A school reform pilot program spearheaded by Kansas University researchers and funded by the largest grant in KU history is set to begin in 64 schools in five states this fall.
The School-wide Integrated Framework for Transformation Center, or SWIFT Center, won a $24.5 million grant last fall to implement its reform framework in the United States. This week the center announced which states would be testing grounds for the reforms: Maryland, Mississippi, Oregon, New Hampshire and Vermont, with New Hampshire and Vermont treated as a single district.
Wayne Sailor, a professor of special education at KU and director of the SWIFT Center, said that his team narrowed the list to the five states based on their need, the ability of the state to apply the reforms across all its districts, and the state's general excitement about the program.
The reforms are largely aimed at deconstructing what Sailor calls “silos” of resources within schools and districts. Silos can include classrooms, funds or staff directed toward a particular group of students. Sailor points out that this model has done a "dismal" job of serving the children it is intended to serve, many of them students with special needs.
So Sailor's team begins from the premise of doing away with these Silos. “Why not open up resources to all kids?” Sailor asks.
Instead of grouping children together by need or ability and spending money and labor determining who is eligible for which resource, the program tries to unlock earmarked resources and get every person connected to the school involved in the education process, from parents to security to support staff.
“You go into a ‘transformed’ school and it doesn’t look anything like what you see in education today,” Sailor said. That means no special education classes, no gifted classes, no group-specific division of classrooms or resources at all.
Sailor’s hopes for the program are high. “We’re really jazzed about it,” he said. “It’s the right time, right place, right people.”