Friday, April 22, 2011

Next Steps for Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force

On February 21, the final report of the Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force, Breaking New Ground, was released to the public. This task force was appointed by Governor Steven L. Beshear in October 2009 and worked over a period of 15 months studying Kentucky’s education system in order to provide recommendations to the Governor for transforming the state’s education system to meet the needs of 21st-century students.

The report contains 35 recommendations “... that would serve as a blueprint for how schools throughout the Commonwealth can make prompt and significant gains in school readiness, student proficiency, the closing of persistent achievement gaps, graduation rates and college and career readiness and how elected leaders can develop a supportive state policy environment.”

As commissioner, I will be pushing hard for three major areas of the recommendations from the task force.

The first effort centers on career and technical education (CTE). While we have some excellent programs in Kentucky through both the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Area Technical Centers and the Carl D. Perkins programs at many of our high schools, the Governor’s task force recommended that we look at ways to elevate and integrate CTE. We will be convening a work group very soon that will include key legislators and other stakeholders. We will be asking this group to make legislative and budget recommendations for the 2012 session that will elevate and integrate career and technical education. CTE is a major tool for our efforts to increase the number of graduates who are college/career ready.

The second area of focus is alternative education. Over 75,000 students in Kentucky are in some form of alternative education; however, our data system to track the progress of these students is in great need of improvement. We will be convening a group of experts to develop legislative language and budget language for the 2012 session that will hopefully address three areas of improvement. The first area is a definition of alternative education. We must develop a definition that includes a continuum of alternative education. Alternative education could include but not be limited to behavior programs, digital learning, blended learning, early graduation, dual credit, mastery based, performance-based and other non-traditional approaches that we have not yet developed. Second, we must do a better job of tracking the data for alternative programs. We must track attendance, assignment, student results, interventions and funding. Finally, we need to address assignment to alternative programs not only for students but also staff.

Readers will recognize the two areas (career and technical education and alternative education) as major components not only of the Governor’s task force but also the graduation bill that was proposed in the recent session. These two areas have the potential to have a huge impact on graduation rates and college/career ready rates.

Finally, we will see a continued focus on early childhood education. I strongly support and will work with the Kentucky Board of Education to support, in the upcoming legislative session, the recommendations from the Governor’s task force toward funding for full-day kindergarten and increasing the number of children served in preschool programs. At the Kentucky Department of Education, we also have begun work on a Program Review for primary grades that would include kindergarten readiness standards and assessments, diagnostic assessments in primary grades and tracking students from kindergarten entry to end-of-3rd grade proficiency in math and reading. We hope to add this Program Review in the 2012-13 school year as part of the accountability model.

The Governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force recommendations are alive, and many groups are working to implement the recommendations. We will have an annual report to the Kentucky Board of Education and the citizens of Kentucky on our progress.

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