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.