The Kentucky Board of Education has adopted a strategic goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2015, using the cohort graduation rate definition. This week, the America’s Promise Alliance released the Building a Grad Nation report, and that can be accessed at http://www.americaspromise.org/Our-Work/Grad-Nation/Building-a-Grad-Nation.aspx.
There was some good news for Kentucky, as we were listed as one of the states making moderate progress in improving the graduation rate. However, we have much work to do. For instance, we must increase the number of current 8th graders who are projected to graduate by more than 5,000. The report lists a number of strategies to address this goal. Among those are high-quality education as a top priority for communities; accurate data; early warning and intervention systems; high expectations for ALL students; higher standards; teacher effectiveness; parent engagement; alternative options and graduation pathways; and new community coalitions supporting graduation.
Over the past year, the Graduate Kentucky initiative led by First Lady Jane Beshear has worked on the last recommendation – new community coalitions supporting graduation. At KDE we are very excited about the energy these graduation summits have created in support of the goal of graduating 5,000 more students per year.
As we move forward into the 2011 legislative session, the Kentucky Board of Education’s top priority for its legislative agenda is to raise the dropout age from 16 to 18. The board recognizes that simply raising the dropout age is not sufficient. We also must address the other strategies listed in the report mentioned above. As commissioner, I am very supportive of addressing the strategy of alternative options and graduation pathways. We must meet the needs of students through multiple pathways such as alternative programs, early college, early graduation and numerous other innovative approaches to helping students graduate and be prepared for college and career.
Specifically with regard to alternative options for students, as commissioner, I will be working with legislators and key stakeholder groups to address the alternative programs strategy. We must expand our definition of alternative programs in Kentucky to include many of the innovations that other states have been utilizing to high degrees of success. We also must improve our data system for tracking alternative students and evaluating the effectiveness of alternative programs. Finally, we must address personnel decisions with regard to staffing of alternative programs. No teacher, principal or staff member should be assigned to alternative programs as a punishment or retribution. Also, we should not assign teachers to alternative programs in their first year of teaching. Alternative programs require strong and effective teachers and leaders with significant experience in meeting the needs of students.
Over the coming weeks, our General Assembly will be coming back for a short session. It is my hope that we can pair the raising of the dropout age from 16 to 18 with the needed changes to alternative schools legislation. In so doing, we will certainly make an impact on reaching the goal of 5,000 more students graduating every year from Kentucky high schools ready to succeed in college and career.