Friday, December 11, 2015

A banner week for education

We had two big events in education this week. The first was the observance of the Hour of Code – part of Computer Science Education Week. The second was the passage and signing into law of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In this week’s blog, I will touch briefly on both. 

The Hour of Code is a global movement that gives students and others the opportunity to learn computer coding – another name for programming. Students in Kentucky, the U.S. and in more than 180 countries around the world took part in the Hour of Code this year. This is a great thing for several reasons. First, we live in an increasingly electronic age. We all benefit from technology and I think most of us would feel lost if our devices stopped working or did not improve over time. 

Additionally, the need for careers in the computer sciences continues to grow, yet we do not have the skilled workforce to meet the needs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by the year 2020, there will be more than one million unfilled jobs in the computer sciences. 

Part of the point of the “Hour” is to bring awareness of coding to our students. Unless they are lucky, students generally do not have access to learning to code through their school experience. To be clear, I am not suggesting that we add another requirement for graduation. However, coding is a career that students need to know is available to them and they will benefit from have some experience with it, even if they do not pursue computer coding as their life’s ambition. Coding presents a unique blend of content and thinking, and allows students to explore or tap into their creative abilities. 

Like a lot of things in education, despite the need in the field, the access to computer sciences and specifically coding is limited. I hope all of our students had an opportunity to experience the Hour of Code and further hope that as we move forward with our education system in the Commonwealth we will give serious consideration to how we can help fill the jobs of the future by giving our students the tools to do so.

Now to the other subject of this week’s blog. On Thursday of this week, around 11 a.m., the world of public education changed. The President signed the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) – the long overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. I previewed the law in this blog several weeks ago and will delve into the 1,061 page measure in more detail in a future blog. For now, let it suffice to say this is a big opportunity for Kentucky. 

As I said to the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents this week, we are entering the most exciting and most challenging time in education. 

I think we need to pause to ponder the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.” Since the last reauthorization of this law (No Child Left Behind, 2001), many of us have complained about the unrealistic nature of some of the requirements and the lack of the ability for states to set their own course. The waiver process helped some, but it also brought additional accountability from the federal level. 

ESSA allows a great deal of flexibility for states, but that means it is time to put our money where our mouth is. I think we can do some great things as an education community to develop an accountability system specific to Kentucky that will do more to benefit children. There are some things we will need to consider before we can do this well. 

This will require all hands on deck. We will need all shareholders engaged and helping to craft a system that both celebrates the good things in education and holds us accountable to ensure EVERY student does succeed. 
I look forward to working with you as we move Kentucky into this new era. My biggest hope is that we can shift the mindset of accountability to a tool that we can use to improve education for our students in all areas. This will require a team effort, and I am proud to be a part of that team at this time in Kentucky’s history.

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