Kentucky a long way from its top-20 education goal, Prichard Committee says in report

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comSeptember 3, 2014 

In 2008, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence challenged Kentucky to move its education system to the top 20 among the 50 states by 2020.

A new report released Tuesday by the independent citizens advocacy organization said reaching the goal would require a hard push for improvement during the next six years.

The newest data comes from a variety of sources, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a report of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas.

The data show Kentucky students staying in the top 20 in fourth- and eighth-grade reading.

The state's students, if they improve as much as they have since 2008, are on track to reach the top 20 in earning Advanced Placement college credit in high school, in high school graduates going on to college and in fourth-grade mathematics.

But the Prichard Committee report shows that Kentucky lost ground to other states in eighth-grade math and in the share of higher education costs that fall on families.

"It is great to see the areas where we are making good progress, but we still have a lot of work to do," Stu Silberman, executive director of the Prichard Committee, said in a statement.

In an interview, Silberman said he hoped that future reports would reflect "some of the fruits of the higher-standards labor that our teachers and students are putting in right now."

The report showed no net improvement since the 2008 report in total higher education funding or in bachelor's degrees earned in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Preschool enrollment has improved only slightly compared with 2008, and it slipped compared to 2010 and 2012.

The percentages of young adults with high school diplomas and of slightly older adults with college degrees made significant gains since 2008, but they were not on pace to reach the 2020 goal, the report said.

Kentucky is 22nd in share of higher education funding paid by families; 26th in per-pupil total higher education funding; 36th in eighth-grade mathematics; and 44th in science, technology, engineering and mathematics bachelor's degrees earned.

State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said in a statement that the report highlighted Kentucky's progress in reading, Advanced Placement and teacher salaries, and it provided a road map of the areas that needed more attention.

"We are proud of the progress Kentucky students and educators have made the past several years as they have embraced more rigorous standards and become more focused on college- and career-readiness," Holliday said in a statement. "At the same time, the report confirms what we already know: there is still much work to be done. We need to be making faster gains in key content areas like mathematics and science while also continuing to close achievement gaps so that all students have the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in life."

Bob King, president of the state Council on Postsecondary Education, cited Kentucky's increase in bachelor's degrees, from 44th to 39th, during the past six years.

"The steady improvement in bachelor's degrees or higher and adults with a high school diploma is welcome news to Kentucky's economic future," King said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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