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N.C. education consultant helping shape new federal K-12 law

Kenneth Bowen, a former N.C. teacher and principal, will travel to Washington later this month to join in education discussions.
Kenneth Bowen, a former N.C. teacher and principal, will travel to Washington later this month to join in education discussions. Contributed by Kenneth Bowen

A North Carolina businessman and former teacher is on a committee selected by the U.S. Department of Education that’s tasked with crafting testing guidelines for public schools under the new law that’s replacing the No Child Left Behind Act.

Kenneth Bowen, 36, of Laurinburg, will serve later this month on the 24-member committee, formed after President Barack Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act. The legislation earned overwhelming bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate last year as lawmakers looked to scale back the federal government’s involvement with classroom standards, yearly tests for students and K-12 mandates for states.

Bowen owns Bowen and Associates, a North Carolina-based education consulting business, and he holds three degrees from University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Republicans and Democrats heralded the Every Student Succeeds Act as an override to the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, which became unpopular with many educators and state officials due to a complex set of federal standards imposed on school districts.

Although the new law allows more local control over education standards, states will still be required to conduct annual testing to measure student learning. According to the Department of Education, committee members will help decide what types of testing will meet federal requirements, including a high school-level assessment mandatory for all students.

In those discussions, Bowen said, he’ll keep an open mind about best practices but feels strongly that the federal government and states should tailor standards to make sure students with learning disabilities aren’t put at a disadvantage. A single, uniform standardized test to measure teacher or high school student performance nationally, he said, may not be the best approach.

Many of those standards found in the old No Child Left Behind law, he said, were extremely challenging for teachers and education officials.

Bowen prefers accountability measures that use academic tests to show a student’s growth throughout the school year – not a system that measures whether teachers can bring all students up to one benchmark.

For students with disabilities or those who have learning difficulties in traditional classrooms, such uniform testing standards aren’t fair, he said. As a principal and a teacher, Bowen said, he often felt an emotional tug while watching students with learning challenges take those tests.

“You knew in your heart it wasn’t fair,” he said.

Bowen was tapped to serve on the Department of Education’s committee thanks to his role as a national consultant for Office Depot’s education services program. Office Depot contracts with school districts to sell supplies.

Previously, Bowen worked for 15 years in public schools, including as an assistant superintendent, a teacher and a high school principal in North Carolina and South Carolina. He owns Bowen and Associates, a North Carolina-based education consulting business.

He’ll travel to Washington for meetings March 21 to 23 with the education committee, whose members include state education administrators, school board members, Native American tribal leaders, parents and teachers.

Anna Douglas: 202-383-6012, @ADouglasNews

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