Draft report calls for state to dismantle Kansas City Public Schools

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A draft report ordered by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and paid for by the Ewing Marion Kauffman and Hall Family foundations recommends dismantling the long-struggling Kansas City Public School District and replacing it with networks of non-profit schools operated by educators largely independent from a central governing body.

The report, a copy of which was made available to 41 Action News in advance of its public unveiling, represents a radical rethinking of the local school district focused on two core conditions for success: educators run schools, and schools are held accountable.

It calls for replacing the top-down district structure with a much smaller, near purely administrative entity called a Community Schools Office (CSO). The CSO would retain some functions of the current district, including facilities maintenance, enrollment and transportation coordination, but its primary purpose would be to set accountability standards for schools, which would themselves be free to run largely independently, so long as they hit those standards. 

"The school system would shift its focus from operating schools directly to finding the best possible nonprofit operators, empowering them to run schools and holding them accountable for results," the executive summary said. "Schools that succeed would grow to serve more students. Those that continually fall short would be replaced with better options."

Read the full report here: http://bit.ly/JVgRQN

Under the draft plan, The CSO's executive director and an accompanying advisory board would both be appointed by the state, with the possibility of board members eventually being selected locally if student performance improved to the state's satisfaction. 

Schools themselves, which the report says currently have control of only 5 percent of education spending, would gain significant control over their own governance and spending power. School networks could hire and fire their own teachers, set their salaries as they see fit and select their own curricula, largely free from outside interference, so long as they hit the high standards laid out by the CSO. 

"Educators and community members would gain the power to create and operate nonprofit schools that meet the needs of the students they serve," the report states.

Kansas City students could choose any public school to attend, and while some would be charter schools, the report makes clear that most would not be - and pre-buts the notion that it is replacing public schools with charters. The report notes that Kansas City has several "high quality operators" of public schools already that fit the bill, including Lincoln Prep and Academie Lafayette. 

The report also identifies what its authors consider another glaring need, and proposes instituting universal pre-kindergarten for children ages 3 and 4 city-wide. The report says this can be done using funds reallocated in the reorganization of the district, without raising taxes.

The executive summary of the report also attempts to head-off a likely counter argument from the district, which is suing to stop a state takeover, arguing that the stabilization and progress of the district under superintendent Stephen Green is not satisfactory.

Read KCPS' 2014 plan here: http://bit.ly/1gCsoiC

"While some argue that the system has been stabilized after years of dysfunction, one must ask: what good is stability if most students still cannot read, write, or do math proficiently, or graduate from high school ready for college or careers?" the report asks rhetorically, calling student achievement results in the district "disastrous."

The report also looks to swing the opinion of teachers (and their unions) who might oppose major change, calling unions "allies," and explicitly stating that under the proposed reorganization, teachers could organize and collectively bargain directly with schools and school networks.

"This plan is not anti-labor," the report states. "On the contrary, a key focus of our plan is enabling teachers in communities like Kansas City both to earn substantially more than they do now, and to take control of their schools in ways that are impossible in most districts."

The Missouri State Board of Education will hear a presentation of the draft report, which it paid education reform consultants CEE-Trust $385,000 after a controversial bidding process to produce, Monday afternoon. 

The report will be one of several options presented to the board (but the only one paid for by DESE) for how to best reverse the fortunes of Kansas City Public Schools, if the state decides to take over the district. It was developed over a period of several months, in consultation with focus groups of parents and educators.

Officials from CEE-Trust plan to travel to Kansas City later this week to reconvene focus groups and meet with the stakeholders who helped develop their plan, in hopes of further refining it. 

The board is not expected to take any action on the draft report before February.

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