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Education in Rural Kentucky - Comments & Discussion

Here I will put any relevant and serious comments about the pages on education I have on this web site as well as my responses (if any) in the hope of encouraging a serious dialogue about education.

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My experience in Spencer County, KY
This high school student feels shortchanged in his math education.
Lack of quality in Kentucky High Schools
This high school student has attended four Kentucky High Schools.
Discipline in TN schools
This mother, active in her local school system, tells about some of the problems she sees as she volunteers to help out.
Covington, KY schools
This mother, active in her local school system, tells about some of the problems she sees as she volunteers to help out.
Site Comments
This visitor praises my web site but requests that I not overlook the role of parents in children's education.
Site Comments
This visitor feels that the school situation is the same all over.
Comments on Religion in Schools
This frequent visitor agrees with my comments on Religion and Schools.
Discussions with Richard G. Innes
Update on Technology in Clinton County Schools
This teacher says that technology has improved in that students are now computer literate.
Blasting Schools and KERA
This visitor feels that I should not criticize the schools I attended and is critical of the Kentucky Education Reform Act. My reply includes some comments on KERA.

From Matthew Thomas Bogard:

Up to 6th grade, classes were very formal. Chairs were in rows, and atention to detail and process was greatly emphasized along with correctness. After 7th grade, and the Kentucky Education Reform Act, I noticed that chairs were placed in groups, and the concept of the portfolio was introduced. The biggest difference seemed to appear in my math courses as I began to study algebra. Being new to me I expected the material to be foreign and abstract at first, but eventually lead to have some logical or algorithmic pattern as math always did in the past. Instead the math that I was introduced to seemed to emphasize using graphing calculators and even human graphs i. e. standing in chairs and creating functions with people. There was a lot of group problem solving involved, and conclusions always seemed to be reached by some random mystory logic that I could never follow. I went through Algebra I and Algebra II without it ever being emphasized that factoring and solving equations analytically were part of the subject matter. Once in pre calculus while the seniors and my instructor were away for field trips and other activities those remaining in the class were given their first and only problem assignment that I can remember that involved the essential concept of factoring. It would now seem to me that if the course had involved what it should that I would have no trouble remembering countless problems that I would have worked not only in pre-calculus but algebra 1 and algebra II involveing factoring. Our text for algebra II and precalculus was experimental, and did not involve any instruction on basic algebraic and arithmetic details. I had no means to obtain this instruction from my classes or text. Emphasis was based on end results derived from group work, graphing calculators, and guessing.

Before taking Calculus in high school I became aware that maybe there were deficits in the previous aglebra curriculum that I had completed. I asked to repeat the course maybe under a new instructor to possibly have exposure to these basic essentials before taking the ACT or attending college. I was denied this opportunity.

My math ACT scores suffered, as well as other areas. Once I got to college, I had much difficulty with basic college algebra, attempting it three times. But after being exposed to some of the basic "high school level" details of math and arithmetic ( factoring, operations with fractions, exponents, root functions etc.) I have had no trouble with areas of math and have made A's in both CalculusI and Calculus II. However it wasn't until my 4th year in college I was able to attain these skills that were lacking from my high school education. Any career in the sciences has been greatly impaired.

At the same time there were students from other schools that were provided basic instruction from their high school courses that enabled them not only to complete the first basic college algebra course successfully in college, but for some to start with Calculus I. I have spoken to several of other past students from my high school that have had the same experiences. Further I have spoken to other students from Spencer County High School that would have went to college had they felt they were given the proper preperation. Students from this particular high school and I believe others from other high schools were not given the same educational opportunities as students from other schools. They were not provided sufficient training or prepeartion for advanced study. They were not enabled to choose and pursue life work intelligently.

In the court case Rose v. Council for Better Education the question of whether the Kentucky General Assembly had complied with its constitutional mandate to "provide an efficient system of common schools throughout the state " was focused on. It was decided that they had not. It was determined that a child's right to an "adequate" education is a fundamental one under our state constitution and the general assembly must protect and advance that right. It was stated that an "efficient" system of education must have as its goal to provide each and every child with at least the following capacities:

(i) sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization;

(ii) sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices;

(iii) sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation;

(iv) sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness;

(v) sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage;

(vi) sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and

(vii) sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market. [FN22]

The essential or minimum charactoristics of an efficient system of common schools was summarized as follows:

1) The establishment, maintenance and funding of common schools in Kentucky is the sole responsibility of the General Assembly.

2) Common schools shall be free to all.

3) Common schools shall be available to all Kentucky children.

4) Common schools shall be substantially uniform throughout the state.

5) Common schools shall provide equal educational opportunities to all Kentucky children, regardless of place of residence or economic circumstances.

6) Common schools shall be monitored by the General Assembly to assure that they are operated with no waste, no duplication, no mismanagement, and with no political influence.

7) The premise for the existence of common schools is that all children in Kentucky have a constitutional right to an adequate education.

8) The General Assembly shall provide funding which is sufficient to provide each child in Kentucky an adequate education.

9) An adequate education is one which has as its goal the development of the seven capacities recited previously.

It was hypothesized in Rose vs. the Council for Better Education that the problems were financial and they were to be corrected with financial reforms. Also the portfolio system was used to help mitigate these problems. In my particular school important details of math and the sciences and composition and grammer were sacraficed in order to comply with portfolio criteria, and constructivist, and whole math and whole reading techniques.

I believe that these circumstances and those mentioned at the beginning of this paper are evidence that the common schools in Kentucky are still not substantially uniform throughout the state, they do not provide equal educational opportunities to all Kentucky children regardless of place of residence or economic circumstances.

