There is a continually increasing demand for (and effort from) our educational systems to innovate. And, while it is often districts that are at the helm of leading and implementing change, some states are taking the lead too.

Kansas, for example, has launched what they’re calling the “Kansans CAN project. According to the Kansas Department of Education, their graduate profile has been redefined to emphasize not only academic and cognitive preparation, but also technical skills, employability and civic engagement, in the form of higher standards, a more student-focused system and increased collaboration.

In an effort to bring their vision to reality, they created the Kansans Can School Redesign Project.

Kansas school districts were invited to apply to become one of seven districts selected for the redesign project. To be considered for the project, districts had to designate one elementary school and one secondary school to be redesigned around the new state outcomes, the updated high school graduate profile and what Kansans said they want their schools to look like in the future.

Twenty-nine Kansas school districts applied for the Kansans Can School Redesign Project, but only seven school districts — 14 schools — will serve as demonstration sites for others in Kansas to study, learn and visit under the project. These new school designs are slated for launch in the 2018-19 school year, and the remaining 21 were offered the opportunity to take part in the project on a smaller scale (under the Gemini Project).

As good as this may sound to both Kansans and non-Kansans alike, what are the real implications? In a recent interview, one veteran national educational consultant and Kansan who works for an educational service center that offers professional development services and solutions to educators both in and beyond Kansas, said “these changes in teaching and learning are things many of us have been promoting and leading for many years. But now, everyone is having to think about it.”

According to many of the stakeholders involved in the implementation of the school redesign effort, the state is engaging participants at all levels in meaningful discussion around what the work can and should entail.

Other States and Graduate Profiles

Other states are also developing statewide frameworks for student success through new graduate profiles, iNACOL has worked with the states of Virginia and South Carolina to redefine student success to improve student outcomes and drive coherence in state education systems.

These new graduate profiles specify the knowledge, skills and dispositions that students will need to succeed and thrive after high school. States, districts and schools can use this profile as a clear framework of priority goals for teaching and learning that can be easily communicated to students, parents, faculty, and staff.

Tennessee is re-envisioning the Business Roundtable and getting all stakeholders together. Tennessee businesses and nonprofits, in partnership with educators and government offices, are being asked to embrace a new paradigm: “For our businesses, our state, and our people, we must take action individually and collectively, and with others,to produce more workers, with better skills, matching our most-needed jobs, now and for the future of Tennessee’s economy.” They are doing this through nine key concepts, including active employer support from kindergarten through journeyman, focus on career awareness for all students, getting educators more business expertise, learning by doing and more.

EdLeader21, a network of Battelle for Kids, is also doing good work on graduate profiles through their Profile of a Graduate program. Getting Smart interviewed Ken Kay, the head of EdLeader21, to learn more about their approach–listen to that podcast here.

Looking Ahead: Why Kansans Can Is Special

What may be resonating both in and outside of Kansas is that this is, according to leaders in Kansas, not being dictated by the federal government, but by what state and local constituents and stakeholders wanted.

“While we’re providing support, this is not a top-down – federal or state-driven effort,” said Tammy Mitchell, an Elementary School Redesign Specialist with the Kansas State Department of Education.

”This is directly coming from what Kansans said they wanted from their schools. They wanted more rigor and personalization. But It’s up to each community to decide what they want their redesigned school to look like,” said Mitchell.

Kansas State Department of Education Secondary School Redesign Specialist Jay Scott reiterated in an interview that, collectively, educators have to acknowledge that the traditional education system has not kept up with the pace of change in our world.

“It’s most gratifying to see the adults in our school systems take action to build more future-focused and student-centered systems,” said Scott. “I believe our newly redesigned schools will be places where both teachers and students feel valued, a stronger sense of ownership, and motivated to teach and learn every day.”

In the end, the test may see its results in how teachers and students embrace the change and challenges. “Our teachers are obsessed with new learning. They are taking leadership roles like never before,” said Mitchell. “If we want lasting change, then those closest to the students – teachers – have to be in the driver’s seat.”

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