Kentucky’s Commonwealth Education Continuum holds inaugural meeting, sets work plan

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Commonwealth Education Continuum Virtual Meeting: January 27, 2021The Commonwealth Education Continuum (CEC), Kentucky’s new effort to guide people through educational transition points from early childhood into a career, met for the first time on Jan. 27.

The 24-member task force, which has members from all levels of the education community, was announced by Gov. Andy Beshear in December. It seeks to reduce the number of students who fail to transition from one level of education to the next, and is co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) President Aaron Thompson and Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass.

“We know there are areas along this continuum where we’re more likely to lose children and adult learners,” Gov. Beshear said in the meeting. He went over his administration’s educational priorities and accomplishments, but said disparities in achievement among racial and economic groups must be addressed.

While some things will return to normal post-COVID-19, many other changes will and should remain, Gov. Beshear said, and Kentucky and its educational system must prepare for that.

Improvements in quality and equity are essential, Thompson said, and the state must build a more diverse workforce in its schools, including teachers.

Amada Ellis and David Mahan, CPE associate vice presidents, presented data on educational and financial outcomes for Kentucky high school graduates after seven years, the declining rate of college attendance, higher education costs, Kentucky students’ completion rates of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the extent to which taking dual-credit classes in high school improves college admission and performance, and the number of students who graduate as teachers.

About half of Kentucky high school graduates go on to some form of postsecondary program, but the national average is 69% and underserved groups are well below the rate for other Kentuckians, Mahan said.

The cost of Kentucky colleges is below the national average, but only 38% of high school seniors complete the FAFSA, Ellis said. The Kentucky completion rate has declined 20% from the previous year, but filling out the FAFSA is a major predictor of college attendance, she said.

Taking dual-credit classes greatly improves outcomes in postsecondary education, and especially helps students who are otherwise least likely to attend college, Mahan said.

“We should continue to do more, because the outcomes are indisputable,” he said.

Openings for teaching jobs continue to outpace the number of new teachers, and Kentucky teachers remain less diverse than their students. Increasing teacher diversity is a focus for several state initiatives, Ellis said.

Continuum members broke into small groups to discuss potential improvements to all those issues. They reported ideas on improving working conditions and pay to retain teachers, promoting FAFSA completion, addressing needs of rural students, and tracking the progress and experiences of students who face known challenges.

Glass said the CEC’s work is an opportunity to make sure Kentucky policymakers focus on solving the right problems.

But identifying problems isn’t enough, Thompson said. The group also must find “the right solutions,” in part by seeking perspectives from an even broader base of participants.

The CEC will meet again at 2 p.m. ET on March 25.

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