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?

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