The most sweeping education reform bill since the 2010 advent of the Common Core State Standards in Kentucky is now under consideration as Senate Bill 1 from the 2016 Regular Legislative Session (SB-1/2016). This 90 plus-page bill (including amendments) impacts a host of important areas, including:
• Changing the way Kentucky’s education standards and assessments are developed, reviewed and actually implemented.
• Eliminating other types of evaluations used to judge school performance. Gone from state level accountability would be the highly inflated Program Reviews in areas like Arts & Humanities, Practical Living & Career Studies and Writing.
• Eliminating state-level reporting of the assessment of the performance of teachers and principals, which also became a highly inflated scoring game.
Following what is going on with SB-1/2016 is a challenge, because things are changing fast with this bill.
For example, the original version of SB-1/2016 eliminated social studies assessments at the state level. Now, a filed floor amendment to the bill from primary sponsor Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, retains social studies assessments in the mix.
Wilson’s original bill additionally called for the entire set of test questions to be released to schools each year, a potentially expensive proposition as entirely new tests would have to be created each year. Now, another of his Senate floor amendments, also approved today, says only “an operational subset of test items” will be released, which will save a significant amount of money.
SB-1/2016 is getting lots of attention, so much attention in fact that Kentucky Tonight scheduled a focused show on rather short notice to discuss the bill with four legislators, including Wilson himself.
Wilson gave an adequate overview of the bill (as it existed earlier this week) in the early minutes of the show, pointing out that SB-1/2016 is intended to deal with implementation problems from another Senate Bill 1, the one from the Regular Legislative Session in 2009 (SB-1/2009). Wilson correctly noted that there are a lot of concerns that what SB-1/2009 actually required didn’t happen while other things not authorized in that earlier bill did get included in Kentucky’s education program.
Despite some good provisions in the legislation, the future of Wilson’s bill is far from certain.
Wilson certainly wasn’t able to push past concerns of other show participants, including those of Sen. Gerald Neal. Neal, D-Louisville, has major heartburn with almost all areas of the bill.
Neal charged that it’s premature to consider this legislation right now because the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formerly known as No Child Left Behind, has only very recently been reissued as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA is a massive bill running to hundreds of pages in length which makes many changes to former mandates regarding education. Neal correctly said the US Department of Education says it will take about a year before the new federal regulations to implement ESSA appear.
Wilson’s interesting counter to Neal’s concern about ESSA is Kentucky writes laws to comply with federal laws, not regulations.
In any event, Neal further demonstrated his frustration by introducing yet another floor amendment to SB-1/2016 that replaces the bill’s language completely. Instead, Neal’s amendment calls for the Kentucky Department of Education to set up a study group on all the issues and then report its findings by October 9, 2017.
Neal is a minority party member of the Senate, and his amendment failed to pass when SB-1/2016 was voted out of the Kentucky Senate today. However, his ideas might get very serious consideration once SB-1/2016 reaches the House. And, SB-1/2016 isn’t going to become law unless the House goes along.
As far as SB-1/2016 is concerned, some of its changes are badly needed. For sure, as we have discussed previously, the inflated Program Reviews and the also overblown Professional Growth and Effectiveness System need to go. These were nice-sounding ideas that never proved economically practical. Economic realities meant both had to be scored by the very same teachers and principals being held accountable for the scores, and inflation inevitably resulted.
While a few educators resisting SB-1/2016 believe that repeating these teachers grading themselves experiments will somehow provide different results, human nature indicates inflated scores will always result when humans are held accountable in this ineffective manner.
In any event, the Kentucky Senate sent SB-1/2016 on to the House today. As we said earlier, the fate of this bill in that chamber is very uncertain.