Schools Reform — Not Re-Harm

State lawmakers are just pushing papers around the desk, reshuffling them and calling it reform.

Senate Bill 158 would “overhaul” Kentucky’s school accountability system — how performance and progress of schools and districts are measured. Kentucky schools would be measured in colors instead of stars under this bill. This would be the second legislative reform to the accountability system in just four years — the star system being implemented just last October — and it comes after several changes recently ousted Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis had made.

The constant tinkering of the school accountability system creates havoc for teachers, principals and school districts, while doing nothing to actually help students. Legislators should stop legislating reforms and, instead, focus on finding money for projects that improve education — such as buying new textbooks or building new schools. Support Jefferson County Public Schools’ plan to build three elementary schools and a middle school and renovate The Academy @ Shawnee. Make prekindergarten available for every Kentucky child. Ensure every student has access to a healthy meal, or two, while in school. Fund after school and extracurricular programs. Or, stop moving the goal lines.

SB 158 also would change certain high school graduation requirements; establish an online dashboard where the performance and progress of each school is displayed; and revise how schools are identified for improvement assistance by the state, among other rules and requirements.

None of these changes are about improving education outcomes for students.

According to the law, the entire system is about “establishing a formula for accountability, goals for improvement over a three (3) year period, rewards for leadership … and consequences that address the problems and provide assistance…”. The “rewards” are unclear. The “consequences” for low-performing schools means being audited.

This begins a long, bureaucratic process, which includes a “turnaround team” working with the principal and superintendent to create a three-year turnaround plan that “shall be fully implemented by the first full day of the school year following the school year the school was identified for comprehensive support and improvement.” A school that doesn’t achieve the goals set forth in their three-year plan is subject to another three years of “additional targeted support,” and “the local school district shall take more rigorous district-determined action to assist and support the school in reaching performance goals.”

Because, you know… the local school district clearly half-assed it the first time.

The only additional resources the state would provide is to pay for school district audits. So, after six years, underperforming schools could have an expensive assessment for why their students are underperforming. And schools could lose autonomy in the process to turn the school around.

Where is the support for students today?

There are some standards imposed by the federal government that must be met (although they, too, are misguided and wasteful), but the rest of this is just for show. And, yes, it is important to track how students, teachers, schools and districts are performing, just as it’s important to track performance in any job or industry. However, the constant turnover and change to a standard accountability system undermines the very purpose of measuring school performance against a standard assessment.

It also shows that legislators are either clueless or they’re playing political games with Kentucky schools. At the very least, the accountability system is their way of showing how they’re good stewards of public tax dollars — making sure there’s oversight on the bad teachers out there. On the other hand, for many legislators who campaigned on improving education, this is a way to look like they’re doing something big — without increasing spending — when all they’re doing is creating a bigger bureaucracy and more administrative red tape for educators.