Kentucky’s High, Comparable Standards Give Teachers Flexibility

Education reform is front and center at the Kentucky General Assembly and there’s no shortage of views on how the state should move forward when it comes to high, comparable standards. Jim Hanna, a former high school teacher in Kentucky, authored a piece in the Lexington Herald Leader arguing that as part of those reforms, the state should ditch the Common Core State Standards and return “control of classrooms back to teachers.”

According to Hanna, teachers and students “get left out” with the implementation of high standards. He argues, “the result, so far, is a whole generation of children lost to testing regimes.” Critics of Common Core State Standards love to toss about the term “testing regimes,” which we have already debunked in the past. The Common Core is not a test. Common Core is a set of academic standards, and every state, including Kentucky, has academic standards that they use to guide their curriculum development.

As for the teachers that “get left out,” Hanna may want to learn what teachers really think about high standards. Many teachers value how high standards provide clear learning goals and full autonomy over their classrooms. They have more ability to tailor lessons to student needs and to be creative. And recent polling reaffirms that teachers and the public remain firmly committed to high, comparable academic standards.

Hanna also paradoxically cites rising graduation rates as evidence the high standards aren’t working. “If school is made tougher more students should fail,” Hanna says, claiming that high standards “have made it easier to pass students along.” But even most critics of high standards would disagree with this, as many suggest that the high standards set expectations too high for students. So how can they be too high, but too easy at the same time? We’re not sure. All we know is that Kentucky adopted high standards in 2010 and since then graduation rates in Kentucky have improved. We think this is a pretty great thing!

To further muddy the waters, Hanna cherry-picks English curriculum as evidence that high standards are only about teaching non-fiction materials. According to Hanna, “Common Core mandates that 70 percent of reading in English classes should be non-fiction, leaving only 30 percent for fiction, poetry and drama.”

We admit states are requiring that more non-fiction materials be used in the classroom.  But that 70 percent figure Mr. Hanna cites (which is set by local districts – not some imaginary “international benchmarking” authority) is spread across all subjects, like social studies and sciences. This ensures literature and historical texts remain a vibrant and vital component of English language arts education. Additionally – the state does not need to change the state standards in order to change what texts are read in school.

As the first state in the nation to implement high, comparable standards, Kentucky has already achieved impressive academic improvements. And they are not alone, many other states are also seeing the value in having high standards and high-quality assessments in place.

There’s no reason to go backwards when teachers, parents, and educators are seeing the benefit of having high standards in place. Mr. Hanna should reach out to more of his fellow teachers in Kentucky to find out how higher standards are really viewed.  He can start by clicking here, here, or here to see what just a few of them have been saying in the past couple weeks.