Rebecca HaessigRebecca Haessig is for­mer direc­tor of edu­ca­tion ini­tia­tives at the Kauffman Foundation. Prior to that she devel­oped strat­e­gy and change ini­tia­tives for a con­sult­ing firm in Washington, D.C. She began her career in inter­na­tion­al devel­op­ment, lead­ing pro­grams to strength­en civic orga­ni­za­tions in the Middle East and North Africa. She received her BA from the University of Virginia and an MA in pub­lic pol­i­cy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She is the moth­er of a pre-school son and a char­ter school stu­dent in Kansas City, Missouri.

Rebecca does not rep­re­sent Do the Right Thing for Kids, but we respect the rig­or­ous, fact ori­ent­ed basis of her writ­ing and rec­om­mend her ideas for our fol­low­ers’ con­sid­er­a­tion.  Her op-ed piece “Kansas City dis­trict should decen­tral­ize and set the schools free” appeared in the January 19, 2016 issue of the Kansas City Star. We present here her first three blogs on her Set the Schools Free site.  Go to the site to receive future blogs.

 

Four new char­ter ele­men­tary schools will open with­in KCPS bound­aries for the 2016–2017 school year: Citizens of the World-Kansas City, Kansas City Neighborhood Academy, KIPP Endeavor, and Quality Hill Academy.

You could argue that four schools serv­ing the same grades and open­ing in the same year isn’t the most effi­cient use of pub­lic resources. I’d agree with you.

Nonetheless, this cohort of new schools has the poten­tial to be a game-chang­er in the evo­lu­tion of our pub­lic schools sec­tor – espe­cial­ly in our kinder­garten mar­ket­place.

Why?

The addi­tion of up to 260 new kinder­garten seats in one year (there are ~2500 total enrolled K stu­dents in our dis­trict, both KCPS and char­ter) changes the enroll­ment land­scape pret­ty sig­nif­i­cant­ly, accel­er­at­ing us toward the kinder­garten tip­ping point – the point where char­ter school enroll­ment, for the first time, exceeds KCPS enroll­ment.

But the biggest rea­son these schools may be game-chang­ing relates to their kinder­garten class­rooms, and how they’re orga­nized to sup­port stu­dent achieve­ment.

Because kinder­garten is a real­ly, real­ly impor­tant year for learn­ing how to learn. To para­phrase one researcher, it’s the year when you learn how to be a stu­dent, and a class­mate, and how to coop­er­ate with oth­ers. It’s where the foun­da­tion is laid for a suc­cess­ful K-12 expe­ri­ence. (For sum­ma­ry research, see here, here and here).

And as a cohort, these new schools are rais­ing the bar for kinder­garten with the class­room invest­ments they’re mak­ing: three of the four schools open­ing this fall will have kinder­garten class­rooms staffed by two full-time teach­ers – a lead teacher and a sup­port teacher – in class­rooms of 24 or few­er chil­dren.

new-k-seats-and-schools-v2

(Note: We have pub­lic schools in our dis­trict now with sim­i­lar kinder­garten class sizes and staffing lev­els; it’s the simul­ta­ne­ous open­ing of these schools that is high-impact)

This staffing lev­el is sig­nif­i­cant because the research is pret­ty com­pelling that small­er class sizes in the ear­li­est grades can increase stu­dent achieve­ment – espe­cial­ly in kinder­garten.

Academic gains from small­er class­es come from the increased indi­vid­ual atten­tion, reduced dis­trac­tions, and stronger and more pos­i­tive rela­tion­ships that result from small­er class­es. These gains are largest for minor­i­ty stu­dents, eco­nom­i­cal­ly dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents, and boys.

In oth­er words, the chil­dren who make up the major­i­ty of pub­lic school stu­dents with­in our dis­trict bound­aries.

Which brings us back to KCPS, cur­rent­ly the largest oper­a­tor of pub­lic schools in our school dis­trict.

The new KCPS Master Plan reduces class size to 22 for all Kindergarten through 2nd grade KCPS class­rooms. This deci­sion is real­ly impor­tant and, based on dis­cus­sions at a recent school board meet­ing, rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant reduc­tion in class size for some schools – evi­dent­ly there are some KCPS class­rooms in the ear­ly grades with as many as 29 or 30 stu­dents.

But in the same year that KCPS is reduc­ing kinder­garten class size to 22 stu­dents, there are three new pub­lic char­ter schools open­ing with kinder­garten class­rooms of approx­i­mate­ly the same size – and with dou­ble the staffing per class.

This bench­mark com­par­i­son cre­ates the appear­ance that KCPS either isn’t able, or will­ing, to keep up.

More than any­thing, though, it feels like KCPS is oper­at­ing in a bub­ble. If we want KCPS schools to be able to com­pete in an increas­ing­ly crowd­ed schools land­scape, KCPS admin­is­tra­tors and board mem­bers need to be aware of what their char­ter sec­tor coun­ter­parts are offer­ing – and how they’re able to offer it.

This aware­ness would go a long way toward ensur­ing that KCPS is com­pet­i­tive where, ulti­mate­ly, it mat­ters most – in the class­room, where learn­ing hap­pens.

Part One: Kindergarten Math, Part I: Kindergarten Matters

Part Two: Kindergarten Math, Part II: The Kindergarten Tipping Point

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