Thursday, November 11, 1999

Ky. has room to improve schools

Report cites progress, but more needed

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky's 10 years of education reform have made great strides in improving the quality of education, but more work needs to be done in reading, teacher preparation and community involvement, according to a report released Wednesday.

        Prepared by The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence in Lexington, the report reviews Kentucky's educational progress since the Kentucky Education Reform Act was passed in 1990.

        “Thousands of Kentucky educators have worked harder and smarter than ever before to make the progress we've seen so far, and all of us should celebrate their accomplishments,” said Robert Sexton, Prichard Committee director.

        “But if Kentucky is to reach its goal of continually improving our schools to teach every child well, we must recommit to the vision of educational excellence that we established in 1990.”

        According to the report:

        Kentucky started at the bottom of the educational barrel, posting 1983 rankings of 42nd in education spending per pupil; 42nd in high school graduation rate; and 50th in percentage of adults with a high school diploma.

        Since the efforts at education reform, the state has improved, moving up to 30th in spending; 30th in high school graduation; and 47th in adults with a high school diploma.

        But there are still areas that need work, Mr. Sexton said.

        • Teachers know less than was expected about what to change in their classrooms and need effective training to teach as adequately as expected.

        • There is a lack of academic gain among students from the poorest regions, minority students, and the schools serving them.

        • Too few families are engaged as full partners in their children's education.

        “The idea that we can force schools to improve themselves on their own isn't happening,” said Villa Hills parent Richard Innes, a critic who tracks the state's reform efforts.

        Mr. Innes said the “great experiment” isn't working. He said testing figures show slight or no improvement in perform ance at the elementary and middle school levels.

        The Prichard Committee report acknowledges the need for improvements in reading instruction, particularly in the early grades.

        The report said too many students enter middle school without the reading skills necessary to understand academic material.

        Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills, said it would be nice if “we could reduce the pupil-teacher ratio in the primary grades to focus on reading some more.”

        Teacher quality is termed the “neglected child” of Kentucky's reform in the report.

        The committee suggests making one government agency responsible for teacher quality. The General Assembly is expected to tackle the teacher quality issue in January.

        The report also seeks better parent and community involvement in schools. Community members need to get involved in their schools, the report said, and should demand academic improvements and recognize that educators are not solely respon sible for quality education.

        James Molley, superintendent of Erlanger-Elsmere Schools, said he agrees with the three areas the report cites for additional work. But he said reform has reduced local control rather than broadening it.

        “The state tells us we will have ungraded primary grades, we will have site-based councils,” Mr. Molley said.

        Increasing community involvement is not easy, he said.

        “But how do you get it? We can barely get people to run for site-based council,” Mr. Molley said. “We've tried every way, shape and form to get it — and it's just not there.”

        Sen. Katie Stine, R-Fort Thomas, said she wants the state Education Department to focus on the basics, including math and science.

        “We've got to have kids graduating who are ready to jump right into college,” Ms. Stine said. “It's upsetting when the scores don't reflect the effort we've put into it.”


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