One of my goals as commissioner is to visit all 174 school districts in Kentucky. To date, I have visited 150 districts and over 400 schools. My target date for completing all visits is December 2012.
During the past few weeks, I have visited schools and districts from east to west and north to south. The excitement level is very high during the opening weeks of school. During my visits, it is important for me to talk with administrators, teachers and students about what is working and what is not working with regard to implementation of our Unbridled Learning strategic plan. This blog provides a few highlights of my recent visits.
The Unbridled Learning vision of every child proficient and prepared for success has reached classrooms across Kentucky. In talking with students, parents, business leaders and educators, the vision of ALL students graduating with the skills needed to be successful in college and career has captured the imagination and actions of individuals across the Commonwealth. Educators, parents and business leaders tell me that they understand the vision and think it is the right one for the future of our state and the future of children. Career and technical educators are very excited about being part of the vision, and schools and districts are integrating career and technical options with academic programs.
When I visit schools, I enjoy talking directly with teachers. What I am hearing from teachers is support for the Common Core Standards. Teachers of language arts are especially excited about the increasing rigor of writing and research. Also, they are excited about the increase in the use of non-fiction materials. Math teachers strongly support the math standards; however, they are concerned about the learning gaps that students have and feel that it will take 3-4 years to close those gaps and see significant progress on assessments. Science teachers are very interested in the new science standards that have been recently developed for review. Social studies teachers are anxiously awaiting new social studies standards. Every teacher I have talked with at the high school level supports the new end-of-course assessments and strongly support student accountability for the assessments.
Educators are very concerned about a couple of things. The major concern is continued budget cuts. In the face of whole-scale education reform, our state budget has not funded textbooks and resources for four years. Professional development has been reduced from $25 per pupil to less than $4 per pupil. Increasing costs of health care and pensions have had an impact on local funding. Educators also are concerned about the results from the new assessments. They support the assessments, but are worried that parents and community members will not clearly understand the significant change in the results.
The visits to schools and districts are important strategies. By listening to teachers, administrators, parents, students and the business community, I can bring back to the General Assembly, education department and the Kentucky Board of Education the “realities” that our teachers are facing. I am humbled every time I visit a school by the positive and “can-do” attitude that I find. It is indeed an exciting and challenging time for education in Kentucky. Hats off to all our educators, and best wishes for a successful school year