This year KASB is celebrating 100 years of service. There was a lot going on in 1917. Most importantly, America had just entered the War to End All Wars, which had been going on for four years. My grandfather was a soldier in France and the only story he would tell was how foolish he felt guarding a warehouse full of cabbages. Not surprisingly, the top song on the charts, such as they were, was “Over There.” The Livery Stable Blues” was recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, which one might argue was an early precursor of Rock and Roll. Besides the war, women’s suffrage was the political topic of the times. Montana led the way by electing the first female to the House of Representatives. My personal favorite invention of 1917 was marshmallow creme. Think of a world without this delicacy!
School board members in 1917 were part of a different system with different expectations. Only about 20 percent of 13- 19-year-olds were enrolled in High School. Graduation rates ran about 15 percent and the median education attainment at the time was 8th grade, exactly that of my grandfather. Only about 60 percent of 5- 19-year-olds were enrolled in school and that rate was only 40 percent for minority children. Thirty percent of African Americans were illiterate. These were not proud days for American public education.
One wonders whether board members were concerned about the low graduation rates and the poor treatment of minorities by the education system.Fifty years later, in 1967, those issues had reached the forefront for boards of education and American society.
Race riots were in the news in 1967, when KASB held its fiftieth convention. Rioting at home and war in Vietnam were the political issues of the day. As a third grader in Manhattan, Kansas, my biggest worry was whether he Russians were going to drop “the big one” (as my grandmother called the bomb), a concern made worse by being forced to practice for the event by hiding under a particle board desk in Mrs. Sunderman’s class at Marlatt School. The USA and the USSR were in a full-scale arms race and nuclear weapons were tested frequently by both sides this year. The world of science wasn’t all about bombs, as 1967 gave us our first successful human heart transplant. If there was ever something stranger than marshmallow creme, it is that Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees in 1967. Let that swirl around the record player of your brain for a minute. No wonder he set fire to his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival later that year.
In education, I was struggling with accents on syllables along with those nuclear war drills at Marlatt. In the rest of the country, great progress had been made. The enrollment rate for high school aged students was 90 percent, up from 60 percent in 1917. The graduation rate had increased from 15 percent to 70 percent and school enrollment had reached 90 percent for whites and only slightly less for minorities. The median educational attainment had increased from 8.2 years to 12.1 years. Board members had to be happy with the successes of the past 50 years.
And now it’s 2017 and board members still have plenty to worry about. Graduation and attainment rates have continued to increase over the past 50 years, but more recently, those rate increases have included dramatic increases in standards. Students take more classes to graduate and have higher expectations than those of 50 years ago and at least in Kansas, we look at student success instead of achievement or attainment. Much like those board members facing abysmally low graduation rates 100 years ago, board members in 2017 will rally to the challenge of taking responsibility for providing students the necessary tools to be successful citizens. KASB will be here to support Kansas school boards along the way, just as we have for the past 100 years. Understanding our past, Imagining our future.