FRANKFORT, Ky. - An in-depth look at what Kentucky's new education commissioner has called "a tidal wave of reform" was the focus of the recent fall meeting of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.
The words of Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday describe several key developments that are expected to have a significant impact on the way Kentucky prepares its children to succeed as adults. The developments coincide with the recent arrival in Kentucky of two new education leaders: Holliday at the Kentucky Department of Education and Dr. Robert King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.
King and Holliday emphasized to the committee (during its November 2, 2009, meeting in Frankfort) that they are working collaboratively to accelerate the improvement of Kentucky's schools in response to state and federal initiatives.
Robert F. Sexton, the committee's executive director, pointed out that such collaboration is both noteworthy and unprecedented. "This is the first time we've had both the commissioner of education and the president of the postsecondary education council address the committee at the same time," he said.
The committee's specific areas of interest included a groundbreaking piece of legislation enacted by the 2009 General Assembly, Senate Bill 1, and a federal funding initiative known as Race to the Top. Here is a closer look, based on presentations to the committee from Holliday, King, Rhonda Sims, director of the division of assessment support for the state Department of Education and David Cook, the department's project manager for Race to the Top:
- Some $4.25 billion is available nationally under the Race to the Top program but how much any individual state, such as Kentucky, could receive will depend on how many grants the federal government awards.
- Kentucky will need new strategies to improve badly failing schools to improve its prospects for receiving the federal funds.
- In addition to turning around low-performing schools, the federal criteria emphasize how states assure quality teaching, use data systems to measure student progress and develop and use rigorous standards and tests. Senate Bill 1 has improved Kentucky's position due to its mandate for new standards, testing and other requirements.
- The final federal guidelines are expected soon, and they could include a requirement that states allow the creation of charter-like schools. This would require legislation in Kentucky, which does not have a law on the books allowing charter schools, but state education officials are not considering a comprehensive charter-school program.
- Although state testing will continue while a new assessment system is developed under Senate Bill 1 for implementation in 2012, schools' scores on the state test will not be part of a state accountability system during the interim.
- Schools will continue to be held accountable for students' scores on the national No Child Left Behind test.
- A national effort to develop new standards for math and language arts - known as "common core" standards - could also lead to the creation of common assessments. Kentucky is part of this national effort.
- The Council on Postsecondary Education will soon develop a new strategic plan that is expected to include such elements as enhanced postsecondary support for elementary and secondary education; renewed focus on associate degrees in the community and technical college system; a greater emphasis on regional universities' areas of excellence; and more attention on research and graduate study at the state's research universities.
The committee also welcomed several new members:
- Alva Clark of Lexington, an attorney, parent and fellow of the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership
- Louisville attorneys Matt Breetz and Franklin Jelsma
- Al Cornish, vice president of education and development for Norton Healthcare in Louisville
- Paula Fryland, executive vice president for corporate banking of PNC Bank, Louisville
- Roger Marcum of Lebanon, executive vice president of St. Catharine College and former superintendent of Marion County Public Schools.