Monday, August 30, 2010

Bob Sexton's Legacy

This from the Courier-Journal, Cartoon by Marc Murphy:

By any calculation, Robert F. Sexton was the most significant figure in public education in Kentucky in the last half century. In his 27 years as executive director of the Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence, he set a high bar for public education in Kentucky — and proved to be an effective advocate for nationally recognized reforms.

His death, on Thursday at the age of 68, after a brave fight with cancer, leaves the commonwealth without one of its most articulate and respected leaders.

A Kentucky native and the product of Louisville schools, Dr. Sexton went on to Yale University and the University of Washington. He might have made a career for himself as an historian, on a quiet campus. But instead he returned to his home state, where he became a leading advocate for reform, at a time when such a figure was vitally needed.

He became involved in such important efforts as the Governor's Scholars and the Kentucky Center for Public Issues. A strong advocacy group was needed (Kentucky then ranked 45th in the nation by most educational comparisons), and Dr. Sexton was chosen in 1983 to lead it. The Prichard Committee on Academic Excellent was created to honor the legacy of Edward F. Prichard Jr. (1915-84), the attorney and public servant whose career focused on reform, particularly that of education, which he knew had to happen for the state to succeed economically and culturally.

When the state Supreme Court in 1989 ruled that education funding in Kentucky was inherently unequal, and unconstitutional, Dr. Sexton became among the key advocates for a top-to-bottom reorganization. The result, which became the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, must stand as the high water mark of his influence and success.

But as Dr. Sexton was the first to tell us, passing a law, even one that was a national model, was only a start. Over the following two decades, he relentlessly asserted the need for accountability of teachers and students, for improved pre-school education for all Kentucky youngsters, and for learning that molded the way students think, not just the facts they could recite.

His efforts occurred right up to the end — he was on the telephone just Wednesday night, reacting to the state's second loss of federal Race to the Top dollars for education. It was part of the challenge.

“We've spent the last 100 years near the bottom,” Dr. Sexton told The Courier-Journal's Pam Platt in an interview last year. “Let's spend the next 100 years much closer to the top. We've shown we can do this.”

It was Bob Sexton who showed the way. Now the rest of us must find a way to follow his example.

This from The Prichard Commimttee:

SEXTON Dr. Robert Fenimore, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and a long-respected education advocate, died Thursday evening, August 26, 2010, at the University of Kentucky Medical Center following a struggle with cancer.

He was born to Claude F. Sexton and Jane W. Sexton Jan 13, 1942. His passing is a deep loss not only to his family and friends, but to generations of children who did not know him and may not hear of him.

Over 34 years, his work grew to include not only Kentucky schools, but the nation's. He believed passionately that all children could learn at high levels and that all parents could be empowered to know about and help their children's teachers and schools. He deeply respected the teaching profession and believed that teachers could also reach high levels on behalf of their students. He advocated for their respect among the professions and for higher salaries.

He spent most of his career building the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, an unusual and exceptional non-profit organization that reached around the Commonwealth to include parents and grandparents, educators, policy analysts, and politicians in strong organized efforts to improve Kentucky schools and universities.

He was a civil, dedicated man who listened to all opinions, analyzed all available information and came forward with a vision, looking for paths to larger lives for the people of his beloved state. His persistence and passion for better education was in play until the moment of his passing.

He was interested in and uplifted by experiences and friends from many arenas: the arts, the literary community, the legal profession, the culinary world, the world of news and journalism, and all things related to public policy, politics and history.

He, with his wife Pam and children and friends, linked themselves to nature- to forests and birds, rivers, boats and fishing, hiking and exploring, especially the fascinating corners of Kentucky and Wyoming (Pam's native home), as well as the broader world of the United States and Europe. He was enamoured with fly-fishing and many of the country's great trout streams. Much of his deepest thinking was accomplished while standing in the midst of a cold river, wearing his waders, fly rod in hand.

With great joy and attention, he collected the art of a diverse group of Kentucky artists and surrounded himself in home and office by their work and called many of them friends. He loved music, especially spirituals and Kentucky traditional and Bluegrass music, and actors and dancers of all stripes. He was avid reader of policy, history, well-crafted fiction, poetry, and enthusiastically talked about literature.

He is survived by his 94 year-old mother Jane W. Sexton of Lexington, his wife of 25 years, Pamela Papka Sexton; one daughter, Rebecka Byrne Sexton of Chicago; one son, Robert Byrne Sexton, of San Jose, CA; three step-children, Ouita Papka Michel (Chris) of Midway; Paige Papka Richardson of Lexington; and Perry Aaron Papka of Frankfort and two granddaughters, Willa Dru Michel and Lily Kathryn Schade, and the mother of his children, Kathryn Johansson of Chicago.

Along with family, he is survived by a close circle of beloved friends and caretakers, including three long-time brothers-in-spirit, Bob Lamson of Seattle, Hugh Straley of Seattle, and Russ Edgerton of Washington D.C.

His work was made possible by the loyal and dedicated staff of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, who became his extended family. Pam and all of Bob's children are grateful to them as well as too the large team of caring doctors and nurses who helped make his last year possible.

A native of Louisville, Bob was a member of the first graduating class of Waggener High School, the first valedictorian and student body president. He held a bachelor's degree from Yale University and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington. He was a visiting scholar at Harvard University and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and had been awarded honorary degrees from Berea College, Georgetown College, Bellarmine University and Eastern Kentucky University.

Bob's many civic contributions included serving as a member of the board that created the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington and on the boards of the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center and the New Opportunity School for Women. He was a founder of the Kentucky's Governor's Scholars Program and of the Kentucky Center for Public Issues.

His national board service included Editorial Projects in Education (publishers of Education Week and Teacher Magazine), the Education Trust, the Center for Teaching Quality, the Education Commission of the States and the American Association for Higher Education. He also served on advisory groups for several national foundations.

A memorial service and tribute to Bob's life and career is planned for Oct 16, 2010. Memorials may be made to the Robert F. Sexton Legacy Fund, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, P.O. Box 1658, Lexington, KY 40588.
Memorial service planned for Robert Sexton

A memorial service for Robert F. Sexton, the longtime executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence who died Thursday, will be held Oct. 16.

The time and place have not yet been determined. Milward-Broadway Funeral Home in Lexington is handling arrangements.

