Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Forum on the History of Education in Kentucky

September 8, 20011
8:30 AM – 4 PM
Eastern Kentucky University
Perkins Building
(Free parking at Perkins)
Schedule below
Before the Forum
Book Chat with Bill Ellis
September 7th, 4:30 PM
John Grant Crabbe Library
Grand Reading Room
A book signing will follow
until 6:30 PM
Cost: $70 + $3 for credit card processing
Credit card reservations may be made
by phone at (859) 622-1444
Education in Kentucky, the first state west of the Appalachian Mountains, got off to a poor start. An incongruous land system created a society dominated by the wealthy who had little interest in educating the masses, and thus, until the advent of the 20th century, no taxing system approaching “adequate” supported a democratic common school system. Like citizens in other slave states, early Kentuckians did not highly value public common school education.

Emeritus EKU History Professor Bill Ellis argues in his new book A History of Education in Kentucky that the Commonwealth more closely followed the old English system of education rather than the more democratic system found in New England. 

Ellis’s book is the first single-volume history of schooling in the state and the first of any kind since 1964. Much has changed since the 60’s, and it’s time to talk about it.

To celebrate the book’s release, EKU and WEKU radio have partnered with the University Press of Kentucky, and Kentucky Educational Television to present a forum on education in the state on September 8th at the Perkins Building on the south side of the EKU campus. The Forum will run from 8:30 AM until 4 PM. The response from the education community has been very positive and I believe we can promise attendees a good cross-section of educators, scholars and writers who will examine our past and forecast the future of schooling in Kentucky.

From the beginning the educational system in Kentucky has been fraught with inefficiency, politicization, and localism. The efforts of Robert J. Breckinridge to develop a common school system in Kentucky highlighted the reformism of the late antebellum period. Throughout the 19th Century and well into the 20th Century, taxation laws to fund and improve the public schools were often ill-conceived, haphazardly collected, and the funds were even raided by the legislature. Poorer counties found themselves incapable of adequately funding needed education improvements. When reform came it was often negated by a tight-fisted General Assembly and localism that thwarted needed change. Ellis points to the Sullivan Law, the Normal School law, the Minimum Foundation Program, the Kentucky Education Reform Act, and reorganization of higher education during the Patton administration as improvements to both public school and higher education in the state, but says “the Commonwealth of Kentucky remains, by most standards, among the average to lowest states in the nation in funding, literacy, school dropouts and other areas of educational attainment."

Ellis says he wrote the book to “educate Kentuckians about our educational history and heritage and then [to] encourage us to push for even greater sacrifice and change. We must do better in the 21st century,” he says.

The development of institutions of higher education is also treated in the history. Ellis describes how colleges, most of which were little more than high schools, abounded but many lasted only for a short time. The highlight of early Kentucky higher education history was the administration of Horace Holley at Transylvania. Ultimately sectarian controversy led to his resignation and the development of other colleges, including Centre and Georgetown, until the Civil War devastated education in the state. Following the Civil War higher education actually recovered quite quickly as numerous private colleges were formed including Asbury College and Seminary, Central University, Union College, Thomas More, Cumberland, Campbellsville and Nazareth Colleges. From its origins as a normal school for blacks in Frankfort, Kentucky State Normal and Industrial Institute became the under-funded, politically sensitive, land grant school for African Americans. What would become the University of Kentucky in 1916 evolved from the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky University (1865-78), the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky (1878-1908), and State University (1908-1916).

While the majority of college students were attending private colleges at the turn of the 20th Century, a major change came with the founding of the Eastern and Western normal schools in 1906. Morehead and Murray would follow in 1922. All four schools evolved into four year colleges and by World War II public higher education began to outpace private colleges. Later Governor Paul Patton confronted the issue of governance of the commonwealth’s system of higher education in House Bill 1 which created a new Council on Postsecondary Education, removed UK’s hold on community colleges, and redefined the goals of UL, Kentucky State, and the regional universities.

After a campaign led by State Superintendent Wendell Butler, the legislature passed the Minimum Foundation Program in 1954, a further attempt to equalize state funding of the public schools according to need based on a per capita basis with an equalization fund. The passage of a sales tax in 1960 under the leadership of Governor Bert T. Combs improved school funding. For the first time, teacher retirement became a priority. Two years later the legislature authorized the beginning of Kentucky Educational Television. Kentucky education followed national trends in reaction to numerous federal mandates, including Title I, Title IX and civil rights legislation. The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence was formed in 1983 to study education and seek needed changes.

