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The Plot Thickens

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So nobody celebrated.

So the legislature had gone home and the town seemed abandoned.

So somebody in the education department's office building had taken down the bright banners cheering school reforms that had been up for some other occasion days before.

On a miserable, rainy April day in the capital city of Frankfort, the Kentucky Education Reform Act turned four years old and nobody cared. When every day for months is a matter of life or death, a breather is a breather.

Sure, the sweeping school-reform law had survived another grueling legislative session. But the real fight--selling it to everyday people across the state--is far from over. This is no time for party hats.

Hard hats is more like it. Combat gear.

Months ago, as the new year arrived and Kentucky lawmakers prepared for their biennial trip to convene the General Assembly, observers, supporters, and administrators acknowledge they were fearful about the fate of their nationally watched reforms. "Scared to death,'' recollects an education department official.

Organized opposition--mixed with the frustrations of local teachers, school administrators, and parents--seemed to be gaining momentum in the fall and winter and snowballing just as lawmakers arrived. News from town meetings across the state seemed bleak. The law's foes had managed to conjure images of the reforms sufficient to frighten anyone who didn't know better.

For an undertaking dreamed up by out-of-state consultants, administered by an ivory-tower bureaucrat from California, and measured by a little-known testing company in New Hampshire, hardly any explanation was necessary to convince frustrated Kentuckians that their hometown schools were bound for disaster.

But here in Frankfort this spring, the events of the past six months have made it clear that it is homegrown legislative leaders--not faraway idealists--who are pushing the Kentucky Education Reform Act forward. During the 60-day legislative session, they once again acted swiftly and decisively in its defense, supported in large measure by the core agencies and reform coalitions that have been behind them all along.

Even now, however, in the aftermath of this most recent struggle, what remains unresolved is public understanding and acceptance of the wide-ranging changes ordered in 1989 by the state supreme court.

The landmark law seems to be making good on its promise to change everything--from classroom teaching to governance to testing. But it's doing so faster than many educators are ready to adapt. Also lacking is a deeper commitment from such powerful education groups as the state teachers' union and the school boards' association, which to date have offered only spotty support.

So far, political power has bought the law four years. But only a wider embrace will bring fruition. What has until now been seen largely as Frankfort's law must become the standard operating procedure in districts like Corbin, Larue County, Beechwood, and Dawson Springs.

"We need to see the institutionalization of reform,'' says Thomas C. Boysen, the state education commissioner. "If this law has to rely on the strength of the legislative commitment alone, that's bound to wane. What has to grow up in its place is more support from professionals and citizens.''

Even after an anxious and exhausting legislative session, the difficult task of winning over a skeptical public remains largely undone.

It is at the grassroots that activists like Donna Shedd, a well-connected conservative, former teacher, and anti-KERA lobbyist, have gained their clout. From her house in suburban Louisville, she began last fall mailing her dissenting opinions on the school reforms to small newspapers across the state that, in turn, began publishing them.

At roughly the same time, other grassroots groups began taking a more active role in opposing the law. In western Kentucky, a band of opponents known as America Awaken started a petition drive calling on lawmakers to repeal the education act. In Owensboro, Families United for Morals in Education sprang to life. Perhaps the largest anti-KERA group, Parents and Professionals Involved in Education, based in Louisville, also stepped up its outreach efforts.

What shortly became a confederation known as the Kentucky Alliance for Education soon included top home-school advocates and the state Eagle Forum--a national grassroots group founded by the conservative Phyllis Schlafly--of which Shedd is the vice president.

Using tactics and arguments imported from Pennsylvania, opponents branded the law outcomes-based education and peppered their criticism with cultural paranoia--like children learning to embrace any lifestyle and support extreme environmentalism. As in other states, the opponents found many interested audiences and converts leery of the state's new education program.

"The majority of Kentucky knows very little about KERA,'' said one of the leaders of America Awaken after announcing its petition drive in mid-December.

The rising rhetoric fed on complaints of overload and misinformation from local teachers who, along with parents, were raising logistical concerns about programs like ungraded primary classrooms, writing portfolios, and the testing of high school seniors. By December, the groups that had launched letter-writing and phone campaigns had advocates of the reform law suddenly concerned about what might happen during the legislative session.

Beyond the petition drive, opposition leaders in December made plans to throw down their gauntlet: a rally on the steps of the Capitol to show their strength, get their message out, and perhaps light a fire under questioning lawmakers days after the legislature convened.

