Include teachers in conversation about Senate Bill 1

Brison Harvey
Brison Harvey

As a fifth-year teacher at Lafayette High School, I believe in the continued implementation of college- and career-ready standards. As a member of the Every Student Succeeds Act Workgroup on Career and College Readiness, I have seen that Kentucky is ready to take the next step into the 21st century by focusing on key elements that will improve students’ ability to succeed at the next level, whatever that may be.

In combining both perspectives, I find that Kentucky’s shift in both English and math standards has led to a deeper understanding of subject matter by our young people and left them better prepared for the next level of lifelong learning.

Of course, our standards should be reviewed, and if necessary, revised to meet the needs of our students. However, it is key that these recommendations come from the educators implementing these standards. This process will also help safeguard our academic standards from becoming a political football.

January’s Interim Joint Education Committee meeting on Senate Bill 1 provided me an important opportunity to investigate how we can continue to improve education for Kentucky students.

Sen. Mike Wilson, one of SB1’s sponsors, said the bill would reestablish local control over education by revisting academic standards, assessments and how Kentucky holds schools responsibile, as well as reducing the state’s required assessments from three to two college entrance exams, while all other testing remains the same.

Reviewing and revising academic standards is normal in education — and has helped us significantly raise student achievement in the past. In 2010, Kentucky adopted higher academic standards in math and English Language Arts.

Since that time, we have seen a 22 percent increase in students meeting three out of four ACT benchmarks for college readiness, and Kentucky’s new Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt credited the higher standards with preparing 86 percent of graduating high school students ready for college and career.

I’ve seen firsthand how high writing-standards have helped change the way we approach teaching and elevate students’ critical thinking skills that prepare them for their next chapter in life.

If adopted, SB1 would bring about a formal review process of all of our academic standards — including the subject I teach, social studies. And while the initial changes proposed for social studies standards haven’t been adopted, preliminarily, they are more inquiry-based in their approach, helping students rediscover the importance of questioning and critical thinking.

Another very encouraging sign is that the bill as written allows for teachers to be meaningfully involved in the process of reviewing draft standards. I appreciate that Wilson detailed the process for including the standards review committee — where teachers will specifically be involved in the process.

What I found troubling is that the presentation glossed over what the state should do to ensure schools are serving the needs of all students. These accountability systems have a real impact in the classroom — ranging from how test results are used to supports that are provided to struggling students.

These, and other details, have real implications for teachers and students, and need to be discussed publicly, in meaningful and thoughtful ways. Including educators in these discussions can provide much needed clarity and direction to be sure that our academic standards build on the impressive gains our students have already made.

Kentucky is an exciting place to teach. Many changes that started in our classrooms are now part of the national conversation, and the state is well-positioned for additional improvement.

But for that improvement to continue, it is critically important for teacher voices to be a part of these conversations — whether they’re about SB1, or any other policy impacting our classrooms and our students.

Brison Harvey, a social studies teacher at Lafayette High School, also serves as a Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellow and served as a teacher leader with the Fund for Transforming Education’s Next Generation Instructional Design project.