As reported previously, the Kansas City Public Schools have engaged in a “full court press” to achieve higher student scores on the MAP (Missouri Achievement Program) tests that bear on accreditation. Time will tell; results are due in late summer. If provisional accreditation is achieved by raising some marginal students’ scores through teaching to the test, that will not say much about the overall educational quality of the district’s teaching and curricula.

April school board meetings focused on major proposals by the administration to spend many millions of dollars on new and improved facilities and equipment. We certainly support providing the district’s students the most functional facilities and equipment that we can afford. However, we wonder if the timing is right for such expenditures by an unaccredited school system that would still be shrinking if it were not for students migrating from failed charter schools. Also, new and expanding charter schools are coming on line, pending court cases could allow more open transfer to accredited districts, and legislation being discussed in Jefferson City would enable immediate state takeover.

Another matter receiving attention in April was early childhood education. A growing body of research and experience is demonstrating that preschool years are extremely important in getting children ready for K-12. Too many of the district’s children arrive in kindergarten already behind in intellectual development, continue to fall farther behind, and may never catch up. We applaud the district’s decision to put more attention on early childhood education. Challenges include the lack of state support and the web of existing preschool programs, some of which are good and some of which are not much more than babysitting services.

A proposal to recreate middle schools in or connected to Northeast, East and Central high schools was another agenda item. The pendulum swings back and forth on whether middle schools are better than 7-12 high schools. Current research favors middle schools for urban students. A majority of the board expressed tentative support for going forward with planning.

Several Do the Right Thing for Kids members attended an urban education forum conducted by Dr. Lisa Delpit, winner of the 1990 “Genius Award” by the MacArthur Foundation. According to Dr. Delpit, causes for lack of academic achievement in urban schools are:

  • Children are not being taught—teachers are not teaching and there is little interaction except for discipline;
  • Bias and assumptions of inferiority (stereotypes) on the part of educators;
  • Lack of appropriate attention to cultural influences in the classroom.

Dellpit’s research shows a 50% deficit in achievement for students with ineffective teachers over three years.

Academic growth can come about if there is academic press—high expectations and accountability, and strong social support—positive relations among children and adults that builds self confidence.

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