The nation’s largest teachers’ union named Gov. Steve Beshear this year’s “greatest education governor,” but according to Kentucky educationadvancement groups’ latest measurement, Kentucky’s schools are improving too slowly, and Beshear’s opponents in the Nov. 8 election say more leadership is needed.
The Transition Index, which provides data for schools’ performance based on test scores since 2007, is compiled by the Council for Better Education, the Kentucky
Association of School Councils, and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. They are tracking Kentucky’s transition to a new set of academic standards in legislation sponsored by Beshear’s Republican opponent, Senate President David Williams.
The Transition Index predicts that only 43 percent of primary schools will reach the new standards by 2014 at their current pace of improvement, while only 3 percent of high schools are on track to reach the goal.
Williams says Beshear has done little to improve the education system. Beshear says he has helped schools by protecting the primary funding program for Kentucky classrooms from small, across- theboard cuts Williams would have made. Williams says Beshear underestimated attendance in order to balance the budget.
Beshear has repeatedly proposed a bill to raise Kentucky’s compulsory schoolattendance age to 18. He says he has had to keep proposing it because Williams will not let the Senate vote on it. Williams says no data prove that raising the age would accomplish anything, and calls it an unfunded mandate. He says instead of spending money on students who do not want to attend school, the money should be spent on individual testing to track student achievement.
Gatewood Galbraith, a Lexington lawyer running as an independent, says his “Commonwealth Incentive” plan would give students something to look forward to when graduating high school, leading to more students obtaining a diploma. He would give each high school graduate a $5,000 voucher to use on higher education expenses.
Galbraith would also buy every eighth grader in the state a laptop to “enrich the education environment” at home, and says he would get the money by reducing what he calls wasteful personal-service contracts for state work.
Williams and Galbraith both say it is time for Kentucky to adopt charter schools, which are tax supported but may have different curriculum and philosophy than other schools in the area and have to follow fewer regulations. Williams’s campaign website says he “supports voluntary charter schools to give local communities another tool to improve educational opportunities for children in areas where current options just aren’t working.
Galbraith calls charter schools a “very well controlled, very study-able kind of situation.” He says Kentucky needs to implement them, take a look at the results they produce and, if they work, implement more throughout the state.
Beshear has been ambivalent about charter schools, which teachers’ unions generally oppose. He was named “greatest education governor” by the National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union. Williams has said Beshear received the award due to support from the Jefferson County Teachers Association, which is against charter schools and for the studentassignment plan for racial balance, which Williams says should be replaced by neighborhood schools.
The Jefferson County teachers group is part of the Kentucky Education Association, which is part of the National Education Association. Beshear was one of three governors running for re-election this year who could have received the award. The others were Republicans. An acting governor in West Virginia, elected governor in October, is a Democrat.
In presenting the award to Beshear, NEA cited his budget policy and the dropout bill, as well as his support of “quality preschool programs.” In recent interviews, Beshear has said he would like to make preschool available for all Kentucky children if money becomes available.
Williams, in a televised debate on education that Beshear declined to attend, said no money would be available unless state government is made more effi cient and the tax and regulatory systems are changed to attract more employers. “I’m confident that a governor with some leadership we can continue making progress in education in this state,” he said.
The education-advancement groups say test scores show more action is needed. Fayette County Superintendent
Tom Shelton said, “We clearly need to do much more to meet the new college-and-career-ready standards that we are now aiming to meet.”
Reporter Rachel Bryant is a student at the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications.