Results Don’t Add up for Obscure Math Committee
By Jim Waters
LEXINGTON - Perhaps President Ronald Reagan was thinking about America's huge education bureaucracy when he said: "Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth."

Heaven help any political leader in Kentucky who attempts to shrink the bureaucracy or at least make it more responsive – even if the agencies being reconstituted have proven worthless.

Take, for example, the obscure Committee for Mathematics Achievement.

The agency was created in 2005 to, according to its enabling statute, develop a plan to "improve student achievement in mathematics" and which would result in "closing the student achievement gap among various student subpopulations."

Since that hasn't happened – at least not on a reasonable scale and timetable – Gov. Matt Bevin disbanded and reconstituted the committee, along with several other ineffective bureaucracies in an executive order earlier this summer.

Ryan Davis, a Jefferson County Public Schools teacher who chaired the CMA, isn't happy.

"Bevin's dissolution and reconstitution of this committee is a setback to the worthwhile work it was doing to help students in Kentucky," Davis writes in a recent op-ed.

Yet Davis fails to provide a single example of how students are aided by this bureaucracy.

Admittedly, it's hard to find such examples, especially when less than one-third of Kentucky white eighth-grade students demonstrate proficiency in math and trail the rest of the nation by double-digits in their performance and only 9% of the commonwealth's black eighth-graders were deemed proficient in the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress.

It's much easier to attack Bevin, as Davis does, for changing the committee's makeup and appointments than bemoaning how academic-achievement gaps have failed to close sufficiently and in some cases have actually widened – thus indicating a failure by this committee to achieve the purpose for which lawmakers created it.

Another head-scratcher is how this committee could fail to oppose the state's ill-advised plan to drop Algebra II as a required course for high-school graduation.

"It didn't take a stance," reported the left-leaning Kentucky Forward.

If this committee is about pushing for better math performance and closing gaps, wouldn't the fact that it caved to the pressure to lower the standards rather than plant a flag in favor of challenging our students to achieve at a higher level offer reason enough to disband it and try something different?

Apparently Davis feels he'll get more attaboys for attacking Bevin for his "disdain for democracy," "abuse of power" and how he "subverts the voice of the people" than by noting how the math performance for Kentucky's black students in both fourth and eighth-grades – the years NAEP is administered to elementary school students – declined in the most recent years.

Just two weeks before Bevin's executive order reconstituting this committee, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld – in response to a lawsuit filed by attorney general and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear – the governor's constitutional authority to overhaul several state education boards.

The court has ruled similarly in the past for governors of both political parties.

What Davis seems most upset about is that Bevin would dare confront an ineffective bureaucracy and those who view it as their personal fiefdom for pushing an ideology that focuses on turf wars and adult complaints rather than on improving students' performance, which is what legislators intended when they created the education system as a whole and its committees in particular.

Reagan also observed: "You can't be for big government, big taxes and big bureaucracy and still be for the little guy."

A relevant paraphrased version for Davis might be: "You can't be for big education bureaucracy and still claim to put students first."

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky's free-market think tank. Read previous columns at He can be reached at and @bipps on Twitter.

Published 01:30 PM, Sunday Sep. 15, 2019
Updated 08:55 PM, Thursday Sep. 19, 2019

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