Kansas State University


K-State College of Education

Category: April 2016

Biden thanks college for Educate the Educator initiatives 

Dr. Jill Biden mets with Dean Mercer and future teachers during her trip to Fort Riley.
Dr. Jill Biden mets with Dean Mercer, future teachers and faculty at Fort Riley Middle School earlier this month.

Jill Biden, Second Lady and co-founder of Joining Forces, was at Fort Riley April 6 where she visited local schools and complimented Dean Debbie Mercer on being an early adopter of the Educate the Educator initiative.

In an interview with “The Today Show” about her visit, Biden said she appreciates the way teacher preparation programs are embracing military-connected children.

“Teachers’ colleges have stepped up to educate people going into education so that they will realize that there are military children in their classroom and celebrate those children and make their transitions easier for them,” Biden said in the interview.

During her speech at the White House Convening on Operation Educate the Educator, Biden specifically thanked Dean Mercer for her support as K-State was one of the first 100 colleges in the nation to embrace the initiative. The college created a documentary “A Walk in My Shoes: Military Life” and developed a non-credit class for pre-service teachers wanting deeper knowledge about the needs of military-connected learners.

“I’d like to take a moment to thank Dean Deb Mercer, from Kansas State University, for being here today and facilitating last week’s discussion with the KSU student-teachers at Fort Riley Middle School. The work that you are doing — that your student-teachers are doing in the classroom — is so important. Thank you.”

School finance expert weighs in on Kansas school funding formulas

One of the nation’s leading authorities on school finance discusses the history of funding Kansas schools and the pros and cons of the current block grant formula during an interview for the College of Education’s Web series, “EduCATion Today.”

David C. Thompson, College of Education professor, chair of the department of educational leadership and author of multiple textbooks on school finance, served as a teacher, principal, and school superintendent before entering higher education. He has spent more than 40 years in public education and in 2013 was awarded the National Education Finance Conference’s lifetime achievement award. Thompson’s books are used in more than 200 universities in America.

Topics ranged from the state’s school finance formula in the 1960s through today’s block grant formula instituted in 2016, defining “extracurricular activities,” a four-day school week, why he believes education is the best investment in children, and much more.

Early in the interview, Thompson discussed the ripple effects of budget cuts and the impact on school districts and what they can offer students.

“I’ve been a proponent for a lot of years that says extracurricular is one of those words that ought to be banned from the language,” Thompson said. “The reason is that I don’t regard anything as ‘extra’ in what schools do. I call it co-curricular. That includes school buses; it includes social workers; it includes counselors; it includes administration; it includes one of my favorites, food service. Who would argue that children who come to school hungry are ready to learn?”

He explained the new block funding formula essentially takes a snapshot of the good and bad parts of a budget and makes no exceptions for changing demographics.

“They (block grants) freeze things in time,” Thompson said. “Block grants ignore things of the future. They’re touted as being high levels of flexibility at the local school district level, but my honest professional opinion is in the most part if you were to go to lots of school districts in Kansas and ask the question, ‘How much have you gained from it?’ [the answer] is ‘I’m too busy trying to cover unfunded expenses to worry too much about any imaginary flexibility I’ve received.’”

In short, the school finance expert believes block grants are a funding formula from the past.

Thompson said he is encouraged by current conversations in the Kansas Legislature, and hopes for the best. The full interview can be seen at “EduCATion Today.”


Innovative online program offers college graduates a pathway to teaching

K-State's new program offers scholarships for those planning to teach in underserved schools in Kansas.
K-State’s new program offers scholarships for those planning to teach in underserved schools in Kansas.

The College of Education is accepting applications for a unique path to the classroom for college graduates nationwide who want to become elementary school teachers. Scholarships are available for those planning to teach in underserved schools in Kansas. Classes begin in May.

