“We are on a mission to transform public schools and equip every child with the skills and inspiration necessary to achieve their life’s dreams. We are driven by the belief that every child—regardless of background—has the capacity to learn if put in the right school environment.”
That’s just what we want in Kentucky. But, we are a long way from achieving this goal, and StudentsFirst knows it. Their new State Policy Report Card 2014 for Kentucky also says:
“Kentucky’s education policy continues to put the interests of adults ahead of the interests of students. It’s time for a new approach that puts kids at the center of education policy.”
To give everyone an idea of how Kentucky is doing with some of its hot button items, StudentsFirst just issued the second edition of its state policy report cards. This new report looks at important education policy areas including the teaching profession, parent empowerment and education governance and spending. The scores for Kentucky make it clear that StudentsFirst isn’t buying the recent claims some have made that the Bluegrass State’s public education system ranks among the top 10 states in the country.
Without question, Kentucky’s worst performance area in the StudentsFirst report is found in the “Empower Parents” section. Kentucky got a solid “F” for leaving parents (and their children) out of the education equation. Some specific examples include:
• Not informing parents when their child is placed in an ineffective teacher’s classroom,
• Kentucky having no prohibition on placing a child with ineffective teachers for two years in a row,
• No way for parents from a failing school to band together to petition for major changes in that school (a Parent Trigger),
• No charter schools with clear triggers to close any charters that fail to perform,
• No scholarship programs to help low-income students escape failing schools and
• Limited school choice in general.
Overall, the new report ranks only five states lower than Kentucky for the lack of service and support to parents and their children. The state’s lack of school choices, including the total absence of charter schools, clearly does not impress these reporters.
Not far behind the poor Empower Parents scoring, Kentucky did very poorly in the “Spend Wisely and Govern Well” section. Some of StudentsFirst’s concerns here include:
• Bureaucratic red tape and politics,
• Limited intervention in districts and schools with problems, largely along traditional lines,
• No alternative governance structures that could be used in failing schools and districts,
• Lack of Mayoral ability to move into local schools that are failing their cities,
• Incomplete fiscal transparency and accountability,
• Unnecessary, one size fits all, class size restrictions,
• Lack of staffing flexibility to meet student needs,
• No linkage of spending data to student outcomes,
• No way to change governance when resources are mismanaged and
• A poor pension system that crimps teacher career flexibility due to requirements to participate in an inflexible retirement plan where transferring teachers can loose a large part of their retirement.
Per StudentsFirst, only four states in the nation have poorer policies for spending and governing than Kentucky.
Kentucky faired somewhat better in the Teaching Profession area but still ranks only 29th in the country. The report liked the Bluegrass State’s numerous alternative programs for teacher certification, for example. We also did fairly well in the teacher evaluation area, though I think this is based on the staff effectiveness program in Unbridled Learning which is still very much a work in progress rather than a mature and stable process. On the other hand, we are not paying our teachers well (because we spend too much on other things rather than actual performance) and we have no explicit merit pay program and we do an “F” quality job of using teacher evaluations for personnel decisions such as granting tenure.
Overall, it is clear that Kentucky needs to do a lot more to insure every child is put in the right environment to meet his or her educational needs. This argues for better school choice options such as charter schools, which – aside from choice – would provide education leaders with those alternate governance structures that are so badly needed to turn around chronically failing schools.