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.

Background

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?”

What’s Next?

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.

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