Sexton, a leader of education reform in Kentucky for 30 years, died Thursday night at the University of Kentucky Medical Center following a long battle with cancer. He was 68.The Kentucky Educational Television network will air at 10:30 p.m. Sunday a 2007 interview Sexton had with Bill Goodman, host of the show, "One to One," about education reform.

Memorials may be made to the Robert F. Sexton Legacy Fund, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, P.O. Box 1658, Lexington, Ky. 40588.

"We've Got to Continue On"

Bob Sexton commented at Bert Comb’s testimonial dinner, in 1990, about the difficulties that lay ahead for Kentucky school reform after the passage of KERA. Sexton was beginning to understand the breadth of commitment required to implement such a sweeping reform.

The early days of reform required diligent attention to many details and the legislature as well as the Department of Education needed support in order to effect change at the classroom level, and to resist those who would simply prefer to throw the reform out. Intellectual leadership was called for.

The Prichard Committee had a decision to make. The Committee had already reinvented itself from a group with a higher education mission into an elementary and secondary education watchdog. After the passage of the KERA, it evolved again, into one dedicated to supporting the changes; not a lapdog, but clearly unwilling to be too critical.

But the larger question of systemic reform outweighed any particular problems with implementation. Sexton recalled the internal debate about whether the Prichard Committee should continue after the passage of reform. "I think it was a critical decision as to whether to continue" [the Prichard Committee after KERAs adoption], Sexton said.

"By the late 1980s I was getting pretty tired of this whole thing," Sexton told interviewer Catherine Fosl. "The work was beginning to get a little bit boring. It was like one more damn legislative session, and another Governor to argue with, another press conference. Same old, same old, again and again. And I had kind of said, ‘Should I move on to whatever else is next?’"

In the mid 80's Sexton WAS the Prichard Committee and he was scratching out a future for the organization on a day-by-day basis. "The fund raising was not fun," Sexton said. "Still isn’t, but it was less fun then because…we never knew where our money was going to come from... There was the question of what our staff does…How long do we do this?"

One imagines how easy it would have been for Sexton to declare victory in 1990 and quit.

But just at that moment, things began to change. Kentucky had been all over the national newspapers and when Sexton talked to a national foundation about support they were suddenly showing interest in the Prichard Committee.

"I mean, things had changed dramatically…for us…just in the few weeks after the reform act passed…Kentucky had never gotten that kind of positive publicity. So that was quite an upper…The boredom factor changed," Sexton said.

Sexton, and then Prichard Chair Wade Mountz, wrote to the membership asking whether the committee should fold up its tent. "Overwhelmingly, people wrote back and said, ‘No, we’ve got to continue on'," Sexton reported.

Once Again, a Time of Change

Whenever a strong, highly-regarded "founder" leaves an organization there is always concern about his or her replacement. Sometimes there is a concern for the life of the organization itself.

The desire to find "another Bob" will be strong. But there isn't another Bob. The Prichard Committee's next leader will be a different person with a different style and a different perspective on the work. Who will fill Bob's shoes?

Following Sexton's death the Prichard Committee wasted no time assuring the public that it would remain a vital organization stating, "The committee will honor his legacy by continuing the important work that framed his career of public service."

Friday, August 27, 2010

High Anxiety

Following his assessment of the federal Race to the Top competition, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday was very clear. No charters - and the chances of Kentucky winning $175 million would drop like an anchor.

During round one, Kentucky's pitch came up empty. To offset the lack of a charter school law - and the lack of the 32 points that went with it - the Kentucky team argued that our school councils were allowed to ask for waivers of state regulations. But the feds didn't buy it. Perhaps that’s because there are no shining examples to point to. Or if there is such an example among the 20 schools that have been awarded waivers by the state board of education, it's apparently a secret.

But this was a second opportunity, and while waiting for word of the state's effort during phase II, several of us engaged in a little wishful hoping. Expressions of optimism, based on little evidence, revealed the hope that the feds might buy the school council argument the second time around. Or if we didn't really believe that, perhaps other factors like Kentucky's early adoption of common core standards might make Kentucky a sentimental favorite and cause reviewers to fudge Kentucky’s points skyward. But that didn't happen. Others were selected. Kentucky was not.

Holliday explained to KSBA why he had been optimistic, along with his ultimate disappointment - and the target of his disgruntlement was US Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He pulled no punches about the impact a lack of charter schools had on Kentucky’s application and questioned Duncan’s candor about the relative importance of charter schools in the RTTT process.

“We scored 412.4 points (on a 500-point scale) this time. We improved five points (from the initial review); however, losing 32 points on charter schools, I’m certain, kept us out of the funding,” Holliday said.

“I think it speaks highly of our reform agenda that Kentucky got this far in spite of a 32-point handicap.”

Every finalist funded in both rounds of RTTT has charter schools. Asked if the Obama Administration’s bottom line is “No charters, no money,” Holliday said, “The numbers sure indicate that, don’t they?

“I think the secretary…misled states,” the commissioner said. “What the secretary said and what the secretary actually did are two different things.” When he announced the RTTT Round Two finalists last month, Duncan downplayed the importance of charter schools as a critical reform factor.

And during a press conference Tuesday, Duncan said: “There's no one factor that helped make or break a state” in the competition.

Yet, the two states that won in the first round of the competition and the nine states and the District of Columbia that won in round two all have charter schools.

Duncan said the winners were chosen because they outlined the boldest plans for shaking up their public school systems.

A spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday that charter schools “were just one part of the equation.”

“Everyone had multiple opportunities to win points and put their best foot forward,” said Justin Hamilton with the education department. “Winning states were those who put forth the most competitive plan and that took advantage of every point possible.”

Governor Steve Beshear told C-J that while he was disappointed the state did not secure the funding, he's “confident that the steps we are taking in education will significantly improve the education experience for Kentucky's students.”

Kentucky Education Association President Sharron Oxendine said, “Not getting the Race to the Top funds will slow down our ability to implement Senate Bill 1… at a time when the Kentucky General Assembly has not seen fit to provide adequate state funding for our schools — will make it even more difficult for Kentucky teachers to assure that all students reach their potential,” Oxendine said in a statement.

As for charters, Kentucky scored 8 points for "Enabling LEAs to operate other innovative, autonomous public schools" out of 40 points available in the category. -32 for no charter school law = $0. Kentucky's second round score was 412.4.

In their analysis, the Kentucky School Board Association took the position that the lack of charter schools in Kentucky was not the fatal blow.

