Monday, July 25, 2016

We need your help!

Communication, ironically, is something we always seem to be discussing. Whether you are a Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) employee, a teacher, an administrator or in the business sector, communication is a big deal. So, why is it that communication can be so difficult? And quite frankly, how is it that as a whole, the profession of education tends to be so bad at it? 

Perhaps part of the reason is that educators are typically neither taught the art of communication beyond pedagogy, nor are we given a sense of urgency around it. Here at KDE I am lucky that I have a staff that focuses on communication, but admittedly we do not always get it right. I think that sometimes the issue in education is that we tend to think of communication as a one-way street or maybe even a one-party obligation. If the communication is to be effective, it’s not that easy. The communication must be two-way and that, like everything else, takes effort and intentionality on everyone’s part.

The case in point is our new accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We have tried to communicate two major issues to this point. One, we are working on a new system with lots of diverse individuals; and two, the deadline for commenting on many of U.S. Department of Education (USED) proposed regulations that would govern implementation of ESSA and a new accountability system is coming to an end on August 1. Kentuckians must comment if we want to do what we believe is right by our students. We have communicated through social media, emails, news releases, the KDE website, articles in Kentucky Teacher, held a dozen town hall meetings (one virtually, available on demand) on the subject, and I have blogged about both of these issues almost non-stop. Yet still, I received a few emails over the weekend telling me about the new ESSA and how they “heard I might be considering making changes to the accountability system.” 

How is that possible? How is it that we are still having Kentuckians who do not know about this work? After some reflection, I think the answer is threefold. 

One, we at KDE, have to redouble our efforts to communicate with the key people who can help distribute our messages, such as the Kentucky Association of School Administrators to whom I had the honor to speak last week. 

The second, we need folks to meet us half way. We need Kentuckians to want this knowledge and be willing to sometimes seek it out, but sometimes simply to open an email. I was told recently when I was being scolded by an educator for not communicating enough that he “doesn’t read email unless it looks interesting.” This is one of the most historic times in our careers, nothing should be more interesting right now than making sure our accountability system is the right thing for our students. We must stop living in a world of “I heard that…” or “Someone told me…” without doing our own research. Rumors only hurt the truth. It was the same in middle school as it is as an adult. 

Third, we need everyone to communicate what they know about the process and eventually the system itself. We are posting PowerPoints that keep everyone up to date on process and key milestones as the work progresses. I have asked all administrators to take 20 minutes at the end of each faculty meeting to update staff on the process, but people do not have to wait. They can go to the website to get all the information they need. 

We all may not be happy when this is over, but at the very least, we all need to be informed. 
Finally, I need to make one more plea about the proposed regulations from USED. August 1 is the deadline for comment on the portion of the regulations dealing with accountability, state plans and data reporting.

I know we are all busy, but this is a critical time. I am challenging Kentuckians to make their feelings known to USED and lawmakers on these regulations – my goal is for at least 1,000 Kentuckians to share their thoughts – positive or negative through the Federal Register website. As the State School Officer for Kentucky, I will be submitting my thoughts, as I have shared with Congress on two occasions. But my comments count as only one voice and hold no more value than anyone else’s. We need everyone to comment by the August 1 deadline. You do not have to agree with me, but if you do, feel free to use a portion of my written testimony. As with everything, if we do not take the opportunity to voice our opinion, we will be stuck with what we have, with no one to blame. 

Thank you all for what you do for our students in your various roles. Now is the time for courage and communication, we can do this together. Remember, it may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a Commonwealth to educate one. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Courage in the Face of Change

Courage, a simple word. Nearly everyone knows how to define it. Many statements exemplify it. It takes courage to rush into battle, to stand before a crowd of peers, to even take a stand for what is right. It takes just as much courage to be patient (especially in a highly charged environment that screams rush), to listen to others, to admit when you do not have all of the answer, and to admit when you are wrong.

In this blog, I’d like to address another type of courage, courage in the face of change. This is a special type of courage. It is about putting another’s need in front of your personal needs. It is about trying to consider the uncomfortable truth, that only through change can we make the lives of our students better.

Change is uncomfortable, it is at times unwieldy. I know that Kentucky educators have seen great change over the past few years, but it has made us stronger and it has made a better life for our students.

Andre Gide said, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

We are at an important and, I believe, historic moment in Kentucky and across the nation with the passage and implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Courage will be required if we are to move forward in educating our students. If we are going to actually make change, we are going to have to be ready to lose sight of the shore. In other words, those things that have been the basis of where we are today of which some have proven successful on and some have not. Oddly enough, even when we aren’t successful, we often will still choose comfort over the possibility of change. 

I have named more than 160 individuals to come together and develop our new accountability system. This is going to be hard and intense work, but work that is needed in Kentucky. But they cannot be the only people involved. We need all of our educators and shareholders to be engaged and willing to inform the process.

I have been clear that I am open to a brand new system. There is no agenda here on my part except to develop a system that will drive adults to make good decisions for our students. To do that, it will take courage, but given Kentucky’s history I know our people are up to the task.

All of that sounds good, sounds great actually. However, if we do not first stand up for ourselves as the guidance for ESSA is being developed, we may never get there. We have until August 1 to submit feedback on the United States Education Department (USED) proposed regulations on accountability, state plans, and data reporting. The link to submit comments can be found here. I am not going to tell anyone what to say, but I want to push all to have the courage to send feedback.

Robert F. Kennedy said, “Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” 

It is time consuming and tough to stand for what is right. I encourage all of you to send feedback to the USED so that Kentucky’s voice will be heard loud and clear. I would appreciate it if you would support the issues the Kentucky Department of Education has identified as reflected in my congressional testimony, but if you see different issues that is fine too. You can link to my House Committee on Education and the Workforce oral and written testimony from last month as well to the oral and written testimony presented to the Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions last week. While they are very similar, there are a few differences. I just want the Commonwealth of Kentucky to lead the way in providing direction to USED. It is our right to do this, but it is also what is right.

While courage manifests itself in many ways and has many forms, in my opinion, there is no area that requires more courage than education. Everyone thinks they know about it and everyone has a better way to do it. It often feels like everyone is on the attack. However, only through courage in the face of change in education can we make a real difference for students. We must push to “search for a new ocean” and have the courage to “lose sight of the shore.” If we do, our children will be prepared to be a fulfilled and contributing member of our Commonwealth and beyond.