leaders in critical countries. This meeting is giving some cause to reconsider the process for future U.N. meetings like this. That makes good sense. There are simply too many countries each with equal opportunity to control the outcome to reach the critical decisions that must be made to preserve the future of this one world.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Climate and levies . . .

As a follow up to yesterday’s post on COP15 I’ll share this blog site where a team from Yale focused on China has been blogging live. This post again points to the make or break position that both China and the U.S. have in these delicate negotiations. Secretary Clinton raised the ante with a $100 billion commitment to developing nations.

I like this part of her presentation.

I have often quoted a Chinese proverb which says that when you are in a common boat, you have to cross the river peacefully together. Well, we are in a common boat. All of the major economies have an obligation to commit to meaningful mitigation actions and stand behind them in a transparent way. And all of us have an obligation to engage constructively and creatively toward a workable solution. We need to avoid negotiating approaches that undermine rather than advance progress toward our objective.
It raises the ante by meeting one of China’s stated needs, more money for developing nations while also reinforcing the U.S. need for transparency by China.

Closer to home, the board Tuesday approved resolutions for the operations and technology levies to go before the voters on February 9th. Yesterday, we shared the information at the Chamber meeting where their board endorsed both measures. This is a critical endorsement as the Chamber represents an essential component of our team and has the capacity to have a positive influence in the community. At both meetings the following slide was used to share our concern.

The recent economic downturn and its impact on the housing industry have resulted in turbulence for us. What to ask for based on the Governor’s budget proposal with the potential to increase revenue through local collections was difficult to process and changes at the county level have made setting of levy amounts much different than in previous years. The result of the county’s recent reviews of assessed valuation is a 14.6% decrease in the district’s assessed value. This means an increase in dollars per thousand of about $.50. In most years there is little fluctuation in this number so this is significant. It is this number times the assessed value of one’s home that determines how much one pays in school taxes. It makes our task more difficult this year with the issues faced by many and the changes to numbers that are difficult to explain and will impact how some view the need for these replacement levies.

We will be sharing with staff at meetings on January 4th.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Leaders to the rescue?

In case you haven’t been keeping up with COP15, the United Nations Climate Conference, I will share two blog posts that will bring you up to date. The first is a post by Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate official, with a bleak update. The talks have stalled on the eve of arrival by world leaders from the participating countries, including President Obama. What was to be a two day period of agreement signing by these leaders now appears to be the last chance to find a compromise agreement with enough clout to impact global warming.

Will these leaders now come in and broker a significant deal that could not be reached by their nation’s scientists and negotiators? Will they swoop in and save the day? I don’t believe that will be the case. The issues, identified here, require compromise and commitment in money and behavior that appear to be beyond what can be achieved at this time. The talks have also been marred by conflict between protesters and Danish police. Remind anyone of WTO in Seattle in 1999?

What has been of particular interest to follow has been the bantering between the U.S. and Chinese representatives. Though China for the purposes of the conference is viewed as a developing country they are in talks with the developed countries. Issues have emerged between the two countries over measuring, verifying, and reporting of reduced carbon emissions. China wants to maintain sovereignty over these while the U.S. wants them to be independently verified. There is also disagreement over the amount of money that developed nations will commit to developing nations to mitigate climate warming issues and to move towards clean energy sources. I agree with this quote from Ban Ki-moon.

"This is the time where they should exercise the leadership," said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a speech in Copenhagen on Tuesday. "This is the time to stop pointing fingers, and this is a time to start looking in the mirror and offering what they can do more."Read more:

It is time for the two big dogs in the room to stop posturing and come to an agreement on how we can move forward in ways that benefit all people and the world that we all share. Barking and snarling must be replaced by skillful conversation and collaboration.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Could tomorrow be the first of this winter's calls . . .

The bitter cold seems to be behind us, but I don’t like what has replaced it. Yes, here in the foothills of Ravensdale we have white on the ground and on the road. Though I can’t say that I enjoyed the cold, I’m not looking forward to a phone call in the morning with those no-win choices. Well, I guess that’s another reason why I make the big bucks. But, somehow those big bucks just don’t make these particular calls, or I should say the feedback, any easier to make.

On a different topic, I’ve written quite a bit recently about the Race to the Top so I thought I’d share this light-hearted poke at it by Yong Zhao. You can follow him here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More detail more pain . . .

After perusing the governor’s budget in more detail the areas below are where we will feel the impact to our staffing and to our programs if we are not able to backfill the revenue loss. I am not faulting the governor as she has been clear that she does not want to make these cuts and would like to see a better balance by increasing revenue as well as making cuts, but it is still disheartening. As Ethan said in a comment to yesterday’s post speaking for Scott and himself.

I'm with Scott. It is frustrating. Many predicted we'd end up in exactly this situation a few years ago when the reforms were greenlighted with no plan for how to fund them. Scott spoke of how, even though the cuts don't come as a surprise they are still disappointing. I'm right there with him on that one too. It is dispiriting. Until there is fundamental change in how education is funded we will continue to go through these cycles of hope and frustration. Knowing about it, predicting it, expecting it doesn't help me (and I would guess many others) keep at bay the very human response of being deeply disappointed and feeling like our work is unvalued.

