A(n ‘Omissive) History of Education in Kentucky?

Sep 10, 2011 by

I attended a forum yesterday at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) organized around the recent release of a new book, “A History of Education in Kentucky.” It was written by EKU Professor William Ellis’ and discusses the history of education in the commonwealth from 1775 to the present – sort of.

I will leave it to experts on early education history to comment on Ellis’ treatment of schooling in Kentucky pre-1990. Certainly, that part of his book provides interesting reading.

Regarding Ellis’ discussion of the KERA period from 1990 forward, found in the book’s Epilog, I can offer pertinent comments. I have lived – and been involved – in this period of history.

At best, Ellis’ Epilog omits a tremendous amount of important material.

A prime case in point: Ellis’ provides no mention what so ever about the formation and activities of the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA), an absolutely incredible oversight.

From a historical standpoint, the OEA has produced a research treasure trove with its two decades of annual reports on the progress of KERA. That rich, primary source information simply cannot be ignored by any credible attempt to provide an accurate history of education in the state post-1990.

The OEA is also very unique – it’s a legislative organization with investigative and enforcement powers. Why and how that sharp departure from normal governmental organization in the United States came about is extremely important information and deserves discussion in any history of education in this state.

By the way, the complete absence of any mention of OEA in Ellis’ book is especially curious. The first head of the OEA, Dr. Penney Sanders, is well-known to Professor Ellis.

Sanders is also well-known to Professor Richard Day, who clearly did a lot of work to set up and MC yesterday’s forum. However, despite her extensive participation in the early days of KERA, Sanders wasn’t invited to yesterday’s get-together, not even to participate electronically. The current head of the OEA, Marcia Seiler, wasn’t present, either.

Another important face was notably and mysteriously absent at the forum. Retired Kentucky State Representative Harry Moberly – who just happens to be a former Executive Vice President for Administration at EKU (even has a building there named after him!) – was not included on any panel or even just present. Moberly ‘was there’ in the legislature from the start of KERA. He probably played a bigger role in over all education legislation post-1990 than any other single lawmaker in Frankfort. Harry tells me he was available but also was not invited to the forum. His absence yesterday is, at best, curious.

Taken together, the absence of both Sanders and Moberly at yesterday’s forum is astonishing.

The Ellis book’s treatment of key points in KERA is, at best, highly incomplete. He generally glosses over many important details about why Kentucky experienced the failure of not one, but two assessment programs since KERA was enacted. There is a lot of important history in this story that people working on the new Common Core State Assessments need to hear, but won’t find in Ellis’ document. You can read some of that missing information in our “KERA (1990 – 2010); What Have We Learned?” report.

Of course, you won’t find any mention of the Bluegrass Institute or any of our publications in the Ellis work, either.

You also won’t find mention of a number of other groups like the now defunct Parents and Professionals Involved in Education and the still-going-strong Family Foundation of Kentucky, both of which were actively protesting KERA in the early days of the reform. At best, those groups are lumped under the disparaging term “the usual naysayers,” which the book does nothing further to identify.

Of interest, a number of the failures in KERA that those “naysayer” groups predicted later became very expensively true.

By the way, you won’t find a single Epilog reference in Ellis’ book to any works from either the OEA or the Kentucky Department of Education. No legislative or Kentucky Board of Education meeting minutes are referenced, either. The Epilog relies almost exclusively on newspaper reports.

Furthermore, in this period when we are much more adept as using data to enhance our analysis of past and present events, not a single table, graph, or chart appears in Ellis’ book.

I have to ask, what kind of historical treatment is this?

Anyway, over at Professor Days’ blog, he did run an apology along with Dr. Sanders’ independently written brief history of the OEA.

Penney thought she needed to set the record on a bit more even keel. Her short but very pertinent comments are worth reading.

You see, OEA’s history is important to the history of education in Kentucky. It should be included in any real history of the KERA period. But, don’t look for it, or a lot of other important KERA period information such as a reasonably detailed discussion of multiple testing failures, in the Ellis version. Those omissions render Ellis’ comments about the KERA period an “omissive history.” It certainly is not “the definitive account of education at all levels in the commonwealth,” at least not for the post-1990 period, despite what one recent review of the book review alleges.

via Bluegrass Policy Blog: A(n ‘Omissive) History of Education in Kentucky?.

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