Last month we began a discussion of the major study Building Teacher Quality in the Kansas City, Missouri School District [The full study is available at www.nctq.org]. The study by the independent National Council on Teacher Quality focused on five problem areas in the Kansas City Public Schools: staffing, work culture, evaluations, tenure, and compensation. Our previous discussion focused on staffing and the study’s conclusion that policies and constraints leave the principals out of hiring decisions and frequently do not get the best teachers in the classrooms. This month our focus will be on work culture. The term “culture” refers to an organization’s work environment—the shared values and attitudes that impact performance. This study looks specifically at elements that affect teachers’ commitment to professionalism, teamwork, and responsibility for creating a strong learning climate.
A summary of the study’s findings is as follows: Teacher absenteeism is one indicator of the health of the culture, and it is high in KCSD—especially on Fridays and Mondays. Sick leave has become synonymous with personal leave and teachers use most of their allotted sick leave. Poor record keeping and lack of enforcement of the current lenient policies contribute to the absenteeism. “NCTQ has yet to see a district with such poor record keeping. Poor records make it impossible to hold teachers or principals accountable for ignoring rules and standards of professional practice.” At the time of the study teachers could arrange to be absent by simply requesting a substitute through an automated system rather than reporting to the principal. Teacher attendance is not a part of performance evaluations.
“The daily work schedule for KCMSD (KCSD) teachers…fails to meet the modern demands of the profession.” The teacher workday is 7 hours and 45 minutes, but too much time is spent in front of the classroom and not enough in planning lessons, evaluating student work, collaborating with colleagues, meeting with parents, and working with students individually. High performing districts with a culture that truly values high quality teaching requires 75% or less of a teacher’s time in the classroom and the rest on developing individual and group teaching quality.
“KCMSD (KCSD) students are shortchanged by one of he shortest school years in the country.” Most states mandate a 180-day student instructional year while Missouri sets the minimum at 174, which some argue is still insufficient.
Do the Right Thing for Kids observers often hear concerns about teacher absenteeism and over-use of substitute teachers. If substitutes are not qualified, do not know the lesson plan, and cannot maintain control of the class, little learning will take place. Teachers are moved around from school to school like checkers on a board without consultation with them or the principal—a practice not likely to enhance a culture of professionalism and respect. We hope to see much more effort on the part of administration to build a healthy work culture of professionalism, mutual respect and commitment.
OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE OCTOBER SCHOOL BOARD MEETINGS
Do the Right Thing for Kids Board Watchers continue to visit all KCPS board meetings and many public meetings. We share our observations via our website (www.dotherightthingforkids.org), e-mail, social media, and conversations with civic groups to give the community another perspective on the workings of the school district.
The first meeting of the month involves reports by district staff to the school board. The reports cover a variety of appropriate topics. They are prepared in advance and tell the board what the staff wants them to know. The spin is positive, with emphasis on successes and less attention to problems. Comments for KCPS board members range from strategic to narrow.
DTRTFK Board Watcher comments on the first meeting in October:
The administration presented an informative report on the fall assessments of 6–8 grades including MAP predictors. Reports on academic progress are the only way to measure success. Have such predictors been accurate in the past?
The board disrupted the flow of the presentation by frequently asking trivial questions, and the board president continues to conduct meetings as if they are a community forum.
Principals are spending more time evaluating teachers. We have no information about the evaluation instrument or principals’ training and how these may differ from past unsuccessful programs.
No mention was made of the disturbance at ACE. A status report would have been appropriate.
Comments on the October 24 Board meeting:
The board approved funding for a “turnaround consultant” to help “hold the administration accountable for turning around the district.” Do the Right Thing for Kids has observed that district efforts seem to focus more on day-to-day program changes than on major efforts to turn around student performance. We hope that the consultant will be helpful in bringing about a real turnaround. However, we warn that the kinds of major changes necessary to rescue this dysfunctional system will require the complete involvement of the board. It cannot be delegated.
In contrast to administrative reports that focus on positives, Andrea Flinders, president of the Kansas City Federation of Teachers, gave her second angry report this fall. She accused the administration of pressuring the teachers to support the Race to the Top grant and not soliciting required teacher, parent and student involvement.
Board Watchers applaud extended learning opportunities for students that are being offered including before and after school tutoring, New Year’s Academy, Winter Break School, Spring Break School, and a virtual on-line option offering incentives.
Dr. Sanders reported that 17 reading interventionists have been hired to provide intensive reading support for students. In response to a question sent to the cube, Dr. Sanders reported they are certified elementary school teachers and “highly qualified.” DTRTFK asks how many have an advanced degree in reading curriculum? If they have been hired with grant funds, did the grant require teachers with MS degrees or reading specialist certification?