It’s time for a renewed focus on student outcomes in Kentucky

The accountability drum is typically a lonely one to beat, but thanks to a new study by the good folks over at the Prichard Committee, I’ve got a little extra rhythm in my step today. According to their latest poll, 84% of Kentucky voters said that they were more likely to support a gubernatorial candidate with a plan to strengthen student math and reading performance by the end of third grade.

That shows me that raising student achievement is actually something of a consensus issue for Kentucky voters. We all want our kids to perform well in school, and nearly all of us want a leader who has a sound plan to raise the bar. So why does the conversation still sound the same?

Let’s start talking about what it will take to get us to the top. It’s time for a new conversation on student achievement in Kentucky, with equitable outcomes for all Kentucky students as the focal point.

The irony is not lost upon me that while we’re in the middle of what’s supposed to be an “education election,” any talk about student outcomes gets quickly relegated to the back. We already know all of the talking points on every issue from funding to pensions to charter schools. Now, I’m ready to hear about how we’re going to move our state forward.

We could start with more money for teachers and more targeted funding for schools with the most need. We can’t simply spend our way out of trouble, but intentional investments in specific places like early childhood education could lay the foundation for future growth.

At the same time, we also have a teacher shortage crisis on our hands, especially in the more rural and high-poverty parts of the state. Any conversation on student outcomes would be remiss without acknowledging the need for high-quality teachers in these areas. Perhaps that could start with offering bonuses to teachers willing to work in struggling schools, a move which school districts presumably already have the autonomy to make.

And of course, that’s just the beginning. 

I also want to hear how we’re going to get ourselves out of this KentuckyWired debacle, along with how our next leader(s) plan to strengthen teacher preparation programs so that new teachers don’t start out feeling completely overwhelmed.

There’s a reason I get fired up over this. For starters, I’m incredibly proud of the successes that Kentucky has seen, but I’m also concerned that our NAEP scores show an ever-widening gap between our highest and lowest-performing students. Middle class and White students around the state are performing at some of the highest levels we’ve ever seen, yet their minority and low-income peers are still struggling to catch up. Thanks to the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA), we’ve come a long way from the days when Kentucky was among the bottom dwellers of the nation, but we can’t sit around on our laurels just because we’re somewhere in the middle of the pack now.

It’s time to re-energize, refocus, and push full-steam ahead.


Photo from U.S. Department of Education, CC-Licensed.



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