Kentucky's education commissioner started a three-year trek in 2009 that would cover 50,000 miles as he crisscrossed the state to bring each of the 173 school districts the message: Kentucky was adopting tougher Common Core standards.
Commissioner Terry Holliday's typical day on the road would start at 7:30 a.m. when he'd meet with the principal of a local school. Then he’d go to another school and have a meeting with teachers. Lunch was whatever the school cafeteria offered, followed by more school visits and a town hall, PTA meeting or some club talk in the evening. Then he’d get into his old Ford, drive to the next town on the list and check in at his hotel, ready to do it all over again the next day.
“We were the first ones doing it. I needed to personally deliver the message to educators in the district and hear their concerns. We had to make sure we were paying attention to everyone,” Holliday recalled recently.
It’s been six years since Kentucky became the first state to adopt the tougher educational standards that detail what students need to know in English and math in each grade. The efforts paid off, and Kentucky has not seen the strong opt-out movements that have roiled another eager adopter, New York state. There have been some state bills introduced to overturn Kentucky’s Common Core, but not the level of political opposition seen in such places as North Carolina and Louisiana.
Even as test scores dipped more than 20 percentage points in the first year of the more rigorous Common Core tests, the transition, for the most part, has been smooth.
Scott Sargrad, managing director of K-12 education policy at the Center for American Progress, said, “Kentucky is a great example what can happen when all stakeholders are involved from the beginning.”
In addition to Holliday making visits to every school district, and marking them off with yellow tacks back at his office in Frankfort, many organizations at the state and local level were involved.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a big supporter of the Common Core (and among the many funders of The Hechinger Report) made a half-million-dollar grant to an education nonprofit (the Kentucky Chamber Foundation), which then disbursed it in smaller amounts to local groups that introduced Common Core to their communities.
The Department of Education selected a group of 500 math and 500 English teachers to create model curricula for teachers to use as they got familiar with the new standards. Teachers also received 18 hours’ worth of training on the standards.
As president of the 15th District PTA, which oversees the parent associations of individual schools, Heather Wampler received a $75,000 grant to gather educators and school board members to explain the new standards. Parents and community leaders were invited to meetings that ran in the evenings in school auditoriums and local centers.
Wampler estimates that between July 2011 and February 2013 her group held more than 300 meetings that reached over 850,000 individuals.
County and state efforts were coordinated so that Wampler’s PTA trained other PTAs throughout the state, which then ran their own community meetings. And Wampler and her team created videos and posted them on YouTube to train parents.
Sometimes the meetings did more than just explain the new standards. There were also calls to action for parents to intervene early with their kids.
Holliday, who retired from the Kentucky Department of Education in 2015, says that being first helped his state avoid the political problems that plagued the adoption process in many other states.
“The whole time, I was travelling and meeting with educators, I got a lot of questions but I never got pushback against Common Core. People understood that we needed higher standards.”