Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Prichard brings board of education chair’s frustration to mind

Over at the Prichard Committee’s blog, they’ve been writing a lot lately about improving teaching as the key to improving education in Kentucky.

But, somehow, Prichard’s ideas mostly just bring to mind a most insightful comment that Kentucky Board of Education Chair Joe Brothers made back in October. Reacting to some rather similar suggestions on how to fix our education problems, Brothers said,

“I came on the local (school) board in 1987. What you just said to me is no different than what I heard in 1987. So why should I be hopeful?”

(Comment made at the October 8, 2009 Kentucky Board of Education Meeting in Frankfort, Kentucky. An audiovisual recording of this meeting is on line).

To be clear, I agree with Prichard – teaching is an important key.

It’s how we can effectively make that happen that is at issue.

Prichard’s soft, nudge-but-don’t-rile-the-bureaucracy approaches have been out there for two decades. They haven’t taken hold; haven’t produced nearly enough, nearly fast enough.

I continue to see excessive high school dropout rates, excessive college remedial requirements, continuing gross performance gaps for minorities, continued placement of the least prepared teachers with the most demanding students and teachers who still try to put the blame elsewhere when inner city kids don’t learn.

We still mostly see less than one out of three Kentucky students testing at or above proficiency in math, reading, writing and science on federal NAEP tests. In middle schools, some of those proficiency rates run closer to only one in four.

So, it’s clear, after 20 years, that Kentucky’s education community needs a kick in the pants to get true reform going. Joe Brothers is beginning to get that. He also gets the fact that the “same old, same old” isn’t getting the job done.

Prichard has been saying much the same thing for 20 years. And, while Prichard certainly has some basic ideas right, too many of our teachers still are not listening.

Given the constraints and protectionism built into our current education system, there is little reason, as Brothers put it, to “be hopeful” that things will now change if we continue doing mostly the same old stuff.

That is why we encourage Kentucky to adopt approaches that create competition within the education world. Competition spurs innovation and improvement far more rapidly and effectively than bureaucratic tinkering ever has. We owe it to our kids to do more than just rehash ideas that have a 20-year track record as non-starters. We need to offer students choices that will create competition that will in turn spur teachers to earnestly seek out better ways of doing their jobs.

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