Friday, September 18, 2009

Carpe Diem

On Sunday, Prichard Committee Chair Sam Corbett penned an outlook for Kentucky schools that is optimistic and evokes the excitement of a new day. It is also a recalibration of some of the committee's prior views.

That the committee can be nimble is a testament to a new way of thinking about school reform, and cause for optimism.

Gone are the days when KERA was untouchable; for fear that to change any part of KERA might push the whole effort down the slippery slope toward ruination. Now KERA is up for a total review by a Democratic governor.

Gone are the days when complaining about the lack of training available to teachers to properly implement KERA's ambitious programs would brand one a dinosaur, or worse. When despite pleas from the field, education leaders held the course and "assumed our educators were already equipped to respond...[when] in reality, they needed more direct and robust support." The Prichard Committee is talking more and more about the vital importance of effective teacher training these days.

Gone are the days of most of us fighting tooth and toenail against Senate Bill 1. It passed unanimously.

And apparently gone are Prichard's reservation about Terry Holliday. In July, the committee lamented that the commissioner pool was "not the level you would expect for one of the top education commissioner posts in the country."

But this week Corbett writes,
[S]tate leadership is now unified on education in a way we have rarely seen. Leaders in both parties and both houses of the legislature backed SB 1, and they and Gov. Steve Beshear intend to see it succeed. Terry Holliday, our new commissioner of education, is off to a great start, as is Bob King, the new president of the Council on Postsecondary Education.

Together, Commissioner Holliday and President King have already launched major collaborations, including a longitudinal student data system to track students' progress from pre-K to college and beyond.

It's is remarkable how much things have changed in such a short time.

And, the newest thing of all may be the short distance between mainstream R's and D's which measures about two inches, if one ignores the extreme fringes, as one should. New teaching standards and a new assessment are in the works. And Corbett thinks,
...these developments offer Kentucky a great opportunity. If we seize the day, working together with great energy in the coming months, we can ensure that our new standards translate into new teaching strength in every classroom and new levels of achievement for all our children.

Not too long ago an interesting thing happened to P-12 education in Kentucky. King, "the lofty" CPE president, started attending "the lowly" Kentucky Board of Education meetings. And he stayed past the first break. Then when interviews were held for education commissioner, he surprised folks by staying some more and, by accounts, he participated fully.

Once Terry Holliday was selected the two leaders began to look holistically at the public education system, and work cooperatively, and launch initiatives, and speak publicly. They unified behind the bully pulpit and the effort appears to be gaining momentum - and some who railed against change now proclaim its liberation.


Anonymous said...

The Prichard Committee has been around long enough. Time to reform Kentucky's reform efforts. Let Bob, Cindy and Co. retire and get some fresh ideas for real reform. The Prichard folks are so last generation.

Anonymous said...

As a veteran Kentucky educator, I've long been impressed by the fact that the Prichrd Committee makes little effort to communicate with local teachers. I think all of this is another example of how teachers are left out of the decision-making process.

I took a poll at my school a few days ago. Several educators had no idea what the Pritchard Committee did, but one old timer said, she knew not only about the organization, but also about the fact that its benefactor, Mr. Prichard of Bourbon County, was once found guilty of buying votes, and she felt it was ridiculous to have an organization named after him. Maybe we will one fay have an education think-tank named after Wallace and Martha Wilkinson.

Richard, I'm ready for your rebuttal and a reproach for calling Ed Pritchard a crook. Do read Terry Campbell's biography on Prichard. It's excellent....

Richard Day said...

Sure thing. Here's my reproach:

By all accounts, Ed Prichard was something of a political scoundrel. He was lots of things; and in a different era and (and with a different political philosophy) might have fit well with Nixon's plumbers.

As Campbell notes in "Short of the Glory" he was a brilliant student; Princeton; Harvard law; Law Review; dazzled supreme court justices, espcecially Frankfurter. But he reportedly fixed student elections, read other people's mail, and was generally more about power than he was about ethics. As one of his friends put it, he preferred "to maneuver rather than to operate."
His political future was thought to be limitless until he was convicted of stuffing ballot boxes in the 1948 election.

The rest of his life apparently became a search for redemption.

Much of that redemption came in his efforts to improve higher education in Kentucky. During the Brown administration in the early 80's, he fought fiercely against cuts to Kentucky colleges - once claiming that the last book J Y Brown ever read was "Little Black Sambo."

Blind later in life, those who wanted to get close to him would read to him and drive him around. Those folks included Bob Sexton, Harvey Sloane (was Phil Rogers in that group?)and H-L editor Don Mills who even allowed Prich to write H-L editorials until his bosses found out.

It was probably from Prichard that Sexton learned the importance of generating strong grass roots support for better schools in Kentucky's traditionalistic political culture - otherwise the legislature would happily content itself by underfunding the schools year after year.

The higher Ed committee Prich and Sexton worked on eventually refocused itself on K-12 and was renamed for Prichard. Their crowning achievement remains a series of town hall meetings held across the state in 83 (or 84) which built a strong coalition and contributed mightily to the new call for school reform - at the same time as the Council for Better Education was suing the state.

The Prichard Committee has remained important because they have earned it.

Teachers are not their prime constituency so much as parents and citizens. But teachers are not lacking for voice. The only education group that is stronger than the Prichard Committee is the KEA. And they are considerably stronger. That's why right-wing anti-school groups are so intent on attacking them.

If the teachers of Kentucky ever unified and mobilized around a school reform platform, there would be no stopping them. Remember that last time that happened? Gov Fletcher said there was no money for teacher health care; teachers bombarded Frankfort; and presto!

