Kentucky has been a leader in education reform since the 1990s, when leaders across the nation took note of the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA). At the time Kentucky had nowhere to go but up with its 48th place national ranking on education indicators. The state's position has improved to 33rd, based on a collection of indicators measuring achievement, and Education Week ranked Kentucky 10th in its latest Quality Counts report.
In fact, Kentucky and North Carolina are the two states that have made the most progress during the years since KERA's passage. What caused the progress? The most important thing, as always, was the improvement in the quality of classroom instruction. Funding for professional development for teachers, part of Kentucky's reforms, helped transform the educator workforce. Other supports that helped significantly included extended school services for students needing extra help, financial support for public preschool, funding for safe schools and money for textbooks. Clearly, the importance of adequate funding to the positive outcome of reform efforts cannot be overstated.
Now Kentucky is engaged in what some would call Reform 2.0 with new college and career level standards and new accountability systems. Without question, higher expectations for students are essential if we hope to be internationally competitive. In a recent article, the White House responded to the last PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) results with President Barack Obama's observation that the nation that "out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow." I contend there also must be supports in place - especially financial supports - if we are to move forward in education. Teachers need meaningful professional development, and students need extra help when they struggle. We must offer high-quality public preschool to get our kids off to a good start, and schools must have the instructional materials needed to get the job of education done the right way. We must acknowledge that teaching is truly a profession and, as a result, pay teachers a professional wage. My August 9, 2012, post elaborates on this point in the story of Driving Ms. Daisy - Away.
Funding cuts at the federal, state and local levels over the last several years combined with the additional pressures and demands of high-level reform are creating an environment for failure. Action to change this must come soon. Would Kentucky have made the progress it has since 1990 without the supports for teachers and students? The answer, clearly, is no. And unless we find a way to support our teachers and kids this time around, we will see movement again - but this time it will be in reverse.
As an advocate in your community I urge you to talk with your state and local leaders about the need to provide the right kind of support for our schools!
Follow Stu Silberman on Twitter at https://twitter.com/stusilbermanfc.