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Heiner Outlines Vision for Kentucky Education Reform in Murray State Speech

Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner outlined his vision for broad education reform in the commonwealth, including providing at least some form of post-secondary education for everyone, improving outdated area technology centers, reconsidering the traditional school day and investing in career counseling. 

Heiner delivered his remarks at Murray State University's annual Harry M. Sparks Distinguished Lecture Series Tuesday evening in Wrather Auditorium. In attendance were local educators, state legislators and city and county officials.

Citing the rapid pace of development of smartphones and computer chips, and Amazon's 'Kiva' robots replacing human labor in distribution centers, Heiner said the 'world of work' is changing fast. "So who will program, upgrade, maintain, redesign, modify, improve and plan the Kiva's every move? And the answer, you've probably guessed, is only an educated workforce is going to be up to those tasks," he said.

In agriculture and farm trade shows, he said, the cabless tractor prototype that can be operated via tablet device is the thing everyone swarms around. Even entry level jobs, like working at a fast-food cash register, are being replaced by automated kiosks. Heiner used these examples to underscore his point: "Repetitive motion jobs are disappearing" and the education system should adapt to meet the needs of changing times.

A 2016 Georgetown University study called "America's Divided Recovery" that found post 2008 recession, more than 95% of jobs created during the recovery period went to those with "at least some college education." Heiner cited this study in his speech, adding that the poor bore the brunt of the recession and individuals without some post-secondary education will be unable to join the middle class in the future. "A high school diploma alone, like an 8th grade education in my generation, is likely a ticket to poverty or worse."

Heiner said the erosion of the middle class (the Pew Research Center found the middle class has shrunk since the early 1970s, while the upper and lower classes have expanded) will continue. Citing "recent estimates," Heiner said that by 2025, 80% of all jobs will require some postsecondary education (some being operative). He said today's population is around 50%. (The Georgetown study mentioned earlierfound workers with at least some postsecondary education make up 65% of total employment and those with bachelors degrees earn 57% of all wages. According to a PBS article, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that by 2022, only 27.1% of all jobs will require college degrees, up 2.1% from 1996). Nevertheless, Heiner said "what we preach in the cabinet is that every single student needs college," including the academic route and career route.

Crediting Murray State's dual credit programs, saying the university is 'ahead of the curve' in this regard (having been in place for several years). Governor Matt Bevin and Heinerannounced in June 2016 awarding state scholarships totaling $7.6 million to pay for high school seniors to take dual credit courses (and an additional $7.6 million for the next year).

Heiner said dual credit programs in high school should be focused on families who have not placed an emphasis on education due to various reasons. He argued that a student who might not have gone to college that graduates with some postsecondary credit hours with their diploma might end up going on to get the next degree. "They know they can do it even though they may be the first member of their household ever to earn college credit." Heiner said too many area technology centers in the state were built in the 1970s and have outdated equipment, an issue that stifles opportunities for students to get on a college track. He referenced the $100 million Work Ready Skills Initiative to invest in ATCs and educational institutions to improve workforce training and education in STEM fields.  

To take the effort further, Heiner proposed all technology courses in ATCs is a dual credit course and every instructor is an adjunct faculty in a university or community college. In the academic route, he said the same dual credit goals should apply and 30% of high school teachers be adjunct faculty. "For this to be sustainable long term, we have to stop thinking about masters programs, master leadership programs that don't include 18 hours in the content area because that teacher needs to be able to go back to the high school and become an adjunct faculty of Murray State or some other university around the state." He called for a 'blurring the line' between high school and college for students.

Heiner said the Kentucky Center for Education & Workforce Statistics website has more jobs data.

He said there is too wide of a divide in performance based on socioeconomic standing and such disparity can't continue. "The answer is that an 8 to 2:30 education simply does not work for every child." While parents might be to blame for why low socioeconomic students are not performing at grade level, he said, the answer is in specialized education to meet student needs and filling gaps whether it's a half day on Saturday or 'enrichment time' in the summer, the academic bell curves match. Cautioning against what he said was the 'comfortable' notion that addressing poverty issues will solve academic problems, Heiner instead urged closing the gaps through more intentional efforts, like charter schools that operate on longer

Heiner said, however, charter schools alone won't fix the problems. He said he hopes 'traditional schools' will call on legislators to grant them the 'freedom' to address issues, calling for specialized programs akin to 'Industry 4.0' customization.

Listing ideas "worth exploring," Heiner suggested "competency based education" where students study topics until mastery before moving on; ensure students reading at their grade level; providing extra instruction and tutoring for those who need it; European-model apprenticeships and career counseling programs; expanded computer science programs.

Following his remarks, Murray State College of Education and Human Services Dean David Whaley presented Heiner with the 2017 Harry M. Sparks Distinguished Lecturer Award. 

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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