Despite their imperfections, the Prichard Committee remains best friends to better schools in Kentucky and I'm glad they are still around.

Without Prich and the KEA, I'm quite certain recent education budget cuts would have been much deeper and much more painful for all teachers.

Anonymous said...

Interesting piece about Ed Prichard and the committee.

I do not believe education reform is impossible without teachers, however, and Iagree with Dr. Day that it is more than apparent that the Prtichard Committeee does not enlist their support.

And, you know, I find that fact kind of sad.

Anonymous said...

The prichard committee and KEA are nothing more than unions focused on self-preservation and self-interest--period. Look no further than your own words above for proof...

Remember that last time that happened? Gov Fletcher said there was no money for teacher health care; teachers bombarded Frankfort; and presto!

Richard Day said...

9:57. You're simply wrong. That analysis sees the tip but misses the iceberg.

The Fletcher incident was much more KEA than Prichard, although Prichard was also supportive of adequate funding for schools and better pay (and benefits) for teachers.

The example is one of how a large unified front of motivated people can get the legislature's attention when other efforts fail.

Anonymous said...

You're simply wrong

Sorry, but saying it doesn't make it so ;-)

The Prichard committee hasn't done anything of note lately (if ever) and the only thing you could point out that KEA has done is rally around teacher pay/benefit issues--i.e., the union doing what unions do best.

Anonymous said...

I'm not an expert on the Prichard committee, but it is not, by any means, a union. FCEA isn't really either, in my book. For example, these organizations cannot strike.

Anonymous said...

these organizations cannot strike.

That didn't keep KEA from using that as a veiled threat during the incident Richard wrote about -- and regardless, lots of unions can't strike...ask anyone who was an air traffic controller during the Regan years.

Richard Day said...


"The only thing I could point out" ?

Are you serious?

My one comments was not intended to be exhaustive.

There are articles and books on this stuff. I did much of the orignial research on the reform movement myself and am reviewing a chapter in an new book due out next year. I'm fairly certain my expertise exceeds those of random anonymous commenters, particularly those with an anti-public school bias.

Of course, you are always free to go on the record, share your expertise, and readers can judge for themselves.

True enough - just because I say something doesn't make it so. But I'm pretty good about backing up my assertions. I promise readers that I will never knowingly print something wrong. If that happens, I'll make corrections - and you don't get that from those simply flogging a political point of view.

Strike or no strike - as long as politicians can count votes, and to the extent the KEA is unified, they are the strongest political organization in the state.

I recently had a long conversation with Andy Hightower (Ky Club for Growth) about this. We don't agree on a lot, but we sure agreed on this point.

Anonymous said...

KEA not a union huh?

Teachers employed in Jefferson County are automatically enrolled as union members and pay union dues unless they register an objection to Jefferson County union officials. Teachers are permitted to resign from formal union membership during a ten day period after an individual teacher's contract is signed or after the union agrees to a new contract with the local school board.

The suit alleges if a teacher does not register an objection to union membership within either period, he or she is required to remain a union member until the expiration of the union's five-year contract with the local school board.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to order the return of dues, a modification of the union contract to allow employees to resign membership at any time and a regular notice from the union to public school employees that they have a right not to join the union.

Collins said the NEA is named in the teachers' suit because it allegedly encouraged Jefferson County union officials to continue to block resignations.

Anonymous said...

There are articles and books on this stuff. I did much of the orignial research on the reform movement myself and am reviewing a chapter in an new book due out next year. I'm fairly certain my expertise exceeds those of random anonymous commenters, particularly those with an anti-public school bias.

Ah, the modus operandi of a professor...when all else fails revert to reciting your "vita" and telling everyone else how much smarter, than they, you are ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Richard Day chose to belittle some of the random commenters. I'm not sure it is the modus operandi of a professor...sounds more like Chevy Chase arrogance to me.

And the reason most of us choose to remain anonymous is because we do not have the academic freedom of a professor.

Richard Day said...

Oooo Latin...another of our MOs.

11:30 - Your claim might hurt my feeling if I hadn't spent 31 years in the trenches as a practioner. I've been called lots of stuff. It's far from perfect, but I'm happy enough to stand on my record. Does that make me doubly arrogant?

But what is the alternative to backing up one's opinions with facts, citing sources and other scholarly approaches? Would it truly be better to maintain an anti-intellectual attitude toward scholarship? I hope you didn't mean to infer that, but it's hard to tell.

If that were the case - should we value the opinion of a high school dropout equally with those of you who teach everyday?

Sorry. I don't think so.

All citizens have the right to free speech, but not all opinions are equal. You wouldn't ask your 6-year old how to fix your car - would you?

Experience and scholarship are valuable and ought to work together toward excellence.

Anonymous said...

Does that make me doubly arrogant?

Well, since you asked, yes :-)

You assume a lot about the anonymous posters here. I doubt any of us are high school dropouts...some may even be more educated and have more experience than you and just don't feel the need to recite their resume ;-)

Richard Day said...

Not so much that I assume, but that I am skeptical...

For example, I assume that anonymous posters may be who they claim to be. But I also assume they may not be.

Anonymous said...

Tenure in my school district would not protect from a lateral move if my principal wanted to do the deed. I'd go from having a regular classroom to the status of a floating teacher with an office in the broom closet.

All that he would need to know is that I am posting on here. The truth is this: principals and Dr. Stu don't want teachers to speak up...

Teachers in Kentucky are expected to obey; they do not question, much less criticize. I'll continue to post without using my name.

Anonymous said...

principals and Dr. Stu

Correction...principals and Mr. Stu...