Kentucky’s lack of charter schools meant the state wasn’t eligible for 32 points on the U.S. Department of Education’s (USED) 500-point Race to the Top scoring rubric. That news led many people to conclude that the charter school issue cost the state $175 million in critical federal funds.

But a KSBA eNews Service analysis of the USED review panel scoring of Kentucky’s application found several other factors that cost the state an additional 55.6 points, almost twice as many points needed to have put Kentucky among the winning states.

Perhaps more importantly, even if the 2010 General Assembly had passed charter school legislation, the federal panel’s scoring of other state Race to the Top applications seriously calls into question claims that having charters would have guaranteed federal funds for Kentucky…

Kentucky’s overall score of 412.4 represented a loss of 87.6 points from the six major scored sections. That included 24.8 points from the “Great Teachers and Leaders” section (138 possible points) and another 17.4 points (125 possible) on the “State Success Factors” section. Other sections of the Race to the Top measurements cost Kentucky a total of 13.4 points. …
Ohio was the last state funded with a total score of 440.8 points, meaning Kentucky needed at least another 28.4 points to match the Buckeye State…

KSBA points out that,

None of the proposals that won funding … received the total possible 32 points for charter schools. Scores ranged from a high of 31.8 for the District of Columbia down to 21.8 points earned by Maryland. All of those states have charter schools, calling into question whether Kentucky could have earned the full 32 points based on having a brand-new law but no actual charter schools.


The average charter school-related score of the 10 proposals that won funding was 27.42 points. So even if Kentucky had been able to earn the average score of those other finalists, its overall score still would have fallen short of Ohio’s 440.8 score.

KSBA makes an interesting argument. And I read the reviewers comments in much the same way they did. But the logical extension of that argument is that Kentucky’s application wasn’t as strong in other areas as the state was led to believe – a curious position for KSBA to take – but perhaps it’s true.

Federal reviewers lauded Kentucky for its recent history of education reform and the subsequent gains in student achievement. Specifically noted were KERA, SB 168, SB 1, improved dropout rates, postsecondary enrollment and the use of technology to enhance educational opportunities in rural areas of the state. Kentucky was praised for the broad support for the state's plan and particular mention went to the Kentucky Education Association for its overall support of the state plan. Kentucky was commended for the specific support shown by higher education, but concern was expressed that while the state has multiple alternatives to certification, the overall approach to assuring that highly effective teachers reach the school where they are most needed is relatively passive.

Kentucky’s application and scores here:
Application PDF (2.00M)
Appendix PDF (94.3M)
Score sheet PDF (113KB)
Reviewers' comments and scores PDF (5.25M)

Reviewers were concerned that Kentucky might not be able to reach its ambitious improvement goals, particularly in math. The changes made to CATS in 2007 made it difficult for reviewers to confidently gauge more recent progress and the feds complained that Kentucky's team failed to explain how and if the scores are comparable since that time. One Race to the Top judge wrote, "This lack of analysis of the data raises questions as to the depth of the capability to use the data to make important policy decisions."

Moreover, the reviewers were concerned by the persistent achievement gap but were more concerned that the state was unable to articulate what caused Kentucky’s successes and failures, and therefore, the judges wondered whether Kentucky could learn from either.

Senate Bill 1 has already mandated a new test for Spring 2012. The prime motivation of the original Senate Bill 1 was to drive a stake through the heart of CATS, which old-school opponents of public schools have never liked. The version of Senate Bill 1 that passed in 2008 was a different bill. The question now is whether Kentucky can muster the funds to implement the plan.

The state was commended for SEEK’s (the Kentucky funding formula) ability to deliver equitable funding to local school districts, but reviewers complained that, within each district, funding is essentially distributed on a per-pupil basis and was therefore non-responsive to equity issues within districts. This has been true…forever.

Kentucky received praise for its commitment to standards and early progress toward the creation of a longitudinal assessment system which reviewers think will have a high probability of providing the state with the reliable data it needs to improve the concerns mentioned above.

Education Week reported a few common threads among the 10 victorious Round Two applicants. These included their promises to take bold approaches to turning around low-performing schools, and in evaluating teachers.

The New York Times noted that “Of the dozen states that have won major grants to date in the two-part grant contest that is the Obama administration’s signature education initiative, 11 are east of the Mississippi and most hug the East Coast, including Florida and Georgia in the South and New York and Massachusetts in the North. Among the winners, Hawaii is the lone geographic exception.”

Education Week reported that the second-round loss was a serious disappointment for a number of states. That includes Kentucky where the grousing has already begun. Once the news broke, and Holliday's “no charters – no money” warning came true, it was not hard to find politicians and pundits who were willing to point fingers.

For a couple of years now, Republican legislators have been floating bills that would pretty much throw open the doors to anyone wanting a charter school. Those bills met with silence. Republican leaders in the legislature wanted Kentucky’s application to include charter schools. Democratic were slow warming to the idea.

In May, with the clock ticking on RTTT Phase II, Gov. Beshear brought lawmakers to Frankfort for a special session on the budget. Democratic Rep. Harry Moberly of Richmond was among lawmakers urging Beshear to add charter schools to the agenda, “Which would get us about $175 million, not to mention the $300 or $400 million that’s available through private foundations,” Moberly said.

But the governor balked, saying there was no general agreement on the issue.

At the urging of Commissioner Holliday, Rep Harry Moberly filed a bill anyway; one that would have allowed charter school authorization by local school districts. That bill, died on a tie vote in the Senate education committee. Casting the deciding vote against charter schools was Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington who told WFPL FM “I just felt like it was time that we didn’t need to be looking into which districts were going to come onboard with this, and which ones were not,” said Kerr.

I have no idea what she meant by that.

Senate President David Williams expressed disappointment with Kentucky’s failed effort, and said he plans to keep fighting for charter schools.

“In extremely difficult economic times that money would have been very useful in implementation of Senate Bill 1 – and in order to make sure that we address some of the pressing education issues that we have in the state,” said Williams.

Williams was more direct is his comments to the Daily Independent. Williams said Beshear should have shown more leadership in persuading House opponents and teachers’ groups to support the measure.

“He’s wasn’t for charter schools, he’s never been for charter schools,” Williams said.

But Sharon Oxendine of the Kentucky Education Association has no regrets over the group’s opposition to charter schools. She says Kentucky schools already include charter school concepts, thanks to the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act. “They’re autonomous,” said Oxendine. “They’re in charge of their own hiring. They’re in charge of their own budgets. Teachers are certified. They are accountable. So, we think site-based council rule, or governing, in the State of Kentucky is far better than charter schools.”