"Things are beginning to move in the state regarding KERA,'' P.P.I.E. leader Camille Wagner wrote in a letter with plans of the January rally. "There have been many, many town meetings and other gatherings all over the state. People are waking up, and a number of the legislators are beginning to respond. They surely sense the ground swell that is growing larger and larger.''

The rally would be the opponents' best chance to create a vivid impression in the capital and perhaps open up the law for discussion. They would arrive with complaints about intrusion and improper values at the heart of KERA--"social engineering'' dreamed up by David W. Hornbeck, a prominent national education consultant based in Baltimore, hired by Kentucky officials in 1990, and rigidly administered by Boysen, the California transplant.

Pull back the curtain on the mighty Oz and behind KERA you actually find Ed Ford, a sometimes-fiery veterinarian and former school board member from Cynthiana who is chairman of the state Senate's education committee. You find David Karem, a personable and hard-charging Louisville lawyer who is the Senate majority floor leader. You find Freed Curd, the quintessential good old boy, a vocational-education teacher from Murray who is chairman of the House education committee.

For all the sniping at Boysen, Hornbeck, and the rest, Kentucky would never have been on the school-reform bandwagon without the leadership of a short list of state lawmakers who interviewed more than 60 of the nation's top school-policy theorists, combined the programs they thought most promising, and rammed the new system through the legislature.

They created the law to their liking and have closely shepherded it in the two legislative sessions since. So it comes as little surprise that well before they had filled their tanks for the drive to Frankfort, Ford, Karem, and Curd recognized that they should begin bracing for trouble.

As the opponents began making waves, the lawmakers began discussing reform issues and called in Boysen. As their chief opponents were preparing to make their splash with a massive rally, the legislative leaders were settling on a strategy of their own.

They agreed that Boysen and his staff would adopt a list of changes specifically dealing with a few substantive problems to answer the concerns of teachers, parents, and administrators--without bending on the direction or goals of the program. Using the old divide-and-conquer strategy, the plan was meant to open a controlled dialogue with anyone interested in building on the reform law while isolating those groups uninterested in compromise.

Not long after the leadership swung into action, other state officials independently approached a handful of influential local school superintendents and delivered a similar message: They needed to band together in behalf of the reform program, take what changes they could get, and hold off on any further criticism until the session was over and the opposition was in decline.

A coalition of education organizations--including the teachers' union, the superintendents' association, the school boards, and the school councils--agreed to formally unite on behalf of the law. At the same time, a partnership of top business officials supporting the reforms stepped up its involvement, hiring a lobbyist and political consultants and setting up shop in Frankfort.

The difficulty and unpredictability of the task was quickly thrown into sharp relief. As if to add fuel to the opposition's fire, the Kentucky Education Association and The Courier-Journal newspaper in Louisville announced in December that they were abandoning sponsorship of the statewide spelling bee. A newspaper official explained that one of the chief reasons was that the emphasis on competition and rote memorization ran counter to the thrust of the school-reform law.

People went nuts.

The seeming choice between the all-American spelling bee and a complex and unfamiliar reform law marked the ultimate image problem.

"It is the worst kind of symbol to put out there to create public misunderstanding,'' lamented Bob Sexton, the executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a grassroots group founded in 1983 that has long campaigned for better schools and more recently pushed KERA.

As the curtain rose on the 1994 legislative session on Jan. 4, Act III of the Kentucky school-reform saga had the simplest of plots: As the maturing 3-year-old heroine was going about her business, her scheming opponents and defenders were positioning themselves for an all-out attack.

No one had to say, "Action.''

The protagonists took to the stage first. A week into the session, Boysen strode into the Senate education committee room, faced Ford, and ticked off a list of what he called "midcourse adjustments.'' Among the changes, the state would put off enforcing sanctions against schools with declining test scores until 1996 because the schools needed more time to respond and the state needed to refine its testing program.

Boysen also asked for full funding of gifted-and-talented programs to clear up any misconceptions about KERA's commitment to top students. The commissioner went on to propose doubling the terms for local school council members to two years and to recommend that the state rethink testing 12th graders just before graduation and using those scores to assess high schools. And after hearing concerns from around the state, he suggested kindergarten children should not be required to participate in the new ungraded primary classrooms.

The commissioner also tossed a line to his conservative critics, calling for the elimination of the state's goals to prepare schoolchildren to be self-sufficient and responsible group members because there was no way to measure them.

The resolute sign of flexibility was an instant hit.

