Last month, Kentucky educators were all over the national headlines. In an open letter on teacher evaluation from Vicki Phillips, director of education for the Gates Foundation's College Ready Program, Kentucky got top marks as an example of smart planning. Stories citing Kentucky's collaborative efforts to prepare students and teachers for deeper learning and success ran from New York to Washington, D.C. and beyond.
But for anyone who has worked with teachers and our state education administration, the news should have come as no surprise. Kentuckians know if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing right — especially when it comes to educating kids. I've worked with different professionals in my career, and I must say no constituency has inspired me more than Kentucky teachers.
As director of the Kentucky Mobilization and Education for the Hope Street Group, I work with some of our state's most talented educators. This school year, we heard from thousands about what they need to help our students prepare for a successful future.
We launched a listening tour at the request of Commissioner of Education Terry Holiday. Three years ago, when his administration began collaborating on a new teacher effectiveness system, he knew there was one essential ingredient that would make it a success — teacher voices and insights.
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Through focus groups and trainings, in school libraries and auditoriums, we listened and learned. We combed through feedback and compiled statistics to provide real, actionable information and solutions about what the future of teaching — and learning — could be like in Kentucky.
Kentucky teachers are proud that the state has set high expectations for what students should know and be able to do when they graduate. They want the time, training and feedback to continuously improve their practice — because they know the demands of teaching will keep evolving.
The Kentucky Department of Education and Kentucky Education Association took the time to build a statewide teacher effectiveness system, the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System, that for the first time will give teachers clear, consistent and meaningful feedback about where they're excelling, and how they can continue to grow. KDE tested it for a year, and throughout the process they've sought teachers' guidance to make sure they know how to make it work when it goes live statewide this coming year.
Kentucky's leadership on education has made headlines before. It was the first in the nation to adopt high standards for student learning, also known as the Common Core. But this time, we're gaining notice because we've already been doing what national leaders recommend other states to begin. We've built a teacher effectiveness system that listens to teachers and has time for kids and teachers to adapt to new assessments.
As Gates' Phillips writes, "Under this approach, teachers get the time, tools and support they need to teach the new standards, and students have a chance to get used to the new tests. This can ensure that students receive the high-quality instruction that will get them ready for life — and can track their growth as they go."
We owe it to our kids and our teachers to give them what they need to adapt and grow into new demands.
But, we also know that the secret to our success to date is the secret to our future accomplishments: hearing and learning from teachers' experiences.
As we look ahead to the next school year and the rollout of the teacher-effectiveness system statewide, we need our educators and the community to keep weighing in, to tell us what's working and what's not. Because the real high stakes here are our kids, and they are worth us getting it right.