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Kansas schools may no longer group students by grade level as part of plan to remake education system

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson presents the latest student performance data to the Kansas State Board of Education on Tuesday.

— Kansas public school officials are launching a project to overhaul the way education is delivered in the state through a project that they say is so ambitious, they are likening it to the NASA moon missions of the 1960s.

In fact, the first group of school districts that have agreed to launch the first pilot projects are being called "the Mercury Seven."

"We have likened this to when (President John F.) Kennedy issued a challenge to land a man on the moon," State Education Commissioner Randy Watson said Tuesday while briefing U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder on the project. "We have a 10-year journey, as we talked about this morning. It's a serious journey. We're trying by 2026 to totally redesign K-12 education for all 286 school districts."

At a Wednesday meeting, Kansas State Board of Education members were given a more detailed briefing of the program. Brad Neuenswander, the deputy commissioner in charge of learning services, who has been most directly involved in the project, tried to describe what people will see in a newly redesigned building, although he admitted that's not easy.

"I would speculate that if you walked into one of those districts, you’re not going to see a traditional setting," he told the state board Wednesday. "I think you’re going to walk in there and maybe see a group of kids not based on age, but based on experience and where they’re at. You may see 30 kids in a room with three adults supporting that. The whole structure of it, it’s hard to define."

Watson said the project grew out of a statewide listening tour that officials from the State Department of Education and members of the Kansas State Board of Education conducted in 2015. They met with community leaders, business leaders and parents in communities across the state, asking them what they expected from their local schools.

What they heard, Watson has said repeatedly since then, was surprising to many. While people said academic achievement was important, it often was not the most important thing people wanted from their schools. People also said they wanted schools to teach character development, citizenship and work ethics.

And perhaps most importantly, Watson has said, people said they wanted schools to provide individualized education, focusing on the unique needs of each student.

That listening tour led to the agency's new "Kansans Can" vision for education, and an initiative to completely overhaul the way K-12 education is delivered in Kansas over the next 10 years.

That will involve tearing apart a structure that has existed for roughly a century or more, since the end of the one-room schoolhouse, in which public education is organized around grade levels that are generally determined by a student's age.

Children enter kindergarten at age 5 or 6, and then each year progress to the next grade level, resulting in a system in which the content being delivered in a classroom is determined by a child's age and grade level, and not necessarily his or her interest or readiness.

"It has worked for a long time, but it was predicated on two concepts," Watson said. The first of those, he said, "is that most workers were either going to be on a farm or they were going to go to assembly line work. Employers in Kansas and across the nation are saying that’s not what work looks like today. We need different workers, we need higher skill workers. We don’t need low skilled workers."

"It was also predicated on a home life that had very supportive parents that could see delayed gratification – you study this thing now, you don’t know if that makes any sense, but later on you’ll use it," Watson continued. "And we had a more homogeneous clientele. So when you looked at a third grade, the (achievement) gap – there was a gap, but it wasn’t that wide. Now it’s pretty wide."

Earlier this year, the agency put out a request, soliciting school districts that would volunteer to be part of a pilot project to turn that 100-year-old education system upside down and completely redesign it. Those that volunteered had to commit overhauling one elementary school and a middle school and high school to create a system in which a child could proceed from kindergarten through graduation in a completely different, more individualized kind of environment.

Twenty-nine school districts submitted proposals to participate, and of those, seven were selected - the Mercury Seven: Wellington; Olathe; Coffeyville; Twin Valley; Liberal; McPherson; and Stockton.

To carry the metaphor even further, each of the original Mercury 7 astronauts has been symbolically assigned to one of those seven districts. For example, John Glenn has been assigned to Coffeyville; Gordon Cooper to Olathe; and Gus Grissom to Twin Valley.

Those seven are expected to have their new, individualized structures in place by August 2018.

And to complete the "moon mission" metaphor, the other 22 districts are being called the "Gemini" districts, and they will launch programs in 2019 or 2020.

An overhaul on the scale contemplated by the state is fraught with risks. One is the risk of alienating patrons of the district by launching a new kind of school system that parents and taxpayers in the district find foreign and unfamiliar. But Watson said the agency has done everything it can to mitigate that risk.

"Those districts are in a constant loop with their parents and their broader community," he said of the Mercury Seven. "So there should be no surprise when we get to August that their parents haven’t said yes, we approve of what’s going to occur. Now, will there be someone who wasn’t paying attention? Maybe. But it’s a deep involvement of parents in the community."

Comments

Ken Schmidt

Sounds like someone has seen a Montessori school recently. I can't say that I dislike this direction of exploring all learning avenues. Not everyone digests educational teachings the same way. My hope is that they explore the options fully instead of just making a blanket change with a pen's signature. This will be interesting.

1 month ago

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Richard Heckler

What's the agenda behind this big government take over of our school systems?

Never forget that behind the scenes the school system is being attacked by this powerful back door political party. A stench that must be eradicated.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dennis-...

The United States of ALEC.
http://billmoyers.com/segment/united-...

This film, featuring Bill Moyers, does a masterful job of explaining how the closed-door manipulations of the American Legislative Exchange Council and its corporate lobbyists affect public policy in every realm of our society -- including education.

Our nation spends about $500 billion in local, state and federal funds on public schools from kindergarten through high school. Most Americans view this as a wise investment in our nation's future.

