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.
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.
Kansans are 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.
Make postsecondary success the center of your school board and community discussion.
Your 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 students.
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 student needs.
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 school?
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.