Welcome to our online chat with Bob Corkins, Kansas Education Commissioner.
The chat took place on Thursday, February 2, at 1:00 PM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.
Moderator: Welcome to our chat today with Bob Corkins, the state's new education commissioner.
We've got lots of questions already from our readers throughout the state, so we'll go ahead and get started.
Bob Corkins, Commissioner of Education: Hello. It's good to be taking part in this today. It's a new type of interview experience for me.
Alex, Lawrence: Bob, thanks for all your hard work trying to improve education in Kansas. I know the critics haven't given you a chance. Are you still working on proposals to give Kansas families the choice of where to educate their children?
Bob Corkins, Commissioner of Education: Improved student outcomes is what I'm all about, and what I'm convinced all educators are about. Choices, options, and tailored educational experiences -- among many other factors -- are what achieve those results. I'm convinced we can offer, and do offer, an incredible variety within the traditional public school system. But there is always room for improvement and new approaches. Vouchers are not on our agenda right now, but there are many other ways we can work together for educational diversity.
David, Independence: How do you envision changing the conversation in Kansas education to being about teaching and learning and not about political and divisive issues like evolution and charter schools? Do you not feel that the focus has been taken away from what is important to our children in Kansas. I am a recently retired teacher and believe I am cognizant of what schools and the education "leadership" should be doing.
Bob Corkins, Commissioner of Education: First of all, I'd say that public charter schools are not the divisive issue that you suggest. There is a great deal of support for those in place now and for their statewide expansion. In terms of overall leadership in the field of Kansas education, though, I believe our State Board has embraced a truly visionary policy in favor of what is termed "growth modeling". It means that we would implement a process for tracking individual student improvement, not merely the performance of groups or cohorts of kids, but the actual "value added" improvement for each student from one year to the next. If we are not going to leave any child behind, this method of student evaluation is essential. And, it's the way to appropriately tailor education to each student's individual needs. Our State Board adopted this policy, by the way, in January with a unanimous 10-0 vote.
Diane, Lawrence: Why do you feel you are qualified to lead the schools of Kansas?
Bob Corkins, Commissioner of Education: I am a product of public education, K through post grad, and I owe all the career opportunities I've had to the Kansas public school system. I'm an attorney who is well versed in school finance law and all the constitutional issues it touches. I've professionally researched countless education issues affecting Kansas and I have a wealth of experience in dealing effectively with Kansas lawmakers of all political affiliations as they grapple with these issues. I've represented thousands of Kansas businesses and have successfully operated three small businesses. All these factors, and more, contribute to my unique qualifications for the job.
Rich, Lawrence: Commissioner Corkins,
First let me say thank you for your service to Kansas. A recent publication released by the Brookings Institution entitled, if I have the title correct, "School Choice: Doing it Right Makes a Difference," makes the point that there are already a great many choices in public education and that parental choices in their children's educational opportunities take many forms. The trick is to find what mix of choices is most effective, efficient and equitable depending on the local mix or resources available to families and communities. The study also makes the point that any system of school choice that uses public tax dollars has proven most effective, equitable and efficient when all schools are held to the same standards. Speaking as a member of a local Board of Education, an advocate for children with special needs and for children whose families have few discretionary resources I have to ask the question: How does your approach to publicly funding schools without providing a voice to parents through participation in locally elected Boards of Education conceptualize equity, efficiency, and effectiveness within a larger set of choices such as segregation occurring by choices made in the real estate market, vouchers, on line learning opportunities, etc.?
Bob Corkins, Commissioner of Education: Local control and buy-in from the community are essential to any school's success. The school choice policy issue on the table concerns charter schools, and I assure you these preserve local control. Our bill before the Legislature merely provides a greater assurance that parents in the community who wish to create a charter school are given a fair hearing and that their proposal is not dismissed arbitrarily. Providing an appeals process if their petition is denied by the local board is a simple matter of providing fair, arms-length local negotiations. Charter schools are subject to state QPA standards like every other public school.
Tyson, Leawood: Maybe a major problem with our education system is that people from the "education" fields are put in key positions. It's great to see Mr. Corkins as Education Commissioner.
Has there been consideration to requiring school administrators to have stronger business backgrounds? Maybe those positions should be open to business executives and engineers to bring innovative ideas and get school budgets under control.
Bob Corkins, Commissioner of Education: I don't know about the history of such proposals for school administrators in Kansas, but I can say there is a strong national trend for administrators with a more diverse background. Some of the largest school districts in the U.S. -- Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Miami, etc., districts that have more students than we do in our entire state -- have selected their chief officers from the ranks of people with business, military, and other non-education related fields.
Ryan, Lawrence: Mr. Corkins, with all the talk about de-emphasizing evolution in Kansas education, what positive impact will this have on our state medical institutions & schools in the future? Thank you.
