School change: the Kansas Education Commission

by Steve Wyckoff on June 15, 2010

Maybe school change can happen. In May the Kansas State Board of Education authorized the formation of the Kansas Education Commission to examine the framework for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). I have the honor, at least I think it’s an honor, of having been selected to serve on the commission.

Since my invitation I have given a lot of thought to my personal approach to the commission and I’m ready to put some of it in writing to see how it looks and sounds. I’m trying to clarify in my own mind what I think the state of Kansas should be thinking about in the redesign of schools. So here we go…

1. I believe that schools need to move from a push platform to a pull platform. If you haven’t read The Power of Pull by John Hagel, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison it’s a must-read. They do a remarkable job of describing how the world is changing. How we are moving away from centrally controlled and organized systems to empowered individuals, connected to others with similar interests and desires, creating our own knowledge and achievement as we go.

2. The core curriculum, that curriculum mandated by the Kansas Board of Regents, has always been the “main dish” of education. It’s time that the core curriculum be relegated to a side dish. The main dish of the system needs to be the inspiration of every student to discover what it is that they are so passionate about that they begin the journey to becoming remarkable at it.

3. We also must recognize that our system was designed to prepare large numbers of students in basically the same way, for the same work experience in their lives. Today instead of large numbers of students being prepared for a few work experiences, we must prepare small groups of students for vast numbers of work experiences. The “mass production” of students in a “factory model” school is simply intolerable in the 21st century.

4. I believe with all my heart that if a state like Kansas creates a 21st-century school system, even begins intentionally moving towards a 21st-century school system, individuals and businesses from around the world will flock to Kansas to join the movement.

5. As a state we need to minimize as much as possible the impact of the federal government on our system. The perverse focus on standardized tests and national standards is crippling us, and our students. We need to do the minimum to comply, and hope to do as little damage to our students as possible.

So do I think the Kansas education commission will lead to real school change? I think it has a chance, but I remain skeptical. I’m not sure this situation is desperate enough… yet! I remain hopeful. – Steve Wyckoff

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