State Board Work Session – February 23, 2012

In the spirit of full disclosure, if you’d rather watch the actual meeting than read my notes, please visit this site.  It looks like the State Department of Education will be broadcasting some of its meetings (not sure which ones) via ustream!

All members of the board were present.  Their post-secondary board meeting was held prior to this work session, and as such, the meeting did not start on time (10:30 a.m.), but rather around 11:30 a.m.  ( I failed to note the time, my apologies.)

State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice conducted the work session, introducing the work by saying today is a very exciting day, as they were going to share with the board the direction of the school system for the next four years.  Bice spoke of the natural transition from one superintendent to the other and the opportunities that presented the board by looking back on what has worked, sizing up the challenges and look at what they want to do differently.  Bice said he had delved into the “unbelievable” amount of information they have available in their department and found some information surprising, some startling (and not always in a bad way).  He spoke of the opportunity the information provides because it quantifies the challenges ahead.

Bice then unveiled “Plan 2020”.  (This is where viewing the video helps, as I was not provided a copy of the slides of the PowerPoint Bice used.  Here’s hoping it will be published on their web site! Update 3/29/12: HERE IT IS!) 

He described the plan as a “total shift from proficiency to preparedness”, mentioning that he believed the state had been held captive under No Child Left Behind to meet proficiency benchmarks.  He emphasized that Plan 2020 is a living plan, not a static document.

“Every Child a Graduate — Every Child Prepared” is the motto.  Bice said he wants children to be prepared for a fate of their choosing.

Plan 2020 is built around four areas:  learners, support systems, professionals, and schools/systems.  Bice remarked that you need all four functioning in concert with each other in order to make education work.

In the hopes of the slides becoming available, the details won’t be revealed in this post, just the important and high points I grasped from the presentation.

Learners

Where “Learners” are concerned, Bice spoke of four areas of concentration:  achievement and growth – we must show continuous improvement; achievement gap closure – citing this is “not real pretty, but we must own it”; graduation rate concerns; college and career preparedness.

Strategies to address these four areas within Learners include:

  • Develop a unified pre-kindergarten through college and career readiness plan;
  • Develop and adopt college- and career-ready aligned standards;
  • Create and implement a balanced and meaningful assessment and measurement process;
  • Align programmatic and fiscal goals and resources.

Bice has developed Indicators for each area, which you will most likely read about in the newspaper over the next couple of days.  I will mention key and/or startling indicators here.

The graduation rate is calculated at 65% for Alabama, meaning that 65% of Alabama’s students entered grade 9 and graduated from high school 4 years later.  Students receiving the Alabama Occupational Diploma (AOD) no longer count as graduates, per the U.S. Department of Education (which assesses whether a diploma means a student can gain entry into college….an AOD does not allow for entry into college…however it does appear that those awarded the AOD diploma are allowed to take the GED).  In four years, Bice plans to raise that number to 75%.

Many times during the presentation, Bice referred to the goals as “aspirational”.  He didn’t apologize for his aspirations.

Another Indicator used was the percentage of students who are defined as College and Career-Ready.  That definition is met when a student has earned benchmark scores on the ACT in four areas:  English 18, Reading 21, Math 22, Science 24.  More information from ACT on College and Career Readiness here.  Currently, 18% of Alabama’s students met those benchmark scores in all four areas.  The four-year goal is 26%.  In eight years, Bice set the number at 40%.  The goal is very aspirational, Bice said.

Remediation needs in reading and math in college is another area Bice hopes to impact.  The baseline (current) measurement is 34%, meaning 34% of Alabama’s students attending two- and four-year colleges require remediation in reading or math.  In four years, Bice plans for that number to be 20%.  Eight years….10%.  While I’ve heard Bice say this before, and reported it here, it bears repeating.  If the K-12 system has a clear idea of the target (meaning what DO our graduates need to be prepared for upon entering college in Alabama), then we can get them prepared.  Board member Mary Scott Hunter said she has grown weary of hearing representatives from the post-secondary (college) system complain to  her that the K-12 system isn’t sending students to college ready for college-level work in reading and math when that same system won’t define a goal.  Bice hopes to work with the college system to define those goals to ensure Alabama’s students are prepared.

