It was my pleasure to attend the Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting this week. University of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan, Ph.D., presented excerpts from the Maryland report Access, Admissions and Success in Higher Education. Kirwan is a Kentucky native and son of A.D. Kirwan, former president of the University of Kentucky.
The presentation began with some startling facts. In the 1960s, the U.S. led the world in percentage of students who graduated from high school and in the percentage of 24- to 32-year-olds with postsecondary degrees (two-year and four-year). Today, we rank 28th among industrialized nations in high school graduation and 10th in postsecondary degrees.
President Barack Obama has set a goal that the U.S. should once again lead the world in postsecondary degrees by 2020. While the U.S. has slightly increased the percentages in both areas, the rest of the world has caught us and passed us. The presentation provided several recommendations that have implications for Kentucky, and I hope that readers will join me in working with our legislators to implement the recommendations.
The number one recommendation is to increase the percentage of children who receive preschool education. This is crucial for success. Children come to school with the achievement gap already existing due to vocabulary development. The Kentucky Board of Education and many other organizations are calling for preschool for children from families up to 200 percent of the poverty level.
Another recommendation deals with the increase in counseling services at the middle school level. Any analysis of learning results in Kentucky reveals that we are losing ground in late elementary and middle school. The result is high school dropouts and low test scores at the high school level. We must address literacy issues at the secondary level in Kentucky and raise expectations of students and parents so that all children will at least have the opportunity to meet college preparedness levels.
A number of the recommendations aligned very well with Senate Bill 1. Kentucky and Texas are leading the nation with legislation to ensure more children are prepared for college and career. Our legislation matches the recommendations of alignment of standards between P-12 and college and improving teacher effectiveness through professional development.
More and more, we are realizing the economic impact of preparing all children for postsecondary success. While economics certainly get our attention, we can never forget that education is a social, moral and civil rights issue. We owe our children the best efforts we can make to provide the opportunities for them to be successful.
I am excited about the work we have in front of us and know that Kentucky students, educators, parents, and citizens will rise to the challenge.