KY Ed Report Interviews Andrew Brennen

Andrew Brennen serves as the student member of the Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence.  He graciously agreed to an interview with Kentucky Education Report. You can follow him on Twitter @aebrennen

Andrew Brennen is a high school senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky.  He and his partner were state champions in public forum debate this season.

Here are his answers to our questions:

1. Tell us about your role with the Prichard Committee? How were you selected? What do you do with the Committee?

I have two roles within the Prichard Committee for Academic excellence.  I serve as the first full voting student member of the Prichard Committee.  This role came about after 13 other Central Kentucky students and I worked with adult allies for the better part of the school year to make the case to Prichard Committee members at their spring meetings that students could and should be education policy partners.We premised the argument on the idea that the Prichard Committee has been a national leader in mobilizing stakeholders in the education system but in 30 years of work they never fully integrated students in that effort.  This represented a necessary change.

The second role I play is as a co-designer and active member of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, the initiative that came out of the original presentation last June. If last year was our think-tank stage, this year is a very active pilot phase in which we’re hoping to serve as a national model for student integration in substantive education policy work.  I have leveraged an independent study from my high school and been able to devote an unusual amount of time to helping to direct the group with a team of adults and other students   We have been prototyping ideas all year long and are constantly refining and innovating both our infrastructure and activities. Here’s more on the Student Voice Team.

 How did you become engaged with education advocacy?

My interest in Education Advocacy arose initially from my involvement with the Kentucky YMCA’s KYA and KUNA programs.  The mock/experiential government programs in many ways served to help me identify and strengthen my interests and by my junior year, it was clear to me that civic engagement and education policy were my twin passions.  The Prichard Committee and the Student Voice team serve as a way for me to practice those passions moving from the practice-for-the-real-world policy making at KYA to the real-world policy making with the Prichard Committee

3.  What do you see as the most pressing need facing Kentucky schools?

 There are two.

  Adequate Funding for Kentucky Public Schools and inequality of funding.  The current level of funding for Kentucky public schools is not adequate to accomplish the goal of bringing every student to the level of efficient.  Many national standards will tell you that though Kentucky does very well with what we have if you compare our funding levels to other states, we rank extremely low in our absolute per pupil spending and students from Whitesburg to Bowling Green are feeling the pinch.

 Lack of Student Voice in decision-making.  Why do we not engage students–particularly those in middle school and older–in the challenging issues that face our schools? Why not teach students to think critically about testing, the debate around the Common Core, discrepancies in funding across and within school districts, the achievement gap between races, socio-economic classes and students with disabilities and supporting effective teaching?  Why not engage students in helping to find solutions to the very problems they face every day in the classroom?  Why not support students to practice democracy instead of just learning about it?

4. Do you think Gov. Beshear’s budget goes far enough, or can more be done to improve education in the Commonwealth?

Gov. Beshear’s budget takes an excellent step toward the direction of adequate funding.  Encouraging the state legislature to pass the budget as is one of our top priorities; however, when it comes to improving the quality of education in the Commonwealth, funding isn’t the only issue.  The Prichard Committee’s Team on Teacher Effectiveness recently produced a report outlining some steps Kentucky can take to increase the quality of teaching in the state which is arguably the most immediate indicator of student achievement.  Additionally, work having to do with increased internet access and early childhood education needs to be prioritized as both affect significantly quality of education here in Kentucky.

5. What would you say to policymakers unwilling to make schools a top budget priority?

I would remind these legislators that funding K-12 education is more than just an expenditure in the now.  The return on investment as a result of a higher quality of education is significant.  Legislators can either make the choice now to invest more in those students who supposedly mean the most to Kentucky or avoid making the hard choice only to face the repercussions in the future.  Kentucky has made huge strides in education since the passing of KERA, however, the rocket we have been riding on is losing fuel. We need to reinvest before our plan takes a nose dive.

6.  What would you tell other students who want to get involved with education advocacy?

Do it. If you are interested in getting involved with the work being done with the Prichard Committee do not hesitate to contact us at studentvoiceteam@prichardcommittee.org.   As far as being involved with other work education-related or not, just remember that you are only limited by your imagination and passion.  In school, we spend hours learning what democracy is and looks like, But I would encourage all students to go out on their own or with a team and discover how they can apply democratic values themselves.  We live in a society that seems to suggest that your responsibility toward civic engagement only begins on your 18th birthday.  But it’s not true, and our communities need you.  Your responsibility begins now.

7. Where will you be going to college? Why’d you make that choice?

If you ask me again in 20 days I will probably have an answer for you.  I am still waiting to hear back from some schools and scholarships before I make a final decision.  What I do know is that I want to study public policy and business while in college, and most of the schools I am considering have strong programs in both.

8.  Will we see Andrew Brennen for Governor signs in the future? Do you have political aspirations?

I prefer to think of my future in terms of the goals I hope to have accomplished and not necessarily in terms of specific titles.  I want to be following my beliefs and passions.  I want to support the right to an education and the right to speech. I want to be happy with what I do in life and help serve as a microphone for those whose voices are often stifled. If I end up running for some political office to help accomplish those goals, it will be mainly because I find it the best vehicle to help me do just that.

