Among the recommendations for changes was a finger print/criminal background check upon license renewal. Currently, those seeking to obtain an initial license out of college or when new to the state must submit to a finger print/criminal background check through the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI). As long as the license holder continues to renew the license within six months of its expiration date, a subsequent background check is not required.
Current statute requires county attorneys in Kansas to notify KSDE whenever a licensed educator has been convicted of an offense which could result in license revocation. In addition, the State Board has a regulation requiring superintendents in Kansas to notify KSDE when an educator has been arrested or convicted for such offenses. Commissioner of Education Dr. Diane DeBacker told Board members that while some counties report such convictions to KSDE, many do not. In addition, she said many superintendents have concerns about reporting to KSDE absent a conviction because of potential legal repercussions. The proposed change requiring a background check each time a license is renewed was an effort to provide a third layer of protection to ensure students are protected from individuals who should not be in classrooms.
While those who spoke at the public hearing agreed that protecting students was paramount, some objected to the new requirement on the basis of cost – an additional $50 added to each renewal. Educators who maintain an initial license renew every two years; those with a professional license renew every five years and those with an accomplished license renew every 10 years. Opponents who spoke at the public hearing expressed the opinion that the new regulation would cause educators to bear the cost of perceived non-enforcement of the existing law and regulation requiring reporting. In addition, they felt the measure created a negative image of the professional status of educators. Proponents of the change expressed support for the additional layer of protection, equating the additional cost over the period of the license to that of a lunch.
In response to the comments received during the public hearing KSDE staff addressed the Board on April 13, the second day of the Board’s April meeting, suggesting that KSDE participate in the KBI’s Rap Back program as an alternative background checks upon renewal. Pamela Coleman, director of Teacher Education and Licensure at KSDE, told Board members the Rap Back program would provide KSDE with daily matches from arrest reports for licensed educators who had fingerprints on file. The cost for the Rap Back program would be just $3 per year per person, considerably less than the $50 required for a background check. Coleman told Board members that if KSDE were to participate in the Rap Back program, the regulation would need to contain language requiring approximately 43,000 educators who received their initial licenses prior to 2003 to provide fingerprints to the KBI. There were concerns expressed about the magnitude of that task and whether it would be feasible. Some Board members also objected to the finger printing due to privacy issues, although KSDE staff shared that the KBI required the fingerprints in order to do the checks. Board members voted to table the issue until the June 2011 meeting to allow KSDE staff time to develop new language for the regulation.
In other matters, the Board discussed a request from the Topeka Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to implement Black History standards and to require Black history as part of the social studies curriculum in Kansas schools. In February, NAACP leaders presented the Board with a resolution containing the request. During the April meeting, Don Gifford, social studies program consultant with KSDE, shared with Board members where Black history was included in standards, benchmarks and indicators within the existing social studies standards.
The Rev. Ben Scott, president of the Topeka NAACP, said he was aware of the existing standards and what was included in them, however he felt it was not comprehensive enough. Gifford indicated there were some obstacles to implementing what the NAACP was asking for. He said the current standards are organized around four social studies disciplines – history, civics/government, economics and geography. The standard requested by the NAACP would better fit as a benchmark, but Gifford said that could also create a need to include like benchmarks for all ethnic, gender and religious groups.
The standards are scheduled for review later this fall, with revised standards expected to be ready for adoption by the end of 2013 and effective in the 2014-15 school year. Gifford suggested that review period may be the best time to make any suggested changes to the standards, but that would not facilitate having those changes in place for the 2012-13 school year, as requested by the NAACP. Board members requested information on the process for reviewing the standards, as well as the timeframe. A request was also made to allow Board members to suggest individuals to serve on the review committee. The Board asked the KSDE staff to bring suggested options for addressing the concern to them at a later Board meeting.
Commissioner DeBacker provided an update to the Board on the work of the National Governor’s Association (NGA) Policy Academy, designed to provide selected states an opportunity to work with policy makers, academy faculty and NGA Center staff in developing a teacher compensation initiative. Kansas was one of six states accepted into the Academy in May 2009.
Participation in the Academy allowed for the formation of a committee to move forward the work of the Teaching in Kansas Commission, which had earlier studied the areas of teacher shortages and the preparation, recruitment, retention and licensure of Kansas teachers. The committee formed through the NGA Academy focused specifically on teacher compensation and evaluation models, reviewing the models used in Douglas County and Denver, Colo.; Washington, D.C.; and in Austin, Texas. They also reviewed the TAP system, the New Teacher Project and the ChalkBoard project.
Through the Policy Academy, a survey of educators in Kansas was completed, gaining their ideas regarding teacher compensation and evaluation models. Participation in the Academy also led to the formation of the Multi-State Consortium for Revisioning the Professional Educator Continuum. The consortium was comprised of six states, including Kansas, engaged in collaborative problem-solving around development of a new system of educator recruitment, development, preparation and advancement. In addition, the state partnered with Educational Testing Services (ETS) to assist in developing teacher and leader evaluation instruments that incorporate best practices, the latest research and the ideas expressed by Kansas educators in the survey.
The draft model in development is based largely on the Washington, D.C., model. It has not been rolled out yet, as there is a desire to take it out in the field to share it with educators and receive feedback. DeBacker stressed that the draft is still a long way from being finalized and available for schools to pilot. Work will continue, in collaboration with other education groups, to finalize the model and to develop appropriate professional development for schools that decide to pilot the model.
Also in April, Board members recognized four of the five Kansas schools named 2010 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. Schools can qualify for Blue Ribbon status either by showing dramatic improvement on state assessments in reading and mathematics among a school population that includes 40 percent or more disadvantaged students, or by demonstrating performance on state reading and mathematics assessments that is in the top 10 percent of the state regardless of the school demographics. Principals from the schools shared some of the practices and programs used by their schools that they believed helped lead to receiving the Blue Ribbon distinction.
Board member Walt Chappell asked Board members to make time on their April agenda to discuss a possible violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA), referring to an executive session conducted by the Board at is March meeting. Following that executive session, Board members reconvened in open session to discuss concerns from some Board members that Chappell was presenting information through letters and interviews that could be misleading and that might be misconstrued as representing a position by the Board rather than just his opinion. Chappell denied both that the information was misleading and that it was misrepresented as a Board position.
Chappell did not receive a second on his motion to add the agenda item, however in later discussion the Board voted to report the allegation of a KOMA violation to the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office so it can be investigated.
The next State Board of Education meeting is scheduled for May 10 and 11 in Topeka.