Ky. must invest in helping youngest students learn to read so they can read to learn later, education chairman says

11/01/2013 08:12 AM

The next two-year budget is the time to invest in expanding preschool — including through private partnerships — so that the next generation of students are better prepared for higher grades, said Rep. Derrick Graham, the Frankfort Democrat who is now the House Education Committee Chairman.

“The way we can even do better is funding of preschool and early education. That is where you can clip the problems that develop between middle school and high school. I had a teacher once say from K-3 kids are learning to read, from about 4th grade on they’re reading to learn,” Graham said (7:00).

Two years ago, Gov. Steve Beshear proposed $15 million extra to send more children from low-income families to pre-school. But amid the recession, lawmakers couldn’t find the money to do that.

Meanwhile, Graham said he believes curriculum changes and new standards for math, reading and science have allowed teachers to better prepare students for college and careers while reducing “teaching to the test.” (1:30)

Some Republican lawmakers have criticized the science standards for depicting evolution as settled science and that climate change has been caused by man. But Graham said that controversy has been overblown because teachers have been able to mention creationism, for instance, since 1980. (2:45)

Graham, who just retired from teaching at Frankfort High School, is the first lawmaker with extensive teaching experience to take the helm of the House Education Committee in four decades, which he said will allow him to guide bills and policies from the perspective of how it will affect his former colleagues in Kentucky classrooms.

Graham also said he expects the debate over charter schools to shelved for the next several General Assembly sessions to give the “districts of innovation” a chance to experiment with new approaches.

The General Assembly last session approved the districts of innovations as a way to allow schools and superintendents to try out different methods of teaching students that might be outside the normal standards. The Kentucky Education Department selected four school districts out of 16 that applied to be the first batch of districts of innovations starting this school year.

They include Jefferson County — the state’s largest district — Eminence Independent in Henry County, Danville Independent in Boyle County and Taylor County school districts.

Taylor County has assigned its students to levels based on skill not age, for instance. And Eminence Independent gives its students laptops and buses its gifted students to Bellarmine University twice a week, as Pure Politics previously reported.

Graham also answered a question about whether school board candidates should have to take a test like property valuation administrator candidates do to qualify to run.

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