 Will Kentucky or Louisville win the national title in basketball this year?

University of Kentucky signs my father’s paycheck so my allegiance is secured.

For more on Kentucky education policy and politics, follow @KYEdReport

 

Kentucky Teachers Talk Education Funding

The Prichard Blog features two teachers talking about the importance of a legislative commitment to education funding.

First up is Kim Delaney, a first grade teacher in Boone County.

Here is the central portion of her argument:

First grade has changed a lot since you and I were in a classroom. The days of Dick and Jane basal readers have passed. I have the responsibility to teach    24 students, and sometimes more, to read. First grade students are required to read 67 words per minute in fiction as well as non-fiction texts by the end    of first grade. We expect our children to be equipped and prepared to be college- and career-ready to compete in a global society. Despite the    responsibility I have for those 24 students, I am given 11 reading textbooks to use with them. This is a tragedy. Children learn to read by holding a book    in their hands, tracking print, looking at pictures and more. My children must have the tools they need to read in order to learn to think critically and    to become accomplished readers and writers.

 Standards require my students to be able to research and utilize technology, yet I have three desktop computers for 24 students to share.

 We can accept no further cuts to education for our children and grandchildren.

Next, Michelle Rynbrandt-Hendricks, currently a 4th grade teacher in Bullitt County, offers her thoughts.  She talks about what it’s like being a high school special education teacher, a job she previously held.

Here’s what she has to say:

The reality is that teachers will do what it takes to make things happen for kids. Teachers will buy Kyle a new pair of shoes when his are so full of holes    and won’t stay on his feet, they will pitch in to pay a plumber to fix the toilet for the family who can’t flush theirs, they will beg for someone to give  Andy a haircut; get the heat turned on where Morgan lives and make sure Jamie and her 3-year-old little brother have presents from Santa.

  Teachers always have been and always will be givers. They are fiercely protective of their charges. Just because teachers and other school employees will    move mountains in order to get what their kids need, doesn’t mean they should have to move mountains.

  Fully funding education means that the above situations don’t have to be so common. Safe and functional spaces for kids to learn, fair compensation and a    protected retirement for teachers, adequate support for professional development and training so that teachers can be prepared for the subjects they   teach–these things should not be the exception. Fully funding education should be the rule.

Kentucky teachers are speaking out about the needs of their students — and their own very real needs.  Teachers, as Michelle notes, deserve professional compensation and a secure retirement. Students deserve safe spaces to learn and adequate learning materials (textbooks, technology, classroom supplies).

Kentucky is in danger of falling behind after years of making great gains.  As these teachers note, Kentucky students deserve better — and they can’t wait for the legislature to put it off until a more comfortable budget year.  Leadership requires tough choices.  The question is: Will Kentucky’s legislators lead, or will they allow Kentucky to fall behind?

 

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow @KYEdReport

 

 

A Student Speaks Out on the Need for School Funding Increases

Andrew Brennen, a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and a member of the Prichard Committee’s student voice team, penned an op-ed that appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

His article comes on the heels of notice by the Fayette County Superintendent that absent additional funding, the school system would have to make $20 million in cuts to next year’s budget. Items like elementary band maybe eliminated and library services will be reduced.

Brennen notes that this problem is not unique to Fayette County and cites the following dismal numbers:

Kentucky has joined 14 other states in decreasing state support of per-student spending in the last year.

■ Slashed funds to support tutoring by nearly two-thirds since 2008. 

■ Decreased professional development funds for teachers from $13 million in 2008 to just $3 million in 2013. 

■ Committed zero state dollars toward textbooks and other learning materials since 2011.

Brennen points out that students are noticing.  He cites students from other Fayette County Schools who are also lamenting the loss of important programs and in some cases, the loss of valued teachers. Brennen is letting Kentucky policymakers know they are at a crossroads.  They can either embrace the step forward envisioned in Governor Steve Beshear’s budget proposal or they can see their now solid schools begin to slip away.

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Kentucky Education News – 11-22-13

This week saw a focused push by education advocates to convince the Kentucky General Assembly to restore education funding to 2008 levels.

Stu Silberman of the Prichard Committee penned this piece calling for a continued focus on progress.

Meanwhile, Andrew Brennen, the student member of the Prichard Committee, made a presentation during which he noted:

Some students pay $130 in fees, but don’t have access to textbooks. And those who do have textbooks often find them in “decrepit” shape, a tangible symbol of the cuts, said Brennen.

Finally, the Courier-Journal ran a story on Superintendent salaries, noting that while some have actually decreased and most have remained relatively flat in recent years, a number of districts have actually substantially increased Superintendent pay.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KYEdReport

Silberman: Don’t Stop the Progress

Will Kentucky schools keep moving forward?

That’s the question Stu Silberman of the Prichard Committee is asking.

And he’s not alone.  To date, 100 Kentucky school districts have signed a letter calling for the restoration of SEEK funds to 2008 levels.

Education supporters have a rally planned in Frankfort for Thursday to press the case for increased support for schools.

