As I See It

Kansas City schools deserve our best thinking

Updated: 2014-01-08T01:36:01Z


Special to The Star

It’s an interesting point in time when some media, the public educational establishment, teachers unions, and groups claiming to represent parents are pressing to stop a study by the CEE-Trust aimed at finding ways to turn around the failing Kansas City Public Schools.

Why wouldn’t we want all the informed ideas we can get on fixing a bad situation, one that has plagued the community and cheated students for decades? Could it be the results and recommendations might run counter to special interests? It seems ironic that in Missouri, the “Show Me State,” there would be a movement to quash the research before we see the results.

The research group “Cities for Educational Enterprise Trust” (CEE-Trust) is a national organization of 33 city-based foundations, non-profits and mayor’s offices seeking to support educational innovation. The respected publication “Education Week” names the CEE-Trust director “One of the ten people who are changing education today—and will be ten years from now.” Major funding comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, which have poured millions into assisting public education.

Why is CEE-Trust viewed as a threat? Because they have sometimes supported charter schools as a part of the solution to urban education problems? Because charter schools threaten the public educational establishment since they are out from under the control of traditional school districts and teachers’ unions?

Contrary to hyperbole from media and pressure groups there is no evidence that Commissioner Chris Nicastro violated any laws or regulations in selecting CEE-Trust. Using privately donated money, not state funds, Nicastro sought the organization she thought could provide the best, not cheapest, plan for turning around unaccredited school districts. Use of innuendo like questionable behind-the-scenes maneuvering and suggestions of a conspiracy are meant to discredit the agent of change. Forgotten is the fact that under the new state law the commissioner has several options for bringing about change, including replacing the school board and administration and dividing up the district. Commissioning a study is the least drastic step she could have taken.

Do the facts support claims of the Kansas City Star editorial (12/29/13, “Recent Impressive Gains?” Emphatically no. The per-pupil cost is $16,823, the highest in Missouri. Here’s what we get for those dollars:

• Most of the points gained on the accreditation assessment are not for student achievement but for actions by staff members involving absentee records, tracking graduation rate, bookkeeping. The lowest score is for academic achievement (43%).

• Seventy percent of the district’s students still perform below proficiency on state tests, the lowest in the area.

• A large majority of students made little or no gains. Small average gains made by cramming for tests are not likely to last and do not represent real academic progress.

• There was no growth in communication arts (reading and writing).

• ACT scores measuring student preparation for college are the lowest in the area and among the lowest in the state.

Decades of efforts by the district and community groups have had little or no impact on student academic achievement and have cheated students. It is time to try something new instead of protecting vested interests by playing it safe and tweaking a dysfunctional system. Our students deserve better.

Bill Eddy of Kansas City is a lifelong educator who is chairman of Do the Right Thing for Kids, a watchdog organization.

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