Because of the school myself and fellow graduates were required to attend we were not given the same opportunities as students from other schools. Those opportunities we were given did not meet the definition of adequate as used to define an efficient system of public education in that they did not meet the following capacities:

sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization;

sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently;

sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market

Therefore as interpreted by Rose vs. the Council for Better Education our constitutional rights as outlined in Section 183 of the Kentucky State Constitution were denied.

Further if the system continues to operate in this manner where some students in some schools are given proper exposure to important details of math, science, and composition and grammer while others are not, that not all students are being given equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the 14th amendment of the US constitution.

I am writing this without any great legal knowledge, but I believe that these circumstances are common throughout Kentucky, and not just in Spencer County, and that concerned citizens should look into this issue. Are the children attending your local school recieving the education they are guaranteed by the Kentucky State Constitution? If they are is this education sufficient? If the answer to the first question is no then we have a recourse through our state constituion for correcting this problem. The General Assembly must not only establish an efficient system of common schools, but it must also monitor it on a continuing basis so that it will always be maintined in a constitutional manner. I feel that it may be time to go back to court.

Sender: - Matthew Thomas Bogard

From Missy Wilburn:

Hello, my name is Missy Wilburn and I am a senior at Rockcastle County High School in Mt. Vernon, KY. For the past four years I have gone to four different high schools in Kentucky including Madison Central High School, Scott High School, Rockcastle County High School and East Carter High School. I grew up in Grayson, KY and when I moved away in the beginning of my sophomore year, I was one of the best in my class. At Scott High School I struggled to keep up. I came to the conclusion that I was given an inadequate education.

Right now I am working on a senior project about education in Appalachia Kentucky. I would love to talk to you about some questions that I have and hopefully together, we could come up with some solutions.

Sender: - Missy Wilburn

Reply from Duane:

I assume from your message that you want to correspond with me about the state of education in rural Kentucky and, you say, come up with some solutions. I suspect that you have probably already read the extensive information I have on the Internet about my research in the early 1990s of a local school system and my conclusions.

You remind me of my son and and my niece both of whom found, when they graduated High School and went to college, that they had received a less than adequate education. It is quite a shock for many students from rural appalachian school systems, when they are exposed to students from other schools, to find out how much more information and study methods some students have been provided and how much more they have learned. I suspect that you found quite a difference in moving from one school system to another.

We can have a dialogue about problems with these systems. As for solutions, my experience has been that not enough local people understand that there is a problem and care enough about improving the school systems to cause change. So I am not sure that there are solutions, at least in the short term.

I think the essential problem is that parents, school administrators, local businessmen and others think of a school system and not an education system. This means that they think of the goal of the system as providing buildings, buses, and people to enable the children of the school district to attend school for 12 years but they do not think of the goal of the system as being to provide every child the education necessary to help him to lead a successful life after graduation.

The difference is readily apparent if you attend and pay attention to the discussions at meetings of local Boards of Education (School Boards). You find that discussions are almost always about building and/or repairing facilities, employing personnel, sports, and other items of local interest such as the Ten Commandments. You will find very little, if any, discussion of the quality of education provided by the system or the success rate of graduates of the system in subsequent endeavors.

A "School System" has three main goals: providing baby sitting services for children during the day, employing local people, and fielding outstanding sports teams.

An "Education System" has a goal of providing a quality education to all its graduates so that they have both the command of mental processes and information necessary to enable them to be a success in colleges or trade schools or the job market or the military or in business and in family life.

In an education system goals have to do with the success rate as adults of graduates. Intermediate goals have to do with skills and information students should have acquired at each grade level. Administrators spend most of their time making, implementing, evaluating, and revising plans to reach those goals. Those goals and plans should be made and publicized as much as possible in full view of the public and with as much public involvement as possible and they should be fully supported by the public, the board of education, the district administation, the classroom teachers and the students.

My conclusions are based on an intensive study of only one school system. I have no knowledge of how many rural Kentucky systems are "school systems" and how many are "education systems". You are in a better position to know this than I. I would be interested, first, in your comments about the above, and second, in your perception of the goals of and quality of education in the various school systems you have attended.

Besides my papers at:

From Toni Roberts:
I have been reading your comments on the state of education there in your community. It makes me feel very fortunate that at our rural K-8 of 850 students in rural Tennessee, we have a principal dedicated to reviewing lesson plans and evaluating teachers. She is also quite a disciplinarian, however, she does not pack a paddle. I did not see anything about discipline in your comments, did I overlook it? I am the President of the P.T.O. at our school for the second time in 6 years. I spend a lot of time at our school. The children are very disciplined, sometimes to the point of not being able to talk in the lunchroom because if they all talk at the same time, it makes "too much" noise. I have devoted countless hours volunteering in the school, my children are 8 and 12. The thing that I see happening at our school is that discipline techniques are not consistent from teacher to teacher. Some kids get singled out and picked on by their teachers to the point of receiving regular paddlings. These same kids seem to do O.K. for other teachers with the sense and patience to deal with them, however, their learning process is greatly impaired. It is like playing Russian Roulette in our school every year to see if your kids are going to get an overly punitive teacher or not. Even though I request no paddling, it still upsets my kids and I have had to quit volunteering because I can no longer bear to be present in the school when a Kindergartner is receiving their three blows. I know Kentucky banned corporal punishment in the school systems there and then reversed their decision the next year. I am beginning an initiative here to have corporal punishment banned from our school system, but I fear that in the "Bible Belt" as with slavery & civil rights the decision will have to come from a higher authority. I am afraid that you described the majority of our local school board in your comments. I think our schools would be much improved if teachers took a more positive view of discipline - it is so much more than punishment. I am also attempting to educate parents of alternative positive discipline techniques and to just say no to paddling. I would like to hear your comments on this. I would assume the Kentucky "climate" would be much the same as ours as we are just south of your border. I admire you for your work there and for staying informed and involved.

