Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A new year, a new day...and a little quibbling

As a sign of his steadfast commitment, even in an uncertain political climate, Commissioner Stephen Pruitt reaffirmed his pledge to work hard, use accurate information, hold high expectations for students, and act courageously to make decisions in the best interest of each and every Kentucky child. Quoting from the Rose case, he reminds us that “Each child, every child, in this Commonwealth must be provided with an equal opportunity to have an adequate education.” Music to my ears.

But to Pruitt, "adequate" does not set the bar high enough.

As one who must use his bully pulpit to speak to the public, the Commissioner is doubtlessly reacting to the lukewarm power of a word like "adequate." In common usage, adequate means "just enough." "Sufficient." Boring...and very average sounding. What Commissioner wants to go to the public with a message that says, "We are going to give your child an adequate education?" No wonder he wants to pump up the volume. But does he sacrifice accuracy to do so? 

Please allow me to quibble with him a bit...

In the courts, the question of adequacy is whether the state has supplied sufficient support for the entire system of schools to achieve the state's goals. In Rose, the Kentucky Supreme Court was focused on the system as a whole and interpreted those goals very broadly. It is that scope that makes state goals anything but average. It creates a very high standard, indeed.

Imagine a system of schools in Kentucky where the following was true:
  • Where no matter which Kentucky school a child attended, parents could be assured that their child would receive an education that allowed them to perform successfully in the 21st century.
  • Where equality was a key characteristic of every school, notwithstanding differences in family income...or anything else, for that matter.  
  • Where a high quality education was available to all Kentucky children.
  • Where every school was operated without waste, mismanagement or undue political influence.
  • Where every Kentucky child possessed oral and written communication abilities that would enable them to function in a complex and changing society.
  • Where every Kentucky child possessed sufficient knowledge to make informed economic, social, and political decisions.
  • Where every Kentucky child possessed sufficient knowledge of governmental processes to be an effective citizen.
  • Where every Kentucky child possessed sufficient self-knowledge to be healthy.
  • Where every Kentucky child possessed sufficient grounding in the arts to ennoble their spirits and allow them to appreciate our common heritage.
  • Where every Kentucky child possessed sufficient knowledge to successfully enter advanced academic or vocational training and pursue their life's work intelligently, and compete favorably against their peers from other states.
  • Where all Kentucky schools were substantially uniform. Not a system of good schools and bad schools, but a system where every school offered and delivered the kinds of opportunities we all wish every child had.
  • ...and the system of common schools was adequately funded to achieve these goals for each child, every child.
How much better off would Kentucky be if only we had an adequate system of common schools?

This from Stephen Pruitt in Commissioner's Comments:
It’s a new calendar year, a new day in Frankfort and a new day in Washington D.C., and I couldn’t be more excited. When the page on the calendar turns from December to January, I always get a sense of renewal, drive and enthusiasm for the future. The feeling is more acute in 2016 than I remember in a long time.

Part of the reason is that I am here in Kentucky. Nationally, the state has an excellent reputation for improving K-12 education and the prospect to build on that legacy is one of the main things that drew me to my new Kentucky home. I am eternally grateful to the Kentucky Board of Education for trusting me with the opportunity. I pledged to them as I do to you, to listen to all sides and make decisions in the best interest of children. As stated in the Supreme Court opinion in Rose v. Council for Better Education more than a quarter century ago, “Each child, every child, in this Commonwealth must be provided with an equal opportunity to have an adequate education.”

But to me, adequate, doesn’t set the bar high enough. My goal is to build on our accomplishments of the past 25 years to provide each child and every child with an equal opportunity to an excellent, world-class education that will lead them to success in their postsecondary endeavors, and in life. I believe, as do many among us, that education is the key to prosperity in Kentucky. It is the one thing with the potential to break the cycle of poverty that has plagued this state for far too many years.

With that said, it is a new day in Frankfort with a new governor, new administration and a new session of the General Assembly that in the next few months – hopefully with the education community’s input and expertise – will determine the course toward our goal. Lawmakers will approve a new biennial budget and are poised to consider a slew of education legislation.

It’s also a new day in Washington, D.C. with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, this time around known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. It provides us a greater opportunity to chart our own course for the future of education than any time in recent history.

In the coming weeks, as always, it is important that policy decisions are based on the facts of today. We must build on our successes with the goal of moving education forward. It is absolutely essential that we are honest with ourselves and with our children and that we continue to have high expectations for all.

We have some great opportunities ahead of us, some would call them challenges, but I see them in a more positive light. These opportunities have reignited a fire within me, and hopefully one within you to work hard, stand up for what is right for Kentucky’s kids and not take the easy way out, even if it is the more popular choice. This will take attention, accurate information, hard work, courage, compromise and understanding. I’m up for the task, are you?

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