It’s time for real change. The threat of dra­mat­ic change often brings about strong resis­tance from those with vest­ed inter­ests. Missouri State Board of Education President Peter Herschend says it well, “Some groups are fight­ing even sug­ges­tions of change.” As we have argued for years, it’s time for major turn­around, not just a few points gained by gam­ing the accred­i­ta­tion sys­tem. Those who are con­cerned about the stu­dents should con­sid­er the fol­low­ing.

In spite of self-pro­claimed suc­cess, the Kansas City Public School District has made very lit­tle if any progress in stu­dent aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment. Most of the points gained toward con­sid­er­a­tion for pro­vi­sion­al accred­i­ta­tion are for admin­is­tra­tive per­for­mance (absen­teeism records, grad­u­a­tion rate, bud­getary report­ing), not stu­dent achieve­ment. Seventy per­cent of the stu­dents are still not achiev­ing at the pro­fi­cient level—a fact hard to rec­on­cile with the claims of suc­cess. The Kansas City Star’s asser­tion that the “wrench in the State Board’s reform plans” is that the dis­trict “man­aged to leap dra­mat­i­cal­ly” may make good dra­ma but is not based on fact. There is no con­sis­tent leap; in fact there is loss in some areas.

A large major­i­ty of stu­dents made lit­tle or no gains in achieve­ment. Experience tells us that the gains made by cram­ming for tests are not like­ly to last and do not rep­re­sent real aca­d­e­m­ic progress. DTRTFK is exam­in­ing the effects of tar­get­ing thresh­old stu­dents, stu­dents per­form­ing near the top of an achieve­ment lev­el and giv­ing them spe­cial tutor­ing to push them to the next lev­el with the pur­pose of increas­ing dis­trict MAP scores. Parents of stu­dents who did not get these spe­cial ser­vices may won­der why all stu­dents didn’t get this extra tutor­ing by teach­ing spe­cial­ists to raise dis­trict-wide stu­dent achieve­ment.

Contrary to all the hyper­bole in the media, there is no evi­dence that Commissioner Nicastro has vio­lat­ed any laws or state reg­u­la­tions. Dark innu­en­does like ques­tion­able behind the scenes maneu­ver­ing, rushed bid­ding process, sug­ges­tions of a con­spir­a­cy are aimed at dis­cred­it­ing the change agent. The com­mis­sion­er is required by a new state law to take con­trol of the fail­ing dis­tricts and fix them. To do oth­er­wise would be counter to her role. Making a moun­tain out of the mole­hill of the con­tract­ing process is an attempt to head off change that may ben­e­fit our stu­dents.

Dr. Nicastro has talked about her plans in increas­ing­ly spe­cif­ic terms since last spring. The fact that she didn’t hire the cheap­est con­sult­ing group, didn’t con­sult with the unions or the media every step of the way, and is opposed by a few leg­is­la­tors doesn’t both­er us. (One of the small group of leg­is­la­tors sign­ing the let­ter demand­ing her res­ig­na­tion is the for­mer pres­i­dent of the teach­ers union.) She used pri­vate­ly donat­ed mon­ey, not state funds, to hire, in her judg­ment, the best con­sul­tant. That should be good news. To hire any group that she didn’t think would be suc­cess­ful would be fool­ish. The fact that the com­mis­sion­er is ruf­fling a few feath­ers in a sys­tem that has been stag­nant for decades is even bet­ter news.

The KC Public Schools spends far more annu­al­ly in tax­pay­er dol­lars on lob­by­ists and pub­lic rela­tions activ­i­ties than was spent on the turn­around con­sul­tants, and with­out pub­lic dis­cus­sion. This mon­ey is for pro­tect­ing the sys­tem and its mem­bers, not for edu­ca­tion­al change.

The recent Missouri Supreme Court deci­sion that affirms stu­dents’ right to trans­fer from unac­cred­it­ed school dis­tricts to accred­it­ed dis­tricts intro­duces a new set of issues. There is pres­sure from the media, the Kansas City dis­trict and sur­round­ing dis­tricts for the State Board of Education to grant pro­vi­sion­al accred­i­ta­tion to Kansas City to avoid stu­dent trans­fers and the result­ing chal­lenges. We endorse the views of many we have talked with. “If the stu­dents have an oppor­tu­ni­ty for a bet­ter edu­ca­tion in a suc­cess­ful dis­trict, why shouldn’t they be able to pur­sue it?” We agree and sup­port the com­mis­sion­er in uphold­ing edu­ca­tion­al stan­dards rather than cav­ing in to polit­i­cal expe­di­en­cies.

We have searched the recent media cov­er­age of the man­u­fac­tured cri­sis. There is vir­tu­al­ly no men­tion of excel­lence, of improv­ing class­room instruc­tion, of dynam­ic board and exec­u­tive lead­er­ship, of what a high per­form­ing orga­ni­za­tion would look like. There is lit­tle men­tion of the chil­dren being denied a future because of bad edu­ca­tion. We think that is very sad.

It is wrong to judge the commissioner’s plan before it is com­plete. It is due to be released to the pub­lic in January. Let us wait to judge.

One Response to Wait to Judge the Commissioner’s Plan

  1. Leigh kieffer says:

    People seem to be sud­den­ly jump­ing on the wag­on against change based on media and “gen­er­al” infor­ma­tion giv­en by The Kansas City Mo School District. Yes, they received the nec­es­sary points for pro­vi­sion­al accred­i­ta­tion, but these points were not in the area of stu­dent achieve­ment. As a patron of the KCMOSD I am very dis­ap­point­ed in the admin­is­tra­tion. The fact that they have not pub­li­cal­ly addressed this mat­ter, nor dis­cussed it in Board meet­ings is avoid­ing the issue. They seem to only be con­cerned about the pro­vi­sion­al title, not the stu­dents and their edu­ca­tion­al suc­cess.
    The Supreme Court rul­ing has caused tur­moil in St. Louis, and poten­tial­ly here. There seem to be to sev­er­al areas of con­cern, the court rul­ing, accred­i­ta­tion and the Commissioner of Education and her charge. Those involved in sup­port­ing these issues seem to only con­cerned with their wish­es not what is best for stu­dents. The Union is wor­ried about Charter Schools and teacher eval­u­a­tions, cer­tain leg­is­la­tors and their per­son­al gre­vience against the Commissioner and the KCMOSD Board and Central Office and the accred­i­ta­tion of a school who has 70% of stu­dents not pro­fi­cient. One leg­is­la­tor actu­al­ly was quot­ed on tele­vi­sion say­ing she would not even meet with the Commissioner, how adult of her.
    How sad for Kansas City, pos­si­bly more years of a school dis­trict who isn’t address­ing the impor­tance of chil­dren begin­ning life long learn­ers. We need to look at the change need­ed to make our schools suc­cess­ful.

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