Sender: - Toni Roberts - Tennessee

Reply from Duane:

"A principal dedicated to reviewing lesson plans and evaluating teachers" sounds like a breath of fresh air to me. As to your questions about discipline, you did not overlook my comments. I simply didn't have any. I grew up in a time when both parents and teachers used spankings to keep order as I did in raising my children. I didn't see a problem with this, but many now say that it is wrong and they may be right. I strongly believe that children who can not be controlled in some way should not be allowed to stay in a classroom to disrupt the educational efforts of the whole class. I also believe that the school system has an obligation to provide the teacher an environment suitable for teaching and the student an environment suitable for learning. Therefore I think that alternative schools or "time out" classes or some such can be a useful tool. In many areas I really have more questions than answers and school discipline is one of these areas. I am more upset that no one asks and tries to answer the questions.

From Jill Dew:
Dear Duane,

I am a mother who is fortunate enough to not have to work outside the home. As a consequence, I have always volunteered at any school my son attends. My personal background is: I have a B.A. and a B.M. from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and a M.M. from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. My favorite subjects in school were English, art, music and math (I placed 13th in a state-wide algebra contest when I was in the 9th grade -- I could have probably done better if I had studied). As a volunteer, I have usually helped out in the math or English classes, working one-on-one with students that need extra attention.

Currently, I am helping out with the 7th and 8th grade algebra classes at my son's middle school. He is an Advanced Placement (AP) student and has all AP classes. Fortunately, my son talks with me about what is going on in his classes at length. Some of the things he has told me I find quite troublesome.
I would like to share some first-hand observations and conclusions.

  1. Students lean on calculators WAY TOO MUCH to do their math work. I have seen AP students us calculators to figure out the answer to two-digit addition problems (ex.: 63 + 48). Scary! When I asked the teacher about this, her response was, "KERA requires we provide them if the students ask for them." This is 7th and 8th grade "advanced/gifted" students! Needless to say, I told my son he better not have to use a calculator to solve a problem this simple.
  2. Students are "taught to the test". Math portfolios are a joke. The teachers have too spend too much time on helping the students work out specific portfolio problems that have very little to do with math concepts and their relationships to the real world.
    Again, the teachers hands are tied.
  3. Students are not required to memorize any more. The brain is an organ that if not exercised, it will atrophy. Memorization is an excellent tool for preventing this.
    However, students do not have to memorize their multiplication tables; "They have calculators," is the response I'm given. I think it's pretty sad when a 7th grader cannot multiply 7 x 12 or divide 64 by 8 without a calculator. I worry what the business world will be like in 20 years when our children grow up and can't do simple math by demand on the job.
    Furthermore, we don't require our primary students to memorize classic poetry. This is a travesty to me. Memorizing poetry is not only for the sheer act of making one's brain work; it elevates the self above the other members of the animal kingdom. I can't remember the number of times a poem I learned in my childhood has come back to me later in life, only to have a fresh perspective on it or to suddenly realize through my own experience what the poem truly means. We are cheating our children out of a heritage that is rightfully theirs when we ignore this literature.
    When they do memorize something, it certainly isn't something I deem worth memorizing. A really sickening example of this is happening right now in my son's English class. He and his friends are learning a scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. I thought, "Great!" Finally some good lit. I said, "We've got a book at home with Shakespeare's works in it. We can look up the scene, and you can get a head start on learning it."
    He responded, "No, [the teacher] has a modernized version that she wants us to learn. I'm not supposed to learn the real thing."
    I was crestfallen. Why, oh why, do we allow this to happen?
  4. KIRIS testing takes up way too much time from schoolwork. Currently, the testing at my son's middle school goes for seven days, from 8:45 to 10:30. (Without using my calculator) that adds up to 12-1/4 hours of testing. I have been volunteering, helping the "special needs" kids -- that is, I have been reading the questions, explaining directions, and writing down answers given to me by the students. Right off the bat, I have a problem with this. I thought these were fundamentals required before anyone could even take a test. I asked the teacher in charge, "Are these students going to have someone follow them through life reading for them?"
    She responded, "No, but they have to be given the same right to answer a test as a regular student. It has to do with their civil rights." Which leads me to my next point.
  5. Too much emphasis is put on "self-esteem". I remember my son laughing sardonically when he told me how everyone in the school was given the same type of pencil. It had printed on it, "You are special." He wondered how special they thought he was if they gave everyone the same thing. Pretty astute for a third-grader.
    "Self-esteem" has become the watchword for education in Kentucky today, and I think it's false self-esteem the schools are having to promote. Why reward a student doing the wrong thing? I have seen kids act out in class who were then pulled out of class, sent to the counselor's office, and given treats because of their damaged "self-esteem." What are we teaching here? Self-discipline should be considered the most important quality, because out of self-discipline comes real self-esteem -- for a job well done. There are too many teen-agers who have too much self-esteem for no deserving reason other than for their simply being born. It reminds me of a Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin doesn't want to study because it makes him realize how much he doesn't know and that hurts his self-esteem. Hobbes responds by saying, "Remind me to invest in foreign interests." So true, so true.

Thank you for letting me ramble on. I am really worried we have dummied down the education our children are getting here in Kentucky. A scary footnote --one teacher told me how she went to a national teacher's conference and was told Kentucky is one the cutting edge of education in America; everyone wanted to talk to her about it. Yikes! America will not remain the dynamic leader in the world it is now if we allow this trend to continue. Instead, we will become uncultured automatons who won't know how to think for ourselves.