"The adjustments satisfied every concern I've been hearing,'' Senator Ford told reporters after hearing from Boysen.

Two days later, as promised, the protesters showed up on the steps of the Capitol. On the cold Frankfort day, buses rolled up and discharged passengers bearing posters proclaiming "KERA Dumbs Down Education,'' "Reform the Reform,'' and "I'm Not Hornbeck's Human Capital.''

Labeling the reforms "fads and utopian philosophies,'' Brenda Risner, a Jefferson County teacher, said that even early implementation of the changes had made schools worse, not better. "Now, sadly, teachers have just become arms of the bureaucracy that strives to make itself look good,'' she said. The loudest cheers of the day rose when she suggested that Boysen return to California.

A parade of Republican lawmakers took to the platform. One of the event's organizers said the commissioner's recommended adjustments did not go nearly far enough. "We will not be placated with cosmetic name changes or date changes,'' said Nancy Oldham, a member of Parents and Professionals Involved in Education.

While the dissent was intense, KERA supporters knew before the first word was spoken that, unless reinforcements were on the way, they were in good shape. The crowd numbered between 300 and 500, far short of organizers' hopes of several times that number. While making a statement to lawmakers, the chorus hardly proved overwhelming.

The modest showing, combined with Boysen's earlier appearance, began to squelch any talk of a wholesale rethinking of school reforms. Yet, lawmakers buckled down ready to stomp out any damaging political brush fires (like another dropped spelling bee) and resistant to opening any part of KERA to major discussion. Opponents, meanwhile, continued to cultivate grassroots support and search for incidents to highlight their cause.

With the fire storm apparently behind them, both sides looked forward to what amounted to weeks of maddening tension punctuated by flare-ups prompted not by reform opponents but by a stream of issues that would highlight KERA's most glaring vulnerabilities.

No one was surprised that Rep. Greg Stumbo, the state House's Democratic floor leader and a member of the leadership team that drafted the reform law, found his way into the drama.

Perhaps the chamber's most powerful member, Stumbo called for Senate approval of the contract of any newly appointed education commissioner and any extensions of more than two years. In arguing for his bill to the House education committee in early February, he was not shy in his assessment of Boysen.

"If you look at KERA, and you look at where we are as opposed to where we thought we'd be, we're way behind,'' said Stumbo, an eastern Kentucky lawyer who has clashed with state officials over his intervention in controversies in Floyd County, his home. The law, Stumbo added, "is getting the blame for many of the administrative problems created by Dr. Boysen in his management of that department.''

Although Stumbo explained that his bill was not intended to threaten KERA, other legislators trying to shield the reforms and build credibility for their leader certainly did not welcome a floor debate over Boysen's leadership or any related discontent.

Indeed, some of Boysen's public supporters say privately that, despite his strong understanding of the reform law and ability to come across as both reasonable and knowledgeable in discussions, he has hardly been a political asset. Further, they add, the education department's transformation from a dispenser of regulation and strict oversight to an agency that helps local districts has been disappointing at best.

The House, whose members have expressed the greatest misgivings about reform implementation, voted 60 to 35 for Stumbo's bill. It died after failing to win a majority in Ford's Senate education committee.

In February, word came from the education department that it would be lowering the scores of 100 school districts on writing portfolios that state teachers had evaluated. Officials explained that an out-of-state audit revealed inconsistencies in the scores, prompting them to make the necessary adjustments.

Many teachers took the news personally.

"We didn't anticipate the message that some teachers took from it, that what they had done was either unethical or unprofessional,'' said the commissioner, who pointed to lackluster training as the culprit in what was not a huge problem. "In my view, the teachers did an outstanding job with a lot of good will and effort.''

No matter how officials rationalized the scores, the announcement once again pointed out the gap between the education department's expectations and the local implementation of its reforms. The situation also amplified questions about the new testing methods, which replace standardized tests with open-ended questions, performance tasks, and portfolios that show a student's best work in writing and mathematics.

To answer critics, lawmakers opted to have their own office of education accountability commission an independent review of the test. Along the way, the office has also been ordered to prepare a management audit examining the administrative effectiveness of the education department.

"Teachers are frustrated, and principals and superintendents and everybody have had implementation concerns,'' said Penney Sanders, the director of the accountability office. "If we cannot build confidence in the assessment as a tool for measuring accountability, then we've got problems.''

As March arrived, the spotlight turned to the associations with a stake in the reform program.