And by increased support, they mean a return to 2008 funding levels.  Because while dollar amounts for SEEK have remained constant, the number of students in school has increased.  That means districts are being asked to do more (a lot more, due to Common Core and a continued push for high standards in Kentucky) with less.

As Silberman points out, the flex funds are critical, too.  Those dollars, now almost gone, provided the extra support to help those students and families most in need.

Without them, Silberman notes that students will simply fall behind.

Kentucky has made steady progress since 1990.  The 20-year trend in NAEP scores shows the state moving forward year after year.

That progress may well stop if proper investment in proven programs is not provided.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport

 

 

Core Pioneers

Kentucky was the first state in the nation to adopt and implement the Common Core State Standards.  They’ve just finished their second year of Common Core tests.  So, how’s it going?

The good folks over at Hechinger Report have some analysis.

Here are some highlights:

1) Results are mixed.  This is to be expected.  It’s early on in the process.  Kentucky experienced similar “growing pains” with KERA and ultimately ended up with some pretty solid results — overall improvement on NAEP standings and stronger scores for low-income kids.  Are they where they want to be? No.  But the path of raising standards and focusing on both investment and equity has gotten results.  20 years ago, Kentucky and Tennessee were in roughly the same place in terms of NAEP standings.  Now, Kentucky’s students consistently test higher on NAEP.

2) The improvement is not fast enough. Scores on the Common Core tests are still pretty low.  So, state officials want faster improvement.  However, unlike the KERA reform, this reform has not been met with significant new investment in schools.  And, some advocates and even the Commissioner of Education are calling for a renewed commitment to investing in Kentucky schools.

3) It may be too much, too soon for some kids. Teachers and parents are expressing frustration over the “pushing down” of standards to lower and lower grade levels.  That is, what was once covered in 6th grade math is now expected in 5th grade.  There is some legitimate concern that younger children aren’t developmentally ready for what the Common Core expects.

4) There is some good news. Despite the somewhat bleak picture painted by Hechinger as they state, “Across the state, test scores are still dismal…,” a closer look at this year’s results offers some key points of optimism. Specifically, the Prichard Committee points out:

Looking at group patterns, students with disabilities improved in every subject, and the Gap, free and reduced meal, and African American groups improved in all but one–with most of those results being quite strong. 

So, other states should watch Kentucky — to see what’s working and what can be improved.  And Kentucky policymakers should focus on providing the necessary investments to make Common Core work.  Additionally, the Commissioner and Governor should be willing to make changes to implementation where necessary — and listen to educators for guidance on where those changes are needed.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KYEdReport

 

Breaking Down the Test Results

The Prichard Blog has a nice breakdown of the recently released testing results in Kentucky.

It’s hard to say it’s all good news – but, there’s plenty of good news.  And of course, room for improvement.

Here are the key takeaways:

Looking at group patterns, students with disabilities improved in every subject, and the Gap, free and reduced meal, and African American groups improved in all but one–with most of those results being quite strong.   Students with limited English proficiency declined in all but one subject, and Asian students declined in three of six.
For all students, the pattern is strong growth in science, social studies and writing, moderate growth in reading and a small uptick in language mechanics, but a disturbing decline in mathematics.
Looking at the whole sweeping picture, I think the spotlight developments are:

  • Successes for the Gap group, free and reduced meal students, and students with disabilities.
  • Weaknesses for students with limited English proficiency and African-American, Asian, Hispanic students.
  • Growth in elementary writing and language mechanics, middle school reading and language mechanics, and high school science and social studies.
  • Troubling declines in elementary reading and science, middle school mathematics and science, and high school mathematics.

It’s important, then, that Kentucky keep focusing on next steps — and that investment in schools keeps up with a clear need to move toward greater proficiency.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport

Commissioner Holliday Calls for Investment in Education

Following a recent post by Stu Silberman from the Prichard Committee, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday blogged about the need for new investment in Kentucky schools.

Whether it is through expanded gaming, tax reform, or a combination of both, Holliday makes the point that Kentucky schools can’t keep moving forward and producing sound results without a commitment to more revenue.

Specifically, he notes:

As commissioner I am using this blog to announce my strong support for state legislators to address two possible funding sources during the 2014 session. I strongly support efforts at tax reform and also strongly support expanded gaming. These are not popular issues and they are extremely difficult to deal with during an election year, however, my job is to alert decision makers that without adequate funding, Kentucky educators will not be able to maintain current levels of student performance and certainly will not be able to continue improving student performance.

This is pretty important.  As Silberman’s piece noted, Kentucky has made tremendous gains over the past 20+ years and is well-positioned to keep making gains.  But absent additional investment, those gains will be stymied.

If Kentucky legislators are serious about education excellence, they’ll commit to doing the hard work of finding the funding. As I have noted from time to time over at Tennessee Education Report, Kentucky has made gains by a commitment to investment in schools.  And Kentucky’s kids achieve at higher rates than Tennessee’s — in no small part, I contend, due to Kentucky’s higher investment per student than Tennessee.  But if that commitment wanes, Kentucky’s gains may well stop.

And of course, although Kentucky has made gains in the past 20 years, there remains much work to do to ensure every child in the Commonwealth has access to an excellent education.

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