Thursday, October 13, 2016

Life is a Highway, and We Need a New car

What was your first car? Whether it was an old beater or a new whip, everyone has a special place in their heart for that first ride.  It was 1974, I had just turned 16, and had been picking up dates in a 1954 DeSoto Coronado.  Sure, it had the big Hemi engine, but not exactly the sled that impresses teenage girls.

I had saved some money, and I think my parents felt sorry for me for moving to a new town the summer before my junior year.  The car shopping began in earnest.  There it was, a vision shining before me: a 1969 Chevelle SS convertible for sale!  396 cubic inches, 350 horsepower, stock. A little out of my price range, but I had saved most of the money, would do my homework and stay out of the principal's office- really!  In hindsight I think Max was on board- what a great car!  But alas, mom nixed it because it was a convertible. It’s a safety factor.  My mom the worrier.

The Volkswagen Karman Ghia is a beautiful car.  Most of the body is handmade by the Karman Coach Works in Germany.  But alas, it is a beautiful body on a VW chassis.  The 1971 that I bought was rated at 60 sad little horsepower.  In a drag race, my little Ghia would not keep pace with a three-legged wiener dog. Conklin Cars was the recipient of a check for $1,200 written on my account.  It was hard for a 16-year-old kid to fathom that much money all at once.

In the world of education, like the world of cars, it is not all about looks.  Our state has developed a beautiful vision.  It is based upon input from Kansans of all stripes and is inspires us to do what is best for our kids.  Unfortunately, without a strong engine, Kansans Can is a Karman Ghia, all show and no go.  Two things make an education vision go: the hard work of educators and the resources necessary to do the job.  We know Kansas educators are up to the hard work, so let’s focus on resources.

Historically, Kansas has rewritten its finance formula about every 12-13 years, or if you like coincidences, about every generation of students. The formula is the engine that makes the vision go, and we have an opportunity now to design an improved engine to drive our new vision. I will divert from the VW metaphor now because of their recent issues with the law, and turn to an iconic engine maker- Harley Davidson.

The HD V-twin through the ages.
As we build our new school finance formula, the Harley V-twin is a good model to follow.  It has been a V-twin since the early days of HD, maintaining its basic structure and design.  In our recent tour of the state, KASB gathered data on a school finance formula.  USA/KSSA have been working on a formula.  These efforts revolve around a basic design that has been tried and true, like Harley-Davidson.  But even the traditionalists at HD have made evolutionary and even revolutionary changes to their engines.  They may look similar, but the 2017’s are very different from the 1957’s. 

Kansans have said the basic “old Formula” was good.  Providing funding on a per student basis, providing additional resources for proven additional needs, equity, and local flexibility are all part of that basic V-twin.  During our tour, we asked our members how to improve on that old formula. What they said is that we need to align it with our new vision.

Here’s what our members said the “engine” needs to reward and emphasize:
1.     Kindergarten Readiness
2.     Individual Plans of Study
3.     High school graduation rates
4.     Post-secondary attendance and completion
5.     Social and Emotional Growth
6.     Civic engagement/Character education/Soft Skills
7.     Staff support

For those familiar with Kansans Can, many of those formula enhancements will look familiar.  The suggested improvements align with the following outcomes from the state vision:

Kansas leads the world in the success of each student.

·       Kindergarten readiness
·       Individual Plan of Study based on career interest
·       Graduation rates
·       Postsecondary attendance/attainment
·       Social/emotional growth measured locally

A successful Kansas high school graduate has the academic preparation, cognitive preparation, technical skills, employability skills and civic engagement to be successful in postsecondary education, in the attainment of an industry recognized certification or in the workforce, without the need for remediation.

We have a great looking vision.  We are designing a new engine.  We should not be satisfied with putting the old engine back in the newly designed car; otherwise we end up with an all show and no go VW Karman Ghia.  This is our chance, our one chance for this generation of students, to build an improved engine, one that supports the vision, and helps Kansas education become the ultimate driving machine of world education.

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