Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fight brewing: who ultimately controls education?

Kentucky General Assembly or the Kentucky Board of Education?

A power struggle over who ultimately controls public education in Kentucky may be brewing in Frankfort.

On the one hand, you have the Kentucky General Assembly. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled back in 1989 this body was ultimately responsible for public education in this state.

On the other hand, you have the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) and its advisors from the Kentucky Department of Education. This group claims KERA gives the board wide latitude to develop and administer education policy in the Bluegrass State.

And, that’s the basic rub. What are the limits of the board’s authority?

It’s an uncharted area, but building emotions on both sides of the argument indicate that someone with a good ‘policy GPS’ better grab a hold of the tiller of state pretty quickly.

A major trigger for the present dispute involves implementation plans for the new state assessment and accountability program. The KBE added two elements on its own on top of the specifically listed provisions for Kentucky’s new public school assessment and accountability program. That new assessment program is authorized and required by Senate Bill 1 from the 2009 Regular Legislative Session.

In case you forgot, SB-1 is the legislation that threw out the state’s old CATS assessment and directed the KBE and the education department to first develop new education standards tied to what kids need for college and careers and then to develop a new assessment program to see how schools are doing.

The two assessment additions, unmentioned in the legislation, create a graded program review of “World Language” instruction in each school and a graded review of the operation of the “Primary” program in each school. Primary includes what used to be grades K to 3, and the new program review, originally called a Primary Review, is now being referred to as a K to 3 program review.

The new additions do not please lawmakers. As I wrote in mid-September, it’s clear that key legislators are upset that the KBE added the additional program reviews on its own. Legislators claim the KBE does not have authority to add such programs.

Adding to the sparks, the world languages program review is viewed by many, including some local educators, as more or less creating an unfunded mandate for schools that don’t currently offer foreign language instruction. That sits especially poorly with legislators staring at grim state and local revenue situations caused by the current economy.

On the other hand, while blithely ignoring the current economic situation, the KBE points out that there are good reasons to teach foreign languages. Thus, recession or not, the KBE wants to press forward to put pressure on schools to offer foreign languages. However, the board did decide at its meeting on Wednesday that it is willing to create a two-year delay in the program to build up support (and perhaps funding) within the legislature.

However, while willing to delay for a while, the board is not backing down from its presumed authority to create extra programs in the assessment and accountability system without legislative OK.

Thus, this ultimately comes down to a power fight, pure and simple.

Some interesting questions:

• How much authority, if any, does the Kentucky Board of Education really have to go above and beyond what is specified in legislation? How will this be decided?

• Is the board willing to risk ill will with the General Assembly over this issue?

• On the other hand, how hard is the General Assembly willing to push its court-mandated ultimate authority?

• Is doing what might ultimately be the right thing – adding foreign languages throughout the commonwealth – but at the wrong time, in the middle of a severe and possibly worsening recession – the right move?

• Is adding a program review for grades K to 3 the right thing to do? Some think these very young children and their teachers should not be subjected to stresses that such an evaluation might create. Could this review be a cover on the part of some ideologues to reinstate mandatory multi-age classrooms? Current law basically makes such multi-age organizations optional and a number of schools have reverted to more traditional, by age arrangements.

• Finally, will all the parties sit down together and work out something that is in the best interests of students, schools and taxpayers alike? Based on comments at the Education Assessment and Accountability Meeting in September and the recent board of education meeting, a few feathers are definitely out of place on both sides at present. But, that does not mean the situation is so far out of control that some judicious preening on both sides won’t restore order.


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Anonymous said...

Elective versus appointed. Responsible to the people versus personal idealogues. Enough said.

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