For three decades relentless harm has been visited upon public schools in Kansas City, Missouri. This city provides stark evidence for the fallacy of school choice and the folly of employing standardized testing results to gauge school quality.
Leaders from the Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) presented at the recent Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. This article is in part based on that presentation.
The Major Cause of Racial and Economic Segregation
Richard Rothstein, Senior Fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, wrote about segregation as a function of government housing policy. He noted,
“With Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and then, after World War II, Veterans Administration (VA) guarantees, white middle-class families could buy suburban homes with little or no down payments and extended 30-year amortization schedules. Monthly charges were often less than rents the families had previously paid to housing authorities or private landlords.
“The government had an explicit policy of not insuring suburban mortgages for African Americans.”
As Rothstein reported, the dramatic population shifts in Kansas City began with the establishment of the FHA in the mid 1930’s and accelerated with the VA guarantees after WWII. The graphic above shows that trend continuing.
In 2007, a popular Democratic state senator from Independence, Victor Callahan, led an effort to remove seven schools from Kansas City by transferring them to the Independence School District. He also claimed that the Kansas City school district should disappear. Gwendolyn Grant, leader of the Greater Kansas City Urban League, supported the move contending that a more racially homogeneous school board would be less contentious. The move was ratified by large majorities in both Kansas City and Independence. It seems that Kansas City’s school teachers provided the only opposition to the transfer.
As a result, Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) became even more racially isolated. Today, the district is almost 90% minorities (65% black and 25% Hispanic). Ninety-percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunches which indicates high rates of student poverty.
In 1998, Missouri legislators enacted a charter school law that affects only two cities, Kansas City and Saint Louis. Evidently, legislators from rural areas would not vote for the law unless it was restricted to cities with populations greater than 500,000 people of which there are only two. The state department of education informs parents,
“Any student residing in the Kansas City 33 School District or the St. Louis Public School District may choose to attend a charter school if they reside within either city.
“As of August 2018, there are 20 LEAs [Local Education Agency] in Kansas City operating within 40 buildings and 16 LEAs in St Louis within 36 buildings.”
Local education agency means it operates as a school-district.
In 1964 Kansas City’s school enrollment was 77,000 students. Since then, the District enrollment has plummeted to less than 15,000 students.
KCPS’s Unique History Highlights Fatal Flaw in School Choice Agenda
Education commentator at Forbes, Peter Greene, states the charter school dilemma, “You cannot run multiple school districts for the same amount of money you used to spend to operate just one.”
Greene’s point was illustrated during the KCPS presentation in Indianapolis.
Springfield, Missouri is a small city of just over 150,000 people in the Missouri Ozarks. Its school district is almost exactly the same population size as KCPS plus the Kansas City charter schools. The Kansas City student population totals 26,500 students and Springfield Public Schools have 25,800 students.
In Kansas City there are 110 schools operated by the equivalent of six district administrations. Springfield has 53 schools run by one district administration. Kansas City’s education environment is very difficult for parents to navigate with its 23 different types of schools. Choosing between k-2, prek-5, 1-7, 6-12 etceteras, parents have a difficult time knowing how to guide their child into a coherent program. In Springfield, the education path is clearly defined.
The next two charts are from the NPE presentation. They show some of the comparative financial outcomes of a public system and the hybrid privatized and public system in Kansas City.
The KC/Springfield data strongly supports the obvious conclusion that maintaining classroom spending levels in public schools while expanding charter schools requires an increase in tax money. Without more money, the charter school experiment is being financed by reducing spending on public school students.
Destroy Public Education (DPE) Forces in Kansas City
All public schools throughout America have been harmed by the federal test and punish theory of education reform. The major fallacy of this theory is the tool for measuring school quality is useless. Not only is standardized testing not capable of measuring school or teacher quality, because of the problem of error associated with testing, reality is often opposite from the results.
Throwing darts blindfolded would be an equally accurate method for judging schools as standardized testing. Eugenics was the genesis for standardized testing and only the profit motive keeps the testing fraud alive. School grades consistently outperform SAT scores for predicting college success yet we continue forcing families to pay for these tests.
A new study “What Do Test Scores Miss? The Importance of Teacher Effects on Non–Test Score Outcomes,” by C. Kirabo Jackson professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University was recently published. The conservative publication Education Next carried an article by Professor Jackson describing his findings. He concluded,
“I find that, while teachers have notable effects on both test scores and non-cognitive skills, their impact on non-cognitive skills is 10 times more predictive of students’ longer-term success in high school than their impact on test scores. We cannot identify the teachers who matter most by using test-score impacts alone, because many teachers who raise test scores do not improve non-cognitive skills, and vice versa.”
In the 1980’s a federal court ordered Kansas City to address the growing racial isolation. The method chosen was big spending on magnet schools and other expensive big ticket items in an attempt to lure white students back. It did not work nor did it raise the only measure of success that mattered – test scores.
Joshua M. Dunn an assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado studied the Kansas City desegregation experiment. He wrote,
“In the mid 1980s, federal district court judge Russell Clark ordered a complete overhaul of the school district. No expense was spared. All told, the court spent more than $2 billion in its quest to improve the KCMSD. Every high school and middle school and half the district’s elementary schools became magnet schools with special themes such as classical Greek, Slavic studies, and agribusiness. Special themes required special facilities, such as petting zoos, robotics labs, and a model United Nations facility with simultaneous translation capability. One high school was so extravagant it was dubbed the ‘Taj Mahal.’” [Note: KCMSD stands for Kansas City Missouri School District which was the name before 2007.]