An attempt to rectify the continued inequities between poor and more affluent school districts finally began to bear fruit with a 1985 lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court. “Sixty-six” school districts and twenty-two students (through their parents) filed a law suit claiming that the General Assembly failed in their duty to uphold Sections 183 and 186 of the Kentucky Constitution by not treating school districts equitably. The state Supreme Court unanimously concurred and ruled the education system of Kentucky to be unconstitutional. After an extensive study by a legislative task force, the General Assembly passed the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990, radically reconstructing public education.

To assure a stimulating treatment of the issues surrounding education in the state, we are assembling an impressive group of practitioners, scholars, writers, and remarkably few politicians. And we are using a roundtable format which I will describe below… and here’s the tentative schedule:

The Forum
September 8, 2011

• 8:30 AM: Refreshments
• 9 AM: Opening Comments and Introductions, Richard Day

• 9:15 AM: Bill Ellis: Reflections on the history and future of education in Kentucky

• 10 AM – 11:30 AM: P-12 Forum
• Bill Goodman, KET, Moderator. Confirmed panelists include…
  • o P. G. Peeples, Lexington Fayette County Urban League
  • o Stu Silberman, Prichard Committee for academic Excellence
  • o Elaine Farris, Clark Co Superintendent
  • o Ruthanne Palumbo, Fayette County legislator
  • o Kevin Noland, KDE/UofL
  • o Richard Angelo, UK Education Policy
  • o Terry Holliday, Kentucky Education Commissioner
  • o Sharron Oxendine, KEA President
  • o Erik Myrup, History, UK/FayetteABC
• 11:45 AM – 12:45 PM: Lunch
o Former Kentucky Governor Paul Patton, President of UPike

• 1 PM – 2:30 PM: Higher Education Forum
• David Hawpe, Courier-Journal, retired, Moderator. Confirmed panelists include…
  • o Doug Whitlock, President, EKU
  • o Lindsey Apple, History, Georgetown
  • o Bob King, President Council on Postsecondary Education
  • o John Hardin, History, WKU
  • o Gary Cox, President, Assn of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities
  • o Peg Pitman Munke, Murray, COSFL
  • o David Atkisson, Ky Chamber of Commerce
• 2:45 PM – 4 PM: Media Forum
• Tom Eblen, Herald-Leader, Moderator. Confirmed panelists include…
  • o Linda Blackford, H-L
  • o Mark Neikirk, NKU
  • o Mark Hebert, WHAS/UofL
  • o Ronnie Ellis, CNHI News
  • o Richard Wilson, C-J/Independent Colleges
• 4 PM: Adjourn

The Idea:

When Bill Ellis asked me to plan a symposium that would deal with the issues raised in his new book, A History of Education in Kentucky (University Press of Kentucky, 2011), I was both honored and challenged.

I have attended a few symposia in my day, but they all featured three or four professors reading their own papers, and a few speeches, typically delivered by deans or politicians. That didn’t seem quite right for a topic as wide-ranging as the history of schooling in the Commonwealth. It seemed to me that we needed more voices.

As I thought about the problem, my mind traveled back to my youth and a program I used to watch on KET. The program was a moderated debate that was conducted in the round. The moderator would raise issues around the theme of that week’s debate and pose questions of policy to smart advocates who came from a variety of backgrounds and who looked at issues from different perspectives. It led to many lively discussions.

The program I was recalling may have been “The Advocates,” which originated from Vanderbilt University (and was produced by KCET, Los Angeles and WGBH, Boston; not Harvard Law, as I originally thought), ran from 1969 to 1979, and featured some of the leading thinkers of the day, including several Harvard Law professors.

It is – roughly - this design we are hoping to replicate in three panel discussions related to education in Kentucky – its past, present, and future. What began as an idea for a symposium has become more of a Forum. Because of the quality of panelists who have agreed to participate, I believe it may end up as a Master Class for those who attend. There will also be an opportunity for questions from the audience.

The moderators play a key role and are free to guide the discussion in whatever direction they (and the panelists) determine to be most interesting. Along the way, panelists are sure to engage key topics.
• Who is it that has access to an excellent education?
  • • Has Kentucky overcome its history of educational inequities?
  • • What constitutes an adequate education?
  • • Does “all” really mean all?
  • • How has (and will) technology change schooling?
  • • Is the need for higher education changing?
  • • What is the likely result of increased privatization of educational opportunity and for-profit education in Kentucky?  
I also hope panelists will touch upon some of the stories that help us understand how students have experienced our schools and what schools mean to the communities they serve.

Our third panel (Media) is a little different. Here we are hoping our media panelists will do what the press does – reflect on our past, question the popular narratives, and opine on the direction schools should go. Media panelists may also reflect on stories they have covered.

It should be a great day.

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