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.

One Response to Teacher Quality and Student Achievement

  1. Tammara says:

    Thanks for final­ly talk­ing about > Teacher Quality and
    Student Achievement — Do the Right Thing for Kids < Loved it!

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