Op-ed: Kentucky effort to improve education is focus of national conference

By Bob King, Council on Postsecondary Education president

Continuing two decades of leadership in education reform, the General Assembly enacted a bipartisan legislative initiative in 2009 known as Senate Bill 1. It brought a new focus on what students actually learn, and aligned that learning to what colleges and employers expect high school graduates to know in order to be successful.

As a result, the definition of a successful student is no longer limited to receiving a high school diploma. It is about ensuring that our students have the knowledge, skills and abilities to be ready for whatever comes next, whether that is a job that can provide a living wage or some form of postsecondary education.

The responsibility for this improvement rests in a remarkable collaboration of our districts, school leaders, teachers, colleges of education, faculty from our universities, state education agencies and Kentucky’s General Assembly.

These collaborations have led to successful implementation of higher standards and progress on several SB1 goals. A short list of the work includes:

  • Adoption of the new Common Core Standards designed to bring about the alignment of student learning in P-12 with what students actually need to know to be college and career ready.
  • The translation of those standards into new curriculum requiring the establishment of higher expectations for students, new demands on classroom teachers related to course content, and diagnostic skills applied to students manifesting difficulty mastering new material.
  • Policies that identify students who are not performing at expected levels and make available transitional courses or other intervention programs while they are still in high school.
  • Free online placement exams for students completing transitional courses and standard college readiness scores that have been adopted by all public universities. Successful completion of these transitional courses guarantee placement into credit-bearing courses in college.
  • Assessment academies that work with districts within their region to determine needs for professional development.
  • A new statewide teacher evaluation system that will include growth in student achievement.
  • Preparation programs for teachers, principals and superintendents are being revised and standards are being raised.

The model we have developed here in Kentucky has become the focus of significant attention from educators across the nation. As a consequence, we, along with four national organizations, will host a conference in Louisville on February 27-29 to discuss how the Commonwealth is improving college and career readiness for all Kentuckians. Educators and policy leaders around the country want to know how Kentucky has managed the difficult and complex process of adopting and using these new standards to transform our schools and postsecondary system.

In every classroom, preschool to adult education, educators are looking students in the eye with a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm. We must do this work, not to just be sure that our students are successful in school, but successful in life. The crux of this work is that all of Kentucky has joined together to make sure that our children succeed and that the future of the Commonwealth is bright.

Reprinted with permission from the Louisville Courier-Journal