Martin Cothran of the Kentucky Family Foundation declared, That little horned creature with the pitchfork whispering into the left ear of state lawmakers that they should vote against charter schools is the KEA…”

Daviess County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton told the Messenger Inquirer that Kentucky addresses the issue, but not in ways that Race to the Top scorers found adequate.
"Kentucky already has a level of charter schools in the fact that we have site-based decision making at our schools. Therefore, you have parents and teachers who are the policymakers for their schools, decide the curriculum, assign the teachers and are responsible for the scheduling," Shelton said. "It's my opinion that if the state legislature and the federal government would remove the layers of regulation and bureaucracy from public school districts, we could create our own charter schools. We've evidenced that with what most people call alternative schools. That's what it's really about, personalizing education to meet the needs of students."

But again, that argument fell flat in DC.

Oxendine told H-L the loss of Race to the Top funds will make it less likely Kentucky will approve charter schools.

"There's no reason to change the system of public schools we have now," she said. "What we have to do is find the proper funding for our schools, especially to implement Senate Bill 1."

House Speaker Greg Stumbo issued a short statement: “It’s a shame that we lost an opportunity.”

Congressional support for a third round of Race to the Top funding is questionable, and without federal prodding, small, rural states like Kentucky may be less inclined to approve charter schools.

So, is the charter school issue dead in Kentucky? “I don’t think so,” said Beshear. “I think that’s an issue that will be discussed in the future. And as I’ve said, I think if it’s used properly, it can be a useful tool.”

State Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, who filed charter schools legislation earlier this year, told the Herald-Leader he will file another proposal next year. "Until we have charter schools in Kentucky, we will continue to fall behind other states who receive funding through 'Race to the Top,' which will have a long-term negative impact on our children and our economy," Montell said.

Phil Moffett has made the drive for charter schools in Kentucky a centerpiece of his Republican gubernatorial campaign.

Robert Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence, said passing the charter school legislation would have been "pretty much a no-cost way to get $175 million."

Although his group favored the charter school legislation, Sexton said "It's hard to imagine that [charters] alone would drive these decisions on a federal level, and if it did it's just a shame and a serious mistake on the part of the U.S. Department of Education, because it's such a minor part of accomplishing what they're trying to accomplish in Race to the Top," Sexton said.

State Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, said the loss makes the challenge of education funding "even greater for the General Assembly in the legislative session next year."

Tom Shelton, who is also the President of the Council for Better Education told the Messenger Inquirer that his own opinion on Race to the Top is less than positive.

"To me, dangling money out there like a carrot to get you to implement policy is in my mind, almost blackmail," Shelton said. "I think real change has to take place when our communities and our public step up and say, 'This is what we expect from our schools.' "Shelton said federal involvement of this sort is counterproductive, considering how little influence the federal government has in education otherwise.
"We have to continue to look to where education should be funded -- the state government, and not the federal government. It's not the federal government's role to fund education, and it never has been. It's always been up to the state," Shelton said. "It's disheartening to me. We only receive 8 percent of our funding from any federal source. It's hard to believe the federal government is trying to drive what education should look like."

Shelton said a large-scale change in education must focus on each student. That is already possible in Kentucky's schools, and charter schools simply for the sake of charter schools will not be a magic bullet, he said.

"Public schools and public education are the base of democracy, one of the basic strengths of who we are as a country. If all we do is privatize education, it might sound like the right thing to do because of the free enterprise system, but the reality is we will have no consistency. Some people will be highly educated, others inadequately educated," Shelton said.

The mandates expressed in Senate Bill 1 were never given the proper funding because of the state's financial problems. The state was counting on Race to the Top funds to make it happen, but that is clearly not happening now, Holliday said.

"The quick scenario I paint is, we're asking every classroom teacher in Kentucky to implement these rigorous standards. We're asking them to do it without any money for textbooks, no additional funds for interventions or additional resources," Holliday said. "Teachers are not going to be able to do this without support. It's now back into the ball court of the General Assembly. You have two choices, take existing dollars and redirect them into Senate Bill 1 or find new dollars."

Over at Prichard, Susan advises us to, “Keep calm and carry on.”

But amid all this local anxiety, one supposes things could be worse. Consider the situation in New Jersey where their 1000+ page application package for a potential $400 million included an error on page 261. State officials used the wrong years in describing funding levels for schools, a mistake that cost the state five points. Turns out that New Jersey scored 437.8, just behind Ohio’s 440.8 - the 10th and final state that qualified for funding.

NJ Republican Gov. Chris Christie, whose office submitted the application, said his administration took responsibility for the mistake. But it didn’t sound like it as he blasted the application reviewers—and the Obama administration directly—for not being willing to overlook what he called a "clerical error" and seek the correct information from the state. "If you are a normal, thinking, breathing human being, you pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, you sent this one wrong paper, can we get the information?' Does anybody in Washington, D.C., have a lick of common sense? Christie asked.

Longtime Kentucky education expert Robert Sexton dies

Kentucky education has lost a great friend.
--Richard Day, KSN&C

I am deeply saddened by the news of Bob Sexton’s passing.
His leadership of the Prichard Committee since it was created
in 1983 was characterized by an unswerving dedication to
strengthening Kentucky’s public education system. Bob received
many accolades during his lifetime, but I will always think of
him as a friend, both on a personal level and because of his
efforts to improve the lives of Kentucky’s children.
-- Commissioner Terry Holliday

Jane and I were very sad to learn of Bob Sexton's passing.
I have known Bob for years, and working with him
on the Prichard Committee…gave me the opportunity
to see firsthand how deeply he valued Kentucky
and how committed he was to improving education
for all our students.
His passing leaves an enormous void in our state.”
-- Gov. Steve Beshear

"...a passionate advocate for improved education in Kentucky."
-- Senate President David Williams

"...his heart was in the classroom and doing everything
he could for public school students in the state.
This is a great loss for every public school student in the state.
They have lost a great advocate.”
-- Sharron Oxendine, KEA

“never met an advocate who worked harder for
seeking better opportunities for the children of this state.”
-- Brad Hughes, KSBA

This from Jim Warren at H-L:

Robert F. Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and a major force for education in Kentucky for 30 years, died Thursday night.

Sexton, who lived in Lexington, had been battling cancer since last year, although a co-worker said Friday that Sexton's death was unexpected.

