Liza Holland is Secretary of the Kentucky PTA and a freelance writer in Lexington, KY. She is a parent representative on the Governor's School, Curriculum and Accountability Council in Kentucky.
As a parent engaged in education, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the difference between where we are and where we need to be. After all, our school system was set up to produce solid, industrial workers who could do factory type work with instruction. Today, we need to have workers who can think on their feet, respond quickly to change, solve problems, and be constantly learning. It's an information economy after all. While it is a big deal to reimagine an institution as big as the public school system, the leaders in Kentucky who are able to create the systems needed for a pathway to change constantly amaze me.
Kentucky is home to some of the great leaders of educational change today. Gene Wilhoit was a key leader in the Common Core State Standard Initiative, which has done what Congress seems incapable of doing - gaining consensus for the greater good. The Common Core sets a new, higher standard for what students need to learn at each grade level. The great thing is that in our mobile society, these high quality learning benchmarks will now be the same in 46 states. So far, the standards have been implemented in English/Language Arts and Math. Designed to make sure our kids are able to compete with others around the world, these common core standards and the information based skills that have been embedded in them are a key piece of the pathway to a re-imagined school system which will meet the needs of our society today.
Senate Bill 1, which was passed by a visionary Kentucky Legislature in 2009, calls for a more comprehensive evaluation of success in education. It includes a focus on why we educate kids in the first place - to be college and career ready. It is said that what you focus on is what you will achieve. In our latest release of assessment information, the Kentucky Department of Education reported that since 2010-11, the percentage of students who are considered ready for college and careers has risen by more than 20 percent. Graduation rate is another indicator of success that rose during the time period and now sits at 86.1 for the state as a whole. The current assessment system also looks at the gap, which breaks out student groups that have historically had achievement gaps and gives schools points for how effectively they are getting all students to proficiency. It also measures whether students are growing a full year in their knowledge each year. In the coming years, the assessment system will expand to include program reviews, which assess how well schools provide a well-rounded education, teacher and principal effectiveness measures, and new standards for science and social studies. Adding these additional measures of success to our school report cards is another important piece of the pathway to success.
Holding students and staff accountable for the right things will help us to make the transformational change necessary. Is the system perfect? No. However, it is a positive step in a journey which is of critical importance. No great change happens without turmoil and discomfort. In Kentucky, the leaders are creating a culture that is focused on the success of every student. As always, it is the kids who really amaze by rising to meet increased expectations. As other states across the nation begin to implement and assess the common core state standards, remember that we all need to work together to make the system a success for our kids. Parents can read more about how to support your students with the new rigorous standards in the Parent Guides to Student Success, created by the National PTA. Finally, I call upon anyone who realizes that education is the best investment we can make to talk to their legislators about making education a funding priority. If we invest in kids and their education now, we can spend less on incarceration and healthcare in the future.