Kansas educational system earns an F in parental access to impact educational opportunities

The Center for Education Reform (CER) has just released the Parent Power! Index, which is a state-by-state analysis of the “degree of access parents have to impact educational opportunities.” (emphasis not added) The Index measures the ability of parents to “exercise choices…engage with their local school boards…and have a voice in the education systems that surround them.” Furthermore, the index “gives parents an interactive tool to discover whether the state affords them due power – and if not, what they can do to get it.” Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Kansas earned an overall grade of F, ranking 44th among the states in parental access.

The lack of parental engagement is a common complaint in the education community, and one I heard echoed frequently in the schools where I taught. Although it may be true in some cases, that thinking fails to consider what kinds of involvement are provided and available throughout the state. An engaged parent can mean many different things other than just helping with homework.

The Parent Power! Index identifies five variables that measure the educational power of parents in each state. What follows is a brief explanation of each along with Kansas’s score in parentheses.

Charter Schools – (0% – F)

-> The degree to which states offer or provide for a significant number of charter school opportunities to families.

Private School Choice – (60% – F)

-> Programs which provide parents the opportunity to enroll their children in private schools with scholarships, vouchers and the like evaluated on their potential to reach all children across a state. (CER does recognize the Tax Credit Scholarship Program in Kansas, but the small scope and size of the program isn’t enough to give the state a passing grade.)

Teacher Quality – (68% – D+)

-> The extent to which states ensure high-quality individuals can teach without barriers to entry.

-> The extent to which states judge teacher effectiveness on objective data.

-> The amount of focus on attracting, retaining and rewarding teachers.

Transparency – (60% – F)

-> The extent to which states have

* Comprehensive and user-friendly school report cards.

* Information about school options.

* School board races during the general election cycle.

Personalized Learning – an approach to education that puts the individual student at the center of the learning experience. – (0% – F)

-> Laws and regulations that promote personalized learning.

-> Incentives for districts to experiment with different approaches to personalized learning.

-> The extent to which diverse learners and their needs are at the center of plans to execute the Every Student Succeeds (ESSA) Act.

CER also included two other considerations that were not part of the overall grading scheme.

1. Parent Triggers Parent trigger laws allow parents to band together and turn around failing schools. Seven states currently allow parents the power to do so. Kansas is not one of them.

2. Pro-reform Governor – CER does not consider governor-elect Kelly a pro-reform governor. Here is their quote:

Governor-elect Laura Kelly is something of a cipher on our issues. She seems to parrot “The Blob’s” favorite talking point, “business as usual, all we need is more money”. But she said this during the campaign, “There are many good paying jobs available that do not require a 4-year degree. I am a strong supporter of job training and efforts to provide incentives to attend technical or trade schools.”  Well, that may be true but it doesn’t say much about how Kelly will help students reach their highest potential.  CER will work hard to expand the Governor views on what constitutes good education.

This Parent Power! Index summary statement for Kansas pretty much says it all:

The Sunflower State has a less than sunny outlook for (education) reform. It offers no private school choice options, no charter schools, and very weak measures to promote teacher quality. Kansas has yet to embrace robust policies to promote personalized learning. On the bright side, there is plenty of room to grow! – Center for Education Reform

Clearly, there is much room for improvement that Kansas can do to improve the ability of parents to expand educational opportunities. Here are some changes that deserve action:

-> Charter schools could provide real choice opportunities for parents and families if control were wrested from school districts, the only legal authorizers in Kansas.

-> Parents could have more access to private school alternatives if the Tax Credit Scholarship Program was expanded to cover more students.

-> Teacher quality could improve through more objective evaluation systems, closing barriers to alternative methods of licensure and providing a reward system for effective teachers.

-> KSDE could make the school report cards much more user friendly by creating an A-F grading system like the one KPI has developed.

-> The education establishment can make steps toward personalized learning, beginning with the recognition that education is to be student-focused and not institutional-focused.