A Louisville native, Sexton had headed the Prichard committee since its creation in 1983. He also had been deputy director of the Kentucky Council on Higher Education, now known as the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, and was an administrator at the University of Kentucky and a professor of history.

Sexton, 68, earned his bachelor's degree from Yale University and his doctorate in history from the University of Washington. He was a visiting scholar at Harvard University and at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

He probably was most widely known for directing the Prichard Committee, a statewide non-partisan group that advocated for better education across Kentucky.

But Sexton also helped found the Kentucky Governor's Scholars Program and the Commonwealth Institute for Teachers; was founder and president of the Kentucky Center for Public Issues; and chaired the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington. Sexton served on numerous boards, commissions and panels that addressed education, low-performing schools and other aspects of education.

He was author of a 2004 book, Mobilizing Citizens for Better Schools, published by Teachers College Press of Columbia University.

Bob, 68, died Thursday night, August 26, 2010, at the University of Kentucky Medical Center following a long battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife, Pam, and children Rebecka Sexton, Robert Sexton, Ouita Michel (Chris), Paige Papka Richardson, Perry Papka, granddaughters Willa Dru and Lily Kathryn and the Prichard Committee staff. Memorial plans are pending.

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.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Beshear Finds Success in the RTTT Effort, but No Money

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced today that 10 applicants have won grants in the second phase of the Race to the Top competition. Along with Phase 1 winners Delaware and Tennessee, 11 states and the District of Columbia have now been awarded money in the Obama Administration's education reform program that will directly impact 13.6 million students, and 980,000 teachers in 25,000 schools.

The 10 winning Phase 2 applications in alphabetical order are: the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

"These states show what is possible when adults come together to do the right thing for children," said Secretary Arne Duncan. "Every state that applied showed a tremendous amount of leadership and a bold commitment to education reform. The creativity and innovation in each of these applications is breathtaking," Duncan continued. "We set a high bar and these states met the challenge."

Governor Steve Beshear released a statement today on Race to the Top.

“While we are disappointed that Kentucky did not win an award in the second round of Race to the Top funding, we are confident that the steps we are taking in education will significantly improve the education experience for Kentucky’s students. The fact that Kentucky was named a finalist twice for these funds speaks to the success of the combined efforts of my office, the Department of Education (KDE) and the General Assembly.

We will continue to move forward with our vision for education reform through the ongoing efforts of the Governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky task force, as well as the implementation of Senate Bill 1 of 2009.”
What impact will Kentucky's failure to "win" the race have on the state?

Lacking an on-going financial motivation to adhere to the guidance of the Obama Administration, will Kentucky educators further entrench against charter schools - the single element whose absence from Kentucky's application clearly cost the state?

In any case, unless Congress allocates additional money for a third round of RTTT, that well has dried up.

When asked recently about this possible result, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday told KSN&C that he remains confident that foundation sources still exist to help the state build the new assessment demanded by Senate Bill 1. But for today, Kentucky is out of the race as once again, other states, including Ohio to our north and Tennessee to our south, press ahead.

As for consolations - there really aren't any - how close Kentucky got will be revealed by the Department of Education tomorrow. Kentucky scored 418 points in round 1. The lowest "winning" state in round 2 scored 440.

UPDATED: Scores for the second round have now been posted and the news is not good. Kentucky dropped to 19th among the states and actually lost points (412.4) over phase one.

While peer reviewers rated the 10 winners as having the highest scoring plans, very few points separated them from the remaining applications. The deciding factor on the number of winners selected hinged on both the quality of the applications and the funds available. New York, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and North Carolina consumed the lion's share of the available funds.

"We had many more competitive applications than money to fund them in this round," Duncan said. "We're very hopeful there will be a Phase 3 of Race to the Top and have requested $1.35 billion dollars in next year's budget. In the meantime, we will partner with each and every state that applied to help them find ways to carry out the bold reforms they've proposed in their applications."

A total of 46 states and the District of Columbia put together comprehensive education reform plans to apply for Race to the Top in Phases 1 and 2. Over the course of the Race to the Top competition, 35 states and the District of Columbia have adopted rigorous common, college- and career-ready standards in reading and math, and 34 states have changed laws or policies to improve education.

Every state that applied has already done the hard work of collaboratively creating a comprehensive education reform agenda. In the coming months, the Department plans to bring all States together to help ensure the success of their work implementing reforms around college- and career-ready standards, data systems, great teachers and leaders, and school turnarounds.

In addition to the reforms supported by Race to the Top, the Department has made unprecedented resources available through reform programs like the Investing in Innovation Fund, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and the School Improvement Grants under Title I.
Through all of these programs, the Department of Education will be distributing almost $10 billion to support reform in states and local communities.

"As we look at the last 18 months, it is absolutely stunning to see how much change has happened at the state and local levels, unleashed in part by these incentive programs," Duncan said.

As with any federal grant program, budgets will be finalized after discussions between the grantees and the Department, and the money will be distributed over time as the grantees meet established benchmarks.

The $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund is an unprecedented federal investment in reform. The program includes $4 billion for statewide reform grants and $350 million to support states working together to improve the quality of their assessments, which the Department plans to award in September. The Race to the Top state competition is designed to reward states that are leading the way in comprehensive, coherent, statewide education reform across four key areas:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace;
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals how to improve instruction;
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around their lowest-performing schools.

The 10 winning applicants have adopted rigorous common, college- and career-ready standards in reading and math, created pipelines and incentives to put the most effective teachers in high-need schools, and all have alternative pathways to teacher and principal certification.

In the first round of competition supporting state-based reforms, Delaware and Tennessee won grants based on their comprehensive plans to reform their schools and the statewide support for those plans.

The Department of Education has posted all Phase 2 applications online. Phase 2 peer reviewers' comments, and scores will be available on the website by August 25th; videos of states' presentations will be posted by September 10th. Phase 1 materials are available online.

Letter to governors
Summary for Phase 2 applicants
Race to the Top website
Video Announcement
Call with reporters

Race to the Top Leaves Kentucky Behind

This from Politics K-12:
Here's the final, confirmed list of winners:

District of Columbia
New York
North Carolina
Rhode Island

The winners of the federal Race to the Top competition are trickling out, as members of Congress learn of the awards. The Obama administration is expected to release the full list later today.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told the AP about New York's award this morning. The U.S. Department of Education confirmed it, and the department has confirmed that the above list is the final one...

