Education

Kentucky House leaders wary of Senate Republicans’ education reform bill

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, spoke to reporters in a crowded hallway outside his office before entering the House of Representatives chambers in the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, January 5, 2016. Tuesday was the opening day for the 2016 General Assembly as both the House of Representatives and the Senate convened at noon.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, spoke to reporters in a crowded hallway outside his office before entering the House of Representatives chambers in the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, January 5, 2016. Tuesday was the opening day for the 2016 General Assembly as both the House of Representatives and the Senate convened at noon. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo and House Education Chairman Derrick Graham are voicing concerns about a Senate Republican bill that would create a new review structure for state academic standards and delete some aspects of the statewide testing system.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Republican Senate Education chairman Mike Wilson, proposes that beginning in fiscal year 2017-2018, and every six years after that, academic standards and assessments would be reviewed for replacement or revision.

Panels of educators would make suggestions to a standards and assessments recommendation committee composed of nine members — three appointed by the governor, three state senators appointed by the Senate president and three House members appointed by the House speaker. The standards and assessments recommendation committee would make final recommendations to the Kentucky Board of Education.

In responding to the bill, Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, on Thursday pointed to advances Kentucky and his native Floyd County have made academically.

"Considering the historical advances our schools have made — something the Herald-Leader highlighted today regarding my own system in Floyd County — I will be very reluctant to change anything that's working just because of political considerations. As with any education issue, however, I am willing to listen to the arguments,” he said.

The Herald-Leader reported that philanthropist Bill Gates, who visited Betsy Layne High School in Floyd County in November, noted in a blog this week that Kentucky’s graduation rate has risen well above the national average of 81 percent. During the last 10 years, students from Floyd County have outperformed many of their peers across the country.

Graham, D-Frankfort, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he was still reviewing the bill. But Graham said he was concerned because he thought the views of education leaders and of lawmakers from both political parties in the House and the Senate had not been taken into consideration in its drafting.

That was not the case for the 2009 legislation that mandated new academic standards for what Kentucky students should know and be able to do at each grade level in various content areas, Graham said. He said that was a bipartisan bill that included the recommendations of state education leaders and others, including members of the “business community.”

Senate Bill 1 could lead to changes in the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. Citing a need for new common standards, 48 states joined together in the Common Core State Standards Initiative to develop new English/language arts and mathematics standards. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers coordinated the states-led effort, according to the Kentucky Department of Education website.

In 2010, Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards and subsequently incorporated them into the Kentucky Academic Standards. The standards aim to prepare students to graduate ready for college and careers. How the standards are taught are decided by local schools.

The new English/language arts and mathematics standards were first taught in Kentucky schools in the 2011-12 school year.

The standards came under criticism after President Obama’s education department endorsed them and began tying some federal dollars to a state’s adoption of them.

Earlier this week, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Common Core should be eliminated because “we want to get back to controlling our standards.” He called it “a well thought-out bill.”

Wilson, R-Bowling Green, did not mention Common Core in a statement he released Thursday.

“The intent of Senate Bill 1 is to thoroughly review and selectively revise and/or replace each standard based on public and practitioner recommendations,” Wilson said. “The bill will allow Kentucky teachers to review the standards and decide what to keep and what to revise, granting them the ability to dictate education standards in our state.”

Additionally, Senate Bill 1 would eliminate social studies from Kentucky’s statewide assessment requirements. It would also eliminate college admissions and placement exams and state-mandated program reviews from the state’s accountability system.

A program review is a school’s self-evaluation of an instructional program, such as arts and humanities or writing. Program reviews now account for 23 percent of a school’s and district’s score in the statewide accountability system, according to Kentucky Department of Education officials. Program reviews have been under increased scrutiny since the state Department of Education found that schools were scoring themselves too high.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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