••• Education •••

State board’s adoption of goals and outcomes is a real head-scratcher

At the May State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting the board adopted a set of goals and outcomes for the remainder of the current board’s term, which ends in December of 2024. The set of four goals is the synthesis of discussions at board retreats earlier this year. These are the goals along with outcomes that accompany.

1. Provide effective educators in every school district.

Outcome: Increase the number of teacher candidates in Kansas.
Outcome: Strengthen leadership development in Kansas.

2. To best position each student for post-secondary opportunities and success.

Outcome: Decrease the percent of students scoring in Level 1 on the state assessments and increase the percent of students scoring in Levels 3 and 4 on the state assessments.

3. Enhance engagement and partnerships with families, communities, business, and policy stakeholders.

Outcome: To be determined.

4. Enhance the safety and security of school districts in Kansas.

Outcome: Diminish the threat and severity of school violence and cybersecurity attacks on school districts.

Provide effective educators in every school district.

Interesting verbiage on this one because the state board does not provide educators to the districts. The districts hire their own employees. That aside, the first outcome is one of quantity, while the goal deals with quality. However, I totally agree that school and district leadership needs to strengthened, the problem is, how can the state board of education affect that change?

To best position each student for post-secondary opportunities and success.

The outcome is simply to have improved state assessment results. The attention to this, in which poor state assessments results have gone unnoticed for years, is nothing more than a reaction to state legislators calling out the SBOE and KSDE’s inattention to student achievement. It is undeniable that since the end of the No Child Left Behind era, the importance of state assessments has been significantly downplayed. This is perhaps one of the reasons assessment scores continue to be low and income-based achievement gaps remain high. But all of a sudden, assessment scores have become important because the SBOE doesn’t like that members of the Legislature are taking notice and calling out the board for the continuing poor performance.

What is also peculiar about this being a goal for the next year and a half is that “post-secondary success” is one of the five pillars of the Kansans Can, which is the moniker for the SBOE’s vision that “Kansas leads the world in the success of each student.”

It is worth noting that since the adoption of Kansans Can several years ago, the percentage of students scoring in Level 1 (the lowest level) in both math and ELA (reading) has steadily ticked upward, while the percentage of students scoring in Levels 3 and 4 (proficient) has steadily ticked downward. The trend in lower state assessment outcomes was happening prior to Governor Kelly ordering school closures due to COVID-19. One would think that unacceptably low student achievement scores would garner more attention, given that those scores are part of the SBOE’s vision for student success. One would be wrong.

Enhance engagement and partnerships with families, communities, business, and policy stakeholders.

This is one of those goals that sounds like a good thing, but is meaningless in terms of how it is implemented. It could have read “Hey, let’s go out and do good things!” It is such an empty goal that the SBOE doesn’t even have an outcome attached to it.

Enhance the safety and security of school districts in Kansas.

On this one I agree with the board. They should be turning their attention to helping individual schools and districts with the safety and security of students and employees. It is very fortunate that there hasn’t been a Uvalde-type disaster at a Kansas school. I was a teacher when Sandy Hook happened. I must admit that our collective reaction was: That couldn’t happen here. Wrong. It can happen anywhere, at any time. So this should be the number one priority of all the adults. Cybersecurity is also a constant threat, albeit different from the threat of violence, so it is good that the board recognizes that as an issue in which to be reckoned.

Looking at the goals and outcomes as a whole, there is certainly nothing wrong with acknowledging there are things in dire need of attention. However, it is rather curious that they have been put into a grouping like this with a pre-determined time frame. Board member Jim McNiece made several excellent points about implementing the plan. He said this: “I would like to see the plan to implement the plan. It’s a nice plan. Who’s going to do it?” My thoughts exactly.

When pressed on this question, Education Commissioner Randy Watson – the one who put the plan together – had no real response. How, indeed, will each of these goals be impacted by December 2024?

McNiece also questioned how the success of the plan would be evaluated. And he is the only board member who stated the obvious: “Every one of these (goals) is a huge challenge. Not just one of them, every one of them. Who’s in charge?” McNiece is absolutely right. What’s the plan to improve state assessment scores? Ask districts to do better? How do you enhance and engage partnerships between schools and various members of the community? A plan without a way to implement is nothing more than pixels on a screen.

These lofty goals remind me of a quote from the great Milton Friedman who said: “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” If nothing is done to see these through the plan will be nothing more than another road to nowhere paved with good intentions.