Blueprint for Literacy Strengthens Reading Skills in Kansas Public Schools

Cindy Lane is deeply invested in the Kansas Blueprint for Literacy effort, which aims to enhance educators’ readiness to teach reading effectively and steer a higher number of proficient students toward higher education and the job market.

Lane, a retired special education teacher and former superintendent of Kansas City, Kansas, schools, is poised to leave her position on the Kansas Board of Regents to assume the role of administrative director for the Blueprint for Literacy initiative. The state legislation, endorsed by Gov. Laura Kelly, enforces the integration of evidence-based reading science strategies into the educational system for present and future teachers.

A bipartisan alliance of state lawmakers has allocated $10 million to execute the blueprint and target the improvement of reading proficiency for 40% of Kansas public school students who are currently below par in reading skills.

“This hits close to home for me,” Lane expressed. “In my younger years, I wasn’t drawn to reading, and it wasn’t until junior high that I grasped the skill. I can’t fathom the struggle of individuals who never had a teacher unlock the door to reading for them. That must be a challenging reality for them today.”

Lane, set to resign from her position on the state Board of Regents on June 24, will collaborate with universities and school districts to revamp the training for aspiring teachers and equip existing educators with enhanced literacy techniques. The legislation also mandates the formation of an oversight commission, the establishment of centers of excellence within universities, and regular reporting to the Legislature for accountability.

“It’s crucial that all our students attain high literacy levels,” Lane emphasized on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “In today’s world, strong reading and writing skills are essential for success. For me, this initiative is about nurturing dreams. If you have a dream, I want to help you reach it.”

‘Step Up’

Blake Flanders, the president of the Kansas Board of Regents, noted that the legislation could be regarded as the most extensive workforce development endeavor in state history, focusing on specialized training and retraining in the education sector.

Given the vast number of education students awaiting enrollment in teacher training institutions, the Board of Regents, overseeing six state universities, will play a significant role. These students will be required to enroll in two new three-credit-hour literacy courses offering practical teaching experience in reading to children.

As per Senate Bill 438, state universities must commence offering the new literacy courses this autumn to avoid penalties. Delaying the implementation would result in a $1 million deduction for Kansas State University and the two other major universities, and a $500,000 reduction for Fort Hays State University and the two other regional universities.

“We are facing a significant challenge with insufficient student reading proficiency levels,” Flanders stressed, pointing out the 40% deficit in reading skills as a crisis. “It’s time to act. Educating the educators is our mission. We’re entering the forefront to provide solutions and invite everyone to participate.”

The Kansas State Board of Education will be actively involved in the process of retraining numerous licensed Kansas educators in reading instructions, Flanders added. The collaboration will extend to the new Literacy Advisory Committee for joint efforts.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican and chair of the Senate Education Committee, collaborated in designing a comprehensive framework to enhance reading instruction by involving higher education institutions, school districts, and parents. The initiative aligns with the state’s ongoing efforts to advance early literacy skills in children.

“For many years,” she affirmed, “the Kansas Legislature has recognized the science-backed principles crucial for early literacy success among children. It encompasses early screening, effective teacher training, and classroom materials supporting evidence-based approaches.”

Strategic Panel Crucial

The advisory panel mandated by the legislation must be operational by Jan. 1 and should encompass representatives from universities, community colleges, technical colleges, the state Board of Education, the state Board of Regents, and the Legislature.

“Having diverse expertise on this committee is vital,” Lane pointed out. “We need a comprehensive approach. My role resembles that of a baseball team’s general manager, with the advisory committee serving as field players, utilizing their individual skills when needed or shifting positions as necessary.”

Similarly, the advisory panel is tasked with formulating a plan by Jan. 1 to establish reading centers of excellence offering diagnostic services for reading challenges, educator training in simulation labs, and other professional development opportunities. The objective is for all elementary teachers in Kansas to obtain a reading instruction certification by 2030.

The targets outlined by the law include having half of students in grades 3 to 8 achieve Level 3 in standardized reading tests by 2033, indicating readiness for college and careers. Additionally, by 2033, 90% of these students are expected to read at Level 2, corresponding to their academic grade level.

Flanders highlighted an estimate projecting the creation of 56,000 new jobs in Kansas by 2030, with 80% of these positions requiring a bachelor’s degree. He underscored that the current reading proficiency in public schools wouldn’t fill this workforce demand.

Lane indicated that it would be a disservice for the state university system to ignore the challenges faced by students and teachers in reading instruction without actively participating in solutions.

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