The Master of Arts in Teaching, or M.A.T., is an intensive, one-year online degree specifically designed for people who have already earned a bachelor’s degree but want to pursue their dream of teaching. This pathway enables qualified Kansans and residents of other states to earn the degree in 12 months and be recommended for Kansas’ initial teacher licensure in grades K-6. The rigorous curriculum is delivered by online coursework, and field experiences are arranged in accredited elementary schools convenient to students in the program. Once out-of-state students pass the Kansas licensure exam, they can seek licensure in their home state.

Debbie Mercer, dean of the College of Education, believes this innovative program can help address the state’s and nation’s projected teacher needs while maintaining high professional standards.

“The college frequently receives inquiries from college graduates who want to become teachers but there has been no path available to them, other than the bachelor degree in education,” Mercer said. “Now, they have a road to that goal from a trusted, cost-effective program that has prepared teachers for more than 150 years.”

Thomas Vontz, professor of curriculum and instruction, said that another innovative aspect to the degree program is the Kansas Transitions to Teaching, or KTTT, project that will provide a $6,000 fellowship and funding to purchase necessary technology for 30 career changers from underserved school districts in Kansas. KTTT fellows must complete the program, obtain the necessary licensure and engage in full-time teaching in an underserved geographic area in Kansas within six months of licensure. The college has partnered with school districts in Great Bend, Kansas City, Topeka, Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal for the KTTT project.

“The M.A.T. and KTTT have mitigated many of the financial, educational and geographic obstacles that previously prevented passionate people from becoming educators,” Vontz said. “The KTTT is especially beneficial for people interested in teaching in underserved districts in Kansas.”

College film on Underground Railroad premieres May 5

Long before the term Border War was co-opted by sports enthusiast, it defined a period in Kansas history during which abolitionists — including those in Wabaunsee County — fought for the soul of this nation. That story is being captured in a new documentary produced by the College of Education titled “Dawn of Day: Stories from the Underground Railroad.

The hourlong premiere is scheduled at 1 p.m. Thursday, May 5, in the K-State Student Union’s Forum Hall. The event is free and open to the public, and the documentary will be available on the college’s website as a resource for educators.

The film was commissioned by Debbie Mercer, dean of the college, and it is narrated by Richard Pitts, executive director of the Wonder Workshop. It also includes in-depth interviews with Michael Stubbs, a historian; Madge McDonald, a descendant of area abolitionists; and Brad Burenheide, historian and associate professor of curriculum and instruction.

Rusty Earl, college videographer, is grateful for the opportunity to tell this story.

“I cannot give enough thanks to the many people who let us into their homes and histories to tell this important story,” Earl said. “It’s difficult to imagine what would have happened to our state and nation without the heroic people who lived in this county.”

Educators develop e-book about first gen students


1st gen book cover

A new resource filled with insights about first-generation college students is available free to all educators, school counselors and administrators hoping to inspire students to attend college.

“Being the ‘First:’ A Narrative Inquiry into the Funds of Knowledge of First Generation College Students in Teacher Education” was written by Jeong-Hee Kim, professor of curriculum and instruction at Texas State University; Amanda R. Morales, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction and diversity coordinator for the College of Education; Rusty Earl, COE videographer, and Sandra Avalos, academic advisor in the college’s Center for Student and Professional Services. Mary Hammel, associate director of the Catalyst Center, served as graphic designer and editor.

Morales explained more than one-third of the college’s students are first gen. Forty percent of K-State students are first gen, compared to roughly 19 percent nationally.

Footage from the college’s documentary “A Walk in My Shoes: First-Generation College Students” provided the material for the narrative inquiry research project, which culminated in the electronic publication. The e-book contains a resource section complete with links to national scholarships, FAFSA information, and other support programs focused on first gen student success.

“Over the course of a year, we worked and sifted through hours and hours of data to construct the essence of who these people were as students and their journeys as first-gens,” Morales said. “It shows the amazing strengths and capital first gen students have and how they had to fight and endure hardships to get to college. This e-book provides context for understanding their experiences and will help educators better support these students.”

The book is available on the New Prairie Press website.