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Gary Houchens
Bowling Green, KY
I am a former teacher, principal, and district administrator now serving as Associate Professor of Educational Administration, Leadership, & Research at Western Kentucky University. In 2016 Governor Matt Bevin appointed me to the Kentucky Board of Education for a 4-year term of service.
Recent Activity
Update, 3/15/18: I've been asked a couple of times for my reaction to Governor Bevin's remarks yesterday wherein he attacked protesters against pension reform proposals as "selfish" and whether I would amend any of my thoughts below based on his comments. Let me say first of all that I don't... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at School Leader
Kentucky's public pension system is in crisis. The Kentucky Teacher Retirement System alone has $14.5 billion in liabilities, and as program costs skyrocket the rest of the state budget, which is already facing a massive shortfall, is getting squeezed beyond recognition. With tragic irony, the cost of paying for teachers'... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2018 at School Leader
I recently had the pleasure of spending an hour discussing scholarship tax credits with Drew Perkins, host of the TeachThought podcast, and Anna Baumann, senior policy analyst with the Kentucky Economic Policy Center. You can access the podcast and related resources here. I discussed the issue of scholarship tax credits... Continue reading
Posted Feb 16, 2018 at School Leader
It's National School Choice Week, and I was honored to serve as keynote speaker at yesterday's first-ever Western Kentucky School Choice Rally. Over 400 students and adults from across the region came to Madisonville to celebrate school choice. The Madisonville Messenger provided a nice summary of the event and our... Continue reading
Posted Jan 24, 2018 at School Leader
I've become convinced that if we want to unleash meaningful innovation in education and create more personalized learning environments for students, we have to give more families the chance to choose a school that best meets their child's individual needs. For far too long we've expected public schools to be... Continue reading
Posted Jan 8, 2018 at School Leader
Kentucky educator groups have finally produced some suggestions for reforming our ailing pension system. Initial reactions to Governor Bevin’s proposed pension bill largely took the form of denying there was actually a pension crisis or arguing that no changes should be made other than to pour more money into the... Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2017 at School Leader
Kentucky policy leaders have released their proposed changes to the ailing pension system and the reaction from state educators has been swift and ferocious. Educators have claimed the reforms will “destroy public education” while Governor Matt Bevin has shrugged off fears about mass retirements as “nonsense” and called reform critics... Continue reading
Posted Oct 29, 2017 at School Leader
Near the beginning of his book, David Didau says he doesn’t actually want to convince you that everything you know about education is wrong (though a fair amount of it actually is), but rather “that you will consider the implications of being wrong and consider what you would do differently... Continue reading
Posted Oct 10, 2017 at School Leader
At its August 2017 meeting, the Kentucky Board of Education unanimously approved a second reading on a regulation launching a new statewide school accountability system. It was the culmination of 18 months of work by the Commissioner of Education and Kentucky Department of Education staff to gather feedback from across... Continue reading
Posted Sep 8, 2017 at School Leader
Last week I was part of Kentucky’s delegation to the Education Commission of the States National Forum on Education Policy. In a previous post I shared some reflections from the first part of the conference, including notes I made about open district enrollment policies and the discussion on whether states... Continue reading
Posted Jul 1, 2017 at School Leader
I was greatly honored last year to be appointed by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin as a commissioner to the Education Commission of the States. ECS is an interstate compact formed in the 1960s to serve as a policy and idea-sharing network. Among the many services it provides to education policy... Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2017 at School Leader
In my last post, I reflected on the work (and worry) going into revising Kentucky's education accountability system. I argued that such systems really do two things: 1) they convey vital information to help educators and the public know how schools are doing well and where they need to improve,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2017 at School Leader
Though the work goes largely unnoticed by the vast majority of parents and taxpayers, Kentucky's education leaders have been hard at work redesigning the accountability system that dictates what data points will be collected about the performance of the state's P-12 schools and what must happen as a result of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2017 at School Leader
Last thing here: you can definitely use informational, content-laden texts to teach reading skills. I don't think Hirsh is opposed to that. But he wants a much more specific and intentional sequence of grade-level content in social studies, science, literature, and the arts to be the basis of that instruction. Would you agree with him that right there is little intentionality to the delivery of this content via reading instruction in the early grades?
Regarding the "main idea," Hirsch says that complex writing often has several main ideas, and that if you understand what the writer is saying, you can naturally pick out one (or more) main ideas.
Thanks for your insights, Sara! Hirsch agrees that the "informational" expectation in Common Core is actually a good thing and a way to integrate more content (and he actually says that literature can often be viewed as extremely "informative," so maybe we should ease up on the informative vs. literary dichotomy).
Senate Bill 1, passed with overwhelming support in the 2017 Kentucky General Assembly, directs the Kentucky Department of Education to begin a process of reviewing and updating the state's education standards. Over a six-year period, committees made up of content area and grade-level teachers and higher education representatives will review... Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2017 at School Leader
MontessoriPublic is a new print and online publication from the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector, an organization that celebrates and supports public Montessori schools and programs. The latest issue includes a series of articles on charters and school choice, including the opportunities and potential threats to Montessori... Continue reading
Posted May 18, 2017 at School Leader
Over the last few years I’ve become keenly interested in the importance of curriculum and concerned about how curricular approaches in P12 schools have deprived students of critical content knowledge, especially in the early grades. E. D. Hirsch’s latest book, Why Knowledge Matters, is a masterpiece in this regard, arguing... Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2017 at School Leader
During Kentucky's debate over becoming the 44th state to allow charter schools, and especially since the charter law successfully passed the state's General Assembly in March, I have often heard public school advocates ask why, if autonomy seems to be a key to charter school success, shouldn't all schools -... Continue reading
Posted May 8, 2017 at School Leader
This month the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a fascinating study, Three Signs a Proposed Charter School is At Risk of Failing. The report searches for indicators in the applications of proposed charter schools that were associated with those schools eventually posting low student performance. The authors found three signs... Continue reading
Posted Apr 26, 2017 at School Leader
I recently enjoyed watching the 3-part PBS series, School Inc., hosted by the late Andrew Coulson, who until his death in 2016 served as director and then senior fellow at Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom. Full episodes are now available to watch online, and while School Inc covers familiar... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2017 at School Leader
Last night I had a dream. I was attending a very large meeting of regional and state education leaders. I recognized many of them as friends and colleagues I have known for years. In this meeting they were passionately discussing their fears about Kentucky's recent move toward charter schools, the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2017 at School Leader
Following the passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, states have been busy re-imagining what education accountability might look like under the new law. ESSA devolves a lot of decision-making authority back the states, providing new opportunities to define what an effective education system really means... Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 2017 at School Leader
Last week Representative John "Bam" Carney, chair of the House Education Committee, introduced House Bill 520, and on Tuesday Governor Bevin held a press conference with Carney and Secretary of Education and Workforce Development Hal Heiner to announce his support. While there will undoubtedly be debates and proposed amendments, the... Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2017 at School Leader