Friday, March 13, 2009

The Death of KERA

The Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 is now officially dead. The program was made up of many components, some of which have effectively been abandoned (like the nongraded primary), and others that live on (the family resource and youth services centers), but the heart of the program was always the testing system.

And when the heart goes, so does the body.

You could call this a transplant, of course--taking out a high stakes test that measures the performance of schools, not students, that uses unreliable open response questions rather than multiple choice questions, and that grades schools on subjective portfolio assessments, and replacing it with one that doesn't do those things. But it hardly seems worth the trouble to attempt it.

No. This was turning off the life support machines.

The irony of this whole thing is that those of us who fought this back in the 1990's advised policymakers to do exactly what they did today: to drop portfolios from the accountability for schools, to drop the ridiculous open response items that have not (Repeat: have not) improved writing, and give parents a test they can adequately judge the progress of their children with.

We were told we were against education. That we were not hip with the educational times. That we were not familiar with the educational research (that was really just trendy pronouncements) that said this stuff would work. That we were opposing progress in schools.

Funny. Do you hear any of that now? What was the House vote? 93-0?

I suppose I should feel vindicated, but I wonder about the Lost Generation: the children who went through the KERA system who were denied a proper grounding in basic skills in the nongraded primary program. Who were told they were learning to write but who were instead denied help in grammar and spelling by teachers who, because they were told they couldn't, were scared to say anything. Who thought they were learning to read, but denied help in sounding out words because it was discouraged by whole language advocates.

What about them?

In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn argues that movements don't die because they were repudiated; they die because the leaders of those movements themselves die. We may have the same thing here. How many of the people who voted for the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 are still in the legislature? I'm thinking it is less than 20.

One of the people in the legislature when KERA passed was Ed Ford. Ford chaired the Senate Education Committee, helped shepherd the bill through the legislature, and assisted in its implementation. Ford one proclaimed that "it would be a generation" before we knew whether KERA had worked.

Well, a generation has passed. And we know now, don't we? Who ever thought that such a momentous action as was taken today would have been attended with such little fanfare? I'm told that that's not uncommon when they turn off the life support machines of a dying patient.

Will the last person out of Kentucky's Education Reform Headquarters please turn off the lights?


Anonymous said...

Now if they'd just get rid of the school councils and put hiring decisions back in the hands of the superintendents and elected school board members, and do away with some of the onerous anti-nepotism regulations that keep a lot of good people from serving as educators because of a few blatant violators. I've always thought school districts should hire locally whenever possible to help keep local people and their tax dollars in the county. If your family has paid school taxes for years, you deserve first crack at a job among equally-qualified applicants vs. someone from somewhere else who has no long-term stake in the community.

SPWeston said...

Will you now urge your friends to enroll their children in Kentucky public schools?

Martin Cothran said...

Well, let's see, I'll tell you what. As soon as public schools start placing less emphasis on political correctness and vocationalism, and getting serious about basic skills and the liberal arts, I'll start reconsidering.

SPWeston said...

Great, I'll keep the lights on waiting for your return.