Sender: - Jill Dew - Covington

Reply from Duane:

Thank you for your appreciated and interesting message. Thank you also for being one of those who is interested in improving the public school system not only by means of useful criticism but by volunteering your time to help out. I hope this page is for those who believe that the public school system is important and essential to the future of our nation and who are interested in improving it.

As a computer programmer, a math prodigy (they said in high school, but I found that they were wrong), and a parent, I too believe that kids have no business with calculators before high school. It could be that we are both wrong but I doubt it.

As for memorizing, I agree with you about poetry and literature such as Shakespeare and multiplication tables. I don't believe in memorizing dates in history but I am a great believer in history students learning relative timelines so that they are able to put historical events in perspective. To me that means memorizing a few benchmark dates and knowing what events came before and after those and also knowing enough geography to be able to put things in geographical perspective. I also think it is important that they know, not just what happened, but why it is significant.

I too think they take way too much time away from instruction for various reasons. KIRIS testing does seem to take a lot of time. However, I do believe that schools must be held accountable for their performance and that is the purpose of KIRIS testing. I just don't know how efficient it is. I do agree with KERA though that it is important to measure not just how many facts a student knows but how creative he is and how well he can use his mind to think and to utilize what he has learned.

I think that good and excellent performance should be rewarded both for students and teachers. Most teachers I have talked to disagree with that premise because they are afraid that if there are rewards for performance they won't be the ones getting them. This applies even when the teacher is an excellent teacher. I find some of the best teachers in our school system resent anyone implying that there are problems with the school system. People in this school system are very defensive. I guess they know more about the system than I do.

I read some interesting statistics the other day. If you have read much of my writing here you know that I believe that the primary problem with our school systems is in lack of leadership from administrators. I read that about 70% of teachers are female, but 2/3 of principals are male and 40% of principals have a teaching background as football or basketball coaches. I guess female classroom teachers need not apply. A long time local school board member once told me that the primary problem with the school system was lack of good principals.

A recent study of functional illiteracy by Kentucky county showed a range from 25% in a Western Kentucky county to 58% in an Eastern Kentucky county. That means that, at best, 1 in 4 of us can't read and at worst more than half of us can't.

From Jeffrey L. Wyatt:
Duane, your report and the response that you received from educators was to be expected. I am glad to see Kentuckians such as yourself taking an active roll in one of the most important issues facing our state today. Kentucky must face some hard facts concerning its' education system. We must do right by our children. I am convinced that what we sow we will harvest, and the crop still seems to be withering on the vine. Keep fighting for improvement in your local area. School systems are responsible for giving our children the tools to achieve their goals. The only thing that I do ask, however, is that you keep in mind that educators can never take the place of parents. The most important person in a child's education is the parent. Until parents take a more aggressive approach to their children's education, the rest is a waste. Money and technology are not the answer. Dedicated families are.

I thoroughly enjoyed your web site.

Sender: - Jeffrey L. Wyatt

From David Moss:
It is the same all over. I am from Ky, but my mother has taught in Alabama schools from 1969 on. With few resources and with a docile population few reforms are possible.

I learned in the US Navy that one should always provide 3 solutions to any problem, and then make sure that the one that you like is the most filled out and comprehensive. Keep providing answers, dissenters are ignored after a time.

Keep up the good work. The quality of your site shows that you care and have talent.

Sender: David Moss

From Pete Zavorskas:

You still have the greatest site..

And I agree with you 100% on the issue of Religion/Government/Education.

There is too much hate in this world now dealing with people trying to force their views on other people...

I went to Catholic schools..Got a decent education in religion but I am really disturbed the way the Catholic church does so little to tackle the problems of today. (I was raised Catholic).

Keep up the good work.


Sender: Pete Zavorskas - pete606@cris.com

From Richard:
I found your Web site this evening and spent some time browsing your very nice selection of personal writings and linked areas. With a couple of electrical engineering degrees in my background, I relate immediately with your observations about the poor conduct of science courses.

I have been involved with KERA for about 2-1/2 years now, though my efforts have been concentrated largely with Frankfort-based agencies such as the Dept. of Education and the Legislature.

I got started on this quest when we got our second daughter's first "scrimage" KIRIS scores back. I assure you we were most surprised when the kid who won the PTA State-wide writing contest in her 9th Grade year got only an "Apprentice" on her 10th Grade writing test.

Your comments are articulate and lucid. I only hope a lot more parents like us will get involved and let the education community know that there is a lot of talent waiting to be tapped, if only they will get over their misplaced pride and accept some help.

Reply from Duane:

Thank you for your very encouraging message about my education materials on my web site. In over a year in which over 1,000 people looked at these pages, yours is the first positive feedback about that part of my site that I have gotten.

Just to make sure there is no misconception, the site is not about KERA as such but about the state of education in Kentucky and the work with and investigation of the local school system that I did was done in 1990 through 1992 as KERA was just being implemented.

I am not anti KERA. I am pro school reform. I think KERA is great in that it addresses the problem. I also strongly suspect that it is badly flawed in several ways but I haven't followed the issues and investigated enough to have formed definite opinions.

My primary criticism of the local school system is that their objective has never been and is not now to educate children. They have a number of objectives. It's just that education is not one of them. This applies to the administration of the system as a whole not to individual teachers. Many teachers are not only interested in educating students but very effective at it. Unfortunately, others are not.

My point about computer use in the schools, which I may not have emphasized enough, is that computers are most useful in schools as a tool of education not as an object of education. In other words, don't worry about teaching them to use a computer; they can do that better than the teachers anyway, but instead use computers as tools to more effectively teach them other things like research, history, math, science, etc.

