A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Senate Bill 1 really about giving more control schools, state and teachers


By Sen. Mike Wilson
Special to KyForward

Based on consistent messages from Kentucky public school educators, this is not a time to halt or apply the brakes on adopting Senate Bill 1, but a time to step on the accelerator. Since 2009, political posturing, artificial accountability, and bureaucratic burdens have “halted” practitioners long enough.

First, SB 1 attempts to reduce political influences that have stifled educators’ voices for determining state academic standards and tests. Pursuit of federal Race to the Top money influenced our state to adopt standards without preliminary practitioner input and to hastily choose tests that inadequately aligned with those standards.

Most teachers have had to pull double duty teaching extra lessons for the state test in addition to their regular curriculum. Just ask any Kentucky educator. The good news is that SB 1 will not only allow the public and Kentucky teachers to recommend standards but also trust them to simultaneously ensure alignment of state tests with those standards.

In addition, to reinforce transparency, a committee composed of Governor appointees, representatives, and senators will join the Commissioner of Education to prevent the political end-run influence of vendors or executive orders from nullifying public and educator recommendations. This committee will NOT change the recommendations made by the review groups, but will ensure all voices have been heard before forwarding them to the Kentucky Board of Education.

Second, in response to educators’ outcries from across the state, our bill’s accountability guidelines will allow practitioners to refocus on student growth, staff productivity, and credentialed graduates sought by industry, rather than on compliant activity and a chasing after points. Despite state assistance and sanctions, accountability measures have not effectively impacted student achievement growth, especially for our economically disadvantaged students, whose percentage of novice scores nearly doubles those of their counterparts. Just ask any Kentucky educator.

To hold both higher- and lower-scoring schools accountable to move 100 percent of their students to proficient performance, SB 1 requires one additional measure that compares each school’s average growth with other schools with similar demographics. In addition, to accelerate school improvement, SB 1 aligns with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to allow local districts the decision-making authority to pursue cutting-edge, turnaround strategies from experts not available from the Department of Education.

Postsecondary readiness will be measured by increases in the percentage of graduates with higher college admissions test scores, college credit hours, and genuine credentials demanded by industry rather than an assortment of additional tests.

Third, although a statewide professional growth and effectiveness system was recently established for Kentucky educators, federal influence reversed the course and stunted the growth of practitioners. The quality new standards and evaluation framework was neutralized by forcing teachers to spend a disproportionate amount of time responding to incessant and overreaching state requirements to submit unnecessary documentation, tallying of processes, and tediously entering contrived student growth on a $36 million web-based system that seldom worked.

A principal remarked that he was no longer a leader of an innovative staff, but a manager of compliance. Just ask any Kentucky educator. SB 1 preserves the state’s authority to establish a quality statewide evaluation framework but designates to the local district the logistics of developing and implementing an evaluation system that must align with that common framework.

This is not a time to stop and study. It is a time to dramatically grow. The best time to plant a tree was seven years ago. SB 1 of 2009 was that tree. However, federal and state influence and overreach has halted growth and significantly diminished the harvest of fruit we envisioned. Just ask any Kentucky educator.

The second best time to plant a tree is now, and we can do that with SB 1 of 2016.

Mike Wilson

Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, represents the 32nd District in Warren County and is chair of the Education Committee and the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee.


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