School change: the good news, and the bad news from the KSDE conference

The annual KSDE conference was held this past week and I was interested in some themes that seem to be emerging from the many conversations. You can decide which conversations were the good news, and which were the bad.

Conversation number one. As always I had the opportunity to talk to a great number of superintendents about this years enrollment. The trend started early, superintendents were telling me that their enrollment was up. I don’t know what the numbers are, yes this opinion is unburdened by data, but I quickly became aware of how many school districts reported that they had increased enrollment. If this trend holds it is definitely a reversal from recent years.

Conversation number two. Actually, this was the un conversation that I became aware of when I talk to Terrel Harrison from Colby. She told me that it had been a much more pleasant fall without the constant threat of imminent budget cuts. That’s when I realized I hadn’t had a single conversation about money.

Conversation number three. The new Deputy Commissioner appointed just the day before the conference started was on many peoples’ minds. Some were exuberant in their support, many reserved judgment. Concerns for those that had them seemed to center on the issue of his support for innovation and creativity in schools, or would his traditional paradigm stifle the innovators? This will be an issue worth watching since the goal of the state Board of Education is the redesign of the delivery model. It’s hard to redesign the delivery model without turning the creative and innovative people loose to experiment.

Conversation number four. Testing, testing, testing … Insanity!

Conversation number five. The recommendations starting to come out of the Kansas Education Commission. There seems to be large and growing support for project-based learning, or more generally learning by doing; focusing on authentic student engagement, not just test scores; and the tension that is growing between college ready, career ready, and more generally, life ready.

In my opinion the news was a mixed bag. Some good, some bad, some wait and see. I am still very concerned that the federal government is absolutely forcing us in the wrong direction, but there are more and more conversations about how to mitigate the damages done by ESEA. We have had 12 years and two administrations encouraging the wrong kind of school change.

I am encouraged that there are more and more conversations about doing what’s best for kids rather than what’s best for the federal government. Stay tuned. – Steve Wyckoff