Quick Hits

Incoming kindergartners practice skills at school-prep camp: Incoming kindergarten students from a number of schools in Akron, Ohio, participated in a two-week summer camp to help prepare them for school. The Bridge to Kindergarten program had students reviewing reading and math skills, as well as practicing lining up and social skills for the classroom. Project GRAD, or Graduation Really Achieves Dreams, is a national group that works to improve graduation rates; it sponsored the program and another camp that was designed to help students entering ninth grade prepare for high-school life. (Akron Beacon Journal)

4,500 Teach for America graduates are heading to U.S. classrooms: Some 4,500 Teach for America graduates, who studied teaching for five weeks during the summer, will be placed at U.S. schools this year. "I'm ready to go," said one Teach for America graduate, who will teach students with disabilities in Washington, D.C., without the standard special-education credentials. Supporters of the program say it attracts talented young people who might not otherwise consider teaching, while critics say the training does not adequately prepare the graduates to teach specific subject matter or to connect with students. (The Washington Post)

How can student test scores be better used to evaluate teachers?: Efforts to evaluate teachers based on students' standardized test scores may be flawed and in need of refinement, according to this Wall Street Journal analysis. One study of scores-based evaluations in Florida showed that fewer than 40% of teachers who received high ratings one year remained on top the following year. But some say an improved statistics-based evaluation system would be preferable to the system of using subjective observations by administrators to rate teachers. (The Wall Street Journal)

More Fla. teachers are using social-networking tools in the classroom: Florida teachers are stepping up their use of social networking and other technology in the classroom. One middle-school teacher set up a class Twitter page to challenge students to complete extra math problems, while other area teachers use Skype and iChat to conduct virtual field trips and connect with students in other parts of the world. (Orlando Sentinel)

Should value-added data be used to rate schools?: A system used to rate schools in Los Angeles and some other districts across the country may be overlooking important data that could make the ratings more meaningful. The Academic Performance Index has been shown to mirror students' advantages and disadvantages outside of school, rather than any progress the school is fostering. "We're measuring who is in schools rather than how effective the schools are," a Duke University testing expert said. Some say student progress may be better measured by value-added methods that look at individual students' performance from year to year. (Los Angeles Times)

More parents "redshirt" kindergartners: More parents are waiting to enroll their children in kindergarten until they are 6 or older based on the idea that students who are older will perform better in school. The practice is known as "redshirting," and in 2008, 17% of kindergartners were at least 6 when they were enrolled. Some parents say "redshirting" can create disparities in the classroom, where some children are enrolled as young as 4. (The New York Times)

Rocket project marks launch of Colorado's first K-8 STEM magnet: Students in second and sixth grades in Northglenn, Colo., collaborated on a project to design and launch rockets on the first day of school Wednesday at the Magnet Lab STEM School -- the first K-8 magnet school in the state to focus on science, technology, engineering and math. District officials worked with leaders in business and technology to develop the school's hands-on, problem-solving curriculum, with the goal of interesting a new generation in science and technology careers. (The Denver Post)

Weingarten weighs in on publishing data linking teachers, test scores: American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten spoke out against the Los Angeles Times' plans to publish a database that links individual teachers to students' standardized test scores. The Times published the first article of a series last week and plans to release the full database this month. Weingarten agreed that such information could be part of more comprehensive teacher evaluations that could be made available to individual teachers, administrators or parents, but said she opposes the release of the data to the general public. (Los Angeles Times)

Parents are upset about San Francisco's school-choice system: San Francisco's school-assignment system, which aims to maintain diversity in city schools while allowing parents to choose the right school, can be confusing and may be driving middle-class families out of public schools, some say. District officials argue that more than 50% of students are placed in their first-choice school, but some families say they are refused spots in their first seven choices for schools. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Students may design some courses at Georgia school: Educators at a Gainesville, Ga., high school are considering allowing students to design their own courses through independent study and earn class credit. One student presented details on a sports-studies class he designed. The independent courses would be overseen by a gifted teacher, but students would "design their own coursework based on teaching standards," the district superintendent said. (The Times)

Teachers' unions have varied response to Obama education reforms: National teachers unions are responding differently to the Obama administration's push to improve teaching in the nation's schools, which has largely focused on changing the way teachers are evaluated. Support for the changes is being decided primarily at the state level among affiliates of the National Education Association, while the American Federation of Teachers is exerting its influence over the new policies at the national level. (Education Week)

Massachusetts considers proposals for new charter schools: A school with a social-justice curriculum and two schools with early-college programs are among the proposals for charters under consideration by education officials in Massachusetts. The state has received 42 such applications and will name finalists in February. (The Republican)

Review finds problems with home-language surveys: A review from University of California, Los Angeles, researchers found that home-language surveys -- which attempt to identify students who need extra help learning English -- are not effective. Surveys can identify too many or too few students in need of assistance, the researchers concluded. They suggested requiring all students to take a short language-screening session to accurately identify English- language learners. (Education Week)

Education aid package may be too late to save some teachers' jobs: Federal funding recently approved to save education jobs wasn't passed in time for some laid-off teachers. In Georgia, many former public-school teachers have taken positions at private or parochial schools or have been forced to leave the profession for jobs in other fields. "I am heartbroken," said one former teacher who now works for a pest-control service. "I thought I'd be teaching for 30 years." (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

School's no-zero policy is aimed at ensuring that students learn: An Ohio high school has adopted a no-zero grading policy, saying that students will be forced to redo assignments. Educators say the new policy will ensure that students learn the material rather than not do the work. Under the policy, students who would have received a zero will meet with teachers to establish a new deadline for the assignment. When it is turned in, teachers can reduce the grade by up to half. (The News-Herald)

Some early-college programs adjust their goals: The goals set for some early-college programs designed for at-risk students are being adjusted to reflect the realization that some 14-year-old students may not yet have the maturity or skills for college work. Many programs began under the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Early College High School Initiative that aimed to have high-school students earn 60 college credits -- enough for an associate's degree -- by the time they graduate, but are now focused on ensuring that the students earn some college credits and are prepared for the rigors of college work. (The Hechinger Report)

Race to the Top Winners Announcement Expected Today

This from CNN:

The U. S. Education Department is set to announce Tuesday the winners in the second round of its Race to the Top competition, which grants a portion of $3.4 billion to states that have provided plans to put their education systems in line with the department's school reform goals.

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia turned in applications for the second round. That number was whittled down to 19 finalists a few months ago.

