Reform Without Funding is Dead

Or, that’s the claim essentially made by Stu Silberman here.

Silberman points out that as states like Kentucky continue to push forward on education reform, this time, they’re doing it without the commitment to funding that allowed Kentucky to be successful in the 1990s.

Specifically, he notes:

Funding cuts at the federal, state and local levels over the last several years
combined with the additional pressures and demands of high-level reform are
creating an environment for failure. Action to change this must come soon. Would
Kentucky have made the progress it has since 1990 without the supports for
teachers and students? The answer, clearly, is no. And unless we find a way to
support our teachers and kids this time around, we will see movement again – but
this time it will be in reverse.

Clearly, Silberman is not pleased with the trend of reform that says that we can improve schools without investing in them.  While it is true that simply spending more money won’t help, it is also true that targeted reforms without adequate financial support are doomed to fail.

Kentucky is a state that got education reform right in the 1990s and proceeded on a positive path into the 2000s.  Going backwards now should not be an option.

For more on education policy in Kentucky, follow us on Twitter @KyEdReport

Rand Paul Gets it Wrong on Charter Schools

This post first appeared on July 30, 2013 on our sister site, Tennessee Education Report


Yesterday, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Rand Paul stopped by Nashville’s KIPP Academy to talk about education issues and to allow Alexander a chance to be photographed next to Tea Party favorite Paul.

The topic of discussion was school choice and the two legislators were joined by Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and House Speaker Beth Harwell.

First, let me say that KIPP Academy and a number of other Charter Schools do very fine work.  Charter Schools can offer an alternative that helps kids and the good ones are a welcome addition to the mix of options offered in urban school systems.

That said, the event seemed odd in that it was Paul who was talking about the lessons Kentucky could learn from Tennessee’s education experience.  Kentucky has no Charter Schools, no voucher schemes, and not much in terms of what current “reformers” deem necessary to “improve” schools.

Here’s what Kentucky does have:

– Higher scores on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) than Tennessee in seven out of eight categories.

– A higher ACT composite average than Tennessee

– A larger percentage of its population with 4-year college degrees than Tennessee

– A lower unemployment rate than Tennessee

In short, Kentucky’s schools are getting results and continue moving in the right direction.

So, it seems Lamar Alexander might want to ask one of the many Democratic governors Kentucky has had over the years about the importance of a long-term commitment to meaningful reform.

Kentucky’s Education Reform Act, passed in 1990, changed the way schools were funded.  It set up a new system of testing.  It provided early career support for teachers.  Funding for all schools was increased.  One feature many at yesterday’s event touted about Charter Schools (autonomy, school-based decisions) was written into the Act — Kentucky schools have Site-Based Decision-Making Councils.  These bodies (parents, teachers, administrators) make decisions about school governance and budgeting.

Kentucky spends about $1500 more per student than Tennessee and has sustained this investment (for the most part) in good and bad economic times.

Governor Steve Beshear has been committed to high quality early education.

The results are clear: Kentucky’s been committed to meaningful, sustained investment in schools and teachers and it is paying off and continues to pay off.

Tennessee has tried just about everything but sustained investment, with the 2014 legislative session sure to bring up further discussion of vouchers and other schemes – none of which will likely come with more dollars for the classroom or more support for teachers.

And on just about every indicator, Kentucky beats Tennessee when it comes to school-based outcomes.

It’s time Lamar Alexander and Tennessee’s policymakers look north, and learn the lesson that long-term, sustained support for schools is the only way to move students and the state forward.

For more on Kentucky education policy, follow us @KyEdReport

Kentucky and Tennessee — Football and Schools

My column that appeared in the Hendersonville Star-News on Friday, December 2, 2011:

As I watched UK claim its first football victory over UT in 26 years, I began to ponder what might happen if the tables were turned. How would Tennesseans react if Kentucky beat Tennessee in football 26 years in a row? Already, the first coach to lose to Kentucky in 26 years is facing some griping from Vols fans. Lose to UK two years in a row and there will certainly be talk of a coach on the “hot seat.” While Tennessee certainly owns football supremacy, at least Kentucky has basketball.

