School Quality

Kentucky’s School Accountability Plan Lacks Parent Voice

At first glance, it would appear Kentucky’s plan for tracking school performance, and stepping in when needed, is pretty...‘agreeable.’ In a survey from each of the first eight cities the Kentucky Department of Education visited on a town hall tour, almost everyone responded that they agree or strongly agree with every statement listed. But as you dig a little deeper, one thing becomes clear: The families Kentucky public schools are supposed to serve are virtually voiceless. Developing a state plan for education is a requirement of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal education law designed to help states hold schools accountable for educating kids. Taking feedback from education stakeholders was a big enough concern for lawmakers that they made it one of the first requirements of each state’s plan. Teachers, school leaders and others certainly have a stake in coming up with a good education plan, but without parents and students, Kentucky (or any state) risks setting up a new system that most families don’t care to use, if they’re even aware of it at all. The first statement on Kentucky’s survey is a good one, even if it is a little one-dimensional. It asks people for their thoughts (i.e., agree, disagree, etc.) on the state’s proposed “dashboard” for reporting high-level information about how schools are doing. And while most agree it’s simple and easy to understand, almost everyone who weighed in is an administrator, a school board member, a teacher or some other type of school employee. Of the 262 people who responded to the survey, only 17 were parents—and 15 of those parents came from just two of the eight town hall visits. The rest had one or none (data wasn’t available for the ninth and 10th town hall meetings at the time of this writing). Students responding to the survey were even fewer—just two. A similar pattern showed up in the town hall comments with very few parents stepping up to the mic. Last week, I noticed an op-ed in the Kentucky Herald Leader that said “Kentucky Teachers Must Speak Up as Kentucky Drafts Education Plan.” Indeed they should, but where’s the call for parents and students? After all, who has a greater stake in education than them? Schools were not created as a government employment program. They were made to help our kids become self-sufficient, contribute to their communities, and get more enjoyment and meaning from the world. I don’t know why parents aren’t being heard in Kentucky. Some might be tempted to accuse them of being lazy, or not caring. That might be true for some, but I’d be cautious before passing judgement. Perhaps there wasn’t enough of an effort to reach out to them and find out what they think? Perhaps notices for the town hall meetings weren’t well advertised, or promoted at the school level, or maybe they weren’t presented in a way parents could understand what’s at stake. In my experience, the majority of what’s written about building great schools is so wonky and jargon-filled you’d think the authors are getting paid by how many big words they use. Some parents have experienced teachers and school “experts” talking down to them or discrediting their opinions with insults like, “ What’s your degree in?? Housekeeping” (By the way, what’s with mom-shaming?) Maybe parents are just so used to being excluded from education policy conversations that they don’t even bother. What I do know is that if Kentucky really wants to make a difference in the lives of students and families, they need to find a better way of bringing them to the table and hearing what they have to say.
Lane Wright
Lane Wright is Director of Strategic Growth at Education Post. In addition to this role, he tells stories that help families understand how their schools are doing, how to make them better and how policy plays a role. He’s a former journalist and former press secretary to Florida’s governor, and he’s got a knack for breaking down complex education reform policy issues into easy-to-understand ...

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