From Richard:
I agree. I am bothered that there are not a whole bunch of interactive CD\ROM machines with education software humming away in our schools. As you mentioned in your Web postings, Microsoft Office is nice, but it isn't instructional.

I share your wider understanding of the enormous potential of computers for instruction. 25 years ago I programmed the first generation of teaching machines used in the Air Force's pilot training program. These machines were very crude compared to a modern PC, but they were a tremendous leap forward. The PC can do the same job today infinitely more effectively just as the PC can do a wide variety of other educational jobs very well.

Here is just one thought -- now that PC's are beginning to get good speach synthesis and (to not so well a developed level) speach recognition capability, it is becoming possible to actually use them to teach beginning reading. That could free up a lot of time for elementary teachers to work one-on-one with the kids having problems. It is a revolutionary idea that might be just on the horizon, but I think that is one example of where we can go.

From Richard:
I am probably a bit more skeptical of KERA, perhaps because I have been looking at it pretty diligently for several years. Make no mistake, though, there are parts I also like, such as the Extended School Services concept and the Pre-school and Family and Youth Services (though I have some reservations about the preemption of parents in a few isolated health clinic cases).

My main concerns at present are KIRIS and Ungraded Primary, along with some strong questions about whether content is being sacrificed for a very hazy concept of "higher order thinking skills" development.

The KIRIS issue is being fairly well addressed now in the press (Check out the Lexington Herald- Leader's Web site for the best on-line coverage). At least reporters are asking smart questions now and not taking everything they are told as absolutely accurate without independent verification.

I think I was the first in the state to waive the red flag about the probable relationship between a huge increase in 4th Grade ESS enrollment and Ungraded Primary. Our 4th Grade teachers are putting their students into remediation/tutorial programs at an awesome rate (1 out of 3 children in 1994- 95 -- no later data available). That bothers me a lot. I am also concerned by the CTBS-4/CAT-5 results (did you know 1/3 of the districts are now using these again?). They show a 3 point decline from 1990 to 1995 for elementary grades. Again, this raises serious questions about Primary.

Reply from Duane:

My support for KERA stems from my conviction that some type of reform was necessary and the action of the legislature in enacting the recommendations of a committee which had been studying the problem was much more logical than the mish mash we would have gotten if the individual legislators had each tried to enact their own ideas of school reform. I assumed on faith that the Prichard committee members had been intelligent enough to know what they were doing. That may be incorrect or it may simply be that no one knew and KERA is simply an experiment in progress.

Reply from Richard:
One of the great problems with KERA is that the court forced the legislature to develop this legislation in a very short period of time (less than 10 months to completely revise and rewrite the entire set of Kentucky school laws!). As a result, the legislature never had a real chance to hear from a wide variety of experts. Due to lack of time, careful deliberation both in the legislature and various public forums never occurred. We had to adopt a ready-made package, one the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy was only to ready to supply. No-one knew how experimental this all was because there was no time to analyze and ask questions. As a result, this rushed law inevitably was going to have problems, and they are now starting to become evident to all of us.

I think the Pritchard Committee of 1990 had good intentions. I don't think they really understood what they were supporting. This was NOT a Kentucky program. It came, pretty much as a package, from the policy wonks at the foundations, primarily Carnegie.

BTW, I am a little concerned about the Prichard Committee today. Their director recently made a presentation at Harvard's School of Education. He said opposition to KERA was mainly confined to a small group of UPS pilots! That is a terrible understatement of the concern most Kentucky citizens have over various parts of the reform. Prichard has been getting enormous amounts of money (7 digit figures) to make speaches around the country about how wonderful our reform is. I would rather see the money spent on high quality research to fix the problems with our reform first.

I think I'd vote for the experiment in progress option, except the experiment is being run so unscientifically that I hesitate to dignify it with the connotation experiment usually implies to technical professionals.

For example:
The Office of Education Accountability's National Technical Review Panel should have been formed quickly after the act's passage. The group wasn't created until four years later, and almost didn't come into creation then. As a result, the legislature's own watchdog agency had little independent method to verify what the Department of Education was claiming for KERA during the first four years of the program.

This came into sharp relief when the great claims for reading progress from the KIRIS test were exploded by the 1994 National Assessment of Education Progress 4th Grade reading results. Had OEA possessed its technical panel four years earlier, this mess might have been avoided.

The current problem with unreliable performance events might also have been avoided (that cost the taxpayers at least $3 million, by the way).

From Duane:
The educational research I saw at the time KERA was enacted seemed to support the idea of ungraded primaries so it seemed like a good idea but, of course, such a thing had never been tried on the scale it was in Kentucky. You raise what seem to be valid questions about that but I have not read and researched both sides enough to form an opinion.

As for KIRIS, it seems to me an awkward method used to address what are two very essential parts of any school reform effort. One is that there must be some method of gauging the success of the reform effort. The other is that there must be some accountability of educators for the job they are doing or failing to do. There must be rewards for good performance and sanctions for poor performance. I think that KIRIS is probably not a valid tool to use for these purposes but whether it just needs minor adjustments, a complete overhaul, or to be thrown out and some other method implemented I don't know.

Reply from Richard:
I think a significant overhaul might work, but there is so much philosophical opposition within the Department of Education that I doubt that will happen before many Kentucky kids are adversely impacted.

Reasons I feel that way:

From Duane:
As for content vs. thinking skills development, I feel it is essential that one of the goals of education be developing the ability to think for oneself rather than just to memorize and know facts. I realize, of course, that facts are required as a basis for meaningful thought. I actually maintain that a basis in factual knowledge with the skill to analyse ideas and to communicate both in writing and verbally are the marks of an educated person. I am not impressed by a student who can quote facts but cannot develop or express an idea.

