The new school year always begins with great excitement for
students, parents, teachers and school leaders. The goal is always the same: prepare
students to be successful. Success, at least in terms of employment and income to
support a family, increasingly requires more than kindergarten plus twelve
years of school.
This has been a massive shift from when schools only needed
to prepare the top third or half for more education. It means the economic
future of students and families, communities, Kansas and the nation depend on
how schools respond. There is a clear correlation between college attainment
and earnings, not just for individuals but states as well.
Previous blogs have discussed how Kansas compares to other states in postsecondary success, and a new state measure of postsecondary success showing some progress. Here are some ways school leaders can prepare more students
for life beyond high school.
Understand and be able to explain why more students will
need more than high school.
Three words: jobs, income, poverty. Studies
show that jobs requiring only a high school diploma or less are disappearing
and most jobs in the future will require more high school. Moreover, wages of
unskilled jobs have fallen and workers
without additional skills beyond a high school diploma now have much higher
poverty rates and dependency on public assistance.
Acknowledge that Kansas can do better.
generally proud of their public schools, which have delivered good results for
most students. Going back decades, Kansas educational outcomes have steadily
improved: more students are graduating, entering and completing technical
education and college degrees than ever before. But the reality is, other
states are doing better or improving faster.
Resources are a big factor in improvement (see these posts
on the 2018
Kansas education cost study and how Kansas
courts have used these studies), and Kansas school funding has fallen
behind other states in the nation and region (see this post
on funding trends). But schools have received the largest boost in funding
in almost decade over the past two years, and four more years of base state aid
increases have been enacted by the Legislature. School leaders have a unique
opportunity to redesign their programs and policies for student success.
success the center of your school board and community discussion.
school district is unlikely to make improving postsecondary success a long-term
priority unless the school board does the same. Is raising student readiness
for postsecondary education and the workplace part of your district’s long-term
strategic plan? Have you reviewed your district’s data (postsecondary progress
report, ACT scores, state and local assessments)? Is there time on every board
agenda to discuss what your district is doing?
In addition, the school board and district will struggle to
lead if the community isn’t prepared to follow. In fact, boards sometimes have
ambitious plans that run aground when people push back against change that
wasn’t expected, explained and justified. It is vital to keep teachers, parents,
community members and opinion leaders involved in the process.
One of the most common themes about efforts to redesign schools for improved
success is that schools cannot do it alone.
The first partnership is with the family. Virtually every
school redesign and improvement effort begins with the need to build a
more meaningful relationships with students and parents, even though this will
take more time and effort. Often students most at-risk of dropping out of school
or failing to focus on postsecondary plans have parents who were not
particularly successful in school themselves. Working to better prepare
students for college will be far more difficult if parents are uninvolved or
unsupportive because they don’t see the value or feel they will be losing their
Other partnerships are with the community. Here are some
examples Kansas districts are implementing: coordinating communitywide
preschool, early childhood and child care services; developing joint programs
with health care providers, including mental health services; planning for
safety issues with law enforcement; working with local business to give
students hands-on job experience through internships and job-shadowing; increasing
concurrent enrollment/dual credit opportunities and college transition programs
with higher education.
Look for ways to make your district more responsive to individual
Our current public -school system is heavily influenced by
two concepts. One is standardization, because a century ago that was the only
practical way to bring education to the mass public and to prepare students
for a standardized, factory-based world. The other is a commitment to equity, traditionally
based on treating everyone the same.
But the world is far less standardized today. There is a
growing sense that “the same” is not always equal. The traditional school
system worked well when one-third of the population needed higher education;
one third needed only a high school diploma and one-third could drop out of
high school and still find jobs. Today, schools are trying to prepare students
for a very different world.
The idea of individual, career-focused plans of study is
that students shouldn’t have to fit into standardized boxes. That suggests districts
may need to review such policies as granting credit for learning, graduation
requirements and attendance by asking if they help or hurt student
opportunities for success. For example, why do we insist that every student
goes to school from August to May for 6.5 hours a day, and then expect the
results to be suited to their potentially very different choices after high
Why only count learning that
takes place within the school building and day? Of course, these questions
raise further issues about everything from rules for activities to college
requirements to funding based on “seat time” – but those issues invite a search
for solutions, not stop the discussion.
Take advantage of new state support – and make sure
people know it is being used.
Give credit where credit is due. Over the
past two sessions, the Kansas Legislature expanded funding for early childhood
education, increased funding for teacher professional development and
mentoring, set up matching funds for school safety improvements, created pilot
programs for school and community mental health services, paid for free ACT and
WorkKeys testing for all students; and increased base funding to allow the
largest salary increases in a decade. Schools have also begun to restore 2,000
positions cut as state aid fell behind inflation.
This funding did not come easy. It took a controversial vote
to restore state income tax revenue and it will require continuing support to
maintain the plan adopted by the 2018 Legislature and comply with the Kansas
Supreme Court. Your district must keep patrons informed on how those dollars
are being used. (KASB has prepared a survey to collect and share that
information. Please use this link.)
If your school boards need help to address any of these
issues, please contact KASB. The Kansas State Department of Education has abundant
resources available on many of these topics, as well.