Six takeaways from the CEE-Trust report on Kansas City Public Schools

01/13/2014 3:00 PM

01/13/2014 3:00 PM

CEE-Trust, the Indianapolis-based consultant that was hired to rethink education in Kansas City, is proposing to replace the current traditional school district with a system of non-profit school operators.

In a nutshell: A “community-schools office” would oversee the system, select the operators, run a system-wide enrollment process and transportation network and take care of construction and major building repairs.

The non-profit operators would set their curriculums, teacher and staff salaries, school calendars and school culture. In other words, they would operate nearly autonomously as long as they performed up to the expectations set by the central office.

Potential non-profit operators named in the report include high-performing nearby school districts; successful local charter schools; successful schools such as Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, which would reform as non-profits; and successful national charter school chains.

Here are a few quick takeaways from the report:

1) It is in keeping with CEE-Trust’s reputation as a group that supports, in its own words, “entrepreneurs and new schools, teacher talent organizations and the charter school movement.”

2) The report is impressively researched and plotted. The consultants figured out the lay of the land here quite quickly. They use focus group outcomes and educational data to make a case that the status quo is unacceptable and wholesale change is the best chance for schoolchildren here, and follow up with a step-by-step plan for making a transformation.

3) The researchers took pains to head off some of the concerns that have swirled around the selection of CEE-Trust to perform the study and its motives. The report spends some space right up front talking about all of the things the new plan is not: Not a charter school plan, not a call for privatization, not anti-labor and not the predetermined plan of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which hired CEE-Trust to do the study.

4) The report makes a lot of promises. Teachers would be better paid. First-rate educators would want to work in the schools. Parents would gain more control. Operators would be held strictly accountable for performance. Students performance would accelerate. There assertions are based partly on comparisons with successful models around the country. And there is a lot of hope in the predictions, also.

5) The report portrays the choice as either a failed status quo or a move to something entirely different. But there are other options on the table, including a proposal for outlying school districts to run substandard schools within the district.

6) The CEE-Trust proposal will prove intriguing for folks who believe in entrepreneurialism and experimenting in public education. It will generate a substantial backlash from people invested in the current system. To gain traction, the consultants will have to persuade a skeptical public that yet another radical experiment will finally give Kansas City a first-class educational system. They will have to present some clear pictures of what these new schools will look like, and tell us why they will work when other experimental efforts have not.

A series of public hearings is expected to be announced soon.


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