Marnel Moorman, the president of the Kentucky Education Association, wearing a lapel pin that read "ATTITUDE'' and a button imploring "Seek $alary,'' took a seat at the witness table to address a Senate education committee on a bill to create a more rigorous individualized teachercertification system.

To the chagrin of KERA supporters, he used teachers' anxiety as leverage to criticize what many saw as a progressive plan for preparing teachers. "There is a lot of unrest among teachers now,'' Moorman said in underscoring the group's opposition to the bill. "Another certification requirement could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.''

On that same day--the last day that new bills could be filed--KERA supporters were awaiting an indication of whether a plan being circulated by the Kentucky School Boards Association would find a sponsor. The draft version, which won a surprise endorsement from the state Farm Bureau, would have reduced the policymaking role of the state's site-based-decisionmaking school councils, rendering them largely advisory.

The K.S.B.A., which like the K.E.A. has long supported parts of the reform law, was later able to persuade a KERA foe to introduce its plan as an amendment. Its addition spelled defeat for an unrelated and otherwise innocuous bill to which it was attached.

As the session neared its end, another group of KERA supporters created one last bit of internal strife.

Since Boysen announced his adjustments, the education department has been working on clarifying the 75 outcomes embodied as goals for schools and standards for the new testing methods. The outcomes, phrased largely in education jargon, stand as lightning rods for many of the law's opponents, who portray them as part of a vast national conspiracy to brainwash children.

After letting lawmakers and Boysen take the heat and try to translate the outcomes, leaders of the panel that wrote them--all Kentucky teachers and education scholars--broke out of their silence only to criticize the department. The cloudy language, they argued, was precise to educators. Any changes, they added, might threaten their support for the reforms.

This attitude left many on the front lines feeling alone in their fight. "Where were they for months and months when we were being hammered over the outcomes?'' one lobbyist asked in frustration.

Indeed, while constituency groups with an overriding interest in school reform and agencies charged with carrying out KERA have been dogged in their concern for the overarching program, many professional associations have stayed out of the picture for as long as possible. What's more, when they have exercised their clout, they have done so largely to protect their own narrow interests.

The Partnership for Kentucky School Reform, a business-led group that works closely with the Prichard Committee, hired a small staff solely to work the session. The partnership's lobbyists used much of their time this spring tracking down parents, teachers, and community leaders to call lawmakers and write to newspapers to show support for KERA. In addition to seeking out local voices to offer reassurance, the group has worked hard to unearth success stories to lend inspiration.

"The organized opposition has punched the right buttons and made it a tougher battle,'' said Lillian Press, a well-known Frankfort operative who managed the partnership's lobbying efforts. "There was so much, so quick, and really no chance to prepare people at the grassroots level.''

Squeezed in during the hectic last week of the session, as if for effect, was the arrival of 11,000 signatures on the opponents' petitions. After learning that Gov. Brereton C. Jones was not interested in receiving the boxloads of his constituents' autographs, the president of America Awaken held a brief news conference in the Capitol rotunda and said Kentucky's residents had made an important statement, albeit much too late to warrant serious attention from lawmakers.

"The people of Kentucky have poured out their hearts on these things,'' said Steve Miller, the group's chairman and a maintenance planner at a uranium-enrichment plant in Paducah. "Our government is acting in a very nonrepresentative way, and we didn't want it to be swept under the rug.''

Earlier in the day, Miller had treated reporters to a sampling of what he believes is happening in Kentucky's schools in the name of reform. Standing within earshot, a handful of high school students, who had been named Governor's Scholars and traveled to Frankfort in support of KERA, managed to discount most of Miller's complaints for the journalists after he left.

The story of the petition's arrival--an event that had been expected to help hobble the reform law--complete with rebuttal from the teenagers was buried inside the state section of Kentucky's two largest newspapers the next morning, fit in next to sidebars about the contentious debate over health-care reform that had consumed the previous afternoon's legislative action and dominated the front-page news.

So the drama surrounding KERA had fizzled from blockbuster to sideshow. As the session ended, concern over school reform had largely faded. Gridlock over the state budget and feuding over the health-care bill stole the show.

The teacher-certification legislation failed to pass in the House. A private-school-voucher bill never got a committee hearing. A bill to make ungraded-primary programs voluntary from school to school came up short, too.

In the end, KERA survived. But expect a sequel.

