While “gradual improvement” is shown in student academic achievement in Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS), many measures are not improving or are losing ground. Too many students are not being educated, and the impact on lives is irreversible. Major change through outside intervention is badly needed. The facts:
- The KCPS district has not been fully accredited since the State of Missouri began the process in the early 1990’s. It has cycled several times between provisionally accredited and unaccredited.
- In the State’s recent preliminary rating of the KCPS under the new MSIP-5 standards, the Kansas City district received 19.6 percentage points where 50 is the minimum for provisional accreditation and 70 for full accreditation. The district’s score is by far the lowest of any public school system in this region. (Center School District received 80.7 percentage points, and Independence School District received 68.9. Both are comparable to the KCPS district demographically.)
- It is not widely acknowledged that of the five MSIP measures the Kansas City district earned toward accreditation in 2012, only one of these is for student academic achievement. The others are for programs that adults initiate that affect smaller numbers of students (advanced courses, technical education courses, college and career placement, career tech) vs. changes in district-wide student performance scores.
- In Math and Communication Arts, approximately 70% of students in grades 3–8 scored at basic or below basic for the last four years. There has been no significant change over 4 years. (Basic is below the proficient achievement level.)
- For Fall 2012, 54% of high school students performed at grade level in reading; 39% read two or more years below grade level. In math, 35% performed at grade level; 55% performed two or more years below grade level.
- The average district ACT score is 16.4 vs. 21.6 for the state of Missouri. The ACT minimum for entrance into University of Missouri schools is 24.
- A 2011 independent study Building Teacher Quality in the Kansas City, Missouri School District found serious problems in the operation of the district that impact teaching. Among its findings: (1) Teachers can receive a satisfactory evaluation rating without evidence that they are increasing student learning. (2) Promotion, tenure and salary decisions are based on factors other than teacher effectiveness. (3) Principals’ authority to staff their schools is undermined by centralized, seniority-based assignment practices. Governance does affect the classroom. (National Council on Teacher Quality – www.nctq.org)
- The AdvanceKC strategic plan conducted for the city of Kansas City by the Market Street consulting firm says, “Perceptions about the quality of Kansas City pubic education – particularly in the Kansas City Public School district – are the greatest barriers to the City’s future vitality.” These perceptions are not going to change because of small gains in some scores. Dramatic change must occur. Other urban school districts – Kansas City, Kansas, St. Louis, Independence, and Center School Districts – are making significant progress. We can, too, but it will take new, bold, expert turnaround leadership!
The goal must be quality, not marginal provisional accreditation.