Friday, March 20, 2009

CATS Reaction Across the State

Senate Bill 1 could be signed into law today as across the state folks are coming to grips with what all this means.

"I believe there are several positive elements that could represent an important step forward in our ongoing efforts to reform primary and secondary education. Most significantly, this legislation will create a new system for statewide accountability and assessment that will, for the first time, measure individual student progress over an extended period of time. That is critically important,” Beshear said in a statement.
Politically, some wonder anew if House Speaker Greg Stumbo's rookies should be faulted for the surprise abandonment of accountability over the next three years. Was this a phantom provision, dropped into the free conference report at the last minute? If so, how, and by whom? Or was it a provision that all conferees agreed to with eyes wide open?

"It's an outstanding bill that will make great improvements and will honor the input that we've received from our educators," Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond [told the Herald-Leader].

Republican Sen. Dan Kelly of Springfield, a longtime proponent of changing Kentucky's assessment tools, said the bill would strengthen Kentucky's education system, not weaken it. "This is not the death of reform," Kelly said.
By all accounts, there was a great deal of input from teachers who had had enough....of something. Some clearly reacted to the amount of time they were being "asked" to commit to assessment at the expense of instruction. After all, you don't fatten a calf by weighing it. Some claimed that district personnel and principals had pushed teachers to the edge of some ethical cliff, and they pushed back.

Kelly's assurance that this does not mark the death of education reform in Kentucky is a welcome acknowledgement for those of us who believe a strong system of public schools is essential to our ability to compete as a state. But not all conservatives are buying it. Over at vere loqui, Martin Cothran declared that with the removal of the testing system KERA is officially dead and asked,
Will the last person out of Kentucky's Education Reform Headquarters please turn off the lights?
At KentuckyProgress, David Adams noted "the end of a disastrous episode in education 'reform'" and "got a kick out of "the Courier Journal referring to Bluegrass Institute as merely a "right-wing think-tank" (when everybody knows they are so much more). He thanked the Herald Leader for the "big laugh and free mention" when they referred to "conservative enemies" which Adams correctly assumed meant BIPPS, even though H-L didn't say.

None of the conservative groups came right out and said that Kelly was wrong. But they apparently believe he was.

The Herald-Leader lamented that as "lawmakers were dismantling Kentucky's school-accountability system last week, researchers were holding it up as a national model" citing Kentucky as one of five states that stand out for increasing high-school graduation rates while reducing schools that are "dropout factories." "It's impossible to not credit the Kentucky Education Reform Act for improvements in graduation rates," the H-L wrote.

Secretary of State Trey Grayson issued a statement voicing his dismay over the reduction of emphasis on social studies.

“By suspending the state accountability index and following the federal accountability requirements, we run the risk of marginalizing civics education,” he said in the statement. “With no accountability system in place for social studies, schools will naturally place a greater focus on those subjects that are part of accountability standards of No Child Left Behind.”
It now falls to the Kentucky Board of Education to guide KDE's response to Senate Bill 1. They start chatting on April 1st.

In the interim, some school districts, like Fayette County, are going to "make public its own 'academic index' based on this spring's testing, whether the state publishes a performance index or not." State education department spokeswoman Lisa Gross told the Herald-Leader the interim provisions in SB 1 might lead to widespread confusion until the new assessment system starts. Wayne Young, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators told H-L, "Some districts are going to go ahead and finish their portfolios. But you could get a bit of everything. There's no pattern that I would describe."

This morning outgoing President of the Council for Better Education Roger Marcum told state education leaders in an email message that Kentucky "chose the path of least resistance and the high risk of lower expectations for the immediate future."

His opinion echoed that of Prichard Committee head Bob Sexton who wrote an open letter posted on the Prichard blog,
It was decided that, for the next three years starting this spring, Kentucky schools should have no accountability except for student test scores on math and reading as required by No Child Left Behind. This means that the results of testing for writing (portfolios included) science, history, geography, economics, civics (i.e., social studies) and the arts won't be counted. The Kentucky Department of Education is also prohibited from publishing an overall school improvement score (accountability index) so schools won't know whether they are better or worse than the previous year - and neither will parents or other taxpayers.

Sexton quoted KEA President Sharron Oxendine as saying, "we should 'just give everybody a breather' from most accountability until we have a new system in three years."

The problems with that, according to Sexton include:
  1. For the next three years schools won't have a way of telling parents and other taxpayers how they're progressing with student learning except in math and reading required by NCLB.
  2. A likely result will be to de-emphasize writing, science, social studies (history, economics, geography, civics) and the arts.
  3. Strong accountability ... and making the case for adequate or superior school funding are joined at the hip.

This last point has some serious legal implications for schools. Kentucky's constitution requires the General Assembly to provide an efficient system of common schools throughout the commonwealth. The Supreme Court has ruled that that means schools must be adequately funded to reach their goals. The absence of state accountability makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for a court to determine whether the General Assembly has fulfilled its obligation. How is a court to determine whether the system is sufficiently funded to reach its goals if the state has no justiciable standards by which the court might measure the efficiency of the system?

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