The Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank, joins with hundreds of groups nationwide to celebrate the fifth annual National School Choice Week (Jan. 24-30). Since its beginning more than 12 years ago, the Bluegrass Institute has been the leading voice to give Kentucky parents effective alternatives to ensure that each child receives a quality education. As part of National School Choice Week, the Bluegrass Institute will publish a series of blogs offering information on school choice. This series will be one of 16,000 events nationwide taking place as part of this year’s National School Choice Week.
For our second blog of this series, we are going to discuss how great ideas for education don’t necessarily come from within the traditional public education establishment. In fact, some within the establishment will fight programs that really work well for kids when those programs run counter to “adult interests.”
Let’s begin with another look at the Kentucky State of Education report from Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt.
In his new report on “The State of K-12 Education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Pruitt discusses a very exciting program that dramatically improved our public school students’ opportunity to take and succeed in Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
On Page 8 the State of Education includes this graphic, which shows both the numbers of AP test takers and the numbers of AP tests taken have notably grown in Kentucky since 2011.
Furthermore, Pruitt’s report candidly admits that a specific program is largely responsible for this, saying:
“For the past eight years, AdvanceKentucky, a statewide math and science initiative, has had a significant impact on the growth of Advanced Placement in the state, especially among those who are traditionally underserved and underrepresented in AP courses.”
In fact, the vast majority of increased AP participation in math, science and English subjects in Kentucky over the past decade is found in AdvanceKentucky’s partner high schools.
AdvanceKentucky is a proven program, something the Bluegrass Institute has recognized for many years.
For example, in just the second year of the program, we blogged about this AdvanceKentucky graph that showed the first two groups of Kentucky high schools to join the program produced proportionately far more AP qualifying scores (QS) in math, science and English (MSE) than either the nation or the overall Kentucky public school system.
But, there is still more to the story that the State of Education report didn’t cover. A key message is that ideas that really work for education can, and do, come from outside of the traditional education establishment. And, sometimes, the traditional school culture will actually fight innovation that works for kids.
The general idea involved with AdvanceKentucky actually was floated in the Kentucky Senate a number of years ago but could not gain traction.
So, supporters turned to private industry to get this great program up and running. Major funding was secured from the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), a non-profit organization launched in 2007 by top leaders in business, education, and science to transform education in the United States. NMSI partnered with a Kentucky non-profit, the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, to get Kentucky’s program up and running.
AdvanceKentucky has steadily expanded to more schools each year since.
However, until recently, one school district was notably absent from the AdvanceKentucky program. That district was the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS).
When I asked about this a number of years ago, a key legislative assistant told me that the main hang up was the Jefferson County Teachers’ Association. The apparent problem: AP teachers in the AdvanceKentucky program could receive financial rewards for each student who scored 3 or higher on the AP test. That smelled like merit pay to the union, and the teachers’ union intensely dislikes the idea of merit pay. The result was years of delay before any Jefferson County high school entered AdvanceKentucky. Meanwhile, Jefferson County languished in AP performance while other, more progressive schools around the state jumped on this private enterprise funded innovation and the students in those more progressive school systems reaped important benefits. And, by the way, a lot of those students AdvanceKentucky benefitted were disadvantaged students of which Jefferson County has plenty.
So, a key point here is that this very successful program – one of the most productive innovations in Kentucky’s schools since KERA was enacted in 1990 – didn’t originate within the public education community. Instead, external, non-government organizations grew the concept and funded the initial years of the program.
Also worth emphasis, within Jefferson County there was active rejection of this great program on the part of certain, selfish adult interests, to the detriment of unknown numbers of the district’s students.
Which leads to another point.
The same spirit of innovation that led to the privately created AdvanceKentucky program can also be found in schools of choice such as public charter schools. In addition, states with good charter laws have recognized problems with teachers’ union interference within the traditional public school system. So, to further enhance the atmosphere of innovation, most states permit their charters to operate completely free of union involvement or control. Such freedom has allowed charters in states with better laws to move out ahead of traditional public schools.
Furthermore, even within our traditional public school system, the creation of more choices for students such as AdvanceKentucky offers provides clear advantages, too, once “adult interests” get put aside in favor of what works best for students.
Choice, it’s what great education systems thrive on.