Fourteen Kansas schools will be the faces of change in Kansas education a year from now. In nine years, the state hopes all schools will make similar redesigns to get a higher percentage of graduates ready to live and work in the middle class.
No wonder education officials call this a “moonshot” and use Mercury 7 space mission names for the project. It may be the greatest undertaking in Kansas education.
Kansas Department of Education officials Tuesday identified an elementary and secondary school in seven districts that will pilot the program beginning in 2018-19. Through an overhaul of the schools, the goal is to create more students who are ready for middle-class jobs by the time they reach 24.
“Businesses are telling us to be more adaptable and flexible,” education commissioner Randy Watson told The Eagle’s editorial board last week.
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Schools will do so by making changes that can identify earlier a student’s area of interest and possible career path. Elementary educators may spend two or three years with a student, a teaching technique known as “looping.” In middle school and high school, Watson said, a student identified as wanting to help people may be directed toward nursing or teaching.
Once in high school, students may be challenged to think outside of the standard class that ends with an earned credit. Instead of a normal English grade, a student may be able to earn a similar credit by making a series of speeches over the course of a year.
Twenty-nine districts wanted to be in the first phase of the redesign. Each had to have buy-in from their school board, staff and teachers union.
Wellington and McPherson are the closest districts to Wichita on the front line of change. Sedgwick County’s only applicant was the Renwick district, made up of schools in Andale, Colwich and Garden Plain. Wichita and the bigger suburban districts that reach into the city limits for students did not apply.
There are questions associated with changing how Kansas kids are educated. Are the state’s highest achievers affected? Will colleges look the same way at a student’s transcript? Can a student be impacted if he or she wants to change paths a year or two before graduation?
Questions worth answering, but the data shows this chance needs to be taken. A Georgetown University study says 71 percent of all Kansas jobs in 2020 will need some level of college degree. The most recent numbers show 44 percent of Kansas high school graduates go to college. Watson wants that number at 70 percent soon.
The Kansas Department of Education has made a strong move toward a needed change. Without any increase in the department’s budget, it banks on an overhaul of teaching philosophy to get students closer to a future that cements them in the middle class, if not higher.