Karen, Lawrence: Are there scientists in geology and biology who present quantifiable evidence of intelligent design?
Nate, Belleville: Mr. Corkins, why do you advocate the teaching the ridiculous "theory" of creationism in Kansas public schools?
Bob Corkins, Commissioner of Education: I fully expect that once Kansans move past the paranoia of "perceptions", they'll find that the concerns expressed in each of these questions is without substance. The science standards approved by the State Board in no manner insert the teaching of creationism, intelligent design, or any theory competing with evolution. The standards simply recommend that any evolutionary teaching simply acknowledge the limits of what science knows. Rather than teaching evolution in dogmatic fashion, our standards ask that it be identified as theory, not fact. Evolution is clearly the most well researched and most well established theory that should form the basis for instruction. But where legitimate criticisms are evident, they should be called to students' attention. If anything, our new standards represent the promotion of secular, neutral, non-ideological pure science. They are standards that will instill critical thinking skills in our students that will serve them extremely well in whatever endeavor they choose.
Jim, Shawnee: Mr. Corkins --
I'll be very blunt. I'm a 25 year old, 2nd year special education teacher in the Kansas City, KS school district. I teach at perhaps the lowest-performing middle school in the entire State of KS. I graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelor's and 2 master's degrees in education. My salary is a mere $35,000. I could easily return home to the Chicagoland area and earn $55,000 and retire well over the $100,000 mark. Salaries and benefits are low, and so too, is teacher morale. Everybody and anybody who has put a kid in KS public schools think they can do the job. So as education commissioner, tell me, why stay in KS when it is evident, and clear, such mistrust in our public schools and teachers exist?
Bob Corkins, Commissioner of Education: Rather than mistrust, the overwhelming sentiment is one of seeking the best possible education outcomes -- for all kids -- that we can achieve. It's not about trust; it's about continually striving for improvement. More options and more student-centered education approaches will benefit everyone. The best charter school studies yet done, for example, show that student performance improves not only for those that enjoy the charter option, performance also improves for those in nearby traditional public schools. Alternative schools, virtual schools, magnet schools and others are all to be applauded for increasing the diversity of options. Furthermore, teachers benefit from expanded employment alternatives. They will be better able to select the school environment, curriculum, and teaching approach that will give them the greatest professional satisfaction. Many other factors will affect their opportunities for greater compensation. I believe the majority understands that greater education funding should be part of the picture, but innovative approaches to the education delivery system have to be considered as well. Don't be too fast to jump at a Chicago teaching job, incidentally, until you compare the cost of living there as well.
James, Linwood: It is my understanding you support vouchers "scholarships." Do you believe private and parochial schools, that accept vouchers, should be required to meet the same state and federal regulations as public schools and accept all children?
Bob Corkins, Commissioner of Education: If you had asked me a year or more ago why I advocate school choice, I'd have said that student outcomes improve as options allow more flexibility, adaptability, a greater tailoring of education to meet the needs of individual kids. As I've held in-depth talks with the great professionals at the Department of Education and educators throughout Kansas, I've asked them what they believe needs to happen over the next ten years to improve our public school system. Their answer: public schools need to become more flexible, adaptable, with a more tailored approach for each student. That is the common ground that we're proceeding on. If vouchers ever happen, it won't be due to any one individual's personal crusade. It will be because the Kansas public demands it. Until then, I am excited and perfectly content to work for the greatest degree of reform we can achieve in the public school system in line with the common goals we've identified.
Julie, Lawrence: What kind of funding package would you like the Kansas Legislature to pass for Kansas schools? Is the $400 million figure reasonable?
Bob Corkins, Commissioner of Education: The State Board has already submitted an FY07 funding recommendation to the Legislature that totals approximately $180 million in enhanced funding over what the special session produced last summer. The Governor and many legislative leaders seem to be focused on a target that is in this area, but that would be part of a multi-year funding package. I believe that to be reasonable, but of course we don't know what the final product will be and what the Court will find acceptable. Most important, however, is the question of how we allocate and spend the dollars that are ultimately approved. The Post Audit study said nothing about how K-12 funding increases should be effectively applied. And incidentally, the State Board's recommended package includes money for all-day kindergarten, a move that would create tremendous long-term improvement in student outcomes.
Moderator: That will be our last question of the day.
I'd like to thank our participants for so many questions.
And, commissioner, I'd like to thank you for coming down to the News Center in Lawrence today to participate in this online forum.
Bob Corkins, Commissioner of Education: I'm grateful for the opportunity and would be glad to do this again sometime very soon. There were many questions we didn't have time to cover, so meanwhile please know that your thoughts and questions are always welcomed via my email at email@example.com.