Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Kentucky's Whirlwind Campaign, 1907. Is history repeating itself?

On February 13th, Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate issued an order granting summary judgment to the legislative defendants in the school funding case, Young v. Williams. With that order the push for adequate funding of Kentucky's public schools was derailed. Getting the train back on track will require more educators to express (again) the courage of their convictions. But ultimate success will require even more support. It will require broad public outcry.

This has happened twice before in Kentucky's history. At the turn of the last century, public support for school reform flared...and within a decade, died out.

More recently, The Prichard Committee's 1984 Town Forum on KET helped launch the current reform effort. Now again, 17 years after enactment of the Kentucky Education Reform Act - has the flame died yet again?

John Grant Crabbe was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1907. He brought to office an active imagination and boundless energy. In that year well over half of the school aged children were not enrolled in school. Only 311,192 or approximately 42% of the students enrolled were said to have maintained a satisfactory average daily attendance. In the first decade of the twentieth century, illiteracy in Kentucky was the highest in the southern states. Crabbe declared that the Kentucky school system was still beset with the deficiencies of the previous century.[1]

To underscore his observations and generate grassroots support for better schools, Superintendent Crabbe stumped statewide in what he called The Whirlwind Campaign. He called upon the Kentucky Confederation of Women’s Clubs, the Kentucky Commission for Improvement of Education and the teachers’ associations to visit every community in the state. The Press was a willing supporter of the movement.[2] “The campaign was a continuous cyclone bombardment against illiteracy and ignorance, for a period of nine days... Twenty nine speakers...[delivered] nearly three hundred public set addresses...The entire state was covered and every county was visited...”[3]

The campaign had the desired effect of publicizing and popularizing the need for improved schools. Crabbe called for an educational commission to make a thorough investigation of the school system. The commission was to make a report to the General Assembly including such suggestions, recommendations, revisions, corrections, and amendments, as its members deemed necessary.[4]

The General Assembly responded by passing the Sullivan Bill, more commonly known as the County School District law. The new law called for the establishment of a high school in every county, changed the name of Kentucky State College to Kentucky State University, increased collegiate appropriations, provided funds to normal schools to enhance teacher preparation, established a State Education Commission and charged it with the responsibility to make a report on the schools, instituted compulsory attendance for children in cities of the fourth class and larger, and passed a child labor law.[5]

The educational commission began a thorough study of the education laws of Kentucky and those of other states. The school laws already in force were rewritten, rearranged, codified and became the new school code. After consultation and deliberation with educational leaders, a code was outlined that covered the whole common school system of the state. This code was submitted to the General Assembly of 1910 as the report of the commission.[6]

The principal recommendations in the report were: (a) the ex-officio, three- member State Board of Education should be supplanted by a seven-member State Board of Education, consisting of the state Superintendent of Public Instruction and six experienced educators; (b) the powers and duties of the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction should be extended; (c) the examination of applicants for certificates and the grading of papers should be under the direction of the State Board of Education; (d) provisions should be made for the certification of high school teachers on the basis of training and for the issuance of certificates in special fields; (e) the powers and duties of the county Superintendent should be increased; and (f) institute instructors should be licensed.

Historian James Klotter, summarized Kentucky’s efforts in the early 1900s. “In 1900, Kentucky stood fourth in the South in per capita income devoted to education, and had the only compulsory education law in the South. The 1908 legislature required every county to establish a high school, strengthened attendance rules, and poured more money into the newly created teacher training colleges at Bowling Green (now Western Kentucky University) and Richmond (now Eastern Kentucky University). Legislators and education advocates launched a statewide campaign in support of education, and bright days seemed to lie ahead. But it was a false light that soon dimmed. Funding did not continue at an adequate level, and as Kentucky ambled toward education reform, other states ran ahead. By 1920, Kentucky's ranking had fallen from fourth to eleventh. The cost of this lack of progress was incalculable because it drove many of the best and brightest students and teachers out of the state.”

[1] Thomas D. Clark, in James C. Klotter, ed. Our Kentucky: A Study of the Bluegrass State (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992), 286.
[2] Thomas D. Clark, A History of Kentucky (Ashland, Kentucky: The Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1988), 367.
[3] Barksdale Hamlett, History of Education in Kentucky (Frankfort: Kentucky Department of Education, 1914), 200.
[4] Sessions Act 1908, Chapter 65, 171.
[5] Barksdale Hamlett, History of Education in Kentucky (Frankfort: Kentucky Department of Education, 1914), 205.
[6] Moses Edward Ligon, A History of Public Education in Kentucky (Bulletin of the Bureau of School Services, XIV no. 4, 1942.)

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