• More than 1,200 people responded during a public comment period on the social studies standards, providing more than 5,000 comments.
  • John Schickel said he plans to introduce legislation limiting the power of school-based decision-making councils.

By Mike Marsee

Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) officials assured lawmakers that feedback from a wide variety of sources is being considered as part of the process of revising Kentucky’s Academic Standards for Social Studies.

KDE Chief Academic Officer and Deputy Commissioner Amanda Ellis briefed lawmakers on the progress of those revisions Nov. 19 at a meeting of the Kentucky General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Education in Frankfort. The standards are expected to be presented to the Kentucky Board of Education for a first reading at its Dec. 5 meeting.

“We are still improving it, but are at a point where we are able to share a draft with our board,” Ellis said. “It’s a new process, but it’s gone very well.”

This is the latest content area for which standards are being revised under requirements set up in SB 1 (2017). That legislation called for the review of one-to-two content areas per year and for every content area to be reviewed every six years thereafter on a rotating basis. The rotation schedule began in the summer of 2017 by soliciting feedback on English language arts, mathematics and health/physical education standards.

More than 1,200 people responded during a public comment period on the social studies standards last winter, providing more than 5,000 comments. Krista Hall, the director of KDE’s Division of Program Standards, said responses came from 76 percent of Kentucky’s 120 counties, and 78 percent of the respondents were classroom teachers.

Additional feedback was provided from several focus groups comprised of educators, high school students and state and national social studies organizations.

“There was a great deal of intentional focus on involving the social studies community,” Ellis said.

Only eight of the 443 proposed standards received less than a 70 percent favorable rating in public comment, and all were in grades K-5. As a result, a group of elementary school educators will reconvene to address ways to make the standards clearer for teachers at that level.

SBDM Council Discussion
The Interim Joint Committee on Education also discussed school-based decision-making (SBDM) councils, hearing testimony from a group led by Sen. John Schickel (R-Union). Schickel has introduced legislation regularly since 2015 that would limit the councils’ power and said he plans to do so again for the 2019 legislative session.

“I’m hopeful that maybe this year we can make a little progress on this issue,” Schickel said.

School-based decision making councils were approved with the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990. Councils at each school consist of two parents, three teachers and the principal, and they are charged with approving the hiring of teachers and principals and setting school policy.

Davonna Page, a member of the Russellville Independent schools’ board of education, asked the legislature to allow superintendents to hire principals following consultation with SBDM councils.

However, Rep. Charles Miller (D-Louisville), who worked as a high school principal for 25 years, said school councils, not superintendents, should have the power to hire school personnel.

“When we didn’t have the council, we had the good ol’ boy effect,” Miller said. “Where school-based councils are very important is in staffing your school. These councils are so important to the schools.”

Three parents who are serving or have served on SBDM councils, one of whom is also a teachers, spoke in support of the councils, saying the voice they give to parents and teachers is vital.

“We need to remember why we ended up with school-based decision making to begin with,” said Lucy Waterbury, a parent representative on a Fayette County school council who also works with the advocacy group Save Our Schools Kentucky. “Superintendents wielded an awful lot of power. School-based decision making came about because we needed parents’ voices, we needed teachers’ voices in determining who the leadership of a school will be.”