What will it take for students in the Kansas City Public Schools to achieve academically at the level of their peers in other districts? Most everyone agrees that teacher quality is crucial. Innovative instructional programs, technology and other aids may help, but without the best teachers, students are handicapped in their learning. In 2011 the National Council on Teacher Quality, a non-partisan research and policy organization, published a study entitled “Building Teacher Quality in the Kansas City, Missouri School District.”. The study was done in partnership with the Urban League of Kansas City and the Greater Kanas City Chamber of Commerce and was funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There was brief media exposure when the study was released, but little discussion since. (The full study is available at www.nctq.org.)
Many of the findings of the study are similar to the concerns expressed over the past several years by Do the Right Thing for Kids. The study, too extensive for us to review in one article, covers staffing, work culture, evaluations, tenure, and compensation. We will discuss the findings and recommendations on staffing this month and cover the other topics in subsequent months.
The study states that the ideal policy on staffing is as follows: Teacher assignment (should be) based on mutual consent of principals and teachers, with district policies facilitating the access of schools to top teacher talent.
Major findings in the Kansas City Public Schools:
Principals’ authority to staff their schools is limited, undermined by centralized, seniority-based assignment practices. Teachers are assigned to schools by the central office, often without an opportunity for school officials to interview candidates or express preferences. During the recent school closings the District reassigned teachers in order of seniority without consideration of their effectiveness. Many teachers were laid off because of lack of seniority, without regard to their performance.
Also during the right-sizing, seniority was the major determinant for layoffs rather than teacher performance, certification or professional development. Research shows little correlation of seniority with student performance after a few years in the classroom.
Less than half of KCMSD’s teachers graduated from strong colleges and universities (as defined by “U.S. News and World Report”). Graduation from more selective institutions as well as SAT, ACT , and licensure scores are linked to teachers’ ability to produce academic gains with students.
In short, hiring, retention and transfer policies and practices often benefit longer-term teachers to the detriment of younger teachers and students.
Do the Right Thing for Kids has observed and commented on these practices and the problems they cause. It is very difficult for a principal to build a team when teachers are shifted from school to school without regard to the needs of the teachers or the school. An unfortunate example is the recent transfer of nine or more teachers from Southwest to the African Centered School without teacher or principal involvement five weeks after the fall term began. This move disrupted the lives of teachers and students, necessitated a restructuring of course offerings, and left Southwest lacking in some important areas.
The implications of the study are clear. There are many factors mitigating against getting the best teachers in the classroom. Don’t our student deserve the best teachers? If student achievement is correlated with teacher quality, these findings make it clear why student performance is disappointing.
Comments on the September School Board Meetings
Do the Right Thing for Kids board watchers attended the two September board meetings. Comments on the meetings and their relevance to student achievement and accreditation are as follows:
The September 12 meeting focused on monitoring academic and attendance data to evaluate student progress, or lack thereof, in meeting State standards. The goal is to pin-point areas of struggle so that appropriate interventions can be implemented (after school tutoring, literacy volunteers, reading interventionists, identifying high risk drop-out students). The effectiveness of these efforts will depend upon recruiting qualified volunteers and also teacher follow-through. These efforts are commendable. However, it must be noted that such projects are reactive, focusing on problems after they occur. How to prevent the problems through effective teaching is the challenge and should have been the focus of the discussion.
The administration spoke with confidence about the upcoming year, but there appeared to be considerable last minute scrambling. This meeting preceded the shuffling of teachers from Southwest to the African Centered School because of unanticipated or uncontrolled enrollment growth at the African Centered School.
Board watchers did not find much to critique in regard to the September 26 meeting. Union President Andrea Flinders expressed concern about the growth in the administrative staff and lack of raises for teachers for the past three years.
James Fierro from the Mattie Rhodes Center described the application for a Federal Promise Neighborhood planning grant for James and Gladstone Elementary Schools and Northeast High School that would create a holistic system of care.
Principal Tom Herrera from East High School described attempts to improve the culture through high expectations and a “no excuses” philosophy, a much needed focus in a high school where 72% of the students have English as a second language.
In future communiqués we will be reporting on the use of public funds for lobbying and the lack of transparency in board business.