In our last report [avail­able here] we dis­cussed some of the issues per­tain­ing to the progress of the Kansas City School Public Schools in regain­ing accred­i­ta­tion.  We point­ed out that five out of four­teen points toward accred­i­ta­tion have been achieved.  There were gains in some areas and loss­es in oth­ers.  Four of the five points are not mea­sures of aca­d­e­m­ic qual­i­ty. Turning around a sys­tem that has been high­ly dys­func­tion­al for decades will take more than mod­i­fi­ca­tions in poli­cies and pro­grams.  It means major changes in the way busi­ness is done.  It requires class­room expe­ri­ence and school cul­ture that keeps stu­dents moti­vat­ed and engaged.  This is being achieved in some schools but cer­tain­ly not all. Finally, we talked about the need for real com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment that calls for par­ent and con­stituent involve­ment in all the schools, not just on a cen­tral com­mit­tee.

In this report we dis­cuss the final three of the six areas we believe need to be addressed.

  • Classroom instruc­tion and cli­mate are where aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment begins and ends.   We often hear that there are some excel­lent teach­ers or that it is the fault of the sys­tem. Of course there are great teach­ers, and these heroes should be amply rec­og­nized and reward­ed.  We have heard from teach­ers, admin­is­tra­tors, par­ents and stu­dents who con­fide in us sto­ries of poor teach­ing: teach­ers sit­ting while the class goes out of con­trol; teach­ers yelling at and demean­ing stu­dents; teach­ers with no clear expec­ta­tions and stan­dards and not using good ped­a­gogy; and some with exces­sive absences that leaves the teach­ing to sub­sti­tutes who are not pre­pared.  The sys­tem clear­ly needs to be held account­able.   Teachers tell us that because their expe­ri­ence is that super­in­ten­dents and pro­grams change every two years, they will not fol­low the ini­tia­tives of the lat­est super­in­ten­dent.  Setting high stan­dards for teach­ing and hold­ing teach­ers to those stan­dards is not a mys­te­ri­ous process; it is hap­pen­ing suc­cess­ful­ly in many places.
  • We con­tin­ue to be con­cerned about bud­get over­sight.   One of the respon­si­bil­i­ties of the board is to assure that pub­lic funds are being respon­si­bly and effi­cient­ly han­dled.  Consent agen­das con­tain­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in expen­di­tures are vot­ed on with­out discussion–as stip­u­lat­ed under a pol­i­cy gov­er­nance mod­el.  The assump­tion is that before appear­ing on the con­sent agen­da requests have been care­ful­ly exam­ined by board mem­bers.  We do not see much evi­dence of this hap­pen­ing.  Some school boards have a bud­get review com­mit­tee com­posed of mem­bers with exper­tise in finan­cial man­age­ment.  This com­mit­tee meets with staff pri­or to the board meet­ing to exam­ine expen­di­tures in depth.  The com­mit­tee can rec­om­mend to the full board whether or not to approve a bud­get request.  A stu­dent on a com­mit­tee to devel­op a mon­i­tor­ing report sug­gest­ed that board mem­bers abstain from vot­ing if they have not read the pack­et of requests and jus­ti­fi­ca­tions.
  • To expe­ri­enced out­side observers who under­stand orga­ni­za­tions, the dis­trict is in a “bub­ble” of dys­func­tion and can­not see out.  It is like the fable of the fish that does not know that it lives in water because it has nev­er expe­ri­enced any­thing else. The lead­ers need to get out­side the bub­ble, vis­it suc­cess­ful dis­tricts and boards, and bring in out­side resource per­sons who can pro­vide fresh per­spec­tive. They need to come to grips with the vest­ed inter­ests that have held the sys­tem hostage for decades.  This is why Do the Right Thing for Kids has advo­cat­ed for out­side inter­ven­tion, includ­ing a change in gov­er­nance.

In future reports we will dis­cuss top­ics that have attract­ed our atten­tion in recent weeks includ­ing rec­om­men­da­tions from “Building Teacher Quality in the Kansas City School District” by the National Council on Teacher Quality.   This research report mir­rors many of the con­cerns that we have expressed over the past years.  Public mon­ey being spent by the dis­trict for lob­by­ing in Jefferson City is anoth­er top­ic.

Notes on the August 22, 2012 School Board Meeting

A report on MAP scores and oth­er fac­tors eval­u­at­ed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in reach­ing the deci­sion about accred­i­ta­tion was a major focus of the meet­ing.   Although we could not read many of the charts that were pro­ject­ed on wall screens we were able to dis­cern a pos­i­tive focus on areas where there were gains and less dis­cus­sion on sev­er­al areas in which there were loss­es.  The dis­trict admin­is­tra­tion pre­sent­ed very ambi­tious plans for over­com­ing the deficits and build­ing on the rel­a­tive­ly small gains.  We are glad to hear these plans but are very con­cerned about whether per­son­nel, funds, and pro­grams nec­es­sary to imple­ment these plans will be avail­able.

One board mem­ber com­ment­ed,  “We’re mov­ing in the right direc­tion, but we’re not in turn­around mode.  What am I miss­ing?”  We are won­der­ing whether major new instruc­tion­al strate­gies are being planned or whether there will sim­ply be more of the same.

It is easy to say that pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment will be offered to improve teacher and prin­ci­pal per­for­mance.  We won­der what will be dif­fer­ent this time.  The plans as out­lined will require tremen­dous coop­er­a­tion and effort on the part of prin­ci­pals and teach­ers.   It will require con­sid­er­able time on the part of every­one.  Tying teacher eval­u­a­tion to stu­dent per­for­mance has been on the agen­da of this dis­trict as well as oth­ers, but when asked, the admin­is­tra­tion could not point to progress.

Our observers were pleased to hear plans for hir­ing read­ing inter­ven­tion­ists for 12 schools.  Communications Arts scores in 9th-11th grades are down 23 points.  

There was a dis­cus­sion of appro­pri­at­ing pub­lic dis­trict funds to hire lob­by­ists to advance the district’s inter­ests, and a $60,000 con­tract was approved.  We will have more to say about this in future reports.

One Response to A Positive Spin on Mixed Accreditation Results — Part 2

  1. E. Fischer says:

    A 23 per­cent drop in com­mu­ni­ca­tion arts scores, 9th-12th grade, is very sig­nif­i­cant.

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