The proposed cuts in the governor's budget would result in revenue loss of about $2.8 million for next year. This is on top of the approximately $3.6 million in adjustments we made to balance this year's budget.

*Eliminate Local Effort Assistance (LEA) 470,000
*Eliminate K-4 Class Size Enhancement 1,400,000
*Eliminate I-728 915,000
*Eliminate Gifted Program Funding 65,000
*TOTAL $2,850,000

One of the more disturbing parts of the governor’s proposal is her plan to ask for an increase in the local levy lid to 36% for all school districts. For years, there has been a push by some “rich” districts to raise the lid, but only in difficult times has it been done and not by the amount she is proposing. I believe that it went up about 2% over time to compensate for lost revenue. We are currently at 24.7% so going to 36% would be an increase of about $7 million per year if we were to ask for and the community would pass this amount. The problem with this is that it once again shifts the burden from the state to the local community to pay for “basic” education services. Some of the surrounding districts will applaud this as it will be easy for them to pass. Others will have difficulty gaining support at this level from their local community.

The problem is heightened by the fact that we and others are taking action this month on levy resolutions for a February ballot that sets the dollar amount for collection for the next four years. We have done this not knowing what the levy base will be because of other discussions at the legislative level that would artificially raise money to partially offset last year’s cuts and now we have this possibility to confront. Our board was to take action next Tuesday on our recommended levy amount that we must now revisit for potential adjustments. Do we still go for four years with all the unknowns or do a two year levy? How much do we ask our community support? What we do know is that we must go before our community once more and ask them to decide on what they want to commit in local taxes to define the scope of programs we offer in our schools. Time will tell if we experience success. There must be a better way to do this.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More potential budget adjustments . . .

The governor released her budget today designed to close the $2.6 billion budget gap. The budget includes no new revenue; the gap would be closed with budget cuts. Education would experience about $470 million in cuts. We will feel these in our school system as the proposal would eliminate any funding for I-728, cut levy equalization, and impact K-4 funding.

I’ll share more when we have time to analyze the proposal in more detail and see how it will impact us. It is not good news coming on the heels of what we needed to do to balance this year’s budget. Here is a link to the League of Education Voters announcement of the governor's budget.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The climate conference begins . . .

Today is the opening of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference sponsored by the United Nations. I have followed at a distance the planning and preparation for this conference and tried to keep abreast of the politics that must be overcome for an agreement to be reached. It is interesting that nearly 100 world leaders will attend and that President Obama has changed the dates of his attendance to the final weekend when the real decision making is expected. The President has also changed his opinion and now believes that a meaningful deal can be reached at the session. It appears that the U.S. may now be willing to pick up its fair share of the $12 billion per year necessary to help developing countries fight global warming.

The conference opens with baggage after hackers released e-mails and other materials from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia. This information has been used by skeptics to cast doubt on the data and impact that humans are having on global warming. Since the release, Phil Jones, the head of the unit has stepped aside while an inquiry is conducted and other research universities and organizations have responded such as this from the American Meteorological Society and the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change. This Time article that was referenced on Climate Change helped me better understand the whole issue of the hacked information and what has happened because of the leaks.

The released information provided an opportunity for doubters to support their argument that scientists have been hiding and manipulating data to support the global warming theory. I didn’t review this information in any detail, but for me there is enough information from multiple sectors of the scientific community to support the need for world leaders to come together around this issue. We need to find solutions for how we use our resources in ways that others in the world view as equitable, to put in place practices to slow the trends and impact on our world, and to embark on creating new and cleaner ways of living in the flat world described by Friedman.

Paul Krugman makes the case for the conference reaching a deal in this New York Times opinion piece that I found on Climate Progress. He believes that this is the right time for agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, that is affordable, and that it may even stimulate the economy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Revisiting football . . .

It has been some time since I posted about football so this weekend seems like a good time to revisit since both the Huskies and Seahawks won. The Huskies looked great in blowing away the California Bears. They finish their season at 5 wins and 7 losses, one win away from a possible bowl game. It makes me go back to the Notre Dame game where they had many opportunities to put the game away and couldn’t. It turned into a what if season. What if they could have won at UCLA, or Notre Dame, or . . . If Jake Locker comes back next season it could be interesting. Do you think he will be back or will the lure of multi millions as a high first round draft choice be too much to pass up?

It wasn’t as easy today with the Hawks, but they did prevail on a last play field goal. It wasn’t the best game, it wasn’t all that exciting until the end, but when you are 4 and 7 you take every win. What is was though was COLD. I thought I dressed for the weather, but it got nippy especially when the sun went behind the stadium. I can’t imagine what it is like in Chicago, Green Bay, and Buffalo when it is below zero. I don’t think I’m a wimp, but based on today being around freezing with a little wind chill I don’t know if I could make it through one of their really cold games.

