Kentucky voices help shape state’s vision for the future of education

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Picture of a man wearing a suit, standing at a podium and talking.
Using input from thousands of Kentuckians, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) unveiled a vision for the state’s public education system at the 2021 Kentucky Education Summit in Louisville on Nov. 2. The report, which is available on the KDE website, will be used to shape the agency’s priorities in years to come.
Photo by Marvin Young, Nov.. 2, 2021

Using input from thousands of Kentuckians, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) unveiled a vision for the state’s public education system at the 2021 Kentucky Education Summit in Louisville on Nov. 2.

From the moment Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass began his tenure at the helm of KDE, he committed the department to listening and learning. Glass conducted a series of virtual listening tours across the Commonwealth and used the “Keep, Stop, Start” survey and empathy interviews to gather ideas and thoughts from school officials, educators and other partners to help guide strategy on what the future of education should look like in Kentucky.

After the tours, survey and interviews were done, the Kentucky Coalition for Advancing Education (KCAE) was formed to use the data to develop a report detailing the current state of education and create a vision for public education in the Commonwealth.

The coalition used an inclusive model – a third of members were appointed directly by KDE, a third through an open application and a third through a random selection of citizens across Kentucky.

“This approach generated a representative selection of key stakeholders,” Glass explained. “The coalition’s membership is more racially diverse than Kentucky as a whole, and represents students, families, teachers and school, district and community leaders. The results of their effort and dedication will guide our work at the Kentucky Department of Education for years to come.”

After months of listening to the various stakeholder groups, the KCAE developed the “United We Learn: Hearing Kentucky’s Voices on the Future of Education” report, which features themes from the survey and the listening tour, as well as the collective imagination about where education can and should go in the future.

The themes highlighted in the report include::

Student Feedback
Students said they need support that focuses on their holistic well-being because of the anxiety and pressure associated with being a young person. They called on schools to implement programs and work collaboratively alongside students to design school communities that support the social-emotional well-being of students along with their academic well-being.

Kentucky’s students also said they are not statistics and should never be viewed as such. An ideal future education system would allow students to demonstrate their learning in ways that capitalize on each one’s individual strengths. This includes approaches that cultivate diverse identities, cultures, languages and abilities. Additionally, students say they need to be active decision-makers in their education.

Family Feedback
Families who participated said they need to be known and understood, not just so they can be called upon to improve their children’s performance. They want schools to make it easy for them to encourage their student’s growth and development by providing meaningful feedback and engaging in dialogue with them in ways that honor their full identities, languages and experiences.

Families expect to be partners in their children’s education because neither they nor schools can do everything alone. They want to see schools provide ongoing, proactive, compassionate and responsive opportunities for partnership and create systems for families to engage with educators and support staff as human beings, promoting authentic conversation and encouraging empathy and respect for one another.

Teacher Feedback
Teachers said they need the resources, tools and support to communicate with students and families effectively because they want to build those relationships and they understand the need for them to be more informed. They also would like the collaborative learning experiences that traditionally have been only for teachers – such as professional learning communities – to also include school staff, families and students.

Teachers also said they need personalized professional support and an improved approach to mentorships because they feel pressured by competition and have unique strengths and areas for growth.

School Leader Feedback
School leaders said they envision the Commonwealth’s future state of education as one that allows families, students, educators, staff and community members to feel like they are an integral and valued part of the school community. They would like to see individual relationships cultivated between educators, school staff, students and families.

They believe Kentucky’s future education system should provide school leaders with descriptive data to ensure no student is left behind. This would shift the focus from a single state assessment to ongoing evidence of student learning and needs.

District Leader Feedback
District leaders said the state’s current education system is built on competition, rather than focusing on communication, connection and collaboration. Going forward, they want schools within districts to be collaborators, not competitors.

They feel schools should come together to learn from one another about different learning experiences. Community members, parents, students and educators should be encouraged and feel empowered to show interest in the success of all schools and students, not just one particular school or student.

Community Feedback
Echoing the need for collaboration, community members said they want to see schools partner with communities to ensure they are places that help all students become ready to contribute in a meaningful way, and in a way that suits the student and leads to their independence within the local community.

In a future system, community members said they also would like schools to be a hub for partnership and a vehicle for building public trust. They see schools facilitating partnerships among families, employers, higher education and community leaders.

“To bring this bold vision for Kentucky’s schools to life, we will need a united effort that engages every community and school in the Commonwealth,” Glass said. “We cannot wait for some political action to begin. Although lawmakers and policymakers may significantly help this effort, the changes we need will happen in communities and in classrooms and should begin today.

“We do not need permission to begin improving learning experiences for Kentucky’s children. I’m excited to enter this new future of education – one that is built by Kentuckians, for Kentuckians.”

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