Kansas Public Schools Relying on Blueprint for Literacy to Build Reading Skills

Initiative targets students preparing to be teachers and educators in the field.

Blake Flanders, president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, and Cindy Lane, the new director of the Kansas Blueprint for Literacy, spoke on the Kansas Reflector podcast about the imperative that Kansas better equip current and future educators to teaching reading instruction to students. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

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Cindy Lane takes it personally that Kansas needed a Kansas Blueprint for Literacy initiative to improve preparation of educators to teach reading and funnel more literate students into colleges and the workplace.

Lane, retired special education teacher and former superintendent of Kansas City, Kansas, schools, will soon step down from the Kansas Board of Regents to become administrative director of Blueprint for Literacy. The Kansas Legislature adopted and Gov. Laura Kelly signed into law a bill mandating the state’s education system engrain in current and future teachers evidence-based reading science strategies.

A bipartisan coalition of state legislators earmarked $10 million to implement the blueprint and work to change the lives of 40% of Kansas public school students not proficient at reading.

“Frankly, this is personal,” Lane said. “I was a kid who my favorite subject was recess. It really was. The way that reading was approached at that time didn’t connect with how I think and grow and I really didn’t learn to read until I was in junior high. And, I can’t imagine being a person who never had a teacher that figured out what’s the code for that kid to be able to learn to read. I can’t imagine what their life must be like today.”

Lane, who plans to resign from the state Board of Regents on June 24, will collaborate with universities and school districts to reform instruction of college students studying to become teachers and to provide existing teachers with new literacy tools. The law also required creation of an oversight commission, the establishment of university centers of excellence and regular accountability reports to the Legislature.

“There is an imperative here to make sure that all of our students are highly literate,” Lane said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “They have to be able to read and write well to be successful today. So, for me, this is dream making. You have a dream. I want to help you get there.”

‘Get off the sidelines’

Blake Flanders, president of the Kansas Board of Regents, said the law could be viewed as the largest workforce development project in state history in terms of targeted training and retraining within the education field.

The Board of Regents, which has jurisdiction over the six state universities, will have a prominent role due to the number of school of education students in the pipeline who must enroll in a pair of three-credit-hour courses offering hands-on experience in teaching reading to children.

Under Senate Bill 438, the state universities must begin offering the two new literacy courses this fall or be sanctioned. Kansas State University and the two other larger universities would lose $1 million if they procrastinated, while Fort Hays State University and the two other regional universities would lose $500,000 if they balked.

“We don’t have enough students reading at grade level,” said Flanders, who argued 40% proficiency among students should be viewed as a crisis. “We’ve got to get off the sidelines. We’re the ones charged with educating the educators. Right? So we’re stepping into the arena to not say we have all the answers, but to open open the tent to everybody.”

The Kansas State Board of Education will be part of the mix given the plan to retrain thousands of licensed Kansas educators in reading instruction, Flanders said. Both boards will be expected to collaborate with the new Literacy Advisory Committee.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican and chair of the Senate Education Committee, worked on creating the framework for an inclusive approach to elevating reading instruction with higher education institution, education advocates, school districts and parents. It will add to the state’s deliberate work to improve early literacy success of young children.

“For many years,” she said, “the Kansas Legislature has recognized the solid science behind early literacy success in children. It requires early screening of children, solid teacher training and classroom materials that support evidence-base practices.”

Advisory panel key

The advisory committee established by the law must be in place by Jan. 1 with representatives from universities, community colleges, technical colleges, the state Board of Education, the state Board of Regents and the Legislature.

“This group is essential,” Lane said. “We need all the minds at the table. It’s a big tent kind of mentality. My role is almost like the general manager of a baseball team. And, this advisory committee is on the field in the positions and they will be called on based on their individual knowledge at times, but they also may be called on to go somewhere else on the field and perform.”

Likewise, the advisory panel would develop a plan by Jan. 1 to establish the centers of excellence in reading that would provide assessment and diagnosis of reading difficulties, train educators in simulation labs and support other professional learning opportunities. The intent of the law would be for all elementary school teachers in Kansas to earn a reading instruction credential by 2030.

The law set goals for student achievement. Half of students in third to eighth grades would be expected to achieve Level 3 in standardized testing in reading by 2033, which would mean they understood skills and knowledge needed to be college or career ready. Also, the 2033 target would be for 90% of these 3rd to 8th grade students would read at Level 2, which is viewed as equal to their grade level in school.

Flanders said one estimate indicated the state’s economy would create 56,000 new jobs by 2030. Eighty percent of those would require a baccalaureate degree and the current rate of achievement in reading in Kansas public schools wouldn’t fill that workforce gap, he said.

The state university system would be “committing malpractice” to acknowledge students and teachers were struggling with reading instruction but choose not to be part of the solution, Lane said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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