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Kansas Public Schools Move Towards Teaching 'Soft Skills'

Sam Zeff

The Kansas State Department of Education is moving full speed ahead towards its goal of perhaps drastically changing what is taught in public schools.

The department's top two officials brought their case to Johnson County educators and a few lawmakers Tuesday at the Olathe School District headquarters.

"Can we reinvent ourselves and hold on to what we have always done," asked Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson who took over KSDE in July.

Deputy Commissioner Brad Neuenswander explained to the packed room that on a summer tour he heard from parents, teachers, students and business leaders that Kansas needs a new way of educating students and measuring outcomes.

Neuenswander says only 23 percent of the people surveyed thought academics was most important. Seventy percent focused on soft skills such as communication, agreeableness and teamwork.

Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR
Kansas Deputy Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander Tuesday in Olathe.

Deciding how to teach those skills is tricky enough, but how to measure the outcome may be the more difficult task.

Commissioner Watson said it's certainly possible. “The question is do you think we should measure it at a state level? Should we embed it in what kids do?”

It may be better to let teachers measure those soft skills because they know the students best. But that's a question that will only be answered after the State Board of Education hears from educators and votes on a plan later this fall.

Of course, in the current political climate in Kansas the question is not just what will be taught, but how to pay for it. Will schools, for example, need more counselors to help with career choices.

“First we’ve got to talk about where we’re headed and then we can talk about what is it going to take to fund that that system” Watson says.

Some of this will start to come into focus at the State Department of Education annual conference Oct. 27 in Wichita.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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