Education Town Hall with Education Commissioner Dr. Stephen Pruitt at KEDC in Ashland during his eleven schools tour: “How does Kentucky define school success?
“This listening tour will be an opportunity for all education shareholders to provide input to the Kentucky Department of Education on the design of a new education accountability system that will be used as the basis to improve our schools and celebrate their educational progress. The goal is to produce a system that is fair, reliable, valid and easier to understand,” introduces the newly selected Kentucky Education Commissioner, Dr. Stephen Pruitt.
The state’s desire to devise a better accountability system was taken on by Dr. Pruitt’s predecessor as it was a stipulation in the Race to the Top (RTTT) funding. I was honored to serve on the Teacher Evaluation Steering Committee for our state with Dr. Terry Holliday as a parent representative for Kentucky Parent Teacher Association (PTA). I firmly support an accountability system that includes multiple measures, fairness and takes into account student growth. According to my research, one of the four major RTTT focus areas included building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction.
Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the main federal law governing P-12 public education and officially left behind, the “No Child Left Behind” era. The new law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) made some changes to the requirements of accountability systems. As Dr. Pruitt exclaims, “The new federal law gives us an incredible opportunity here in Kentucky to bring all shareholders to the table to create a system that not only holds schools and districts accountable for students’ education, but also celebrates good things happening in our schools!” He opened the floor at our town hall by praising Kelsey Grammer’s television sitcom’s Frasier for leading his on-air radio psychiatry show by saying, “I’m listening.” Dr. Pruitt, made the mantra his own as he repeated, “I’m listening.”
“He is taking the opportunity to hear our voices. He is listening to what we have to say and will make the changes to help the educational system,” said Catlettsburg Elementary principal Marcy Prater. The Appalachian Student Voice Team asked “How can schools better engage student interest in learning?” Some students from various schools spoke on dyslexia, technology and many important topics. Dr. Pruitt praised our town hall meeting for having the most youth speaking!
1. Resources must be better allocated to fulfill the needs of our students, staff and school. We must establish a better way of correlating money spent to outcome to better ascertain some of our Return on Investment. This would help as we continuously strive to create and measure school success.
2. I expect more support for Parent/Family Engagement. “Characteristics” that we value must be better defined so that we know when we have achieved it. For example, we seek measures and processes that have “reliability”. What percentage of reliability must exist before we can label something as “reliable”? Realistically, 100% is too high and 50% is too low. How is it achieved? When parents & staff can better understand our goals, challenges and accomplishments, we can better support our children and better measure student success.
3. Most teachers do a wonderful job! However, they must alternate their teaching strategies to adjust or better identify students’ best learning styles. This must be done before students resign thinking they just are not smart enough when they might understand more when taught and study differently. (However, teachers must also discern when more focus, flexibility, or more pushing away from one’s comfort zone is needed for students and teachers.) This can better ensure that all students are successful.
4. Even though “inclusion” is important in the classroom, we must devise a fairer way of assessing tests and labeling test outcomes that includes recognition of student challenges. Ie., Is it fair to compare two students the same who run in a race and one student has two legs and another has one? I know it is not easy, as we want fair methods that include everyone and allow them all to feel a sense of pride for their individual situations and results. (We must also ensure that funding is available to execute mandatory 504 Plans under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – which requires states to provide a “free appropriate public education (FAPE)” to all students with disabilities and IEPs for specific kinds of disabilities; other requirements under IDEA; as well as ample funding for gifted education.) This can also help to ensure that all students are successful and we can celebrate all students inclusively!
I am grateful our new state education commissioner is taking time to visit different areas and not only to talk to various constituents but “to listen.” I was very inspired by the comments by the elementary and high school students, teachers, administrators and community partners who shared good ideas for making our schools better for our children. As our Russell Independent Schools Superintendent, Sean Horne, states, “It’s about kids.”
I look forward to seeing our input become a part of the new accountability system and providing feedback on it in November. (See timeline below.) I believe this process shows it to be a “grassroots” framework as opposed to the appearance of a “top-down” mandate. It would be even more awesome to have a seat at the table as a stakeholder in the process of making our children, schools and communities more successful and accountable. I love advocating for children and I too enjoy watching Frasier. You see, “I’m listening” also.
Additionally, those who are unable to attend the meetings, will still have the opportunity to submit their suggestions and comments at: KyEdListens@education.ky.gov. You might find it helpful to address one or more of the following guiding questions:
- What do you expect from our schools?
- What school characteristics are most important?
- How should we measure student and school success?
- How do we ensure all students and schools are successful?
- How should we celebrate school success?
For more comments and pictures from this event, follow #KyEdListens on Twitter or Facebook. (The photo above includes Dr. Stephen Pruitt, Kathy Setterman, Kentucky Arts Council Board member and Brenda Martin, National PTA Social Media Ambassador. Photo by Becky Blessings, KDE Director of Communications.)