A Critique of Progress in the Kansas City Public Schools

Results of the Kansas City Public School District’s per­for­mance on state tests and oth­er mea­sures of school effec­tive­ness are in. There are some small gains and a sub­stan­tial num­ber of areas in which per­for­mance is stag­nant. District per­son­nel and sup­port­ers are focus­ing on the small gains and hope to jus­ti­fy being ele­vat­ed to “pro­vi­sion­al accred­i­ta­tion” sta­tus, which lessens the risk of state take-over and migra­tion of stu­dents to sur­round­ing dis­tricts.

Do the facts sup­port the District’s claims that it has made impres­sive gains? Here are some obser­va­tions about the results of the MSIP 5 (Missouri State Improvement Program) process and our con­cerns about results in the class­rooms.

As Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro has point­ed out, 70 per­cent of the stu­dents in the District remain below the “pro­fi­cient” lev­el across all sub­ject areas. The low­est per­cent­ages are in aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment (43%) and sub­group achieve­ment (46%).

There was no growth in literacy/language arts (read­ing and writ­ing). Gains that brought the per­cent­ages up were in non-aca­d­e­m­ic area: col­lege and career readi­ness, atten­dance, and grad­u­a­tion rate.

In Algebra I, a pre­req­ui­site for advanced high school math cours­es, only 20 per­cent of the stu­dents were pro­fi­cient or above in end of course exams (exclud­ing Lincoln College Preparatory Academy).

ACT scores, which mea­sure stu­dents’ prepa­ra­tion for col­lege, are the low­est in the area and among the low­est in the state. As report­ed by The Kansas City Star, the range (except for Lincoln Prep at 22.4) is 14.2 to 16.5—not enough to gain admis­sion to most state uni­ver­si­ties. This is in con­trast to the “col­lege and career readi­ness” points earned on the state assess­ment.

The accred­i­ta­tion process awards points for “improve­ment.” The District iden­ti­fied stu­dents who appeared to be on the “thresh­old” of ris­ing from the “below basic” to “basic” lev­el of per­for­mance on the MAP test. These thresh­old stu­dents were giv­en spe­cial tutor­ing uti­liz­ing pur­chased tests that mir­ror the MAP, i.e. teach­ing to the test. We would like to know how many of the gains, small as they are, come from these spe­cial­ly tutored stu­dents vs. how much from the oth­er stu­dents. If a major­i­ty of the gains come from the thresh­old stu­dents, as seems like­ly, this sug­gests that the oth­er stu­dents did not gain much, if any. The District says it can­not pro­vide us with the data about thresh­old stu­dents vs. oth­er stu­dent achieve­ment.

Data pre­sent­ed at a recent school board meet­ing showed move­ment of a num­ber of stu­dents from below basic to basic lev­el. These are like­ly the spe­cial­ly tutored thresh­old stu­dents. Experienced teach­ers with whom we have talked indi­cate that move­ment upward anoth­er lev­el to “pro­fi­cient” will be much more dif­fi­cult.

Finally, obser­va­tion of board meet­ings and oth­er District meet­ings has con­vinced us that the oper­a­tive goal is the gain­ing of accred­i­ta­tion rather than sub­stan­tial improve­ment in the qual­i­ty of class­room instruc­tion. We see no evi­dence of a per­va­sive turn­around in spite of the rhetoric. Real turn­around is often painful and upsets the sta­tus quo and vest­ed inter­ests. It requires a will­ing­ness to change what­ev­er is nec­es­sary to align activ­i­ties with the agreed-upon goal, and real­lo­ca­tion of resources to dri­ve toward that goal. That goal, for us, is prepar­ing every stu­dent to grad­u­ate ready for col­lege or anoth­er learn­ing orga­ni­za­tion lead­ing to a mean­ing­ful career. It should not be accred­i­ta­tion.

We applaud the com­mit­ment of the District’s lead­er­ship to improve­ment and its recog­ni­tion that there is much more work to be done. In that spir­it we sup­port Commissioner Nicastro’s plan to uti­lize out­side exper­tise to help imple­ment a per­va­sive and mean­ing­ful turn­around. Kansas City’s chil­dren deserve no less.

0 Responses to How We See It

  1. Janet says:

    I am ter­ri­bly con­cerned with the lack of an ade­quate edu­ca­tion that my grand­daugh­ter is receiv­ing at FLA where she is a stu­dent. My grand­son went to 8th grade there and then to Rockhurst where he was total­ly unpre­pared and failed. He is now at Christo Rey and still fail­ing. His moth­er is a Lawyer and was an excel­lent prod­uct of Johnson County & Sion schools. My grand­daugh­ter nev­er has for­mal read­ing classs­es and nev­er is required to do dai­ly writ­ing. This is required in most diatricts.

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