Indeed, Kansans Can: Innovation in the Wake of COVID-19

Topics: Education Policy

After conducting a year-long state-wide listening tour in 2015, the Kansas Commissioner of Education and State Board of Education formed a new vision for education in their state. Aptly named Kansans Can, the journey has been locally-driven and state-supported.

The new vision for education calls for a more student-focused system and is being bolstered by the Kansans Can School Redesign Project. Now entering the fifth phase, the total number of schools participating is up to 182, representing 73 districts! The commitment that districts must make to be able to completely redesign a whole school around the Kansans Can Vision with commensurate outcomes makes these numbers even more remarkable.

Then COVID-19 hit and Kansas was the first state to shut down schools. Undeterred and without a skipping a beat, Kansas took some big steps.

Navigating change by offering flexibility

With the release of their guidance to facilitate the reopening of schools, Navigating Change, Kansas recognized that there was an opportunity to produce new tools and resources to facilitate longer-term school redesign rather than merely navigating a short-term crisis. True to the tone set by the Kansans Can Redesign project, the over 1,000-page document contains no mandates and “provides districts the flexibility they need to meet the unique needs of students, educators and communities.” It highlights the fact that “this work has the potential to change the way we meet students’ needs for the next 30 years and beyond by allowing students to demonstrate mastery of their learning in a variety of ways.”

Together with Kansas educators and leaders, the state department of education examined the state standards and developed corollary competencies and learning progressions by grade bands. Each grade band is a stand-alone section with competencies (including social-emotional and character development), sample rubrics for performance-based assessments by subject and instructional examples that include personalized learning, project-based learning and blended learning. Moreover, the guidance encourages school leaders to develop their school plans through the lens of equity and access.

Next steps

A clear indication of their commitment to move forward can be seen in the state’s Rethink K-12 Education Model Grant application submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. Despite not being awarded the grant the state will move forward with this plan, making adjustments as needed, primarily the moving to online professional development.

“Before this pandemic Kansas had a large number of schools volunteering to redesign their educational systems to provide for better student outcomes,” said Dr. Brad Neuenswander, Deputy Commissioner Kansas State Department of Education. “After the pandemic, 100% of our schools are having to redesign their systems to support students, families and communities. Our agency had to rethink how we go about supporting all schools and all students in a different learning model, which includes providing educators the professional development to be successful.”

The stated goal in their application “is to improve student outcomes by building capacity to implement the Kansas Model of Competency-Based Learning which supports personalizing learning for each student through rigorous, remote learning opportunities.” The crux of their plan centers on the development of a professional learning framework, resources and opportunities that are educator-driven and leverage their educational service centers, an external partner and public television broadcast stations.

While some states are attempting to kick-start innovation, states like Kansas that began these efforts before COVID-19 are now able to leap-frog ahead.

How did Utah put thought into word choice for more permanent education policies during uncertain times that allowed for flexibility and sustainability?

This article was written by former KnowledgeWorks Senior Advisor of Policy and Advocacy Karla Phillips-Krivickas.