The 19 finalists then sent representatives to Washington to make their case in front of a group of peer reviewers and education department officials over the summer.

The applications for Race to the Top are ranked based on four main criteria that drive school reforms: turning around low performing schools, adopting college and career-ready standards, having effective teachers and principals, and using data systems to support student achievement....

The entire Race to the Top fund totaled $4.35 billion at the beginning of the program last fall. In the first round, Tennessee received a grant of $500 million and Delaware was granted $100 million to be awarded over the next four years. Another $350 million went for the assessment competition, according to the Education Department.

That leaves over $3.4 billion in the fund to be granted on Tuesday.

In hopes of funding more grants for Phase 2, the Department of Education announced that they would be limiting the amount that any given state can receive. The limits are based on the student population of that state. So, large states like California, New York and Florida can receive as much as $700 million while smaller states like New Mexico, Hawaii and the District of Columbia are limited to $75 million.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Felner laid out plan for education company at meeting with Schroeder, witness says

This from the Courier-Journal:

Former University of Louisville education dean Robert Felner held a meeting with Thomas Schroeder in which he said he was setting up a company that would list Felner as president and Schroeder as an officer, according to a University of Rhode Island business manager who testified in U.S. District Court on Thursday.

Diana Laferriere, who attended the 2001 meeting with Felner and Schroeder, told Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Calhoun that Felner also told her that he wanted her to serve on the company’s board and paid her $1,000 a month for about three years for her service.

The company — the National Center on Public Education and Prevention in Illinois — was created in 2001 by Schroeder, who served as its executive director...

During her testimony Thursday, Laferriere recounted how Felner told her and Schroeder in 2001 that he was setting up the Illinois center to handle the training school district personnel would need to understand and use survey data collected and analyzed by another center he had previous set up at the University of Rhode Island.

That Rhode Island center’s name — the National Center on Public Education and Social Policy — bore a striking resemblance to name of the Illinois center. Prosecutors allege the similar names were used by Felner and Schroeder to cause confusion and conceal their scheme.

Laferriere testified during the three years she received checks from the Illinois center, she had to call Schroeder each year to get him to send her the necessary tax forms so she could file her income taxes. As time went on, she became concerned she was not being paid for doing anything, and asked Felner when she was going to do any work for the center.

“He said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. You deserve it,’” said Laferriere, who told Felner in 2003 to stop sending her the checks....

Prichard Launches ReadyKentucky on Facebook

ReadyKentucky is a new Facebook page dedicated to presenting, "the most current information about the newest initiatives in KY education primarily surrounding the implementation of the new KY Core Academic Standards and the 2009 Senate Bill 1 changes."

ReadyKentucky will focus on expanding communications networks through Parent Messenger Cadres. Key communicators are being recruited and trained in every region of the state at this time. Teacher Messenger Cadres will be formed soon.

My former FCPS colleague Robyn Oatley is the project manager and she does nice work. I'm looking forward to seeing how this web-based effort to present timely and reliable information wil play out.

Oatley describes her mission as - "to support the work necessary to assure that all students will be prepared for college and career success upon graduating from a KY public high school by communicating timely information to the community required to transform education in Kentucky.
We believe this: the more we all know, the better prepared we all are to help our children and schools succeed.
Contact Robyn at

This effort is being organized by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence with initial financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. ReadyKentucky will partner with the Kentucky Department of Education, to make sure that the information is clear, factual and relevant.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Congress to Investigate School Turnaround Companies

This from Politics K-12:

Questions have been raised about some of the companies chasing the $3.5 billion in Title I School Improvement Grants to target the bottom 5 percent of America's schools, and now Congress is jumping in the act.

As The New York Times pointed out in a recent story, some of the companies certified by states as school turnaround partners have no experience actually improving the fortunes of low-performing schools—or any school, for that matter.

Shelly's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

This from Toni Konz in Tuesday's C-J:

JCPS says 400 students delivered home late,
some after 9 p.m.

Jefferson County Public Schools' new busing plan stumbled badly in its debut Tuesday when more than 400 students weren't returned home until after 6 p.m. — with a dozen failing to get home until after 9 p.m.

Lauren Roberts, spokeswoman for the district, said 400 of those students were from three schools — Chancey, King and Lincoln elementaries — and were transported home late because school staff did not tag students properly, which “resulted in major problems and caused a major delay in getting them home.”

“We are very, very disappointed in how this day ended,” Roberts said. “It was a day that had gone so well and so smoothly.”

“For some reason, the procedure was not followed,” she said. “We will find out what happened and it will be fixed tomorrow.”

As a result,
Two JCPS elementary principals have been suspended indefinitely in response to Tuesday's busing problems that resulted in more than 400 students getting home hours later than they should have.

King Elementary principal Julia Lewis and Lincoln Elementary principal Sonya Unseld have been suspended with pay while the district investigates problems that resulted in hundreds of students from their schools being improperly tagged to return home on buses, Superintendent Sheldon Berman said.

Check out C-J education reporter Toni Konz's very bad day.

Governor's TEK Talk Draws a Crowd

Last night approximately 1,100 citizens gathered in ten locations around the state seeking a unified vision for education in Kentucky and to reenergize reform.

Reminiscent of the Prichard Committee's Town Forums of 1984 which jump started KERA, Transforming Education in Kentucky (TEK) is Governor Stever Beshear's effort to gain consensus on a wide range of school improvements that will be presented to the General Assembly in 2011. As the governor said when he kicked off the initiative in October, I’m calling on our state and our people to recommit ourselves to ensuring the future of our children.” Last night, he called for "a fresh look" at education in the state.

If the 100 people in attendance at BCTCS in Lexington is any indication, the participants were a mix of prominent citizen advocates in education and health care, along with parents, policy wonks, college professors, teachers, school administrators and interested citizens.

Newly elected Kentucky Board of Education Chair David Karem, told the Courier-Journal the Jefferson County session “affirmed my belief that each student must be seen as an individual and that learning must be tailored to each child.”

Students with a strong elementary through high school education were twice as likely to earn a college degree, Bob King told the television audience. “That’s true even with all the interventions and remedial programs we have to help (poorly prepared high school graduates).”

In Paducah, facilitator Tom Prather said 87,000 new jobs in Kentucky are expected for college graduates by 2018.“But only 12,000 jobs are expected for students with only a high school degree,” Prather said.

