Statement by Do the Right Thing for Kids – August 2012

The recent evaluation by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has awarded the Kansas City School District five out of a possible fourteen points toward accreditation.  This rating was based primarily on factors such as such as college placement and courses offered in advanced areas and technical education. This is a gain of two points over last year’s score but not enough to qualify for provisional accreditation.  

Do the Right Thing for Kids is happy to see this gain and congratulates the school board and administration for apparently stemming the drop in accreditation ratings.  We believe that the administration and board are composed of individuals committed to improving the organization and sincerely hope they can continue to upgrade academic performance.  We see a number of factors that need to be dealt with and resolved in order for the district to make significant gains.  

Rather than adopting a”they’re turning it around, leave them alone” attitude, the public needs to pay careful attention and demand continuous improvement.   It is not just a matter of accreditation points.  Students who graduate must have math, reading and communication skills that allow them to succeed in further education or a vocation.  The community can accept no less.  

1.  While a good starting point, the gains are small and may or may not hold.  Test scores are up in some areas and down in others.  None of the points gained are based on academic performance except for the bonus for small gains at the lower end of the scale.  The district remains unaccredited and is the State’s second lowest performing school district.  A sustained effort to bring student skills up to grade level will require a dramatic change, not small incremental programmatic measures.  The State Commissioner of Education has said that she will need to see sustained improvement over several years before considering reaccreditation.  Lack of improvement will trigger State takeover in two years if not sooner.  

2.  Enrollment gains, if any, are partly due to closed charter schools.  Meanwhile new charter schools are starting up, and there are long waiting lists to get into the good charters and into surrounding accredited school districts.  Sustained enrollment growth to overcome years of decline will require developing a classroom experience and school culture that keeps kids attending and motivated.  We know that is possible because other districts, a few charters and even a couple of KCPS schools are doing it.  (See Barb Shelly’s piece “Despite Tough Challenges Many Schools Still Shine” in the August 17, 2012 Kansas City Star.)  

3.  This district, as all districts, needs good public relations.  Putting a positive spin on events without the substance behind the claims will not be helpful.  Statements on the KCPS website promising full accreditation by 2013 seem unrealistic. The focus needs to be on transparency and real community engagement, not just meeting with a select few friends of the district.  We continue to hear that the District Advisory Council is not very helpful.  There needs to be a way for patrons to get concerns heard and requests granted that is more substantial than the three minutes allowed for presentations in board meetings.  Parent and community engagement in each school is needed, not just at the board level.  In successful districts parents and friends work hands-on with students and faculty.

Change is hard, and there are no shortcuts.  The factors that have blocked student performance for many years need to be confronted and changed.   It does not have to be this way.

In our next report we will share our observations about classroom instruction and climate, budget oversight and the “bubble of dysfunction”.

Notes on the August 8, 2012 School Board meeting.

Four board watchers from Do the Right Thing for Kids attended this meeting.  Aside from the usual business matters the following items are noted:

  • MAP scores had been sent to the district but could not be released.  Board members were encouraged to discuss scores in a positive light, pointing to the challenge of difficult circumstances faced by the district.  Attendance numbers are hard to track because enrollment fluctuates early in the semester.
  • An emphasis on readying each building for the start of school is apparently paying off with schools 90-99% ready to start.  Principles have completed three readiness surveys.
  • A model for a proposed monitoring schedule was introduced with a dashboard of key performance indicators and consistency with State curriculum standards.  The subcommittee had not consulted with the State or other districts and was asked to do so.  Such a process could be helpful if rigorously carried out.

Part 2 of this report is also available.

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