Kansas Can, launched by the Kansas State Board of Education is a visionary project to create more effective preK-12 learning. Begun in 2017 with seven schools, today Kansas Can has grown to include 66 of the 286 districts in Kansas.
Aimed at statewide, overall school redesign, the KSDE board laid out a concept for the project then engaged teachers to drive the course of action. All districts are expected to join the redesign process by 2026.
How much do we know about this ambitious undertaking to make the changes required for student success in today’s world?
Redesign emerged from conversations held in 2014 by then newly named KSDE Commissioner Randy Watson. Watson traveled the state conducting focus groups that totaled more than 2,000 people to learn their thoughts on the future of Kansas public education.
Kansans interviewed said that students needed to be better prepared upon graduation. Many said students should be learning “soft skills” including team work and responsibility.
Based on the feedback, the KSDE board established five redesign outcomes for measuring progress. Teachers in participating schools will measure steps taken for students to engage social-emotional development, kindergarten readiness and creating a plan of study focused on career interest. The outcomes also require collecting data on changing high school graduation rates and data on student participation in or completion of post-secondary learning.
At this point, the five KSDE board outcomes have been presented to school districts that volunteered to participate. No extra funding is allocated from KSDE or state education budgets. The work is school-site specific enacted by teachers in the 160 schools within the 66 currently participating districts.
For example, in Stockton, to promote social/emotional growth, the school provides for students and adult employees to meet regularly in a multi-age, small community to cultivate commitment to democratic values and participation in improving society on behalf of all people. In Wellington, personalized learning through basic academic content is offered by a free online/computer-based program within a limited number of carefully selected classrooms.
Neither online learning nor school communities are required as part of current school redesign — redesign rests with how teachers in each school interpret the KSDE outcomes.
School redesign is well known by educators but not widely known by the public, except in districts where there has been criticism of the new activities, often centered around classrooms where online learning covers basic content instruction.
While many Kansans support the current, free KSDE online learning opportunities that serve individual students away from teacher-led instruction, the public opinion jury is still out on whether shifting substantial group time to online for academic study is more beneficial than regular school.
Voters in Wellington will help make that call. This fall’s local school board election will see three open board positions contested by candidates, whose platforms, in part, address online classroom learning.
Change is often needed, but change also can be stressful and occasionally not productive. The important point to remember is that online classrooms are just one way to implement one part of the much larger redesign project, not the defining element of the KSDE redesign’s critical and far-reaching mission for each Kansas student to succeed.
Kansans can make redesign, though challenging, a change for the better. After all, redesign is not nearly as challenging as sending a man to the moon.
Sharon Hartin Iorio is professor and dean emerita of Wichita State University College of Education.