Give Randy Watson, commissioner of the Kansas State Department of Education, and state Board of Education members Jim Porter and Kathy Busch credit. They’re thinking big about the future of Kansas students, and they’re not afraid of setting ambitious goals.
“We’re trying now to create a whole new system of schooling,” Watson told The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter. “We likened that to Kennedy’s challenge. It’s the hardest work we’ve ever done.”
The Kansans Can School Redesign Project is multi-faceted. It includes individualized plans of study, a focus on early education, technical training, and a focus on social and emotional growth of students. The plan will unfold over the course of a decade to include this multitude of inputs, and it encompasses some 67 districts and 165 schools.
In short, the days of insisting that every single student in every single class follow the exact same past are over.
This is an incredibly important goal, and the work that Watson, Porter and Busch are undertaking could not only transform the educational experience of Kansas students, but the future of the state itself. That’s the ultimate goal of a successful education overhaul — not just making individual lives better but improving communities and the state in the process.
“I believe we have an unprecedented opportunity, an unprecedented responsibility,” Porter said, referring to the extra state dollars that are finally flowing into the education system. “We have to make sure the money is spent wisely. I have been very encouraged with what I’ve seen.”
The effort can’t let up, either. A decade-long project will face changing winds of public opinion and current events. Political leadership and available funds may shift. But state education officials should commit to staying the course for all of us. If some of the strategies don’t seem to be working, they should be changed. The overall project, and the overall goal, is worth continued dedication.
The state’s education system has endured much in recent years. Former gubernatorial administrations were reluctant to fund schools fully, leading to protracted litigation and repeated legislative clashes. Many educators left the state, and those who remained were forced to do more with less. Students paid the price.
This new reality, and these new plans, are a breath of fresh air for Kansas schools and students. They’re a breath of hope. We’re eager to see what’s accomplished.