It is comforting that Gov. Andy Beshear cleaned house and replaced the Kentucky Board of Education with people who truly care about our public schools and our children.
But at the same time, we need to reimagine what we want from our K-12 educational system. For too long we have blindly accepted the precepts of the failed No Child Left Behind philosophy that insists that high standardized test scores are the goal of our schools.
But that’s wrong. We should replace NCLB thinking with one that values a great future for our youngsters, and high standardized test scores cannot accomplish that. What can work is the concept of developing the whole child — a child who can read and compute but who can also enjoy the thrill that can come from reading, introduction to great literature, the beauty of art and music and an understanding of civics. This well-rounded education can enable critical thinking and the ability to adapt to changing times.
This will require a change in the way teachers and principals are judged. Instead of evaluating them on standardized test scores, we need to de-emphasize scores and look to each teacher to perform a daily evaluation of children, applying new emphasis where needed and working to excite them in areas where they find interest. Teachers can test students to find weaknesses and take corrective action as opposed to the present system that uses standardized tests to punish. Each teacher can evaluate each child much better than an annual test.
We need to make a greater effort to involve all parents in the education of their children. We know that educational success is often coupled with parental interest. Although many schools try to involve parents, perhaps we need to find new incentives to obtain more parental engagement.
To focus on lifetime success, many students need extra support in human development factors that are highly correlated. We need to include stick-to-it-ness, integrity, grit, commitment and even honesty and civility. Kids need self-esteem to believe in themselves and to believe that they can do almost anything they want if only they are willing to work hard enough.
There are so many needy youngsters that we need to create entire model schools that cater to developing these characteristics alongside academics. These schools would be limited to students whose parents opt for enrollment. Each school would be concerned with the non-academic factors that make for success along with a liberal dose of reading, math, science, music, art, civics and literature.
Our new Board of Education and a visionary commissioner need to think big. They should throw off the chains of the past. For almost 20 years, schools have tried standardized testing to create a world where all children score proficient. And for all that time, it has not worked. In 20 years of trying, no state has achieved the goals of NCLB. There is an old saying about trying the same thing over and over.
But where is it written that a kid with a low test score in math or reading cannot be headed for success in life? Try to find really successful people who can still solve two simultaneous equations or compute a hypotenuse. On the other hand, those same successful people normally got there through determination and hard work.
Our new board needs to boldly look at the future and create a world in which each child has a better opportunity to achieve the American dream.
Marty Solomon is a retired University of Kentucky professor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.