Kentucky Touts ACT Gains

With today’s release of the ACT College and Career Readiness report, the Kentucky Department of Education is touting the fact that the state’s students are making continuous gains in terms of readiness.  The state points to three-year trends that show the number of Kentucky students hitting college/career ready benchmarks steadily (and slowly) heading upward.

The trend data is noteworthy because it establishes that while Kentucky still has work to do, the progress is steady and real.

What’s fascinating is that this progress has been made without any of the trendy reforms oft-touted by today’s education reform crowd.  Kentucky still has no Charter Schools.  There aren’t voucher schemes in the state or any school system.  Kentucky has yet to tie teacher evaluations or licensure to test scores.  In fact, Commissioner Holliday tweeted today that recent polling data on the issue of tying teacher evaluations to test scores was reason to take further pause before considering using scores for the evaluation process.

What that means for Kentucky kids is that they won’t be subject to a barrage of new tests used primarily for creating a number score for a teacher.  Instead, they can expect the same focus on high standards and strong teaching that has been the backbone of Kentucky education policy for more than 20 years now.

What’s even more telling, perhaps, is that in Tennessee, a state that has adopted liberal charter enrollment policy, changed teacher evaluation radically, and recently passed new standards tying teacher licensing to test scores, there was no release today touting similar gains in college and career readiness.

In fact, if you simply look at head-to-head results, Kentucky students test higher (slightly) than Tennessee’s in 4 out of 5 categories.

What’s the difference? Instead of trying every trendy new reform and developing test-dependent policies, Kentucky has focused on rigor and investment.  The comparison of the two states is an important lesson for those in Kentucky who will call for vouchers or charters or score-based teacher evaluations in the 2014 legislative session.

Kentucky should stay the course, continue investing, and move its schools forward.

For more on Kentucky education policy, follow us @KyEdReport

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