Saturday, February 28, 2015

KERA's Curse – School-based Councils

In the largest pork-barrel legislation in the state's history at the time, the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) of 1991 was the worst assault imaginable on two generations vis-a-vis their primary and secondary education possibilities, although the gradual disintegration of nearly all the act has lessened the effect in more recent years. The legislature is now in the process, at least hopefully, of dissolving the worst aspect of KERA, the school-based council consisting of the principle, two parents and three teachers. These councils rendered the elected school-boards virtually powerless.

These councils have had a stranglehold on the process, completely controlling curriculum, textbooks, and personnel, even to the hiring of their own principles. The state Supreme Court made it plain years ago that superintendents cannot overrule these councils in something as important as the hiring of a principle, ergo, just about everything else as well. The process has meant that grade-school students enter middle schools without any collective background and that middle-schoolers enter high schools the same way. The predictable result was the downward spiral of achievement across the board. Standardization has its place.

Additional KERA requirements: (1) Grades 1-3 combined; (2) Some reasonable method of testing; (3) Monetary awards to teachers, administrators and schools for simply doing their jobs; (4) Youth Service Centers; (5) Family Resource Centers; (6) Regional Service Centers. Busing (social engineering) had been such a colossal failure by 1991 that it played no part, thankfully, in KERA.

So, what happened? (1) Teachers simply ignored this foolishness and it was legislated out eventually. Strangely, part of KERA required that no more than two grades be mixed in grades 4-6, when by that time the 1-3 lunacy would have condemned the 4-6 gang even worse. (2) The worst messes imaginable accrued to testing, with tens of thousands paid to various private groups that were probably less able to perform than the locals. Some tests were even lost in the mail, not that it mattered a whit. One could read or listen to the media accounts and just laugh at the ineptness and waste.

Number (3) comprised a fiasco of enormous proportions. Predictably, some schools and staff were never to be eligible just because of the demographics so teachers and administrators did the necessary—they cheated on scores or whatever else and took the money. A $34 million trust fund was set up to assure the rewards. Students were bribed, even excused from school for doing their very best on tests which they were told meant nothing to their grades. They were even taken to amusements parks. The students didn't care about doing well on the tests since there was no grade-reward. This was stopped not long after it was begun but it reflected the mindset of the legislator—throw money at every problem.

There may have been some sense to (4) if it included actual tutoring. The major effect of (5) was probably that it provided baby-sitting (pre- and post-school-hours) for parents, although there may have been some social benefits. (6) The eight regional service centers were discontinued in July 2003, with the reason given that there was not enough money to support them. That reason was laughable since they were supposed to save the worst schools, obviously no matter the cost.

The system was called “outcomes-based education” and the major emphasis, unbelievably, was on enhancing self-esteem. More unbelievably, there was even serious consideration given to there being no winners/losers in sports, lest someone be offended. Because so many teachers retired when it was passed, KERA was dubbed the Kentucky Education Retirement Act or something like that. Harlan Representative Roger Noe sort of shepherded the bill through the legislature, if memory serves, and, ironically, was not returned to the legislature in 1993 after having served since the late 70s.

In an in interview with Eric Moyen (University of Kentucky) in March 2004, Noe, a college professor then and now, seemed to have second thoughts about KERA, or at least some of it, and expressed doubt that the legislature should ever enact pedagogy. He said he thought more of the old traditional philosophy and mentioned John Dewey, claiming “those folks may have been what we needed to stay with.” He was right. The solons were in way over their heads...but the pork can guarantee a legislative career...except for Noe, apparently.

And so it goes
Jim Clark

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