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Kentucky's Common-Standards Adoption: Not Quite Final

If you were reading this space yesterday, you remember that I told you about Kentucky's unpublicized move to finalize adoption of the common standards. I wondered if there had been, or would be, a public-comment period, and told you I'd bring you more on that when I got it.

Lisa Gross, the Kentucky education department's longtime public-information officer, explained the process to me, and it became clear that final doesn't exactly mean, er, final (even though state education officials referred to it that way).

When the board of education embraced the standards tentatively back in February, it reopened a state regulation and essentially changed the name of the standards document that is given to teachers, replacing it with the common-core standards. But because board members didn't want it to take effect yet, they didn't start the regulatory clock running. That would have mandated a public hearing, the acceptance of public comments, and review by a legislative committee, Gross said. At this point, the board had seen only draft versions of the standards.

When the board went back and revisited the regulatory move on June 9, it made it official, since the panel had by then reviewed the final version of the common standards, Gross said. This time, the regulation change was "filed," meaning the legislative review must begin, along with a public-comment period and a public hearing (scheduled for July 28). Notice of the hearing will be posted on the education department's website and on the website of the legislative body that will do the review, she said. No additional public outreach about the meeting is planned, she said.

All public comments received on the standards will be reported to the board before its meeting on Aug. 4 and 5, and the board will then decide if any changes must be made or the adoption can be finalized, Gross said. The legislative review committee's feedback must also be taken into account then, she told me.

There have been many reviews of the standards in addition to the mandated stuff the department has to do to change a regulation, Gross said. The department's own curriculum people included math and English teachers in reviewing and providing input on the drafts as they were circulated to the states, and the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, who are guiding the initiative, circulated the standards to various education groups in Kentucky for review and feedback, she said. The Kentucky DOE also encouraged teachers to participate in the public-comment period hosted online by the NGA and CCSSO when the final standards were released in March.

By the time the board of education reviewed the final standards, she said, "there wasn't anything in there that took them aback. They were mostly concerned about implementation." So the department has moved on to begin designing professional development for teachers on the common standards and will begin offering that training next month, Gross said.

Susan Perkins Weston, an independent education consultant in Kentucky, noted that some of the push behind the timetable was Senate Bill 1, a major reform measure passed by the legislature last year, which required adoption of new English and math standards by December 2009. Additionally, she said, the standards have made the rounds among most key education groups, and most have concluded that they represent an improvement for Kentucky.

Weston, who pushed hard in the late 1990s to ensure a public-input role in shaping standards, confesses to some concern that public engagement wasn't given enough value in the process. But she also wonders how much opposition is truly out there to be aired.

"I don't know even with massive outreach if the department could have gotten a lot of input," she said.

Watching what happens with public input as states adopt is going to be interesting. And, as one policy-watcher noted in a recent story of mine, smooth adoptions don't necessarily mean that there won't be backlash once it becomes clear how standards are playing out in the classroom. Stay with us as we track this.

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