Statement by Do the Right Thing for Kids — August 2012

The recent eval­u­a­tion by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has award­ed the Kansas City School District five out of a pos­si­ble four­teen points toward accred­i­ta­tion.  This rat­ing was based pri­mar­i­ly on fac­tors such as such as col­lege place­ment and cours­es offered in advanced areas and tech­ni­cal edu­ca­tion. This is a gain of two points over last year’s score but not enough to qual­i­fy for pro­vi­sion­al accred­i­ta­tion.  

Do the Right Thing for Kids is hap­py to see this gain and con­grat­u­lates the school board and admin­is­tra­tion for appar­ent­ly stem­ming the drop in accred­i­ta­tion rat­ings.  We believe that the admin­is­tra­tion and board are com­posed of indi­vid­u­als com­mit­ted to improv­ing the orga­ni­za­tion and sin­cere­ly hope they can con­tin­ue to upgrade aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance.  We see a num­ber of fac­tors that need to be dealt with and resolved in order for the dis­trict to make sig­nif­i­cant gains.  

Rather than adopt­ing a“they’re turn­ing it around, leave them alone” atti­tude, the pub­lic needs to pay care­ful atten­tion and demand con­tin­u­ous improve­ment.   It is not just a mat­ter of accred­i­ta­tion points.  Students who grad­u­ate must have math, read­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills that allow them to suc­ceed in fur­ther edu­ca­tion or a voca­tion.  The com­mu­ni­ty can accept no less.  

1.  While a good start­ing point, the gains are small and may or may not hold.  Test scores are up in some areas and down in oth­ers.  None of the points gained are based on aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance except for the bonus for small gains at the low­er end of the scale.  The dis­trict remains unac­cred­it­ed and is the State’s sec­ond low­est per­form­ing school dis­trict.  A sus­tained effort to bring stu­dent skills up to grade lev­el will require a dra­mat­ic change, not small incre­men­tal pro­gram­mat­ic mea­sures.  The State Commissioner of Education has said that she will need to see sus­tained improve­ment over sev­er­al years before con­sid­er­ing reac­cred­i­ta­tion.  Lack of improve­ment will trig­ger State takeover in two years if not soon­er.  

2.  Enrollment gains, if any, are part­ly due to closed char­ter schools.  Meanwhile new char­ter schools are start­ing up, and there are long wait­ing lists to get into the good char­ters and into sur­round­ing accred­it­ed school dis­tricts.  Sustained enroll­ment growth to over­come years of decline will require devel­op­ing a class­room expe­ri­ence and school cul­ture that keeps kids attend­ing and moti­vat­ed.  We know that is pos­si­ble because oth­er dis­tricts, a few char­ters and even a cou­ple of KCPS schools are doing it.  (See Barb Shelly’s piece “Despite Tough Challenges Many Schools Still Shine” in the August 17, 2012 Kansas City Star.)  

3.  This dis­trict, as all dis­tricts, needs good pub­lic rela­tions.  Putting a pos­i­tive spin on events with­out the sub­stance behind the claims will not be help­ful.  Statements on the KCPS web­site promis­ing full accred­i­ta­tion by 2013 seem unre­al­is­tic. The focus needs to be on trans­paren­cy and real com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment, not just meet­ing with a select few friends of the dis­trict.  We con­tin­ue to hear that the District Advisory Council is not very help­ful.  There needs to be a way for patrons to get con­cerns heard and requests grant­ed that is more sub­stan­tial than the three min­utes allowed for pre­sen­ta­tions in board meet­ings.  Parent and com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment in each school is need­ed, not just at the board lev­el.  In suc­cess­ful dis­tricts par­ents and friends work hands-on with stu­dents and fac­ul­ty.

Change is hard, and there are no short­cuts.  The fac­tors that have blocked stu­dent per­for­mance for many years need to be con­front­ed and changed.   It does not have to be this way.

In our next report we will share our obser­va­tions about class­room instruc­tion and cli­mate, bud­get over­sight and the “bub­ble of dys­func­tion”.


Notes on the August 8, 2012 School Board meeting.

Four board watch­ers from Do the Right Thing for Kids attend­ed this meet­ing.  Aside from the usu­al busi­ness mat­ters the fol­low­ing items are not­ed:

  • MAP scores had been sent to the dis­trict but could not be released.  Board mem­bers were encour­aged to dis­cuss scores in a pos­i­tive light, point­ing to the chal­lenge of dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances faced by the dis­trict.  Attendance num­bers are hard to track because enroll­ment fluc­tu­ates ear­ly in the semes­ter.
  • An empha­sis on ready­ing each build­ing for the start of school is appar­ent­ly pay­ing off with schools 90–99% ready to start.  Principles have com­plet­ed three readi­ness sur­veys.
  • A mod­el for a pro­posed mon­i­tor­ing sched­ule was intro­duced with a dash­board of key per­for­mance indi­ca­tors and con­sis­ten­cy with State cur­ricu­lum stan­dards.  The sub­com­mit­tee had not con­sult­ed with the State or oth­er dis­tricts and was asked to do so.  Such a process could be help­ful if rig­or­ous­ly car­ried out.

Part 2 of this report is also avail­able.

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