The statewide forums should garner important concerns from local districts, according to Morehead State University dean of education Cathy Gunn, who co-chaired the Ashland forum with ACTC’s dean of advancement Louise Shytle. “These are your schools, the districts affected by decisions in Frankfort,” Gunn told the Daily Independent.

Joe Overby, a former Daviess County Public Schools educator and board member praised the effort. "This is the way you build a movement. It's a great way to start people talking about the same thing. It helps me understand that my concerns are a part of many," Oveby told the Messenger Inquirer (subscription only).

The largest single crowd (250 participants) gathered at Northern Kentucky University. When learning about this, Governor Beshear quipped, "I don't know what they did. They must have offered steak."

But the turnout at NKU is very likely the product of substantial momentum that began to gather in November, 2007, around the Vision 2015 Education Summit during Commissioner Jon Draud's tenure.

Audience estimates are as follows: Paducah, 90; Owensboro, 100; Bowling Green, 100; Elizabethtown, 140; Jefferson, 85 (C-J estimated 100+); NKU, 275; BCTCS, 100; Somerset, 80; Prestonsburg, 50 and Ashland, 70.

TEK was also the new season's first topic on Education Matters, Kentucky Educational Television's educational policy program hosted by Bill Goodman. Goodman's guests included Governor Beshear along with First Lady Jane Beshear who spearheads the community-based Graduate Kentucky program, Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and Council on Postsecondary Education President Bob King.

Did you miss the program? Watch it here, at KET.

KET aired the program live and the panel fielded questions from participants and KET viewers while a feed of the program streamed in each location. Goodman bounced a few of the early questions off panel members to see who would best address which topics. The only question I noticed that drew little response from panel members had to do with the teaching of foreign languages in elementary schools, something Kentucky is not heavily involved in.

Afterward, the Commissioner expressed some surprise that "no one brought up the C-word." [charter schools] Goodman added, "and I didn't either... And you know what, we didn't have a question about it."

But perhaps the panel benefitted from a little administrative intervention. A staffer responded, "Well, there are some out there on the table." (Lots of laughter)

The staffer added, we were just swamped with questions from all over the state."

Beshear: "That's good."

Commissioner Holliday told the group, "We'll get all of the questions answered."

Then the staffer said, "There are a few political questions in there."

And feigning surprise, the Governor laughed and said, "No." (more laughter)

The TEK Task Force is seeking public input - from YOU - focusing (but not exclusively) on the following topics:
  • Improving college readiness
  • Providing every student with the opportunity to earn college credit during high school
  • Creating a system of assessments that measure what employers value
  • Ramping up academics in career and technical schools
  • Using technology to improve teaching and learning
  • Improving teacher recruitment and retention
  • Improving transitions between preschool and K-12

Let the governor know what you think:

Following the program the panel took a few questions from KSN&C.

KSN&C: Reminding the governor of similar successful past efforts by state leaders to engage the public - most recently the Prichard Town Forums - "I assume this was not an accident, to set this up in the same way as the Town Forums in 1984."

Beshear: "You don't try to reinvent the wheel when something has worked you tend to utilize it again. Particularly the Prichard Forums, that we all recall, played such a vital role in energizing the population all across the state. The parents, and you know, getting outside the education establishment, and energizing the public in general and the parents in particular. It played such a vital role in actually making all of that happen. I'm very hopeful that this kind of thing is going to play the same kind of role as we move forward and try to take this whole system to the next level.

KSN&C: I was talking to Bob Sexton the other day, and he said one of the main things they learned was how hard the work is and how long a haul it is to maintain that energy. So after 2011, when the Task Force presents its recommendations to the General Assembly, what's next? How do you maintain that momentum?

Beshear: As these fellas will tell you, a lot of this effort is just in the beginning formative stages, it's going to take a continuous effort and continuous work to make these things happen ...

KSN&C: So you think you guys will be out there again?

Beshear: Oh, we'll be out there a number of times as we go along. And as Bob - we were talking today - some efforts in other states that have, sort of, dissolved.

KSN&C: Which is actually the more common thing....

King: Well I think the challenge for us is to get some early success. If we can do that, it drives more, you know? The concern I've had - and we talked about this from the very beginning, right after Senate Bill 1 was passed - what you saw in the other states, such as Arizona, they set higher standards, or tried to. In the first round, so many kids flunked the exams that the parents went nuts because they didn't understand it. They put pressure on the legislature, the legislature commanded that everybody get retested. They lowered the cut scores. They made the questions easier. Then they allowed the kids to take the test multiple times. Then, if it still didn't work after six administrations of the exam, you could supplement the kids' record with, literally, attendance and gym class, even though the kid couldn't read or couldn't do mathematics. The pressure that I fear is that if we don't get the parents educated about what's going on that that pressure will come on to Terry and come on to the legislature and it will be really brutal. And the worst thing you can do is succumb to it, but it'll be there. The more we can do now to let families know what's coming and why it's important will serve us well in the future.

Jane Beshear: I think that as long as you've got the desire from the top, from the governor's office, to make sure you move forward, and you've got the collaboration between K through 12 and higher education, you've got the prefect storm. And that's not going to, hopefully, go away at any time in the near future. Once you get the programs going and people start to see the results through the testing scores and everything else, and the change of attitudes in our schools. You've started the engine and it just keeps going and going.

KSN&C: As you know I'm hopeful about Race To The Top too, but if we don't get funded, what other kinds of opportunities are out there? Does the Gates Foundation ...

Holliday: Yes. There's tons of foundation interest in Kentucky right now especially with our leadership on standards and our parent communication about standards and our work on assessment with Gates...

KSN&C: You feel we'll get enough to get the job done?

Holliday: We won't get $175 million, but we'll get enough to get the job done.

KSN&C: But you can build the test and make the change?

Holliday: Yeah. Nationally, we're part of all the consortia of the national assessment...

Helen Mountjoy, a former state education cabinet secretary and leader on the TEK initiative, co-chaired the Owensboro event with Daviess County Superintendent (and Council for Better Education President) Tom Shelton. Mountjoy said involvement must come from local businesses and community members, not just educators.

"Our teachers and students are able to meet expectations when they know what those expectations are," Mountjoy said. "I think there are two things I hoped would come from this: The first was a sense of where Kentucky is. The second was to involve people and talk about their hopes and dreams for education and rebuilding their enthusiasm from 20 years ago (when the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 laid the foundation for this effort)."

The scene at BCTCS:

Behind the scenes at KET, KDE staffers collect input from around the state.

Back stage before the show.