By Bill Robinson
FRANKFORT – Once again those looking for controversy about new science standards for Kentucky school children were disappointed when the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee (EAARS) didn’t take them up Tuesday.
But Kentucky Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday offered critics of Kentucky’s education progress and the new science standards on natural selection and climate change an earful.
Several conservative groups and some Republican and coal-field lawmakers have raised questions about both new standards. EAARS Co-Chair Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, who is chairman of the Senate Education Committee, raised concerns about the science standards in a letter to The Courier-Journal earlier.
But when Tuesday’s meeting began, his co-chair, Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, announced the standards recently adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education must still go through a public hearing process before coming before lawmakers, “so we’re not going to be discussing those today.”
She announced the public comment period will be from July 1 through July 31 and there will be a public comment hearing on July 23 at 10 a.m. EDT in the board room of the Kentucky Board of Education.
But Holliday minced no words about critics of Kentucky’s education reform progress when he addressed the subcommittee on implementation of Senate Bill 1. That Republican Senate sponsored measure requires learning standards, curriculum and assessment testing which will allow comparisons of Kentucky student achievement with students from across the country and the world.
“There are some in Kentucky who want to question our results and derail our progress,” Holliday said. “They offer a view that is dominated by misinformation, scare tactics and attempts to undermine public education.”
Holliday noted that Kentucky has steadily and sometimes dramatically risen in national education rankings, despite claims by some public education critics and those supporting charter schools.
As evidence, he told the subcommittee Kentucky has moved from 34th to the top 10 in the country in improvement rankings on the National Assessment of Education Progress or NAEP.
After the meeting, Holliday declined an invitation to identify by name some of those critics but he didn’t back away either.
“I think just read some of the editorials and read some of the bloggers,” Holliday said. “What you find is a campaign of misinformation. You find a campaign focused on conspiracy theories, like there’s some undercurrent of some bunch of educators trying to conspire together to control the minds of children.
“Well, I hope we develop the minds of children to be able to read through junk like that and to tell it for what it is,” Holliday continued. “It’s just a bunch of political leaning in one direction, trying to undermine public education and support vouchers and other non-public school initiatives.”
And the criticisms of the new science standards?
“Yeah, that’s even worse,” Holliday said.
The intent of Senate Bill 1 is to ensure Kentucky’s high school graduates are college and career ready prepared.
But Holliday said he knows of no college or postsecondary education institution which doesn’t teach what the new science standards call on Kentucky schools to teach.
“Not a one,” Holliday. “If you talk to any professor at any public institution in Kentucky, they will tell you they’d love to have more.”
Holliday had a front-line public school teacher backing him up.
Sherry Sims teaches at North Washington School. She said the changes in learning standards required by SB 1 were at first intimidating to her and her fellow teachers. But, as they’ve learned how to use them and seen the enthusiasm and progress of their students, they are entirely on board.
“This is one of the best changes I’ve ever seen,” Sims told the subcommittee. “All the pieces are there for the first time.”
Sims was talking about already implemented standards for English, language arts and math. The science standards are next to be implemented in the schools.
Holliday told Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, he is confident the science standards will enable Kentucky educators and parents to measure their students’ and children’s progress against students from around the world.
“I give you a resounding yes,” Holliday responded.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/