FRANKFORT – A bill that would overhaul education and accountability standards in public schools passed the state Senate by a 25-12 vote on Wednesday.
The measure, given the designation of Senate Bill 1, outlines a process to review, and possibly change, what students are taught – and how they’re tested – in key subjects such as English, mathematics, science and social studies. Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, who introduced the legislation, said the goal is to align what is taught with what is tested.
“What we have before us is a bill that I sometimes call, ‘Let the teachers teach bill,’” he said. “I couldn’t agree with that more today than I did the first day … I heard it.”
He questioned the results of Kentucky’s current education and accountability standards. He said an Office of Education Accountability study found the percentage of Kentucky graduates entering post-secondary education hadn’t perceptibly increased in the last six years.
“Over the last six years the state has used three different formulas to determine graduation rates,” Wilson said. “Each one yielding a higher measure making it difficult to genuinely determine growth. It’s like if we wanted the Kentucky basketball team to score a little higher we just move the three-point arc in a little bit more.”
Senate President Pro Tem David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, also spoke in support of SB 1. He said the bill would replace a school’s self-evaluations called Program Review with a requirement for the principal, school-based council and superintendent to sign a letter of assurance about arts and humanities, practical living, writing and social studies.
“Through this self-assessment process we call Program Review, we’ve caused districts and schools to chase points,” Givens said of the current system.
Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, explained why he voted against SB 1.
“I like many of you are held accountable by the people back at home that elect to send us here,” he said. “… The folks at home are not supported of this particular piece of legislation.”
He said the emails, phone calls and messages left at the legislative hotline from his constituents are disproportionately against SB 1.
Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he voted against SB 1 because it would create an academic standards committee consisting of three gubernatorial appointees, six legislators and the commissioner of education.
“What this bill does is politicize our public education,” he said. “It threatens our students’ ability to have the free expression of ideas. In other words … it will probably lead to politicians controlling the content of what our students learn. That is very dangerous and a real threat to democracy.”
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said she voted against SB 1, in part, because it would allow high school students to use credits from foreign language, voc-tech or computer classes to satisfy course requirements in the arts and humanities.
“Arts and humanities requirements being substituted for some of the things in this bill causes me a great deal of indigestion,” Webb said. “… The arts are the lifeblood of many students. The arts are what keeps many students in school. I don’t remember much about calculus but I do remember what I learned in band and my appreciation for music.”
Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, who was the last Senator to cast a vote because the roll call was taken in alphabetical order, explained why he supported SB 1.
“One thing I think that we have missed today also on the Senate floor is the students,” said Wise, a professor at Campbellsville University. “I think a lot of times we have gotten into discussions today talking about the politics. And we have talked about the teachers.
“ … I listen to the students when they come to my classroom.”
He said the over-burdensome amount of paperwork teachers have to fill out and “teaching to a test” are what his students recognized as problems they experienced in school.
“We are failing our students in so many aspects,” Wise said. “ … I think we really need to reevaluate some of the discussions today and think about how this bill is going to let the students learn and allow the teachers to teach.”
The bill will now go to the state House of Representatives for consideration.