Thursday, August 26, 2010

What we have learned, what we can learn-hopefully

By Penney Sanders

Let us all take a very deep breath and use Kentucky’s failure to win the Race-to-the-Top funds as a lesson for our future education politics and policies.

What have we learned is that ignoring the hand writing on the wall as to what needs to be in a proposal is probably a bad idea. The Obama administration has been abundantly clear that “School Turnaround” is priority. Regrettably, Kentucky lacked an effective plan for turning low performing schools. Interestingly, the state has spent millions of dollars on school improvement. However, the persistent low performers remain because the interventions were ineffective.

Looking at the “winning” states, one can identify a common pattern of using dramatic, high accountability interventions for turn around. While such programs have been highly controversial, notably Washington, DC and New York City, the districts are beginning to achieve results.

In several of the successful states, their assessment/accountability programs are particularly effective. The hall marks of these programs include comprehensive and integrated instructional, assessment and accountailibility programs. In other words what is taught is measured and the schools are held accountable for student results.

Going forward, Kentucky should look at these successful states for guidance as we develop a new assessment program through SB1. Tennessee, Florida and Georgia have implemented comprehensive programs in the last several years. Furthermore, these states have identified a number of “school turn around” strategies for their lowest performing schools.

Kentucky policy makers need to decide how they will incorporate longitudinal analysis into the assessment system. One of the most significant measures of student achievement is to measure student gain every year. It is not unreasonable to expect that every student will make some academic gain every year.

Since Kentucky has been one of the first states to adopt the Core Standards with many others on board, there should be sufficient support for Kentucky’s effort to craft assessments that measure the attainment of these common standards.

No discussion of Kentucky’s RTTT effort would be complete without noting the omission of Charter Schools. In my mind, there is really nothing to discuss. Absent charter school inclusion, Kentucky lost 32 points on the submitted proposal. This is the second time we have been removed from contention because we do not have viable alternatives for students to leave persistently low performing schools.

The excuses for continuing Kentucky’s no charter school policy ring hollow now. School-based Decision Making is not a charter school. In fact SBDM has failed to live up to its full potential for improving schools (more about that in a later blog).

In this RTTT competition, the winning states have charter programs. Progressive communities like Jacksonville and Nashville have embraced charters as one of several alternatives for those students assigned to persistently failing schools. We continue to deny charters at our own peril.

Kentucky has failed to finish “in the money” in a national competition. Instead of excuses, we should be critically analyzing our shortcomings.

This should be a period of rigorous examination of our K-12 educational system. We did it in 1990 and as a result, for a period of time, stood as a leader in educational reform. It is apparent we are no longer at the forefront. We should recognize and accept the challenges of restructuring our educational system so that it better reflects the current best practices and anticipates future developments. It is incumbent that our leaders develop the political courage and conviction that it will take to make the changes to SB1 and to enact other legislation necessary to ensure a quality education for all our children.

We should be embarrassed by a last place finish, candidly examine the reasons why and vow that we will not let this happen again.


Anonymous said...

Amen!! Hearing Commissioner Holliday blame Sec Duncan for not telling him we wouldn’t win without charter schools made my stomach turn. Kentucky’s leaders made a deliberate choice, took a gamble and lost. They need to step up and take responsibility instead of weakly passing the buck.

Richard Innes said...

The federal government has made it very clear that it considers education options and parent involvement in schools to be major parts of effective education reform.

Kentucky sent the Race to the Top judges some glaring evidence that we don’t agree. For example:

• In a parent-hostile act, our legislature refused to implement charter legislation,

• Our legislature and state school board stand by while student transfer agreements between school districts disintegrate across the state, and

• Finally, our state leaders stood by while Jefferson County shredded the one remaining parent choice option with its hugely parent- and student-hostile busing plan that is educationally unsound (how ready to learn can a student possibly be after spending hours on a bus?), economically unwise, and environmentally hostile.

It’s no surprise our Phase 2 RTTT final score WENT DOWN from our Phase 1 final score (

Learn more at the Bluegrass Policy Blog.

Anonymous said...

Please.... Perhaps the major reason policy makers are reticent to endorse and support another new concept in education (e.g., charter schools) is due to a lack of trust and credibility. Many current "talking heads," who formerly held positions of state leadership during the 1990s supported and promoted SBDM and alternative school calendars as the panacea for curing the educational ills of Kentucky. In fact, some of us who were around "back in the day" maintained files documenting policy positions of various state education officials (e.g., writings, articles, newspaper quotes, testimony before legislative committees, etc.) I'm certain legislators who were around at that time also remember that some of the "former" state education officials who staunchly supported policy, such as SBDM, have since "jumped ship" and are now advocating for yet another fad such as charter schools. We should be embarrassed but not because of failure to secure Race to the Top funds.

Anonymous said...

I agree that we should analyze our shortcomings in the RTTT application in regards to our turnaround strategies. However, it is concerning that charter schools entered into the discussion only because it was a large part of the RTTT application. Writing charter school legislation should be dependent on the proven success of charter schools (which is seriously lacking) not because the federal government dangles money at the end of the carrot on a stick. Research on charter schools shows as much mixed results as public schools...there are highly effective ones as well as highly ineffective ones.

Ultimately I'm not sure the charter school "shortcoming" is a shortcoming in reality as much as it is in the minds of the Obama administration. And not including legislation on a strategy that has not proven to be successful does not really seem like a shortcoming.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone notice that of the 10 selected to receive round 2 RTTT funding, nine voted Democratic in the 2008 election?

Anonymous said...

I think itis best to blame Kentucky's teachers for the problems with the our public schools and for our inability to win Race to the Top funds.

Please, don't blame principals, superintendents, or Dr. Holliday. Don't use the excuse of broken homes, zero parent support, or economic inequality.

Blame the educators. Educators, not parents, must assume full responsibility for their inability to turn around failing schools. Just as there is malpractice in the legal and medical professions, so too must there be malpractice for teachers who singlehandedly are unable to turn around the failing schools of the Commonwealth.

Anonymous said...

This isn't rocket science. There are several reasons Kentucky has problems:
- current education administrators and teachers get rewarded for failure
- there is no real accountability
- the KEA blocks any flexibility whether it is putting the best teachers where they are needed, rewarding high performing teachers or converting systemic failing schools to something else that can break the status quo
- the Governor wants everyone's opinion but the education professionals
- there is NO commitment to excellence with time is of the essence

All fundamentals. All broken.