Kansans Can: How Kansas is Rethinking Education

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By the Kansas State Department of Education

Kansas’ new vision for education is the result of simply listening to what Kansans told us they wanted from their educational system.

In January 2015, Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) leaders and Kansas State Board of Education members conducted more than 20 community visits across the state with parents, educators, stakeholders and business leaders. Kansans shared their thoughts on what they believe are the qualities, characteristics and skills of a successful 24-year-old and the role that K-12 education should play in preparing students for that success.

This led to the State Board of Education’s vision — Kansas leads the world in the success of each student — and five outcomes that will help measure  progress toward reaching what we call our moonshot: social-emotional growth; kindergarten readiness; Individual Plans of Study (IPS); high school graduation; and postsecondary success.

To lead the world, we knew we had to rethink our educational system, which led KSDE and the State Board to create the Kansans Can School Redesign Project. Twenty-nine districts, which is 10 percent of Kansas’ districts, applied to fill seven available spots in the program. These seven districts, named the Mercury 7, each agreed to redesign one elementary and one secondary school with on-site support from KSDE staff.

Twenty-one of the remaining districts that applied for the Kansans Can School Redesign Project accepted the opportunity to become a Gemini I district. KSDE staff members worked with the Gemini I districts virtually.

For nine months, KSDE’s redesign specialists Jay Scott (secondary) and Tammy Mitchell (elementary) traveled to the seven school districts to provide support and facilitation. Mercury 7 districts spent the first part of the 2017-2018 school year setting their visions and goals and researching new education models. In January 2018, it was time to launch pilot programs. Some districts focused on social-emotional development approaches while others chose project-based learning or personalized learning approaches. Within a few weeks, schools began noticing fewer behavior issues, an increase in engagement between students and teachers and fewer absences.

The true test will come in August when the Mercury 7 districts, along with a handful of the Gemini I districts, will officially launch their redesigned schools for the 2018-2019 school year. As with any systems change, we anticipate there will be challenges as schools, teachers and students settle into their new normal. Districts know they must remain nimble in order to address these challenges and that regular communication with parents and community members will be critical to their success. By January 2019, these schools will begin serving as demonstration sites for others considering the redesign process.

The next round of the Kansans Can School Redesign Project dubbed, Gemini II: The Space Walk Begins, is set to launch in August with 19 additional districts joining the redesign project. These districts will build upon the lessons learned from their Mercury 7 and Gemini I predecessors while paving the way for more Kansas districts to come

Kansas’ vision for education and its subsequent redesign project is a lofty goal. But like John F. Kennedy said in his famous moonshot speech: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard … because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept.”

We are committed to leading the world in the success of each student, and we are dedicated to reaching our moonshot – one student, one school at a time.

Editor's note: If you want to learn more about this innovative work underway in schools in Kansas, the Mercury 7 schools are scheduled to present before the Kansas State Board of Education on June 12-13. The meeting will be livestreamed live online at http://www.ksde.org/Board/Kansas-State-Board-of-Education/Streaming-Media

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