I hate to be trite by starting with the expression “cart before the horse,” but it accurately and concisely captures the problems with Senate Bill 1, an onerous piece of legislation that would overhaul education and accountability standards in public schools.
As the saying implies, the solutions proposed in SB 1 are contrary to conventional wisdom. Late last year, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act that changes what the federal government requires of K-12 public education. The problem is the federal regulations determining what the act will require have not been finalized and passed down to the states. Why change the standards before we even know how the new federal law measures school performance?
Supporters of SB 1 defended the legislation by questioning the accuracy of empirical data that shows Kentucky has made significant progress in improving education over the last 15 years. They complained that Kentucky has adjusted its formula to measure graduation rates three times over six years. They said that made it impossible to accurately determine whether more students were graduating from high school. The inference was educators were gaming the system.
That comes across as insincere when you consider SB 1 represents a sweeping overhaul of all accountability standards in education—just the thing they railed against. SB 1 supporters can quibble about how Kentucky measures its high school graduation rate, but there is just too much positive data out there to imply the state hasn’t made remarkable progress in educating our children.
Kentucky elementary and middle school students have registered greater gains in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the past decade than students in almost all other states. Kentucky students have made significantly greater gains on the ACT than the rest of the United States in the last five years. And more Kentucky students are taking Advanced Placement tests and are scoring higher than ever before.
It’s when omnibus bills like SB 1 are rushed through the legislative process that bad laws come about. The authors of this bill said they have been working on it since July to imply it is well-vetted legislation. That’s simply not true. This bill hasn’t been in the public light to vet since July. It was only introduced on Jan. 6 before disappearing into the back room once again. It reemerged in a morphed form in a Senate Education Committee last week before being rushed to a vote on the Senate floor.
Some dangerous precedents could come about under SB 1. First, it could inject even more politics into the process of deciding what gets taught by creating an academic standards committee consisting of gubernatorial appointees and state legislators. As one newspaper already editorialized, it is not hard to imagine that committee becoming a “debating society for creationists and flat-earthers.”
Second, setting of the achievement gap targets from one year to three years is a retreat on the focus that we have had on closing the achievement gap. If we are concerned about closing the gap, why would we want to change that target setting to a longer period of time?
Third, students in low performing schools with similar demographics will have a set academic expectation of performance and students in higher performing schools with similar demographics will have a different academic expectation. It reminds me of a phrase the chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush is credited with coining: “The soft bigotry of low expectations.”
As a retired educator, I believe that schooling is about continuous improvement. Yes, we have more work to do. Therefore, give the new commissioner of education time to convene educators and other community stakeholders to review the new Every Student Succeeds Act. And let’s support them in creating a cutting edge assessment and accountability system that will provide opportunity for every student to succeed.