Education Commissioner says repeal of academic standards will cause hurt in classrooms, talks charter schools

New Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said he does not believe a repeal of the academic standards is the right move for Kentucky but said there will “definitely” be more changes to the current standards.

In a sit-down interview with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Pruitt noted the Kentucky Department of Education’s work in the last year to find out where people feel the issues within the standards are and what can be done to fix them. He explained that the department will continue to look at those before revisions are made. Pruitt said he believes Kentucky should be able to feel like they own these standards and that they are local, especially after revisions are made (discussion starting at 4:30 in the interview below).

As for a complete repeal of the standards, which was debated in the recent gubernatorial election, Pruitt said he feels throwing the standards out would be harmful to teachers and students in the classroom.

“A repeal would be hard because now teachers are asking ‘what do I teach? What are my goals?’ And the process itself, if it’s done well, and my commitment would be that anything we do would be collaborative and something we would want lots of teacher buy in, lots of teacher comment, lots of educator comment, lots of what I call shareholder comment,” Pruitt said, adding he believes a revision process would take at least a year (starting at 7:30). “To repeal them without actually giving teachers something to fall back on, I think, is a real problem.”

Pruitt continued by saying a repeal of the standards would come with a big price tag, a concern former Education Commissioner Terry Holliday expressed and stated would cost the state around $35 million.

“If we really do believe we are under local control, which I do, it means teachers have to be able to develop their curriculum. Well, who is going to pay for that? So there has got to be an infusion of funds at the local district level, at a statewide network level to start to what’s called ‘unpack the standards’ so they understand what’s in the standards so they can start to build curriculum around it. Well, then there’s the professional development on the standards and the new curriculum, then there’s actually having to develop new assessments that match the standards,” Pruitt said. “You know, we need every kid to have an opportunity to learn and it is not fair to test kids on something they’ve not learned. So you have to build a new test, and that’s not chump change either.”

Overall, Pruitt said that it would not only be an expensive process to repeal the current standards but also a detrimental one for Kentucky’s educators.

“At the end of the day, for me, it’s about the uncertainty that the teachers would feel. At the end of the day, you’ve got these people who are working their rear ends off, that are trying to do what’s best for their kids and all of a sudden they feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath them. So for me, it’s about protecting our kids and our teachers by ensuring that they at least know what the target is and they have a very clear communication plan about that,” Pruitt said.

On another hotly contested education issue, Pruitt told the Kentucky Chamber he could be supportive of some form of charter school legislation, adding that he has worked closely with charter schools in a state he felt was producing strong schools when he worked in Georgia.

Pruitt said he believes the right way to do charter schools is to make them public schools that are under local board authorization with state board oversight.

“What I can’t stand for are schools that would result in legalized segregation. In other words, we have got to have some oversight to ensure that admissions and those things are in place. I also am very much for flexibility in exchange for accountability. So, if a school wants to be charter, well you can’t just smack the word charter on the marquee and say ‘oh, look, it’s different.’ Charters aren’t a panacea in and of themselves,” Pruitt said (at 1:00).

“From my experience, the ones that have worked well have had a very thoughtful and deliberate planning process, they’ve been very thoughtful about what regulations they would need relaxed to really fulfill that, and then there’s a conversation with the local board and the state board to say if we have these regulations relaxed, we can do these things, our achievement gap can decrease, our achievement in middle school math will increase. But I think in particular in our low performing schools, it is something I have seen work very well. But it’s not something that just happens, there’s a planning process and I think legislation on this would be welcome, it’s something we could support, as long as it’s done in a way that’s thoughtful and methodical,” Pruitt said.

Hear more of what Pruitt had to say on academic standards and charter school legislation in the interview below:

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