Student Achievement

New Kentucky Vow: Top 20 or Bust!

By Michele McNeil — September 15, 2008 1 min read

Kentucky isn’t shooting to be No. 1 in education—or even in the Top 10—but for a state that consistently ranked near the bottom in almost all public school metrics nearly two decades ago, officials would see reaching the Top 20 as a considerable improvement.

And that’s the new goal of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a school reform group in the state that earlier this month launched its “Achieving the Top 20 by 2020” campaign to coincide with the committee’s 25th anniversary.

Still, the state has a long way go.

On the Prichard Committee’s Top 20 indicators, which include test scores in core subjects, average teacher salaries and college-degree completion, Kentucky makes the cut in only three areas: 4th grade science and writing scores, and per-pupil funding for higher education.

And that’s why members of the Prichard Committee view the Top 20 goal as ambitious.

“To be achievable the goal has to be believed,” said Robert F. Sexton, the executive director of the group, which helped drive efforts such as the state’s 1990 education reform law that was at the forefront of the standards and accountability movement.

“This is kind of a generational change,” he said. “The next generation can then shoot for Top 10.”

The Prichard Committee identified 10 continuing challenges facing the state’s 650,000-student public education system, including low rankings in some grades in math and writing (below the national average), and low college-graduation rates (53 percent of students who entered college in 2000 failed to graduate by 2006).

The group will push for programs seen as offering the most return on the state’s investment: expanding preschool, and improving teacher quality and instruction, said Mr. Sexton, who is also a trustee of Editorial Projects in Education, the publisher of Education Week.

Meanwhile, all is not gloomy. For example, 21,000 children were in state-funded preschool in the 2007-08 school year; there was no state preschool in 1990. And from 2000 to 2007, the percentage of students scoring 3 or higher on Advanced Placement exams jumped 76 percent, a pace surpassed by only seven other states.

A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 2008 edition of Education Week

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