Opinion: Preparing Kansas students for future
“Can’t fight progress,” my father observed as he pitched his plan to buy our family’s first automatic dishwasher.
“Why would we want one?” I remember my mother’s counter. “We already have two daughters.”
Fortunately for me, it didn’t take long for dishwashers to make their way into homes across the country, even ours. Although my mother did not conceive of it, in a larger perspective, the progress afforded by labor-saving, home appliances of the 1950s era did play a part in national economic development.
Progress, as my father rightly argued, does persist — unrelenting and unstoppable — and although it’s neutral in itself, its social impact on the way we live and work can be mighty.
Today, automation and emerging technologies again are reshaping the way we work and can impact many areas of public life, including the way we view public education.
Even though civic organizations and leaders in technical and higher education assert the advantages of updated school-based career preparation, public opinion appears divided between (1) those who believe Kansas can’t afford to make such an investment in schools and (2) those who believe we can’t afford not to.
State funding aside, there is good news. President Donald Trump, in August, signed a reauthorization of the Perkins Act that added $1.2 billion yearly for Career and Technical Education. This funding will promote secondary and post-secondary training by integrating STEM education into CTE efforts for jobs that do not require a four-year degree.
The law provides for increased engagement of underrepresented groups with STEM fields. It also will give states more discretion in allocating the funding so that Kansas, for example, might invest in training for aviation or wind turbine jobs or the use of drones or software in agriculture.
Although educators have correctly pointed out the need for heavier emphasis on core curriculum and vital, basic STEM skills that prepare all students with broad, general understanding for citizenship and future work, this law will help Kansas students, especially those who are not college bound, for today’s constantly shifting job market and help Kansas employers find the workers they need to compete.
However, this law offers only a beginning and will not cover overall funding for career development. Although no funds are required from the states to receive new funding, each state must supplement and sustain its revamped and new programs. This means the new funds can’t be used for adding teachers or facilities.
There is no guarantee that additional funding provided this spring by the Legislature, which raised teacher salaries and restored some programs cut during previous years, will be extended next year. Even so, state funding at the current level probably cannot provide the investment needed to prepare students for new and developing workplace opportunities.
What about that progress impact? Upcoming November elections will likely go a long way in determining whether Kansans wish to cut funding for public education or invest for the future to promote Kansas’ economy and open doors to contemporary careers for our children.
— Sharon Hartin Iorio is professor and dean emerita at Wichita State University College of Education.