Speaking of the weather, out in Ravensdale this morning we had a little snow. It was white on the ground and on the road when I left for the game, but fortunately the roads were clear when I got home. I’m hoping to get through the season without needing to make a snow call, but this week could be tough. Hope the El Nino makes it better than last December’s snow and ice that seemed to last forever.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Another step towards Common Core Standards . . .

Here is yet another strategy to support implementation of the Common Core Standards Initiative. The Gates Foundation is giving the national PTA $1 million to promote adoption of the standards beginning in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, and North Carolina. The states were chosen because of their ability to mobilize behind a cause, but the effort could extend to other states by the middle of next year. Here is the announcement on the PTA site.

We can now add this partnership to the attachment of the standards as a condition for qualifying for federal stimulus grant money and the courting of the national teacher organizations to see a formidable campaign forming. Acceptance of the standards by states, however, will be balanced by the significant investment that each has in their own standards and required assessments. It will be interesting to see who prevails. Currently, my money, if I were a betting man, would be with the core standard movement.

So what? Why do I keep posting updates? Well, I am concerned as I have shared before with the potential for another shift in focus and the necessary alignment process. This process takes time and resources and we have been required to do it multiple times already as our state standards have changed over time. The implementation of our Classroom 10 initiative that will shift our focus to instructional practice will be influenced by this potential change in standards because it assumes an aligned curriculum. We are also seeing the need, without the necessary funds, for new secondary math resources to align with the recently revised state standards. Do we purchase resources that best align with these standards when they may be replaced by the core standards after one year of use?

There are other questions that cause us concern as we consider the implications of this significant shift in focus. Will the federal standards, once developed, remain in place for an extended period of time or will they, like our state standards, experience expensive revisions after only a few years? Will the other content areas follow the initial math and language arts standards, and if yes, when? We want to use our resources wisely and not continue to repeat processes over time so we must continue to monitor this process. Who knows, maybe my concerns will amount to nothing when the standards are released and we find that they are aligned with those in our state. We can hope. Or, perhaps our state will choose to maintain autonomy and forego the opportunities for federal and private money to support change. Maybe something similar to what Texas may do as is shown in this Flypaper post. Here is the letter from a Texas commissioner to a legislator.

Dear Senator Cornyn:

I am writing to express my deep concerns regarding recent efforts by the U. S. Department of Education (USDE) to adopt a national curriculum and testing system in the United States. This effort can be seen as a step toward a federal takeover of the nation’s public schools.
As you are likely aware, a number of entities that develop and market education assessments and materials and several non-profits have banded together in an effort they have named the “Common Core Standards Initiative.” I believe that the true intention of this effort is to establish one set of national education standards and national tests across the country. Originally sold to states as voluntary, states have now been told that participation in national standards and national testing would be required as a condition of receiving federal discretionary grant funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) administered by the USDE. The effort has now become a cornerstone of the Administration’s education policy through the USDE’s prioritization of adoption of national standards and aligned national tests in receiving federal funds. The Secretary of Education has already reserved $650 million of ARRA funds for the production of these national tests.

In short, because Texas has chosen to preserve its sovereign authority to determine what is appropriate for Texas children to learn in its public schools, the state is now placed at a serious disadvantage in competing for its share of ARRA discretionary funding. Billed by Secretary Duncan as the “Race to the Top,” (RTTT) it appears that the USDE is placing its desire for a federal takeover of public education above the interests of the 4.7 million schoolchildren in the state of Texas by setting two different starting lines - one for nearly every other state in the country and one for Texas.

Texas has consistently maintained that states should retain their authority to determine the curriculum and testing requirements for their students. The elected Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) sets the standards Texas students are supposed to meet for each subject taught in the public school system. Texas law requires the direct participation of educators, parents, business and industry representatives, and employers in the development of the standards. Through this process, Texas has recently adopted college-ready math, English language arts, and science standards and will soon complete work on the social studies standards. The state has purchased new textbooks, created targeted professional development for our teachers, and developed new assessments aligned with these new standards. Joining the national standards and national testing movement would require Texas taxpayers to re-spend at least $3 billion.

If the USDE has its way, Texas’ process, along with every other state that has a similar process, will be negated. With the release of the RTTT application, it is clear that the first step toward nationalization of our schools has been put into place. I do not believe that the requirements will end with the RTTT; I believe that USDE will utilize the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to further the administration’s federal takeover of public schools, including withholding billions of dollars from our disadvantaged and special education students.

Ronald Reagan once said, “I believe a case can be made that the decline in the quality of public school education began when federal aid to education became federal interference in education.” Having the federal government use Washington-based special interest groups and vendors as proxy for the USDE in setting national curriculum standards and then using ARRA federal discretionary funds to develop national tests for every child in the nation represents unprecedented intrusiveness by the federal government into the personal lives of our children and their families.

I encourage and invite you to stand with me against national curriculum standards and national tests. The authority to determine what students in our public schools should learn properly resides with states, local school boards and parents. The federal government should not be engaging in activity that seeks to undermine our ability to determine what will be taught in our schools.

Robert ScottTexas Commissioner of Education