The Future of Reform in Kentucky
Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
at the Improving Productivity in Kentucky's Schools
and Districts Conference,
November 10, 2001
"The wrong way to increase productivity
in an era of tight budgets
is to cut back in a manner
that damages school quality and hurts children."
By Ed Sec Arne Duncan:
Thank you so much, Terry.
Terry Holliday is the latest of a long line of great educational leaders here in Kentucky. He arrived on the job shortly before the Race to the Top competition. In short order, he led the state to submit an application that had the support of all 174 districts in the state, as well as union leaders. When Kentucky didn’t win in the competition, he and his team didn’t stop and lick their wounds. Terry formed a steering committee to realize the vision of defining teacher effectiveness.
The amazing thing about the Race to the Top competition is that it has unleashed an avalanche of reform -- even in states that didn’t win a grant.
But it’s no surprise that Kentucky responded to the challenge of Race to the Top. Kentucky has been a leader in education reform for two decades. By collaborating with courage and commitment, Kentucky’s schools have improved dramatically, as has the achievement of Kentucky’s students.
My message to you today is simple: This is no time to rest on your laurels. For all of your progress, Kentucky and the rest of the nation are falling short of providing the world-class education that every child in America deserves.
- ...commit yourselves to sticking with education reform
- You’ve rebuilt public education in this state. You’ve led the nation on a path toward standards-based reform. By most measures, Kentucky’s students have made dramatic increases. But Kentucky, like the rest of America, must dig in and do more for reform
- In 1989, the Kentucky Supreme Court issued a sweeping declaration that the state’s system of public education was unconstitutional. The court gave the state legislature a huge task: Create a new system from scratch and find the money to invest in those new schools. Policymakers and educators responded with remarkable courage and commitment. The legislature overhauled the public school system, building a model not just for the state, but for the rest of the nation to follow.
- In Washington, I am so lucky to work in close partnership with Gene Wilhoit, a native of this great state and a former commissioner of education here. Gene has provided amazing leadership in helping create a common core of educational standards. Kentucky was the first in the nation to adopt these standards, and 45 have followed your lead. I owe you so much for your willingness to step out front on this issue. You literally helped to create this revolution.
- And we’ve stopped lying to children – telling them they’re ready for college and careers when they’re not.
- Here in Kentucky, you also have great leadership from elected officials. My friend, Gov. Steve Beshear, has a transformational proposal to make public education available through early learning programs starting at age 3.
- The new accountability system emerging here is based on the same principles as President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform of the No Child Left Behind Act. It measures whether students are prepared for college and careers. It focuses on student growth and gain, rather than absolute test scores. And it maintains a commitment to disaggregating data to track whether schools are closing the achievement gap.
- Now that Congress is four years late in reauthorizing NCLB, President Obama said we can’t wait for Congress to act.
- I know Terry Holliday and his team are hard at work on Kentucky’s proposal for flexibility
- In the two decades since the state Supreme Court demanded a better education system for Kentucky’s children, the growth of 4th graders and 8th graders in math and science has been exceptional. From 1992 through 2011, Kentucky’s 4th grade reading scores have increased faster than all but three other states. Overall, Kentucky’s students are now in the middle of the pack compared to other states, after starting out near the bottom. This is good news indeed. But you shouldn’t have a sense of complacency. Other data reveal what should be a wake-up call for Kentucky.
- Look at the results of ACT college entrance exams. Of Kentucky’s Class of 2011, just 16 percent were prepared to do college-level work. That means 84 percent of Kentucky’s 18-year-olds aren’t prepared to be full participants in the knowledge economy. And we know they likely won’t be able to compete with their peers across the world unless they complete at least one year of postsecondary education.
- President Obama has proposed $30 billion to keep teachers in the classroom instead of on unemployment lines.
- provid[ing] $406 million for Kentucky – enough to support 6,100 teachers in the classroom.
- teachers should be working in modern facilities that give students the best opportunity to learn
- This is a win-win situation – putting members of the construction trades back to work while creating 21st century science labs and computer facilities for our students. The nation’s schools face an enormous $270 billion backlog of deferred maintenance and repairs.
- Earlier today, I visited Shawnee High School in Louisville with
Congressman Yarmuth. With a three-year, $1.5 million federal turnaround
grant, Shawnee is starting to move the needle in the right direction.
And with a new project funded by our Investing in Innovation fund, the
school is emphasizing that college should be within reach of every
But Shawnee has significant maintenance needs. With an antiquated H-VAC system, the temperature can vary 20 degrees between rooms. The fire alarms in the aquatic center are rusting and set off false alarms, regularly interrupting time dedicated to academics. Sadly, I see similar conditions everywhere I go. These are not learning environments where our children can thrive and reach their fullest potential.
Through the American Jobs Act, Kentucky would receive $390 million to repair and modernize its K-12 schools – and another $55 million for its community colleges. This money would support as many as 5,800 construction jobs. Together, it would be an additional $800 million investment in children, in education, and in Kentucky’s future.
The American Jobs Act is based on bipartisan ideas and it is fully paid for. It is meant to reduce the financial crisis facing schools and districts today. But it’s clear that the schools will face financial challenges for the long term. Close to half of public school revenues come from states. State budgets have been under enormous fiscal pressure over the past three years and many won’t return to their pre-recession revenue levels until next year – at the earliest. Local funding accounts for about 44 percent of K-12 revenues nationwide – most of that money comes from property taxes. Property valuations plummeted three years ago in the housing crash and are likely to remain largely stagnant during the next two years – or possibly even longer.
So whether we like it or not, it’s clear that schools are going to be faced with the challenge of doing more with less for the foreseeable future. This is what we are calling the New Normal that everyone involved in education must grapple with. We must be smart, and we must be strategic. Dumb choices now will only make a tough situation worse.
- district-level cost efficiencies are absolutely essential. But they can best be described as necessary but nowhere near sufficient