As lawmakers were able to buy the program more time, the session was mostly a show of the KERA supporters' trump card--steadfast legislative support that erodes every year. Ford is retiring from the Senate. Curd faces a challenge for his seat as the House education committee chairman. Opponents are hopeful that they can help defeat Kenny Rapier, an influential representative from Bardstown and a KERA diehard. Yet, beyond changes in the legislature and a gubernatorial election next year, when lawmakers return in 1996 the real race to shape policy will be a contest to win over Kentucky residents.

And once conversation turns from the events in these Frankfort hallways to routine in Kentucky classrooms, the mood changes. Even KERA's biggest fans know where their problem lies.

"One of the shortfalls of KERA was the attention we gave to professional development, particularly for the teachers who were in the system,'' Senator Ford says. "I've never seen an unhappy parent whose child was in the class of a happy teacher.''

Misunderstanding, frustration, confusion, and opposition among teachers and local school officials lie at the heart of KERA's problems. From there, a lack of community acceptance takes root. It is a field of discontent that opponents are harvesting, and as they look ahead, they see more rows to work. It is a field of opportuntity that supporters have left untended--where they still have a good deal of cultivating to do.

"The lack of understanding is something that is very hard for reform advocates to understand,'' says Sexton, whose Prichard group has successfully worked for more than a decade to convince Kentuckians that the quality of schools must improve. Indeed, the most successful argument in dealing with KERA's everyday critics has been asking if they would like to go back to the old system.

"It's one thing to get people stirred up over the problem, which is what we did in the 1980's,'' Sexton adds. "It is entirely different to bring the public together in consensus over a specific reform that looks at what we teach, the methods we use, and how we insure accountability.''

To date, no one has made any plans to round up Karem, Ford, Curd, Rapier, a Republican for good measure, and even Stumbo, if he'd consent, belting them into a minivan, and driving them around the state to say this to teachers: "Forget the consultants who offered their ideas. We're the schemers behind KERA. The idea was to take the politics out of the way schools are run, to focus local attention on helping kids learn more things that they can use to better their lives, to let schools loose to meet goals other teachers have decided are most important, to test so that childrens' best classwork counts and the answers are not always a choice between A, B, C, or D, and to distribute taxpayers' money so everybody has a fair chance to pay for what they need. You work with us, we work with you, our kids get smarter, and our towns get better. Any questions?'' And then on to the next town.

For now, folks in Frankfort seem to suggest adopting new communications strategies and, in the meantime, boning up on how best to deal with their opponents. Fending off the opposition has become a maddening job that seems almost impossible to truly win. In fact, some say, the reformers may win simply by reaching a point of no return as KERA itself is implemented and, though certainly not to everyone's taste, eventually digested.

Some believe proponents may gain some mileage from following up on Boysen's midcourse adjustments. "There was no safety valve for legitimate criticism, and we have needed to create an arena where people can air their criticism without feeling like they're breaching the orthodoxy,'' says Sanders of the legislature's accountability office. "We gave the impression KERA was written in stone, and it wasn't. We need to build reservoirs of good will that allow us some room for adjustments, and we don't have it yet.''

Boysen hopes that added mileage will help KERA take root across the state. "I am very concerned about the sense of ownership that people in Kentucky have. If they don't see this making the state better, it won't have their support. I've talked to ministers about this, and we have tremendous common ground. We're trying to change this generation from a trend of consumption to one of production, from being takers to being givers. That is a religious and moral imperative.''

"This law is about local power,'' the commissioner adds. "People ask me what is Kentucky's policy on distributing condoms, and I tell them the state went out of that business in 1990. That decision is where you would want it to be--with parents and people locally.''

Such messages, observers say, need to be amplified within school buildings.

"Our teachers don't understand the reason behind things like the assessments and portfolios,'' says Cory Birdwhistell, a senior at Scott County High School in Georgetown who organized the Frankfort trip for the group of Governor's Scholars.

"Here, they make all the laws and tell teachers what they should be doing, but teachers end up feeling like they are getting sandbagged,'' says Cory, who has read at least a half-dozen books on school reform and says she has grown frustrated that her teachers have done little to try to improve. "I don't see why teachers don't see there is a better way to do things. Instead, because this law challenges everything they once did, and they didn't have any influence over it, it threatens them.''

If they don't feel threatened, at least many local educators seem weary of KERA. Out of whatever vision was passed on from reform experts to top lawmakers and out of any news about the way ungraded-primary programs, new assessments, and other reforms are working in schools across the country, many teachers here have gleaned only the drudgery of being on the front lines in someone else's crusade.