The achievement gap was next on the list.  Bice continued to describe this as “not pretty” and reminded board members that we must “own it” to impact a positive change.  The gap in performance on the ACT exam is 21 percentage points….meaning that white students score 21% higher on the ACT than black students.  The gap stands at 14% when measuring the difference in scores on the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test (ARMT).  White students score 14% higher on that test than black students.  Bice plans to reduce the ACT gap to 13% in four years, the ARMT gap to 6% in that same period.

Board member Ella Bell asked Bice where the gap starts.  Bice’s reply….birth, specifically pre-kindergarten (pre-K).  Quality pre-K programs make all the difference.  Pre-K does not fall under the ALSDE’s responsibility.  Instead, it falls under the Office of School Readiness.  Discussion was had about the lack of funding for Pre-K and the challenges and opportunities that presents for sharing responsibility, facilities and other resources to build quality Pre-K programs.  There was mention of 4-year-old Performance Standards, of which I was not aware.  Those standards are aligned with the Alabama Course of Study.

Support Systems

After Learners, there was discussion of Support Systems.  These seemed to address what Bice has called the Circle of Care in previous discussions.  The strategies in this area include:

  • Develop early-warning systems where excessive absences are a problem
  • Utilize Positive Behavior Supports or other alternatives to disciplinary and suspensions
  • Implement Alabama’s Comprehensive Guidance and Counseling Plan
  • Develop and implement a Coordinated School Health and Support Program

These were interesting pieces, particularly one indicator:  truancy.  Truancy is defined as having 7 or more unexcused absences.  Bice looked at data from all 132 school systems and found that last school year, there were 126,615 students in Alabama who met the definition of truant.  That’s more than one in seven students.  Bice stated that when he did the math, that equated to nearly 1,000,000 school days.  He said he knew in exactly which school systems truancy is a problem and that in one school district, 69% of students were truant.  Say what?  When board members asked which district it was, Bice said he would distribute the list to board members (which means the newspapers should have it shortly, too).

Regarding the school counselor, Bice had much to say.  He believes that school counselors have an incredibly important role and are too often relegated to being test proctors and serve in other administrative capacities.  Bice would like to see counselors returned to their original and proper role.  He said that the Plan he listed was developed some time ago and should be properly implemented.  Board member Dr. Yvette Richardson asked for Bice to send a reminder to Superintendents and Principals of the proper role of the counselor to allow counselors to return to that role.  Bice responded by saying that this is going to “be a transition” for schools due to the lack of funding and the reality of multiple staff doing multiple roles as a result of continually decreasing funding.  He has set this as a four-year goal.

Bice asked Assistant Superintendent Dr. Craig Pouncey to quote the number of education employees in K-12 that have been lost since 2008.  That number?   12,500.

Numbers and targets for disciplinary infractions and 9th grade failures were shared.  132,395 disciplinary infractions currently….115,000 target in four years.  4,786 9th grade failures currently….2,500 target in four years.

Professionals

The goal is to ensure that well-prepared teachers and leaders are in every classroom and school in Alabama.  Strategies to get there include:

  • Alabama Teacher Recruitment and Incentive Program
  • Review admission and certification for teacher preparation programs
  • Provide mentoring program for new teachers
  • Provide professional growth and evaluation systems for teachers that include multiple measures of student growth and achievement (“We need to own what student growth means” per Bice.)
  • Provide research-based professional growth opportunities for Alabama’s teachers and leaders based on in individual and collective learning plans

Bice mentioned that at one time, all of these programs were funded, but at the present time, none of them are.

Schools and Systems

The presentation was moving quicker now…..

Goals in this area include:

  • Ensuring systems and schools receive adequate funding
  • Using a school/system-identified need as determined by the state’s new accountability plan (to be unveiled in April)
  • Provide buildings to ensure 21st Century learning
  • Provide flexibility to ensure 21st Century learning

Strategies include:

  • Analyzing the current funding formula for public education (taking a hard look at the current Foundation Program to allocate monies)
  • Allow for differentiated and customized support for schools and systems
  • Create a policy environment that promotes and rewards performance, innovation and creativity
  • Conduct a study of capital outlay needs for school systems

Wow.  Analyzing the current funding formula?  Allowing for differentiated and customized support?  That promises to be innovative.

