There is an interesting back-and-forth going on in the Herald-Leader about the impacts of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990.
First to chime off was Nina McCoy, who teaches biology, anatomy and physiology at Sheldon Clark High School in Inez. She is a nationally board certified teacher with 30 years of experience. In other words, she has the long-term experience and the smarts to be worth listening to.
McCoy points out that KERA’s passage presented Kentucky with an important opportunity. But, she says:
“Unfortunately that opportunity was squandered by lack of focused vision.”
She cites a litany of failed KERA education fad ideas such as:
• Ungraded primary,
• Math and writing portfolios,
• Performance tasks,
• Open-response tests,
• Outcome-based education, and
• School councils.
This won’t be news to any of our more seasoned readers. We discussed essentially the same in our 20-Year history of KERA.
Prichard, of course, was a major player in the passage of KERA back in 1990 and pushed many of the education fad ideas that McCoy says didn’t work.
In her call to “stop wasting time complaining about how we got here,” Heine lists what she claims are positive outcomes since the reform began such as:
• Eliminating nepotism,
• Insuring school board members at least had a high school education,
• Focusing on what students learn, not just on whether the material was presented,
• More technology,
• Enhanced preschool opportunities,
• Family resource and youth services centers,
• More professional development, and
• Money for a new equalized funding formula.
While some of these certainly are positives, none deal with improved student performance.
Heine also touches on student performance, however, and this is where she runs into problems.
Without naming her source, Heine cites a poorly done study that claimed Kentucky’s student performance rose from 48th in the nation in 1990 to 33rd in 2009.
In fact, the dubious report citing those figures was produced in 2011 by UK’s Center for Business and Economic Research. I have written about problems with the report before, and you can read about that here.
In any event, Ms. Heine is going to have a hard time selling her claims of Kentucky’s education system’s progress compared to other states. The unfortunate truth is that the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that whites in all the states shown in green on this map outscored Kentucky’s whites on eighth grade math in 2013. In fact, Kentucky’s white students, who make up about 80 percent of the state’s entire public school enrollment, only outscored whites in one other state, West Virginia, by a statistically significant amount on that test. That’s all.
So, while I would agree that Kentucky’s education has made a little headway since 1990, I think it is highly misleading to make the sorts of claims that Ms. Heine just made.
I suspect Ms. McCoy would agree that a whole lot more needs to be done before Kentucky’s education begins to really deliver on the promises, and the extra funding, of KERA in 1990. Furthermore, chasing unproved education fads like fuzzy math again thanks to the stimulus of the Common Core State Standards is, as we saw before, no way to make such improvement happen.