Throughout the 20th century the U.S. was the clear leader in public education. We created the most vibrant economy the world has ever known.

The record speaks for itself -- public education is a great investment.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dennis-...

1 month ago

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Richard Heckler

The USD 497 Blended Learning concept is way ahead of this "big government" concept.

This ALEC spokes people are providing a sweet sounding snow job to Kansas taxpayers as s first step toward "privatizing " Kansas public schools. Aka big corporations getting billions of our tax dollars funneled into their bank accounts.

WE don't need radical right wing conservatives taking over our education systems.

We've witnessed what they can do to an economy through mismanagement of our tax dollars.

It appears the conservative political campaigns are coming out in force.

The entire DC delegation is a sell out.

The False Promises of “School Choice”

Vouchers are a vehicle to funnel public school tax dollars into private schools. Using the false promise of choice vouchers are an unabashed abandonment of public education and of our hopes for a vibrant democracy.

http://www.commondreams.org/views/201...

1 month ago

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Bill Turner

And what happens to the child who in today's model would be falling behind, and easily recognized as such because they weren't keeping up with peers of the same physical age? Wouldn't this make it more difficult to identify those individuals and get them the help they need early?

4 weeks, 1 day ago

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Richard Heckler

The "Blended Learning" approach such that USD 497 actively endorses
allows students to learn at their own pace so to speak.

It also frees up an instructor to work with those who seem to need assistance.

4 weeks ago

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Fred Whitehead Jr.

"WE don't need radical right wing conservatives taking over our education systems"

Why not? They elected the damned fool who is in the White House. Might as well give up and let the clueless voters who have started the decline of the republic have their stupid notions of education instituted.

It will all go nicely with the ultimate destruction of our country.

"they are likening it to the NASA moon missions of the 1960s" Like Apollo 13??

4 weeks, 1 day ago

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Ken Easthouse

Because the last time we had a Republican experiment in Kansas it turned out GREAT.....

4 weeks, 1 day ago

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Richard Heckler

Mainstreet Coalition FYI - a source of interest backing voter rights, public education, sensible taxation, women’s rights and moderate candidates.

=== See who we have endorsed
http://www.mainstreamcoalition.org/ma...

=== Get informed - http://www.mainstreamcoalition.org/ge...

=== MainPAC http://www.mainstreamcoalition.org/ma...

=== See how the extremists pick their candidates in our survey comparison
http://www.mainstreamcoalition.org/ca...

=== THIS IS ANOTHER SOURCE OF INTEREST :
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2...

4 weeks, 1 day ago

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Carol Bowen

This sure sounds like the educational movement back in the 1970s. See
https://books.google.com/books/about/...

4 weeks, 1 day ago

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Clara Westphal

It didn't work then and I doubt it will work now. They are not taking into account the social age and physical development of the student.

4 weeks, 1 day ago

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Carol Bowen

There were other downsides to individualized programs, too.

1. Individualized programs are labor intensive.

2. Lots of paper or computer work to track each student.

3. Enormous amount of daily teacher preparation.

4. Students do not benefit as much from interaction. There’s an assumption that subjects should be taught in isolation. Employers are looking for graduates who can work together.

5. Students who are learning individually have difficulty keeping a pace. They tend to slow down.

A current approach is constructivist learning, where groups are given challenges to explore or resolve. The preps are complicated. Ittakes a lot of planning to acieve education objectives.

You’re right,Clara. The outcomes were hit and miss. Maybe, this system is something new.

4 weeks, 1 day ago

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Tracy Rogers

It's a different world today vs. the 70s. Not sure any kind of comparisons can be made given the technology we have today.

4 weeks, 1 day ago

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Carol Bowen

Yes, now we have talking heads and plug ‘n chug exams on a tablet.

3 weeks, 6 days ago

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Michael Kort

How about a program rename ? ............. call it." Kansas--K--Thru---WHATEVER " ?...........and let the universities straighten out the state's best made plans to cut the cost of K-12 state funded education by offering remedial college courses in " K-Whatever ? " and by making college into a min. of 5 years + of expensive $ college student debt .

4 weeks, 1 day ago

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Richard Aronoff

Anyone here live through "new math?"

4 weeks, 1 day ago

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Carol Bowen

SMSG School Mathematics Study Group, University of Chicago

4 weeks, 1 day ago

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P Allen Macfarlane

As a former middle-school teacher, I can see a lot of merit in this approach to education, especially the part about providing more individualized instruction. It is always best to work with students where they really are in their education and not where they supposedly should be. It doesn't make any sense to teach someone 6th grade math when they are only capable of mastering the concepts taught in third grade. By the same token, that student may be well ahead of their grade in another subject. So, maybe you can send that student to an eighth grade language arts class. We don't all develop our abilities in different disciplines at the same rate.

I'm happy to see the demise of the factory model of education.

Now if we could just get past the grading system and provide something more useful to parents, that would be something. An "A" in a subject doesn't mean that a student has successfully mastered all the content in a subject area to the same degree. A more sensible approach is to inform parents and the student the degree to which they have mastered individual learning objectives.

4 weeks, 1 day ago

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Richard Heckler

The "Blended Learning" approach such that USD 497 actively endorses allows students to learn at their own pace so to speak.

It also frees up an instructor to work with those who seem to need assistance.

4 weeks ago

Report

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