Bice said that it is time to stop treating all 132 school systems the same.  Rather, we should look at them on a continuum, recognizing that the needs of one school system may be greater, or may be different than another school system.  Wow.  What an admission.  Enough editorial comments for now.

Presentation complete.

An interesting discussion ensued.  Board member Ella Bell expressed her frustration that the legislature continues to legislate actions for school systems without consulting the state board.  Bell believed that the state department of education should be giving the legislators a plan and then the legislature should act upon it.  Instead, she was frustrated that it seemed to be the other way around.  Bice said that until now, the department hadn’t given the legislature anything to act upon, but he hopes that Plan 2020 will provide that starting ground.  Additional discussion from the board focused on developing relationships with legislators when they are not in session.

Career Tech Commission

Bice presented material about the CTE (Career Technical Education) Commission, whose purpose is to strengthen and support quality career and technical education programs and initiatives.  He referred to a plan from 1987 entitled “Plan for Excellence” that was adopted by the state that had not been fully implemented.  Bice stated that 1987 plan was a good one and almost word-for-word could be followed today and produce the results they hoped to produce.

Most of the discussion was an update to an earlier discussion the board had (not sure when).  Bice was excited to learn that the state’s earlier recommendation to create a high-level state business/education council would be simple as the Economic Development Alliance has been created.  Bice would like to see the State Superintendent or his designee added to the Alliance.

He added that there are 10 Regional Work Force Development Councils in existence and he would like to ensure K-12 representation on those Councils.  Bice wants to see the ALSDE utilize the State Business/Industry Advisory council as well.

After some discussion among the board about why there is no K-12 representation in these areas up until now, Bice reiterated that while K-12 isn’t typically part of the workforce conversation, they certainly should be, saying it is because “if we don’t do our job, they can’t either”.

Another recommendation that was made is to ensure that every student take 2 CTE courses and that every student enter high school with an individual plan for their future.  Bice mentioned that the Alabama Code already requires “pathway development”.  Also, that there are ways to add CTE courses to the curriculum in a simple and meaningful way.  The example used was to consider changing the .5 credit (half-year) requirement in high school from Computer Applications to Personal Finance/Financial Literacy.

Discussion began among the board about how to add CTE-like courses at the middle school level, but due to continued decreasing funding (middle schools lost the most during the recent change in divisors), middle schools were losing the ability to offer even exploratory electives.

Board member Gary Warren asked for Bice to appoint leadership to his “top cabinet”  in the CTE area, adding that a balance of leadership needs to exist between the post-secondary CTE people and the ALSDE CTE people.

ESEA Flexibility Waiver

Bice mentioned that his position has changed a bit from the last time this was discussed.  I wasn’t there during that previous discussion, so I don’t know what his prior position was, but Bice made mention that he had considered aligning with other states to request a flexibility waiver as a group of states but now believes that will not be best for Alabama.

Bice asked the board if they were willing to consider a plan where the Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs), the benchmark numbers that a school system must reach or be liable under AYP for not reaching, were frozen for this year (meaning they would not increase as they are supposed to each year….ending at 100% in 2014….when everyone is supposed to be proficient according to No Child Left Behind goals).  Bice mentioned that he is very excited about the new accountability plan they have been working on and will unveil in April, but that they could not get that plan enacted before next year and the freezing of AMOs would serve to provide relief for our local school systems.  Board members agreed to consider the plan.  Bice said the U.S. Department of Education had three requirements that he would send to the board members for their consideration.

He said that the new accountability plan (testing and progress measurements) will be unique in the country and will be uniquely Alabama’s.  Here’s to eager anticipation of the April meeting.

Bice mentioned that Alabama will have until September 6th to submit the plan to the U.S. Department of Education.  For more information on ESEA flexibility, visit this site.

Resolutions on the agenda will be presented at the official Board meeting.  A video showcasing Alabama’s use of technology in the classroom in recognition of  Alabama’s Digital Learning Month was shared with the board.  If I find a link, I will post it here.

The meeting adjourned around 1:15 p.m.

Remember, these comments are taken from my notes.  If you wish to see the presentation of Plan 2020 yourself, take the time to view the video.  It truly is worth hearing directly from our State Superintendent.  My thanks to the ALSDE for streaming the meeting.  Truly a step forward in communicating with our school community.

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