"I wish 'stress' could be in large letters and underlined,'' Moorman, the K.E.A. president, says. "A lot of it is caused by a lack of support and correct information. It seems like there is always another hurdle we have to go through.''

That anxiety has come out in a teachers' survey conducted recently in Shelbyville, where Moorman worked as a science teacher before his stint at the K.E.A. In fact, the survey responses have become the latest fuel for opponents, who are considering soliciting more anonymous comments from teachers.

"KERA gives me nightmares, and I cannot meet the needs of the 6-, 7-, 8-, and 9-year-olds in my classroom,'' reads a reply on one form mentioned in the latest commentary that Shedd has mailed to Kentucky newspaper editors.

"Our biggest block group as supporters is teachers,'' Shedd says, arguing that, rather than having misconceptions about the law and its intentions, many teachers are rebelling because they comprehend it all too well. "Initially, there was not an understanding on teachers' part, but more and more I think they understand.''

Whether they understand or not, local parents, teachers, administrators, and students are being enlisted in a high-profile political struggle over the direction of the public's schools.

"This is a classic case of cultural warfare,'' observes Shirley Daniel, the president of the Kentucky chapter of Eagle Forum.

Leaders of the opposition confide that, although their goal of a repeal is unlikely to be realized, they feel confident they can position themselves in 1996 to push a string of amendments that would essentially gut the program. Their strategy hinges on winning enough local support to pressure lawmakers to do away with new grouping and grading for students, rewards and sanctions based on a school's performance on subjective state tests, and any goals of schooling not tied directly to academic knowledge. Their zeal in failing to see anything worthwhile in the new approach drives their efforts.

"There are two classes of teachers involved,'' says Miller of America Awaken, who is running as a Republican for the state Senate and says that both of his children will be enrolled in private schools by the fall. "The ones that say it is working are KERA cheerleaders with motives that we don't know.''

"Children aren't actually learning anything now,'' he says. "And teachers are being intimidated not to say anything.''

Such comments, which have spread like kudzu in many Kentucky schools, infuriate supporters of the reforms, who say that misinformation must be challenged.

"There is a new attitude that says experiment and do what is right, but people don't see it that way at all,'' says Theresa Zawacki, another senior at Scott County High and a fan of KERA. "I was in orchestra, and the kids were saying how much they hate KERA and wish we could get rid of it. They just hear what teachers and other people are saying and spit it back out. But I got mad and said, 'Maybe we could go back to being 50th in graduation and first in adult illiteracy and get rid of KERA,' and walked out.''

"It's not like we can move all our troops to the Russian front,'' says Sexton, who argues that supporters must employ wide-ranging strategies to win over the public. "The war is going on in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Africa, too. We have to be spread all over. The political clock keeps running very fast, and the administrative clock is running much slower.''

Now that they are looking beyond Frankfort, the sides see themselves involved in a race to influence local opinion.

The state official who may best understand the local ownership issue is Charles Edwards, a former elementary school principal and now the director of school-based decisionmaking for the state.

The establishment of school-based councils--led by teachers, parents, and the school administrator--is the chief KERA program designed to instill a sense of local control. It's also the one program that seems to have escaped plastering by opponents, except for the Kentucky School Boards Association, which continues to fight it.

For now, each district is required to have only one school operating under the new governance structure. By July of 1996, all of the state's schools must be converted.

Edwards says that his own elementary school, an early practitioner of the decisionmaking process, would not likely have implemented other reforms easily without a school-based council. "I shudder to think what it would have been like without the council--if the ownership and commitment had not been in place,'' he says.

But in several notable cases, pockets of resistance across the state can be tracked to districts with only the required one school-based council. Other districts that are further along with the new school-governance system are chief among the state's success stories, particularly in eastern Kentucky, once seen as the center of school corruption and political influence but where many schools have adopted councils and are steering themselves.

Senator Ford argues that by buying time for the law, many of its problems will be solved when the legislature gathers again.

"I think 1994 was the year,'' he says in arguing that critics have missed their best chance to take down KERA. "We've survived that and actually come through with flying colors. By 1996, every strand will be implemented and on its way. People will realize there is no such thing as repealing KERA without repealing public education in Kentucky.''

"They can build their backfires,'' argues Shedd, who promises a different scenario down the road. "But it is not going to stop the prairie fire. It will not be O.K. as long as we have the same situation and the same problem of how totalitarian this is.''

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