Charter Schools in Kansas City, Part 1: Charter school growth cuts into KCPS enrollment

Charters nearing KCPS enrollment numbers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tateanna Gravely-Moss is a senior at University Academy.

She started at the charter school in kindergarten, and is now considering attending some of the nation's best universities.

They include Duke, Stanford and Rice.

She said she attributes that opportunity to her UA education.

"Not only do they teach you what you need to know to be successful during life, but they try to tailor it so it fits your path directly," Gravely-Moss said.

University Academy is part of a charter school explosion within the boundaries of Kansas City Public Schools.

Charter schools are publicly funded independent schools established by teachers, parents or community groups under terms of an agreement, or charter.

Within KCPS boundaries, charter school enrollment went up 17 percent in 2016 alone.

That's just part of the long-term trend.

In 1999, the year charters were first authorized in Kansas City, Missouri, there were nearly 36,000 KCPS students.

At the end of the last school year, KCPS enrollment had plummeted to just more than 14,000 students, while charters had close to 12,000 students.

KCPS Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell said the reason for the shift is decades of KCPS failure he's trying to change.

He says the path to problems for KCPS started more than 40 years ago with the desegregation era and white flight from the school district.

Bedell said subsequent failures from past superintendents, boards of education and community members hurt KCPS and ultimately its students.

He said families look for other options as a result.

"It's an opportunity now for people who have been hurt, or may have not graduated from this school system to say 'Hey, I'm going to put my kids somewhere else,'" Bedell said.

One way to measure how well schools are doing is the Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP testing.

Results show UA's high school students are excelling. A high percentage of them are performing at or above grade level in each subject tested:

  • Mathematics: 98.3 percent
  • English: 94.3 percent
  • Social Studies: 91.9 percent
  • Science: 97.5 percent

One factor that could explain the high performance is the high standard UA sets for each student.

Each high school student must pass a mastery test in every subject with a minimum passing score of 80 percent.

Students who don't reach that 80 percent mark must take the class again.

"They have to hit that 80 percent mark because our goal is college graduation, not high school graduation," UA Superintendent Tony Kline said.

But not every charter school within KCPS boundaries has had the same level of success as UA.

The 41 Action News Investigators looked at MAP scores from each elementary, middle and high school that operates as a charter in KCMO.

Of those 28 charter schools, 16 of them have MAP scores showing less than half the students are performing at grade level in all subjects.

The MAP scores for the entire KCPS school district show fewer than half of the students are at grade level or above in every subject tested.

That includes 35.2 percent in English, 23.8 percent in math, 22.8 percent in science and 44.9 percent in social studies.

Missouri also does an annual performance review, or APR, to measure a school's success.

It includes academic achievement, college and career readiness, and graduation rates.

Those scores indicate four charters have done worse than KCPS in three of the last four years, one of which is Hogan Prep Academy.

"We've had our growing pains with our middle school and with our elementary school because they are newer," Hogan Prep Superintendent Danny Tipton said.

Executive Director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association Doug Thaman said students at new schools may need more help succeeding.

"What you find is that students come in and they're several years below grade level and it takes a while to bring them up to grade level," Thaman said.

One of the other schools that underperformed is Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy of Technology (BBCAT).

On Monday, its sponsor, the University of Central Missouri, said it will not renew its charter with BBCAT, citing the school's APR percentages, failure to meet some criteria, poor retention rates, and failure to implement significant teaching or learning initiatives since its last renewal.

Some say there's no reason a charter school should be struggling.

"We shouldn't have any struggling charter schools. And if they are struggling, why are they expanding?" Bedell questioned.

Others say it's still important to have the option.

Levette Amerson works at UA as the middle school assistant principal and sends her four children to the school.

"If you're living where maybe a district is failing, you should have an opportunity to attend a school that is successful," Amerson said.

Bedell sees UA as a good example of charter school success.

"We need to be figuring out what is it that you are doing and how we can replicate that," he said.

Last year, UA set a record of $6.6 million in college scholarship money awarded to its senior class. That averages out to roughly $160,000 per student.

"I never thought of an African American community coming together like this and having so many successful black people come out of a charter school," Gravely-Moss said.

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Andy Alcock is an investigative reporter for 41 Action News. Watch this story on 41 Action News at 10 p.m. on Oct. 31.

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