Letter to the Wichita Eagle
How do you change the political education conversation in the state of Kansas from adult issues to what is best for the students and the future of Kansas?
The State Board of Education is leading a new conversation focused on a vision based on what more than 2,000 Kansans told us they wanted for the students of Kansas. The SBOE’s new vision “Kansas leads the world in the success of each student “places the focus of our conversation on the needs of our students. Across the state, parents, business leaders, educators and community members at more than 25 town hall meetings said that Kansas education needs to place equal value on helping students attain academic and nonacademic skills in order to be successful in the workforce. The citizens of Kansas stand together for high academic standards but also demand that schools be more purposeful and engaged in the development of civic responsibilities.
The State Board at its January meeting adopted a new definition of College and Career Ready (CCR). The Board changed CCR to a definition of a successful Kansas high school graduate. A successful Kansas high school graduate has the “academic preparation, cognitive preparation, technical skills, employability skills and civic engagement to be successful in postsecondary education, in the attainment of an industry level certification or in the workforce, without the need for remediation.”
In addition to including stakeholder input in the refined vision, the State Board has identified measurable outcomes that allow stakeholders to monitor progress of the vision’s implementation. Outcomes include: kindergarten readiness, high school graduation rates, postsecondary completion rates, Individual Plans of Study focused on career interest, and social and emotional growth measured locally. The State Board challenges our state to provide quality preschool and all-day kindergarten; to change school culture so that we value the career and technical education student as much as the student pursuing a four-year-degree; to create new roles for counselors and social workers that focus on Individual Plans of Study for each student; to build business and community partnerships that include career exploration, job shadowing and internships; and to reorganize schools around the student, not the system.
While the State Board has accepted this new vision, many of the key elements are already at work in Kansas. Civic engagement and high-quality character education is happening in schools across the state. Maize Complete High School was recently recognized as a National School of Character. The Wichita schools held their annual “Turkey Drive” and students collected more than 4,000 turkeys, 23,000 side items and more than $14,000 for the United Methodist Open Door Program. Districts such as Goddard provide all-day kindergarten. The Renwick District has received thousands of incentive dollars under Senate Bill 155 for students who have received an industry-level certificate while in high school. Students in Cheney are provided an advisor to guide and monitor the student’s IPS in grades eighth through 12. Wichita has an exemplary Parents as Teachers Program that reaches out to preschool students focused on school readiness.
What has been missing isn’t the will of school districts to implement these initiatives, but the resources and leadership to take the things we know work and make them happen across the state for each student.
High academic standards for all students, industry level certificates, 100 percent graduation rate and no need of remediation after high school — how does that sound for the students and future of Kansas? Can we do it? If you believe in the students of Kansas, we can and must. Kansas already ranks high in any number of national and international measures of school success, but we need better for our future. Gov. Sam Brownback, the Legislature, the State Board, local boards, teachers, business as well as the citizens of Kansas, need to work together to reach the vision: “Kansas leads the world in the success of EACH student.” Change the conversation to Kansans Can!