Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Think first. Act second. Create something lasting...

According to Senate Education Chair Mike Wilson, teachers are saying this is not the time to halt the adoption of Senate Bill 1. But what they are really saying is that this is not the time to halt the progress Kentucky schools have made. SB 1 and educational progress are not necessarily the same thing. But it's hard to tell from Wilson's twisted rhetoric.
Wilson complains that the original Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 1 in 2009 opened the door to political posturing, artificial accountability, and bureaucratic burdens. Of course, he doesn't mention the part about Senate Bill 1 being a Republican bill. One assumes that is because he wants us to believe the Republicans are here to save us from a school system that - well, actually, a system that has shown great improvements over the past 25 years.

He argues that his new and improved SB 1would reduce political influences that have stifled educators’ voices. But what he does not say is that SB 1 would place state curriculum under the control of politically-selected, and no doubt, politically-motivated appointees thus opening the door for Kentucky to become more like Texas, where historical facts in the classroom are subordinate to the present-day ideologies of the majority. While Republicans sit on the verge of taking over both houses of state government, his assurances that the process would not become politicized fails to pass the smell test.

Wilson laments Kentucky's pursuit of federal Race to the Top (RTTT) money, which called for the adoption of internationally-bench marked standards (which coincidentally matched Common Core, another Republican idea from 2007 [and a good one]). But he fails to mention that Republican leadership at the time touted the state's effort to capture the funds - partly because RTTT also incentivized states to adopt charter schools, and partly because the legislature did not fund SB 1. Neither does Wilson mention that Republican and Democratic education policy was pretty closely aligned in 2009, and that the major planks of American Diploma Project (also an initiative of Governor Ernie Fletcher which led to Kentucky becoming an early adopter) were largely mirrored in RTTT.

Senate Bill 1 also creates a class system with regard to accountability. It reminds me of Kentucky's high school football classifications where small schools face weaker competition and thus have lower expectations than others. It makes sense in football (where a AAAA school may have a thousand players to choose from, but a single A team might have 75 potential players) but I am not sure it makes sense here, unless the goal is really to take pressure off the schools.

By the way, any suggestion that Senate Bill 1 will eliminate achievement gaps is a fairy tale.

But Wilson is not all wrong. He correctly identifies the frustrations of many teachers who have been subjected to the arcane rigors of high-stakes accountability, too much testing coupled with burdensome and often inappropriate teacher evaluations. And he correctly identifies the frustrations of overworked principals drowning in the depths of Kentucky's evaluation process.

Wilson is also correct to complain about federal overreach into state education policy in general. That has been increasingly going on since ESEA was first passed in the 1960s, and brought to new heights under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. But for today's Republicans to abandon their own best ideas - the ones they praised under Bush 43 - but now reject them simply because President Obama signed on, leaves me doubting that the majority party has a carefully considered education policy at all.

The 2009 version of SB 1, like every other policy, is not perfect. But it was a sturdy framework that has contributed in some measure to the state's impressive growth. There are certainly branches of that tree that need pruning. But Kentucky does not need to dig up a relatively healthy tree in favor of an ill-considered sapling that will do more to reintroduce politics into state education policy than anything we've seen since 1990.  

There is a brand new federal education law passed by Congress in December. The regulations for the new law are still being written. This is the time for Kentucky to study its education policies. Think first. Act second. Create something lasting. And quit jerking Kentucky teachers around.

This hogwash from Sen. Mike Wilson in the Herald-Leader: 

Senate Bill 1 gives more control to the state, schools, teachers

Based on consistent messages from Kentucky public school educators, this is not a time to halt or apply the brakes on adopting Senate Bill 1, but a time to step on the accelerator. Since 2009, political posturing, artificial accountability, and bureaucratic burdens have “halted” practitioners long enough.
Sen. Mike Wilson

First, SB 1 attempts to reduce political influences that have stifled educators’ voices for determining state academic standards and tests. Pursuit of federal Race to the Top money influenced our state to adopt standards without preliminary practitioner input and to hastily choose tests that inadequately aligned with those standards.

Most teachers have had to pull double duty teaching extra lessons for the state test in addition to their regular curriculum. Just ask any Kentucky educator. The good news is that SB 1 will not only allow the public and Kentucky teachers to recommend standards but also trust them to simultaneously ensure alignment of state tests with those standards.

In addition, to reinforce transparency, a committee composed of Governor appointees, representatives, and senators will join the Commissioner of Education to prevent the political end-run influence of vendors or executive orders from nullifying public and educator recommendations. This committee will NOT change the recommendations made by the review groups, but will ensure all voices have been heard before forwarding them to the Kentucky Board of Education.

Second, in response to educators’ outcries from across the state, our bill’s accountability guidelines will allow practitioners to refocus on student growth, staff productivity, and credentialed graduates sought by industry, rather than on compliant activity and a chasing after points. Despite state assistance and sanctions, accountability measures have not effectively impacted student achievement growth, especially for our economically disadvantaged students, whose percentage of novice scores nearly doubles those of their counterparts. Just ask any Kentucky educator.

To hold both higher- and lower-scoring schools accountable to move 100 percent of their students to proficient performance, SB 1 requires one additional measure that compares each school’s average growth with other schools with similar demographics. In addition, to accelerate school improvement, SB 1 aligns with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to allow local districts the decision-making authority to pursue cutting-edge, turnaround strategies from experts not available from the Department of Education.

Postsecondary readiness will be measured by increases in the percentage of graduates with higher college admissions test scores, college credit hours, and genuine credentials demanded by industry rather than an assortment of additional tests.

Third, although a statewide professional growth and effectiveness system was recently established for Kentucky educators, federal influence reversed the course and stunted the growth of practitioners. The quality new standards and evaluation framework was neutralized by forcing teachers to spend a disproportionate amount of time responding to incessant and overreaching state requirements to submit unnecessary documentation, tallying of processes, and tediously entering contrived student growth on a $36 million web-based system that seldom worked.

A principal remarked that he was no longer a leader of an innovative staff, but a manager of compliance. Just ask any Kentucky educator. SB 1 preserves the state’s authority to establish a quality statewide evaluation framework but designates to the local district the logistics of developing and implementing an evaluation system that must align with that common framework.

This is not a time to stop and study. It is a time to dramatically grow. The best time to plant a tree was seven years ago. SB 1 of 2009 was that tree. However, federal and state influence and overreach has halted growth and significantly diminished the harvest of fruit we envisioned. Just ask any Kentucky educator.

The second best time to plant a tree is now, and we can do that with SB 1 of 2016.

Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, represents the 32nd District in Warren County and is chair of the Education Committee and the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee.

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