On Monday, KET's Bill Goodman hosted yet another informative Kentucky Tonight program - this time on student testing.
Within the first five minutes Kentucky Education Secretary Helen Mountjoy expressed the modern school reform philosophy while Senate Majority Floor Leader Dan Kelly revealed the old conservative philosophy that Senate Bill 1 is built upon.
When it comes to state-wide school accountability both philosophies are ...less than perfect. The liberal, because it over reaches; the conservative, because it underestimates.
Mountjoy said she believes that the most important sentence in KERA is, "Schools shall expect a high level of achievement from all students."
Kelly clearly does not.
"Reform of education is a continuing process," Kelly said. "Representative Moberly and I have collaborated on ...Senate Bill 130 that requires the AC[T] testing of all students so that we can make sure that all students have the opportunity to find out ...whether or not they are college material. Some we think, will find out they are, when maybe their family their background would say that they aren't. And some, like my children, who thought they were, might find out they aren't."
Kelly hints that, given their "family background factors," (a reference to James Coleman's 1966 report "Equality of Educational Opportunity") one may be pleasantly surprised when a low-income, inner-city, person of color excels - but it is not to be expected.
These competing philosophies are not new. They've just been given a retread for today's discussion. Their roots run deep into the early 20th century. In the John Dewey/William Torrey Harris "debates" the issue involved what was to be done with the throngs of poor immigrant children who came to America.
The conservative notion was that education should teach a person the skills and knowledge necessary to responsibly assume their place in society.
The liberals believed that education should teach a person skills and knowledge necessary to improve their place in society.
These are very different goals.
Senate Bill 1 would return us to the pre-KERA days when it was fully acceptable for a third of our students to fail because they just weren't "college material." The normative testing that sorted out students during much of the twentieth century would be reemployed as the sole measuring stick under Senate Bill 1. Hidden within group means, individual students can get written off pretty quickly.
Mountjoy has a better idea, one that keeps expectations high for every student.
But today's liberal bias - that refuses to lower expectations below 100% of all students - is unrealistic and threatens to poison an otherwise right-headed notion. Every child proficient by 2014 is the right aspiration, but it fails as an operating principle for high-stakes accountability. Education Trust has downgraded their proficiency expectiations to 80%, but I think something closer to 85% or 90% is within our reach if the system is adequately funded.
It would also be good for education leaders to consider the negative impact of taking too much pressure off of students and assuming that every child who fails does so because the teacher failed.
At the heart of Senate Bill 1 is a failed philosophy. One that dismisses criterion referenced assessment in favor of a normative system that guarantees winners, but also guarantees losers.
Senate Bill 1 is not a step forward.
Also joining the program were Rep. Harry Moberly, Chair of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee and Ft Thomas Superintendent John Williamson.
Watch the full KET video here.