Proposed Change in Kentucky Education Policy Moves Us Away from Statewide Transformation and Towards Islands of Excellence

Topics: Education Policy

State legislatures across the country are deep into the work of building budgets and examining new bills. We’ve seen some really positive developments in North Dakota with the introduction of  SB2186 that will create an opportunity for districts to pilot personalized learning. Also, the state of Indiana through HB1386 would allow districts to apply to the Indiana Department of Education to be part of a competency-based pilot program.

These are great developments for personalized learning; however, in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, there are developments that move the state away from their progress to advance personalized learning. The introduction of HB103 does many things, it introduces charter schools into Kentucky and it eliminates the Districts of Innovation Program. I’m supportive of high quality, publicly accountable charter schools. That said, they are not a silver bullet but part of a portfolio of options for both school improvement and education innovation. My bigger issue with the bill is the elimination of the Districts of Innovation.

Kentucky bill HB103 offers the following:

Beginning on the effective date of this Act, no new districts of innovation shall be approved by the board of education. A district currently approved as a district of innovation shall remain a district of innovation until the approval period expires.”

The District of Innovation program was created in HB37 enacted 2012. It provides Kentucky public school districts the opportunity to apply to the Kentucky Board of Education to be exempt from certain administrative regulations and statutory provisions in an effort to improve student learning through innovative practices including competency-based and personalized learning. By offering districts the chance to “re-think” what a school might look like, they can redesign student learning in an effort to engage and motivate more students and increase the numbers of those who are college- and career-ready. Districts of Innovation helped to usher in innovation into Kentucky’s school system. It also became a beacon for other states to follow as they too tried to provide flexibility to help spur education innovation in their states.

By eliminating the Districts of Innovation, Kentucky will take a giant step backwards.

Now some might say, wait, HB103 creates a new program called Opportunity Schools. That much is true. Opportunity Schools are defined in the following way:

’Opportunity school’ means a school that has developed a plan of innovation in compliance with this section and has been approved by the Kentucky Board of Education to be exempted from certain administrative regulations and statutory provisions to improve the educational performance of students within the district.”

Sound familiar? Essentially the bill moves the Districts of Innovation down to the school level. The issue is, that is the wrong locus of control for innovation.

An innovative school is great but it is far too often an isolated island of excellence. To transform our education system, we need to transform school districts. We need to connect practice and policy at the district level to drive scale within our full system of education. We have for far too long settled for disconnected innovation rather than focused, strategic, connected transformation. Districts of Innovation helped to drive some concentrated innovation in Kentucky and it would be a shame to see the state eliminate it in this legislative session.