Richard Innes might be one of Kentucky’s chief public education watchdogs, but he’ll be the first to tell you he stumbled into the job.
In 1994, Innes was alarmed by his daughter’s performance on a Kentucky assessment test. After all, she’d just won a writing award from the state Parent Teacher Association. Why, then, was her writing ability on the test given the second-lowest of four possible rankings?
Innes thought he could change that. During his career in the U.S. Air Force, he had developed pilot-training curricula using outcome-based education theory–the same methods Kentucky began applying to elementary education in 1990.
Looking for Answers
So he obtained copies of Kentucky’s multiple-choice assessment tests, and he found several questions offering no correct answer. That was alarming, Innes said, especially since “poor performance on these tests was used as a pretext for a state takeover of a school.”
Innes wrote the state education department, offering his assistance. The response he received three months later was troubling. It was written on state letterhead, but “by someone who was not an employee of the state department of education,” Innes said. “He was not even an employee of the testing company the state had hired.”
The respondent dismissed Innes’s offer of help, saying he didn’t know why the questions were on the test, who put them there, or even what they were supposed to measure–a completely unacceptable response, Innes said, because “you always start with the knowledge you want to measure.”
Making a Difference
Since then, Innes has pored over Kentucky’s education data, scrutinizing it against state officials’ claims of progress and publishing his findings as a researcher for the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions.
And Innes said he’s not the only person who can hold educators accountable: Any dedicated parent can mine the data to test public school officials’ claims of progress. Innes began his own research with little more than his engineering background and a copy of the Statistical Abstract of the United States.
“Your kids are far too important to give up,” Innes said. “If you think you can make a contribution, you probably can.”
Caleb O. Brown ([email protected]) is director of Kentuckyvotes.org, a public service voter-information Web site provided by the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions.
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