There is, however, one arena in which Kentucky consistently beats Tennessee: Education. Since the 1991 passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, Kentucky schools have been on a tireless forward march. Indicator after indicator demonstrates that Kentucky has far out-paced Tennessee in education results over the last twenty years. And, Kentucky keeps moving forward. Meanwhile, Tennesseans watch as reform efforts here get off to noble starts only to fizzle out when the going gets tough (Career Ladder, BEP 2.0).

Let’s take a look at the indicators to see just where we stand in relation to our neighbor to the north. For starters, eight states test 100% of high school graduates on the ACT. Of those eight states, Tennessee ranks 7th in statewide average score. Perhaps not surprisingly, Tennessee spends less per pupil than all of the states ahead of us. Kentucky is one of those states and spends $1000-$1500 more per pupil (depending on the source) than we do.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the one test that students in all states take in 4th and 8th grade. It measures proficiency levels in math, reading, science and writing. Year after year, Kentucky’s students demonstrate greater proficiency than Tennessee’s. The most recent results in math and reading showed that Kentucky’s students tested 8 points ahead of Tennessee in reading and 10 points ahead in math. These numbers held even when looking at those students on free and reduced lunch. In Science, Kentucky’s 4th graders hold a 13-point lead over Tennessee’s; by 8th grade that lead expands to 18 points.

Finally, in terms of college degree attainment, nearly one in three Kentuckians holds a 4-year degree. On the other hand, barely one in five Tennesseans has a college diploma. An individual with a college diploma has been shown to earn $1 million more over a lifetime than a high school graduate. Moreover, if you’re a business deciding where to locate, you’ll find Kentucky has more college graduates available. If you took 1000 Tennesseans and 1000 Kentuckians to a job interview, 100 more of those Kentuckians (300 vs. 200) would have a college degree. That makes it difficult for Tennessee to compete.

So, let’s assume we don’t want to keep on losing to Kentucky. And, we should certainly be outraged by the consistent beating we’re taking. What do we do?

Over the last twenty years, Kentucky has maintained a focus on bold reform with three essential components: 1) Invest in schools 2) Invest in teachers and 3) Invest in students. As I noted, Kentucky spends $1000-$1500 more per student than Tennessee. Teachers there also make about $2000 more per year than Tennessee’s.

Kentucky’s success is not just about more money, though. It’s about smart investments that get proven results. Kentucky invests in teachers by way of the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program (KTIP). KTIP is an intensive first-year teaching experience during which new teachers are assigned a mentor and an advisor from a local university. Those two individuals along with the school’s principal form the new teacher’s internship committee. The teacher is observed at least nine times in that first year and given constant feedback. At the end of the year, the teacher is either recommended for a teaching license, recommended for an additional KTIP year, or not advanced to a full teaching license. This focus on the critical first year of teaching, while certainly not perfect, does emphasize teacher development and demonstrate Kentucky’s commitment to ensuring that proven teachers stay in the profession. While Tennessee has adopted new evaluations, there is no support structure similar to Kentucky’s for new teachers.

Kentucky has also committed to extra learning time – providing targeted tutoring to students most in need of extra assistance. Again, this research-based approach is paying dividends as can be seen by Kentucky’s solid NAEP and ACT performance. Smart investments, not just throwing money at the problem, pay off in the long term.

For 26 years, the last Saturday in November has meant certain victory for Tennessee football. I have no doubt that UT will again claim victory over Kentucky – maybe for another 26 years. While the folks on Coach Dooley’s staff focus on getting the football right, we have a more important challenge – building strong, effective schools. Tennessee children should have more to look forward to than singing Rocky Top in Neyland Stadium as UK heads back to Lexington after another loss.

For more on education policy in Kentucky, follow us @KyEdReport