As July turns into August, Kansas school districts will be in the spotlight. Educators return to work; school resumes for half a million Kansas students; and school boards hold public hearings and adopt budgets for the new school year.
These are opportunities for school leaders to talk to their friends, neighbors and constituencies about important directions in Kansas education. KASB is suggesting some ways you can communicate about your budget, changes in your schools, goals and measures of progress, and our ultimate purpose: a better, stronger Kansas.
Here is a simple formula: New Resources, plus Redesigned Schools, equals Student Success, equals a Stronger Kansas.
It is a way of answering four questions. First, how are you using increased state funding and programming choices? Second, how and why are you changing the way schools operate to help more students succeed? Third, how will we know if it’s working? Fourth, how will changes in funding, schools and results improve the lives of all Kansans?
New Resources and School Budgets
For the third year in row, Kansas school funding has increased more than inflation, following eight years of falling behind. Three more years of additional aid is committed. Adopting the legal budget document is your opportunity to explain what you hope to accomplish in five key areas. Not every district will deal with all of these issues this year, but every district will address many of them.
Quality Educators. Since 2009, Kansas teacher salaries have fallen behind inflation, salaries in other professions requiring college degrees, and other states.
What is your district doing to make your salaries more competitive (raises, benefits), support teachers in their professional development or adding instructional time, and create incentives to enter teaching?
Equity in Student Achievement. Low achievement by too many students was the basis of the Gannon school finance case. Lower income and disabled students, English Language Learners, students with physical and mental health issues and other challenges are much less likely to be successful in school and beyond.
What are you doing to help students who are not where they need to be? Steps may include more early childhood programs in your schools or community to help students start school on a more equal basis; adding special education staff; extra assistance in reading and other core areas; adding tutors, before and after school programs, summer school and other opportunities.
Student Safety and Health. While schools are among the safest places to be, too many students and parents worry about the physical safety of school building, bullying, depression and suicide, or face severe trauma outside of the school – all of which interfere with learning.
What are you doing to make schools safer and students healthier? This could include more security for your school buildings or new construction; adding counselors and social workers and partnering with community providers to expand mental health services; and supporting a positive school culture with smaller learning communities and stronger relationships with individual students.
Preparation for Postsecondary Education and Careers. The Kansas economy needs more employees with technical credentials and college degrees, and most students will need more than a high school diploma to be able to support a secure “middle class” lifestyle.
What are you doing to implement meaningful individual plans of study and increased guidance counseling? How are you increasing career exploration, real-world work experiences and civic engagement in your community? How are you expanding concurrent college enrollment and technical education pathways?
Effective and Efficient Schools Responsive to Local Communities. Finally, what are you doing to maximize resources and collaborate with other districts, local governments, agencies and private partnerships, while meeting the unique needs of each community?
We know these are priorities because KASB has tracked statewide data on salaries, new positions, and allocation of funding; and collected examples of this work over the past two years. It is vital your students and staff, parents and patrons understand how you have used past funding increases, new funding this year, and if possible, some of your long-term goals for the final three years of increased funding under the Gannon case.
Redesigned Schools for Student Success
Additional funding and budget choices are critical, but we know many students are not succeeding as schools are currently designed. Whether participating in the State Board of Education’s school redesign “Moonshot” program, moving into the new accreditation system or working on their own, school leaders are focusing on four principles to improve schools for all students.
Student success skills linked to social and emotional learning as well as academics. How are you making sure your academic expectations have the rigor to prepare students for high school and beyond, balanced with support for their social, emotional and character development?
Family, business and community partnerships. What are you doing to build stronger relationships with families, involve local businesses in career development and partner with community agencies and organizations?
Personalized learning. How are you working to individualize learning to better meet each student’s strengths, needs and interests? How are you giving students mores choices to learn in the time they need, at the pace they need, in the setting in which they learn best and on a path that matches their interests and passions?
Real-world applications. How are you supporting project-based learning that helps students learn by doing and apply what they learn; internships and job shadowing to show students what work is really like; and civic engagement that challenges students to give back to their community?
Measuring student success
A reasonable question to ask is: how will we know if the new money and changes are having a positive impact? As with every change in a system, it may take some time to see the impact, especially in programs like preschool and grade school reading programs. However, each school board and its community will have some clear way to track progress. These are:
- Academic performance on state assessments in reading, math and other areas, given every year in most grades three through eight and in high school, and other local tests your district may use.
- The percent of students scoring taking college prep courses in high school and scoring at “college ready” benchmarks on the ACT test, and those showing work readiness levels on the ACT Workkeys test. (Last year, for the first time, the state paid for all Kansas high school students to take both tests at no charge.)
- The high school graduation rate, for all students and different groups of students who tend to have lower performance.
- The number and percentage of students completing college courses in high school through dual or concurrent enrollment or technical programs, or Advanced Plans or International Baccalaureate programs.
- Each district’s postsecondary effective rate, which measures the percentage of each class that is enrolled in, or has completed, a postsecondary program leading to a technical certificate or college degree with two years of high school graduation.
- Other local measures, like social and emotional health and citizenship.
The ultimate measures of success will be whether young people leaving the school system have the skills to be happy, healthy, economically successful and engaged in their community.
States with higher educational attainment have higher average incomes and less poverty. Communities have the workforce to attract and retain business. Individuals with higher education earn more, are more likely to be employed, and less likely to require public assistance or incarceration. Addressing social, emotional, health and character education can’t be measured like test scores, but supporters happier, healthier, more engaged and giving adults.
KASB encourages school leaders to share this formula for success and how it is working in your district. Create a presentation to use at your budget hearing, back to school events and local civic organization. Develop a fact sheet to distribute to staff, parents and guests. Write a story for school newsletters and letters to the editor. Share with social media. Let us know how we can support you.