State board mulls study plans for each student

Eighth grade students in the Lawrence school district are all required to take a class called Career and Life Planning, where they are asked to begin thinking about what they want to study in the future, and what kind of careers they hope to have.

And at some point during that class, many of them will fill out an Individual Plan of Study, or an IPS, which is meant to help them and their guidance counselors select the classes they’ll need in high school and beyond in order to pursue those goals.

“They take a career assessment during that time, and they discuss planning going forward through high school, and then thinking on to college and things like that,” said Patrick Kelly, the district’s director of career and technical education.

And while that may be helpful for many students, some question whether all schools in Kansas should require IPSs for all students.

Under a provision of the state’s new Career and Technical Education Initiative, the Kansas State Board of Education is supposed to report to the Legislature next month about whether it intends to make that a requirement.

And while the state board has been leaning in that direction since 2010, when it identified a goal of having all students develop an IPS, board members last week balked at making a commitment, saying they would still like to have more information.

“That’s a mandate,” said board chairwoman Jana Shaver, R-Independence. “I feel like we don’t have good information about the percent of schools that are doing this now. We need more information before moving forward. It’s an important decision, and an important issue.”

Jay Scott, the state department’s assistant director for career and technical education, said IPSs are part of a new accreditation model the agency is developing for public schools. The state board could be asked to vote on that new model for accrediting schools within the next two years, officials said.

But some recent studies have suggested that designing an education plan around a single career goal may not be the best idea for children of the “millennial generation,” those born between 1977-1997. Labor data suggests the average worker today stays at a job for just 4.4 years.

That could mean they have as many as 11 different jobs from the time they graduate college until they retire.

But Lori Stussie, a guidance counselor at Lawrence High School, said IPSs aren’t intended to limit the kind of education students get.

“The state of Kansas requires a pretty broad-based education for the core curriculum subjects,” she said, adding that the elective classes geared toward a student’s particular interests are taken on top of that core curriculum.

Meanwhile, Kelly said he believes the mere process of setting goals and planning one’s education is good for students, no matter how those plans turn out.

“I just think the process of planning is a good skill, and planning for your future is part of that,” he said. “Just in general, that exercise of planning, not only the outcome of it but the exercise of planning and making decisions and prioritizing, is really valuable.