Despite challenges, some area schools still shine
The Kansas City Star
A big story was revealed when the state of Missouri released its performance reports for area school districts this week, and it wasn’t the small bump in accreditation points for the Kansas City Public Schools.
It was Center School District, with a minority enrollment of 76 percent and seven of 10 students qualifying for free or discounted lunches, meeting all of the state’s rigorous performance standards.
It was Grandview School District, where 75 percent of students qualify for free or discounted lunches and 70 percent belong to minority groups, measuring up to 13 of the state’s 14 standards.
It was the Raytown and Independence School Districts, each serving their share of low-income students, posting high grades. Raytown met 12 of 14 standards and Independence met all 14.
The big story, often lost in the clatter about the “crisis in public education,” is that most school districts in and around Kansas City are doing good work, and some are positively inspiring. They are defying the conventional wisdom that schools with high numbers of poor and minority children are destined to underperform.
“Our professionals are proving day in and day out that if you challenge kids and provide good instruction you get good results,” said Bob Bartman, Center superintendent. “We set high standards, both academic and behavioral, and students respond.”
The school districts that posted impressive results while serving large populations of poor and minority students share some traits: stable administrations, visionary superintendents and cooperative school boards.
They also have retained a core of families which have experienced educational success and expect their schools to continue making that possible.
So what are we to make of those pockets where schools aren’t measuring up to the state’s expectations as far as test scores, attendance, graduation rates, ACT scores and career and college readiness?
The Kansas City Public Schools scored two points better than it did last year, when it lost its state accreditation, but still ranked as Missouri’s second lowest performing school district. The Hickman Mills School District scored only seven of 14 accreditation points. And while some of the city’s charter schools did well, two-thirds of them scored worse than the Kansas City Public Schools.
There are explanations, and there are excuses, and sometimes the line which separates them is blurry.
DeLaSalle Education Center, a charter school, mustered zero accreditation points. But its mission is to serve high school students who have not succeeded in more traditional school settings. Most are behind where they should be academically when they enroll, so it stands to reason they won’t be acing Missouri’s academic performance tests or the ACT.
“We know we are going to take it on the chin,” said Mark Williamson, the school’s executive director. “But if we don’t serve these kids, where are they going to go?”
Arguably, DeLaSalle’s circumstances are valid explanations.
Other charter schools, though, serve more traditional school populations and should be doing better.
Kansas City Public Schools and the Hickman Mills district face formidable challenges. They serve higher percentages of impoverished students than other area districts, and many come from families which have experienced generations of educational failure.
Many families live in rental housing and move frequently. In Hickman Mills, 25 percent of the enrollment typically transfers in from other districts during the course of the school year.
These challenges are in some ways explanations for poor performance. But they don’t work as excuses. The Center and Grandview Districts also face issues with poverty and mobility and are succeeding.
Our region is fortunate to have more models of educational success than failure. That some districts manage to get the job done in difficult circumstances should serve as a message to those which don’t.
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @bshelly.