In 1985, 60 percent of the students in 52 Kentucky school districts were not graduating from high school. Of people aged 25 or older in Kentucky, there was a 36 percent chance that they had not graduated from high school and over half of those had less than a 9th grade education. Kentucky, at the time, led the nation with these appalling statistics. These numbers indicated to the Kentucky legislature that there was a significant and inter-generational problem in Kentucky's education system. Concluding the problem of illiteracy and academic failure tends to be repeated generation after generation, the state government created the Parent and Child Education Program (PACE) to intervene with both parents and children in order to break this cycle of under-education.
Recognizing the current adult population's educational challenges and the potential influence that early-childhood education programs can have on later success in school and in life, PACE seeks to improve the education of both parents and pre-school age children simultaneously. Run by 12 local school districts in cooperation with the Kentucky board of education, the program focuses on families in rural communities.
The program's concept is simple: everyone goes to school. For example, on a typical day in the program, parents and children arrive at school together. They have breakfast after which the parents go to their adult education classes while the children go to their pre-school classrooms. After two and a half to three hours, the parents join the children in class for joint activities designed to help the parents understand how their children learn and what their role is in the learning process. The parents and children then go to lunch together, after which the children take a nap while the parents attend programs designed to help them to be effective parents, students, and citizens, and to help them make plans for their academic and vocational future.
The program has had a significant impact. In its second year of existence, nearly 50 percent of the 1,000 PACE participant parents had passed a General Educational Development test, having a direct positive effect on Kentucky's current adult population. More importantly, however, 82 percent of PACE participants reported attitude changes towards education in general. It is through this change in attitude that Kentucky hopes to inspire ambition and educational progress among its children. This ambition will ultimately break the generational cycle of failure and improve the performance of Kentucky's youngest students.
Connecticut and North Carolina are already considering implementing programs similar to PACE. The program is ripe for replication in both rural and urban settings, for intergeneration illiteracy is present in nearly every jurisdiction of the United States.
Indeed, as many recognize, the key to improving the quality of life is enhancing the education of the citizenry and making school a priority in family life. With PACE, Kentucky has developed a model to address the challenge of adult education and ensure that children will succeed as well.