Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Prichard Committee focuses on education 'hot topics'

Here's Prichard's press release on their Fall meeting:

Education issues that are the subject of sometimes contentious state and national discussions were the focus of the recent fall meeting of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

The Committee is setting priorities for its work in the coming months, building on more than 25 years of advocacy that have contributed to Kentucky's improved national rankings in education. Members heard from the editor and publisher of Education Week, a leading national publication, and from representatives of Kentucky organizations who shared their perspectives on key issues in education today.

The Committee also celebrated the 15th anniversary of its award-winning Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership, an initiative that trains parents to become informed advocates for school improvement. To date, more than 1,600 Kentuckians have completed the program, which also has been made available in other states.

Publisher Virginia B. Edwards, who also is president of Editorial Projects in Education, told the group that the Prichard Committee has led efforts to heighten public will, political support and media attention as Kentucky has framed many of the issues that are now making headlines. Among the themes that in Edwards' view are taking shape across the country:

· The challenging transitions to tougher academic standards, such as those Kentucky adopted last year, and to the tests that will measure student performance on the standards. In Kentucky, the new tests are to be administered for the first time next spring.

· Early childhood education and the importance of parent involvement and community support for quality programs.

· Tight budgets that states are facing, worsened by the end of federal stimulus funding.

· The increasing significance of international measures and competition in determining and ensuring education quality.

· Political uncertainties about the re-authorization of federal education legislation and other matters.

Clustered under these areas are issues related to technology and on-line learning, teacher effectiveness, college access, leadership development, special education and other importance topics, she added.

National leaders and much of the public realize that the education system is outdated, Edwards said, adding that she believes four things could lead to significant changes in education: eliminating so-called "seat time," where students must remain in a class for a certain length of time regardless of their mastery of the subject; eliminating the adoption of textbooks to encourage more creativity in classroom teaching and learning; deploying teachers and other staff members differently to remove restrictions on how they do their work; and greater use of technology.

The Kentucky panelists shared their views as "voices from the field" in a session led by Stu Silberman, executive director of the Prichard Committee.

· Mary Ann Blankenship, executive director of the Kentucky Education Association, described the "excitement, anxiety and trepidation" that she sees in Kentucky classrooms today. The atmosphere is the result of Kentucky's adoption of the tougher standards and the additional work they will require when resources are limited and shrinking. KEA members appear to be "more stressed out and confused" than they have been for many years, she said.

· Bill Scott, executive director of the Kentucky School Boards Association, said his organization is focusing on helping local school boards set and maintain high expectations for student performance, accountability for results and ensuring the capacity is in place to meet the goals in both areas. He agreed that ensuring conditions for success was possibly the most challenging task in times of rising costs and diminishing resources, citing the tension between greater student needs and a declining capacity at the local level to raise revenue.

· Wayne Young, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, agreed with elements of Edwards' assessment and said the state should change its thinking on curriculum with more emphasis on virtual and distance learning. "We need to look differently at what we teach."

· Jerry Green, president of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents and Superintendent of Pikeville Independent Schools, applauded the new emphasis on preparing students for college and career and noted that parents want their children to be ready to succeed at that level. He also noted that "this has been the greatest single year of change since 1990, (the year the Kentucky Education Reform Act passed) without question."

The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is a statewide citizens' advocacy group, founded in 1983, working to improve education for all Kentuckians.

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