It’s Time to Focus on Children

I have now had the privilege of serving as Kentucky’s interim education commissioner for a little over a month. Understandably, I have been asked lots of questions. Most of the questions I have fielded in public settings have been similar. In fact, I can put them into two broad areas: “What is your plan for charter schools?” and “What kind of relationship do you intend to have with KEA/JCTA?”

Those questions are fine. As they are posed, I respond. But I have been disappointed with how infrequently I get public questions about students, student learning, student achievement, and student readiness. It’s no secret that student learning in Kentucky, as measured by standardized achievement examinations, has been stagnant at best, an in some cases has taken a step backward. Incredible racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps either remain unmoved or widen. And despite a pretty impressive state high school graduation rate, we continue to graduate approximately 40% of high school seniors who have attained neither college readiness nor career readiness benchmarks. Given how much work we have to do with improving student learning and how little progress we have made as of late, it surprises me and disappoints me that so little of our current discussion in public education centers on children’s learning.

Honestly, I think we forget sometimes that children and families are in fact the end-users of our public education system. Even more forgotten is the reality that for many years, we have not served large segments of our students as well as we should. According to Kentucky achievement data, students who have the best shot at success in our system are middle income and affluent White students without a disability, planning to attend a four-year postsecondary institution following high school graduation. If you are a low-income student, a student of color, a student with a disability, a student interested in pursuing a technical field that requires less than a four-year degree, or a student with some combination of those characteristics, our track record is spotty at best. The achievement gap and the skills gap in Kentucky continue to be major barriers to student success and economic development.

To all the questions about charter schools: Public charter schools are simply one of many tools to be used in our public education system to help meet the needs of students we are not currently serving well; either because traditional approaches have not been adequate for meeting students’ unique learning needs, or because there is an insufficient supply of public school options available that align with students’ interests. Even with a healthy charter school sector, district schools will continue to be the vehicle we use for educating the vast majority of students in Kentucky, even in Jefferson and Fayette counties. To the questions about KEA and JCTA: Dialogue and partnership with teachers are critically important to achieving our collective goals for students. There is no more important element of our system than classroom teachers. High quality teachers are worth their weight in gold. But we cannot forget that unions are not the end-users of our public education system; Kentucky’s students and families are. Our decision making must be driven first and foremost by what’s best for children.

As I have spent time in Lexington and Louisville over the last few weeks, the private questions and concerns parents and grandparents share with me are much different from the questions reporters ask me. Most parents and grandparents I have talked with don’t ask me about charter schools or teachers unions. Instead, they express their deep concern about the quality of education their children and grandchildren are receiving, and they ask me to do whatever I can to help ensure their children are being well-prepared for their futures. I assure each one of them that I will do everything in my power to make sure that is the case, and I will.

Let’s take this opportunity to reset our focus and our conversation on improving learning for our children. With children as our focus, together, we can move mountains.

5 thoughts on “It’s Time to Focus on Children”

  1. What a load of hogwash. People like you with your politically motivated, money-grubbing are the ones that ruined education. Children haven’t changed, criminals like you have just got better at steal from us.

  2. It is incredibly shortsighted to misunderstand that your stance/approach/beliefs/response to those two consistent questions don’t tell us everything we need to know about your stance/approach/beliefs/response to focusing on children. As go the children in JCPS, so will the rest of the state, if citizens allow it. As goes the $$$ w/charters, so does the rest of our educational priorities and possibilities.
    Please, don’t try to pretend otherwise.

  3. Public school parent here. I asked questions about charter schools, and I’m still waiting for an answer. Guess I’ll keep waiting, because that wasn’t an answer, just a deflection.

  4. Posing a false dichotomy as you have done in this blog posting is counterproductive. We do not have to choose between ‘focusing on children’ and ‘fair compensation for teachers’ work’. These are not mutually exclusive propositions.

    Focusing on children is all teachers do! And that is ever more difficult as cuts in school personnel have resulted in unacceptable teacher/student ratios…one of the most enduring findings in all educational research is that when there is a low student/teacher ratio learning gains and student success flourishes.

    For many years teachers’ compensation has hardly kept up with COLA and they are often rebuffed with the charge they ‘don’t care about children’ as your blog asserts yet again. This argument has resulted in the current situation, where teachers have accepted no increases in pay because asking for fair wages would mean they don’t ‘care about kids.’ The result overall is their work has not been valued as one values any work – through decent wages for professional work.

    Teachers have made it clear that their recent protests do NOT just include requests for funding for their salaries but that the issues of declines in education mirror the sharp decline in funding for all educational services at the state and federal levels.

    A responsible government and its officials would take seriously our democratic mandate to support adequately education as a commitment to the public good and not be annoyed when citizens who happen to be teachers ask for that investment (and yes, that would mean taxes, which only governments can levy specifically FOR the public good).

  5. If students are hurting, hungry or in any way unhealthy, it doesn’t matter how great the teacher is trained or how rigorous the curriculum and standards are. A focus and priority on the whole child is needed for both public and charter schools alike. For the past two decades we spent all of our education funding trying to close the achievement gap via high stakes accountability all while ignoring the true catalyst for student success, the needs of whole child.

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