Reply from Richard:
None of us are.

The problem is KIRIS is creating kids who can put together a decent sounding argument until the factual background is examined. Because the kids have weak content knowledge, they really are only creating nice "cocktail hour" discussions, not material that is the result of forceful and accurate analysis. KIRIS would be much better if it required both decent factual knowledge as well as ability to express ideas.

I wrote a paper on this, comparing the KIRIS high school science questions to the British General Certificate of Secondary Education exams. The contrast is absolutely striking. The Brits do things much better.

From Duane:
A couple of middle school math teachers told me that when all the math teachers in the school system met to determine what line of new math textbooks should be adopted by the system for use for the next few years most teachers wanted those books that were mostly problem solving with reading questions mostly toward the back. These teachers pointed out to me that since in most math classes the students did not complete over half or two thirds of the book that they would get through the whole school system with very little exposure to reading problems. In my experience in real life the boss does not give you an equation to solve. Instead he says something like "Evaluate several courses of action and give me cost/benefit ratios and projected future effects on the bottom line."

These to me are basic principals of education. They do not mean that I disagree with you if you argue that KERA is not implementing them properly. I do, however, disagree with you if we do not have the same conception of the goals of education.

Whether we agree or disagree, I feel that discussion can only shed light on the subject and therefore has much value.

From Duane:
The problem with the school system is not the teachers (except for some of those who are most interested in controlling the system for their own gain.) but it is the administrators and public attitudes.

Reply from Richard:
I think that is likely the case in many places. I would also fault parents who never get involved with the school. Those parents send the wrong message to their kids about the importance of school (cannot be very important if Mom or Dad never pays attention), and those parents never give the school feedback about what is and isn't going right (something the schools need to hear whether or not they like it).

From Duane:
Nobody seems to see any need to attempt such things as formulating goals of education, means of reaching those goals, methods of evaluating success, etc. I suspect they think that KERA has already done those things so they have no reason to get involved in it. Maybe it has and I am missing the point.

Reply from Richard:
I think the KERA folks recognize this problem.

Their answer is very inefficient, unfortunately.

The idea in KERA is the teacher will develop all of the curriculum, not just portions of it. This puts a tremendous load on the teacher that is totally unworkable. Curriculum development requires a lot of expertise in many areas. For example, the real importance of certain types of math procedures are not going to be apparent to all teachers, but they may be vital to all sorts of "end users" in industry, the professions, skilled trades, and so forth. Most teachers have very limited experience with either industry or the professions, so they cannot be expected to know, on their own, all the material that is important to teach.

Because of this fundamental inefficiency in KERA, not only do we have people all over the state essentially duplicating each other's efforts to develop curriculum, but we never assemble the collected wisdom needed to properly do the job. Instead, we have teachers acting alone or in very small groups trying to cope with a problem that would (and always has) challenged full-time professional development staff at Boards of Education, the colleges, and so forth.

From Duane:
I finally got around to reading all the material you sent me. You did a lot of work and it shows. It also seems to be material that makes some points that should be very helpful to those designing the nuts and bolts of KERA, if anyone will pay attention to you.

You make a good case that Kentucky's High School Non-Cognitive Accountablity index is flawed as far as an indicator of success, that the KIRIS not only is not consistent with other tests but, perhaps more importantly, is unlike NAEP; and that teaching to the KIRIS may very well lead to a lower knowledge level of basic information than use of another test such as the GCSE. Your comments on Extended School Services were also troubling.

I support the general idea of school reform because I believe that our educational system is far from what it could and should be. I also realize that, as in everything, the devil is in the details. What you have done is some of the hard detail work that is very necessary if such efforts are to succeed. I know that there is not enough data presently available to make hard and fast conclusions about KERA but you have shown some of the methods that must be used to analyse its success and, if that is not done, then the whole effort may turn out to be a sham.

From Richard:
I hope you have heard about the latest KIRIS problem. On June 25th, Dr. Cody announced he was recommending termination of the ASME contract (ASME is the KIRIS technical contractor). It seems ASME made a major data handling error, and every elementary and middle school in the state got erroneously low scores. The cost for extra rewards alone will run an estimated $2 million.

This follows by less than a year the deletions of ASME's Performance Events from the KIRIS formula after they proved impossible to equate from year to year.

The Legislature's Education Committee is meeting in Frankfort on July 2nd. They already commissioned an audit of KDE and ASME following the Performance Events failure. The latest development will undoubtedly spur a call to greatly increase the scope of the audit.

I hope to have more information after that meeting.

Here is the additional information:

The following largely speaks for itself.  Major changes from the more limited
audit originally ordered in March:

OEA now takes exclusive control of audit management.  
KDE and the Finance Cabinet are deleted as co-managers.  
This is a significant indication of the level of legislative concern about
KDE capability and management of the KIRIS contract.

The Finance Cabinet is basically requested to shut down funding
for more rewards pending audit completion.  This will preclude KDE
going ahead on their own with more outlays.