Previous to 2009, the ongoing destruction of KCPS was based on stinking thinking; then the real destroy public schools (DPS) players arrived. John Covington, a 2008 graduate of the fake-unaccredited Broad Academy, became the Superintendent of schools on July 1, 2009.
The Broad Academy for school administrator training was founded by billionaire Eli Broad. His theory is that top school administrators need business backgrounds and education experience is not required; consultants can be hired for that. Broad has poured literally hundreds of millions of dollars into privatizing public education.
By 2008, Kansas City had closed 30 of its schools which reduced the number to 61 schools. During Covington’s first year he claimed that diplomas from KCPS “aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.” His solution for this situation and a looming budget deficit was to close another 29 schools and layoff 285 teachers.
Fortuitously, his mentor Eli Broad had just updated his School Closure Guide. The first line of the guide says, “This is a guide for school district operators considering school closures to address significant budgetary challenges.”
With no warning or explanation, Covington resigned in August, 2011. The reason finally came to light in a 2016 Kansas City Star article by Joe Robertson. Joe reported that Covington had told several head hunters that he had no intention of leaving KCPS:
“Then came a call from one of Covington’s contacts at The Broad Foundation. … Be ready, his contact told him, to receive a call from the foundation’s founder — Eli Broad.”
“The call came from Spain, Covington said. He (Broad) said, ‘John, I need you to go to Detroit’”
“That, Covington says, is the reason he left.”
“On Aug. 26, 2011, two days after he resigned as superintendent of the Kansas City Public Schools, John Covington was introduced as the sole candidate for chancellor of a new statewide school system in Michigan.”
Covington was the founding principle of The Education Achievement Authority. He administered the schools taken over by the state including fifteen schools in Detroit. The Authority was an abject failure.
Robertson’s article also noted,
“Reform-minded forces as powerful as state Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro and the Kauffman Foundation saw a chance to completely reshape public education in Kansas City and came to roost while lawmakers fought unsuccessfully into the final minutes of the 2012 legislative session to give the state the immediate power to take over the district.”
Ewing Marion Kauffman was a graduate of public schools. Before his death in 1993 he spent money and time promoting public schools. He was an eagle scout and he established the Kansas City Royal baseball team. He would undoubtedly hate the idea that the $2 billion foundation he established is now being used to undermine public education in his city.
Kauffman Foundation money was used to bring CEE-Trust to Kansas City. It was a Bill Gates funded spin off from Indianapolis’s proto-type privatizing organization The Mind Trust. The CEE-Trust mandate was to implement the portfolio theory of education reform. When local’s got wind of a backroom deal that had given CEE-Trust a $385,000 state contract to create a plan for KCPS things went south. A 2017 Chalkbeat Article says, “In 2013, a plan to reshape Kansas City’s schools was essentially run out of town.” It became so bad that CEE-Trust changed its name to Education Cities.
Now the same local-national money combination is funding a new group, SmartschoolKC, with the same portfolio district agenda. The new collaborationis funded by the Kauffman Foundation, the Hall Family Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.
The portfolio model posits treating schools like stock holdings and trimming the failures by privatizing them or closing them. The instrument for measuring failure is the wholly inappropriate standardized test. This model inevitably leads to an ever more privatized system that strips parents and taxpayers of their democratic rights. Objections to the portfolio model include:
- It creates constant churn and disruption. The last thing students in struggling neighborhoods need is more uncertainty.
- Democratically operated schools in a community are the foundation of American democracy. Promoters of the portfolio model reject the civic value of these democracy incubators.
- Parents and taxpayer no longer have an elected board that they can hold accountable for school operations.
As Jitu Brown and the Journey for Justice have declared,
“We are not fooled by the ‘illusion of school choice.’ The policies of the last twenty years, driven more by private interests than by concern for our children’s education, are devastating our neighborhoods and our democratic rights.”
New Team Leading KCPS
Mark Bedell certainly made a positive impression at the recent NPE conference in Indianapolis.
Unlike many youthful school leaders in America, Bedell did not come from Teach for America. He actually studied education. He has a BA in history, a master’s in education leadership and a doctorate in school leadership. He worked for twelve years as a teacher and in various administrative positions for the Houston Independent School District.
In 2012, he accompanied his Houston colleague, Dallas S. Dance, to Baltimore when the thirty-one year old Dance became the Superintendent of Schools. By 2016, Dance was on his way to jail and Bedell’s positive reviews brought him to the helm of KCPS.
Linda Quinley prepared the data for the NPE presentation. She came across as very competent.
Jennifer Wolfsie is a former parent who navigated KCPS’s Byzantine system with her own children and is a KCPS Board member. She is a staunch advocate for public education. The Kansas City Star has published her opinion pieces.
Bedell says that he believes charter schools are not going away. He is proposing a model for public schools and charter schools working together under public school leadership for the good of all students in an integrated system. The proposal presented in some detail sounded well thought out with tough minded requirements for privatized schools.
However, some of us are skeptical if operating non-democratic schools harmoniously within a democratic system is feasible. It sounds eerily like the Systems of Schools proposal by GO public education in Oakland, California. Diane Ravitch commented,
“I first heard that claim from Joel Klein, who became chancellor after being pushed out as CEO of Bertelsmann. Zero education experience. That was 2002.
“Months after starting, he said he would transform NYC from a “school system” to a “system of schools.” Last week, I heard that the Broadie superintendent of Atlanta presented the same language as innovative.”
I think that Bedell and the present team have a chance to significantly improve the education landscape in Kansas City. The question is will they be led by their ideals or will they come under the influence of enemies of democracy and public education like Rex Sinquefield?
My Favorite School is Just 23 Miles from Downtown Kansas City in Blue Springs, Missouri.