Sixty percent of Pratt County residents have attained some education beyond high school. The good news is that is very close to the state average, 60.3 percent.
"Here's the bad news," said Tom Krebs, governmental relations specialist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, speaking at a forum on Tuesday hosted by USD 382. By 2020, KASB estimates that 71 percent of Kansans will need a level of education beyond high school to support their families at a middle-income level and for the state to attract good-paying jobs.
In 1973, 70 percent of the state's jobs required a high school education or less. In the last 40 years, the percentage has flip-flopped, Krebs said.
He described some challenges: making sure high school graduates are ready to go into the workforce or enter college without remediation, and "racheting up programs" so kids aren't satisfied with just a high school education.
Kansas schools are doing well, but they need to improve.
"You don't get better by jumping over the same low bar," Krebs stated.
New standards, known as Common Core, or in Kansas, College and Career Ready Standards, raise the bar.
Krebs acknowledged and discredited opposition to the standards that have been adopted by 45 states.
They are not a "one size fits all" mandate from the federal government, they do not "dumb down" education and they don't take away local control, he said.
Since 1992, state law has directed the Kansas State Board of Education to adopt academic standards in core subjects, provide tests to determine how well students are meeting standards, and update standards in regular cycles.
When Kansas was due to update English and math standards in 2010, educators and KSDE staff evaluated the Common Core standards being developed by the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
In the heart of a recession, it was believed that if states did this together, they could save money, Krebs said, and it made sense to set standards related to what kids need to know when they get out of school.
Kansans were involved in writing the standards, and Kansans responded to requests for public comment. Adoption was voluntary.
Implementation remains under the jurisdiction of local districts and boards of education, Krebs said. Local boards will continue to make decisions about the textbooks and other materials students use, and teachers will continue to decide how to present the subject.
USD 382 Superintendent Suzan Patton noted that Pratt teachers have been preparing for the new standards for the last two years, and that this is the implementation year. She praised them as being more rigorous, and teaching kids to think at a much higher level and not just regurgitate facts.
"We can't teach kids a set of skills to do X, because we don't know what X is," Krebs said, noting how rapidly technology is changing the way jobs are done.
He also acknowledged a complaint that kids working in retail stores don't know how to count back change. They don't need to know that; a computer does it for them. He predicted, however, that those kids could set up a spreadsheet to analyze data and make a business more productive.
Opponents of the new standards attempted to block their implementation in the Kansas Legislature last May, and were unsuccessful. Four of the six Kansas representatives in Washington, D.C., oppose Common Core.
Senator Pat Roberts has criticized the standards as being a "one size fits all" education agenda and signed a letter sent to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee, calling for a halt on spending of federal funds related to Common Core. Representatives Lynn Jenkins, Kevin Yoder and Tim Huelskamp signed a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, saying the state had been coerced into choosing the standards.
Opponents maintain Common Core standards and related tests will be too expensive.
The Kansas Legislative Post Audit Division estimated the cost of implementing the standards, new assessments and a new teacher evaluation system at between $34 and $63 million over the next five years. Most of the cost is for teacher training, modifying curriculum and new textbooks and materials, many of which are already planned, according to KASB. The same costs would occur if Kansas had adopted a different set of standards and will be repeated if Kansas drops the Common Core and starts over.
"If Common Core doesn't go through, we're back to the 1990s and No Child Left Behind," Skyline Superintendent Mike Sanders said.
Skyline teachers have also been planning and attending in-service training over the past two years, and have de-emphasized state assessments so they could focus on the new standards that he said were more challenging for students and for teachers.
He thinks the next step in education will be to find a balance between the more rigorous new standards and the old "drill and kill" assessments that accompanied No Child Left Behind.