Friday, July 23, 2010

Challenges and Changing Times

Highlights from my remarks to the Kentucky Association of School Administrators Summer Conference in Louisville this morning.

A quote that I often use in presentations comes from Martin Luther King, Jr. “A man’s true measure is not where he stands in moments of comfort but in times of challenge.”

Given the many challenges that we face in Kentucky and across the nation, I think this quote is very much on target. As leaders, we have to make a decision. Will we rise to the challenge or will we fold under the pressure? As the leader of P-12 education in Kentucky, I am asking you today to rise to the challenge of leadership during difficult times.

Why is it so important to rise to this challenge? Over the past few weeks, there have been some remarkable events in our world. Amazon recently announced that the sale of e-books exceeded the sale of paper books for the first time in history. The U.S. is no longer the number-one user of energy in the world. We have been replaced by China. A Department of Agriculture employee’s video clips went viral and overshadowed the passage of the most expansive financial reform legislation since the Great Depression. Another story that went viral this week concerned an 11-year-old who was provided a computer, webcam and unrestricted Internet access by her parents, then became the brunt of an e-attack by a powerful online user group whose stated purpose is to attack people who annoy them. A report revealed that the nation has gone from leading the world in percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a postsecondary degree to lagging most of the industrialized nations (we rank 12th now). Another report documents that, in the 1970s, the percentage of the workforce with a high school degree or less was more than 70 percent. The same report predicts that almost 70 percent of the workforce in 2018 will need a postsecondary degree.

With a 1.5 percent decrease in funding, our challenges seem to pale in comparison to the other challenges around us. Furloughs seem insignificant when compared against what is happening to the citizens in Louisiana and other states as a result of the oil spill. As we fly our flags at half-staff in Kentucky to honor fallen soldiers, I do not take a lot of time concerning myself with who is hosting or not hosting a political fundraiser. What I challenge each of us to do is focus on the bigger picture of enabling the generation of children we have in front of us today to become better educated and more employable in the future. In 1990, bold leaders faced with difficult times did not back away from the challenge of KERA. Bold leaders stepped up to the plate and made a difference for a generation of children.

In 2010, we are provided another opportunity to also be bold leaders. We have been provided the platform for transforming the educational experience for a generation of children. In my 39 years of education, I have never seen the alignment so clear. Senate Bill 1, Race to the Top, the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force are providing the road map to a brighter future for Kentucky children.

Let us not waste this opportunity to reshape the future. Let us not be sidetracked by the barriers and challenges we are faced with on a daily basis. So I ask … where will you stand in these challenging times? Will you join me in standing up for increasing the rigor of our academic standards in Kentucky? Will you stand up for measuring the effectiveness of teachers, principals, school-based councils, superintendents and school boards in part based on student learning outcomes? Will you stand up for better assessments that measure what children should be able to do rather than simple recall of facts? Will you stand up for the goal of EVERY child graduating from high school ready for college and career?

And most of all … will you stand up for the least among the children? Will you stand up for closing achievement gaps and ensuring that every child regardless of wealth, gender, color or zip code not only has the opportunity for success, but actually succeeds in school?

Thank you for rising to this challenge. You make a difference in your schools and districts. You make a difference for children. You make a difference for the future of Kentucky. Best wishes on a successful start to the school year!

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