It was my great pleasure to participate in the 2012 Kentucky Teacher of the Year announcement two weeks ago. 

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday

As I told those who gathered for the ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda, the handing out of the award is my favorite day of the year.

I am proud and grateful for the hard work these and many other educators around the state undertake on behalf of Kentucky’s children.

We ask a lot and expect a lot of our teachers in this state, especially these past few years as we overhaul and increase the rigor of our standards and embrace Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning Accountability System.

While some of those who were honored on Oct. 18 received monetary awards for their work, we know those types of occasions are rare in teachers’ careers. Their work is measured not by their pay checks, but by the impact they have on their students and this state.

It is work that is critical to our children and Kentucky, and it is not work we can expect them to do alone. That is why the Kentucky Department of Education is focused on partnering with teachers, and offering them support and resources through various initiatives, including the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Kentucky survey, the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS), District 180 and many more.

Another way we are supporting our teachers and the work they do is by becoming one of the first states in the nation to apply for a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver.

We have posted the waiver application on the KDE website. I encourage teachers and educators to review it and offer any comments or suggestions they may have. Your input and insight is crucial to this process.  

It is my hope that Kentucky will be among the first this winter to receive a waiver granting this flexibility.

NCLB had the right vision. It forced us to raise achievement and expectations for all children. However, as educators know best of all, its implementation often forced  teachers to teach to the test, reduced teaching time for subjects like social studies and science, and, in some states, resulted in lower standards. 

It also diminished the progress made by schools by labeling them for not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), even if a school fell short of that designation by just one goal; something 109 schools across Kentucky experienced during this past testing cycle.

Nationwide, it’s projected that in 2011, 82 percent of schools will not make the progress required by NCLB. In Kentucky, 87 percent of school districts and 57.4 percent of individual schools did not make AYP this year.

This all-or-nothing approach does not provide an accurate or reliable picture of what is happening in our schools.

I also believe NCLB has limited innovation and flexibility in preparing Kentucky’s students for college and careers. I see the waiver as supporting local and state education reform efforts that have been underway since the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1 in 2009.

I realize the waiver has raised concerns for some, who question whether giving states leeway on proficiency standards is good for children.

I believe it is a good decision; and I also do not believe it is an either-or proposition. The waiver will allow us to do more, especially when it comes to preparing Kentucky’s children to go to college or enter the workforce. At the same time, we can keep the promise of NCLB – focus on proficiency and closing achievement gaps.

States, including Kentucky, have shown their commitment to NCLB’s values over the past several years through their collaboration and development of Common Core State Standards and the principles for next-generation accountability models to replace NCLB. This work includes a strong focus on low-achieving schools and teacher/leader effectiveness.

Kentucky and other states also are developing accountability models that include these crucial indicators, along with the development of new assessments and adoption of college- and career-ready measures.

It’s been nearly ten years since NCLB became law, and from the data collected, we’ve learned much about what our students need to succeed at each grade level. With this new flexibility opportunity, we can now move forward to put a new educational system in place nationwide – one that is aligned to college and career readiness for all students as the ultimate outcome.

 It also will provide us with a system that gives teachers the credit they deserve for the hard work they do.