A RESOLUTION to reaffirm Managerial and Fiscal Audit of Advanced 
Systems Contract and Kentucky Department of Education

      WHEREAS, The Kentucky Department of Education has 
contracted with Advanced Systems in Measurement & Evaluation to 
deliver a "primarily performance-based" assessment program for 
school accountability purposes, and

      WHEREAS, the contract has now been in existance for a 
period of six years, and

      WHEREAS, significant decisions about schools and students 
are being made as a result of classifications rendered by 
students performance on the Kentucky Instructional Results 
Information System (KIRIS), and

      WHEREAS, significant evidence of major problems have 
arisen in regard to the consistency of the measures and the 
accuracy of these results, and

      WHEREAS, the Interim Joint Committee on Education in March 
1997 requested that the Legislative Research Commission obtain 
an audit to determine the extent to which the aforementioned 
contract was complied with, and

      WHEREAS, a Request for Proposal for the audit was drafted 
by representatives of the Department of Education, the Finance 
and Administration Cabinet and the Office of Educational 
Accountability which provides for a complete and appropriate 
audit of the KIRIS contract, and

      WHEREAS, more recent events have raised questions 
regarding whether a merchantable test was produced by the 
vendor, and whether certain services regarding the testing 
contract were provided by the vendor as required by the 
contract, and


Be it resolved by the Interim Joint Committee on Education of 
the Legislative Research Commission of the Commonwealth of 

      Section 1.  That the Interim Joint Committee on Education 
does hereby reaffirm the order for the Legislative Research 
Commission to conduct such a management and fiscal audit to 
cover all components of KIRIS.

      Section 2.  That the Interim Joint Committee on Education 
does hereby recommend to the Finance and Administration Cabinet 
of the Executive Branch of the Commonwealth of Kentucky that all 
funds in regard to the expenses incurred by this contract, 
including the Rewards Trust Fund, be held in abeyance until such 
audit is completed and determinations are made as to the 
appropriate fiscal consequences to be borne by the Commonwealth 
of Kentucky.

      Section 3.  That the Interim Joint Committee on Education 
does hereby recommend to the Legislative Research Commission 
that the Office of Educational Accountability retain exclusive 
management responsibility of the Audit from its inception to its 

      Section 4.  That the Interim Joint Committee on Education 
does hereby recommend to the Legislative Research Commission 
that the RFP be issued by LRC/OEA immediately so as to have it 
completed in time for the 1998 General Assembly to act upon any 
recommendations produced by the Audit, or by OEA in response 

Adopted by the Interim Joint Committee on Education this 2nd day 
of July, 1997.

The following message does not have a name attached, but I assume from the AOL screen name in the email address and from the context of the message that the sender is a teacher in the Clinton County Kentucky school system.

I recently visited your website that I had heard so much about. I found it very enlightening. I wanted to pass along some new information for you to use on your website. Our technology program has far surpassed the standards that you speak of on your site. We have a large supply of CD-ROM programs, every student has access to E-mail, and within a few short weeks we will be linked to the internet. I feel that our students are getting the skills that they need to become computer literate. We have students who graduated last year that are in college using computers to do their work - some are actually having to access a university's web page and send their homework to a professor. I believe that says something positive about our school and our technology.

Sender: sguffey152@aol.com

I read your observations on Clinton County Schools. You blasted the school, teachers and administrators, then you tell about your children's accomplishments in THAT school system? Maybe I missed something there.It sounds like you didn't do to bad in that system either. Look up. That is where your blessings come from.

Yes, I agree our schools in KY need fixing--especially now that we have KERA, but it is not a one man job. It is a job for the masses in Kentucky. And--do not underestimate the intelligence of the parents. They may not have as much education as you, but they are not stupid either. We have a lot of good, concerned parents in this state who may not be able to understand all the jargon going on right now in our schools, but neither does the system want the parents to understand. If they did, KERA would fall flat on it's fat little a__.

Sender: mtaylor@blue.net

Sir or madam:

I thank you very much for your comments. I have always hoped that someone would begin a dialogue about these subjects but, of over 1000 people who have read at least some of these essays, including the state school board, you are the first to send any response whatsoever. (Over 2000 people worldwide have down loaded my rules for canasta and only two have ever commented to me.)

Assuming that the purpose of your message is not just to criticize me for questioning the school system, I will try to respond and to use your comments as a base for my own self analysis of my opinions. I would be interested in knowing if you are a parent, if you have children in school, if you are an employee of a school system, or if you are a teacher.

You say I blasted the school, teachers, and administrators. I am critical of their motivations and performance but more so of the overall structure. I hope that readers of these essays do not believe, however, that blasting these fine people is my goal. My goal is improvement of the system. I apologize if any other impression is created here.

You say "That is where your blessings come from." I agree that everyone should be thankful for the education they have received. I do not agree, however, if you imply that one should not try to improve the system. As for myself and my children doing well as a result of this school system; I, of course, did learn many things in the school system as did my children. My children, and some valedictorians from the high school that I have interviewed found as they went on to higher education that many of the students in their classes had a much better educational background than did they. I did not find this was true, but that was thirty years ago, and, I feel, that during that time there has been a growing disparity in the quality of various school systems.

I feel that parents and taxpayers deserve the best school system possible and should not just take the attitude, "Be thankful for what you have."

I, of course, agree that fixing the school system is not a one man job but is a job for the masses. I certainly do not think that parents are stupid, at least, not most of them. I guess the intelligence and the level of concern of the parents, in general, will be reflected in the long run by the quality of the school systems that they, as voters and citizens, produce.

Like you, I think that the schools make too little effort to help the parents to understand what is going on. However, I am not sure how you can link this to KERA. Obviously, you seem to disapprove of KERA in general. Since it had not been implemented during the time I was observing the school system closely I did not get a chance to form such a definite opinion of KERA.

I feel that it is not valid to criticize KERA in such general terms unless you take the position that the school system in Kentucky was fine before KERA and did not need improvement. As you know, KERA consists of a great number of changes in the state education system and I think that each of these facets of the Act should be discussed on its own merit rather than painting with such a broad brush.

KERA was implemented due to a court order for parity in funding for all school systems in the state. Essentially the Kentucky Courts said that the state legislature had an obligation to see that every school child in Kentucky had access to an equal level of education and that any system which made more money available for school systems in more affluent communities was illegal.

