Report: Not enough high school grads in Kansas getting career training to meet state’s needs

Deputy Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander shares with the Kansas State Board of Education new data showing the state falling far short of its needs in getting students through postsecondary education programs on July 12, 2017.

? New figures from the Kansas State Department of Education show that not enough high school students in the state go on to college or career training programs to fill the state’s future employment needs.

Deputy Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander presented the numbers Wednesday to the Kansas State Board of Education.

“This year’s sophomore class, when they graduate in 2020, 71 percent, roughly, of the jobs are going to require something after high school — an associate’s, some certification, a four-year degree,” he told the board, citing a number of different studies on employment trends in the United States.

However, according to data that the state obtained from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization that tracks student data, six years after graduation, only about 46 percent of Kansas high school students achieved a degree or certificate or were enrolled in a postsecondary program two years after graduation.

That figure factors in the number of students in each class that did not graduate.

Deputy Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander shares with the Kansas State Board of Education new data showing the state falling far short of its needs in getting students through postsecondary education programs on July 12, 2017.

The Lawrence school district fared slightly better than the state as a whole, with a five-year average “post-secondary effective rate” of 49 percent.

The department recently began tracking the number of students who go on to college or career training programs as part of a new method it is developing for accrediting school districts.

Currently the state does not accredit districts; it accredits only individual buildings, but officials say the new system is intended to bring about greater systemwide accountability in public education.

The new accreditation system also will look at much more than student test scores on reading and math assessments, which have been the overriding focus of the Quality Performance Accreditation system that has been in place since 1992. In addition to postsecondary attainment rates, it will also look at factors such as kindergarten readiness rates, graduation rates and students’ social and emotional well-being.

“This is our moonshot,” Education Commissioner Randy Watson said. “It’s going to take us a while to turn this whole culture around.”

Neuenswander admitted that the data from the National Student Clearinghouse is not precise. For example, it does not track students who leave high school and join the military, which offers a wide range of training and postsecondary education opportunities. There are also some private postsecondary institutions that do not report to the clearinghouse.

But he said the rating system the agency developed using that data is a useful tool in measuring how well school districts are preparing their students for college or other career training after high school.

Neuenswander said that for accreditation purposes, the State Department of Education looks only at data tracking students two years after graduation because at that point the agency that governs K-12 education believes the students become the responsibility of the higher education system.

“Because we don’t want to own them for six years,” he said. “There’s too much that happens in Aggieville.”

Neuenswander said that in the next several days, the agency will add more information about each district’s postsecondary rating, including data about whether the district is over-performing or under-performing, based on what would be expected in that district, given its demographic and socioeconomic makeup.