Because of the Kansas City School District’s loss of state accreditation, Do the Right Thing for Kids is replacing our report card format for school board meetings with narrative comments focusing on the board’s effectiveness in addressing accreditation and related academic achievement matters. We are also using this site to inform the community of possible scenarios for future oversight of our schools.
The district has until 2014 to earn a minimum of six points (out of a possible 14) necessary to achieve provisional accreditation, with at least one being a state test performance standard. Do the Right Thing for Kids believes that simply achieving the bare minimum to gain provisional accreditation is not satisfactory. That would only put us back where we have been for many years—with a system that is not adequately preparing students for their and our community’s future. Full accreditation, which requires a minimum of nine points, would be a clear demonstration that the Kansas City schools have turned the corner and are doing their job of educating our students. (Most Missouri school districts are fully accredited including Independence, Center and North Kansas City. Kansas City, Kansas is also making significant progress according to a different set of state standards.)
What’s Happening Now
The current school board members contend the Transition Plan already in place will afford the district the necessary tools to regain accreditation.
The view of Do the Right Thing for Kids is that the Transition Plan is a useful framework for a reasonably funded and moderately successful district that can afford to take the time to work on programs to move to the next level. It is not a turnaround plan. It does not call for major change in administrative and teaching behavior. It does not assign tough timelines and accountability. It will not get us to accreditation. In a little over two years the state’s deadline will be reached. State law calls for the district to lapse at that point. Most likely marginal progress will have been achieved, and the district will again be pleading for “more time–we have a plan.” That is not good enough for Kansas City’s kids.
The report below of the December 7, 2011 Kansas City, Missouri School Board Meeting illustrates the problems surrounding the current board and the Transition Plan.
The board met in its “workshop” format for the first meeting of the month. After taking care of some routine business, the administrative leadership team described their efforts to gain points toward regaining accreditation. Do the Right Thing for Kids board watchers observed that current efforts are focused on gaining a couple of points not directly related to improving academic achievement with the hope of regaining provisional accreditation. These efforts include better records on college placement, a bonus point for some gains in scores as well as a stepped up effort to round up truants, and plans to add pre-tests to improve scores.
Elements in the Transition Plan that advocate improving teaching and principal leadership were discussed, and there was also talk of improving technology, better support of teachers, and a pilot program for pay for performance (merit pay).
While pleased to see that accreditation is now being discussed, we are disappointed to observe that efforts focused only on regaining provisional accreditation; there was no push for major change. The focus is on transition not turnaround. No one said, “What are we going to do to quickly turn this organization around—to regain full accreditation?”
There is a widely shared perception that the district does not have the human and financial resources or the will to throw off decades of a dysfunctional culture to become a high achieving school system. Those vested in the current system, while voicing commitment to improvement, are pushing to maintain the status quo. It is too early to tell how much the political pushback will protect the current system or whether outside intervention will be able to institute a turnaround.
There has already been much community input regarding this challenge with more still to come. A number of choices have emerged that are now under consideration (outlined in The Kansas City Star, December 14, 2011).
- Maintain the current elected school board structure, with the current elected board in place, perhaps with an oversight panel or commission being appointed by the state. Elections are currently scheduled for April, and candidates are currently being recruited by many segments of the community.
- Give the mayor control of the district with an appointed board.
- Give the state control with an appointed board.
- Create a board with a combination of locally elected and appointed members.
- Contract with neighboring districts to manage the district’s schools.
- Dissolve the district totally (or partially) and divide the schools and students among neighboring districts.
Since current state law gives the district and its board two full school years to regain accreditation before the state can intervene, all of the options except the first one will require legislative action in Jefferson City. While not impossible, past history indicates that is a tremendous hurdle; and meanwhile, the kids are still missing out on their deserved educational opportunities. The Commissioner of Education has called for a period of public discussion of the alternatives after which she will recommend a course of action to the State Board of Education.
Summing It Up
It is obvious this is a very fluid situation, as evidenced by the most recent plan outlined by Interim Superintendent Dr. Stephen Green regarding student transfers. Do the Right Thing for Kids is studying the alternatives and tracking the thinking. We will continue to post reports and information on our site. We will probably put our support behind one of the alternatives at a later time. We emphatically reject supporting the status quo.
We welcome citizens’ comments about the district’s efforts and solicit your suggestions about how Do the Right Thing for Kids can respond to your concerns. Contact us at any time.