The legislature could have responded, of course, simply by changing the formulas for funding school systems without making any other changes. Instead a number of thinking individuals both in and out of state government saw this as an opportunity to make some badly needed improvements in the school system. What they did was courageous, far sighted, very difficult and controversial. Essentially they tried to leap frog the Kentucky educational system which was one of the worst in the nation ahead of most other states by making more sweeping reforms than were possible in any other state and thus to become a national leader in education.

Being familiar with politics in Kentucky, I am forever amazed and impressed at what they were able to accomplish. With the support of the governor and the leadership of some very able legislators they implemented almost all the recommendations of the Prichard Committee which had been studying the educational system.

Now, whether the changes they made will accomplish the desired results remains to be seen. But I, for one, am grateful to them for trying.

I will make a few comments on some specific parts of KERA.

School based decision making.
I guess the general idea was to remove politics from the school system to as large an extent as possible. Since it was politically not feasible to eliminate the school boards (the source of political influence on schools) the legislature just tried to bypass them by making a Site Based Council the governing body for each school. The idea was that a school could best be run by a group composed of teachers from that school and parents who had children in that school. Seems like a good idea. The biggest problem so far has been that the law is kind of vague about what powers are given to the Site Based Councils and what powers are still retained by the school boards. This leads to a lot of conflict and problems. The State also agreed to quit micromanaging school systems with a lot of state regulations and pretty much leave all the major issues of running the schools up to the local Site Based Council. Again, a good idea, I think.

An example of what is actually happening involves my sister who moved back to Kentucky from Texas last year after being a school counselor in a middle school with 800 students for four years. Due to her educational background and her experience and her lifetime teaching certificate in Texas, the state of Tennessee gave her a certificate to counsel in Tennessee schools good for five years. The state of Kentucky, however, required that she take 12 additional hours of college credit and then only gave her a provisional certificate. After she had worked to get that certificate she applied for a counseling position in six or eight school systems in South Central Kentucky. When she had heard nothing from any of them after a few months she began contacting the school systems to check the status of her applications. She found that several of the systems had lost her application or had no record of it. She reapplied and in one case was charged a fee before they would even take her application. They said the fee was to pay for a background check even though they had no openings to offer her at the time.

The people in the superintendent's office at the Clinton County School said that they would let her know if any positions became available. They did not but she found out by checking job opening from the Kentucky Department of Education on the Internet that a counseling position was open at the Clinton County Middle School. When she talked to people at the superintendent's office they told her that the position would be filled by the site based council at the school from all applications on file. She inquired to be sure that her application was still on file. She then informed the principal of the school and a parent member of the site based council that she had an application on file and asked that she be considered when the job was filled. After hearing nothing for two months, she called the principal again. He said that someone else had been given the job because the superintendent's office had only sent one application for the position to the school, so the site based council had no choice but to give that person the job.

Outcomes based education.
This is one of the more controversial provisions of KERA. I'm not sure why it should be. Essentially it says that the goal of education is to enable students to live in and solve problems in the real world rather than to require that they know certain facts. Rather than emphasizing that a student know the trigonometric formulas, it requires that he be able to solve problems such as calculating the height of a flagpole without actually climbing the pole and measuring it. Or that the student not only know who wrote the Gettysburg Address but in what context, why it was significant, and it's value as good writing style and literature. The emphasis is now on individual creativity, writing, and thinking rather than rote memorization and parroting back.
School evaluations and testing.
Of course the logical thing would have been to evaluate and test individual teachers. But since the Kentucky Education Association has always been opposed to the idea that teachers be supervised or evaluated, I guess this was the best they could come up with. It's kind of an awkward idea, that you test certain grades every year and then reward or sanction the schools based on how those students improve or regress on the test scores. Part of the problem is that you are comparing this year's class to last year's class. They are not the same students. Part of the problem is that the students have no motivation to do well since the test results affect, not them, but the school. This has lead to schools setting up systems of rewards for those students who do well. Another problem, of course, is in the validity of the test to determine success of the school. Although this system has a lot of problems and is controversial, I do agree that there must be some form of accountability, and I don't have a better solution.
A boondoogle. It was based on people being enamoured by technology even though they themselves were not technologically literate, with people expecting magical results from technology, and with pressure from companies with an interest in selling to the school system to promote technology. The state has never been able to implement their plans effectively, probably because the goals and plans were kind of ridiculous to begin. This probably should never have been a part of KERA but should have been implemented separately by the state and by local school systems. It seems to be based on the idea that by a certain date the state could make a certain amount of money available and at that time and forever afterwards all the imagined benefits of technology would be available to Kentucky and all her children. It did not take into account the obsolence rate of technology, the fear or, at least lack of knowledge of technology by most people in most school systems, the limitations of technology and the fact that there is no magic in this world. I, of course, do believe that technology, if properly used and implemented, not only has a place in school systems, but is essential. However, KERA, in spite of a few success stories, has not a clue as to how to do this.
Ungraded primaries.
The idea here is that children, at least the younger ones, should be allowed to progress at their own rate, will benefit from interaction with children of other ages and various abilities, should not be put into a competitive situation of rewards and punishments and should not be advanced to fourth grade until they have reached a certain level of intellectual development regardless of age. This idea is controversial but as best I can tell it seems to be based on a fairly large body of educational research and is probably valid. I have no idea how it is working in implementation, whether schools are implementing the idea properly, whether it is producing the desired results, how the parents and teachers like it or whatever.

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Last revised May 21, 2001.

Please send comments to: Duane Bristow (oldky@webcom.com)