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.