No debate about the need for debate
The Kansas City Star
“Competing Futures: a debate over Kansas City Schools” didn’t resolve the question of how best to govern the struggling Kansas City Public Schools. But three of the district’s graduates made strong arguments when arguing for either continued school board control, mayoral control or a state takeover.
And debaters LaToya Williams-Green, Ryan Wash and Marcus Leach were thoroughly convincing in their unspoken case that a vibrant debate program is essential in urban schools. Regardless of who ends up running the Kansas City School District it should renew its commitment to Debate-KC, the urban debate league which sponsored Tuesday night’s debate. All three debaters are Debate-KC alumni.
Leach, a graduate of Central High School who recently obtained his law degree from the Howard University School of Law in Washington, argued in favor of continued local control — a position he later said he favored not just as a debater but personally.
Leach noted that school board president Airick Leonard West was in the audience, and he questioned whether leaders in another form of governance would take such a keen interest in the district and its students. He also astutely pointed out that the Missouri legislature is known for dysfunction and hardly in the best position to set the school district right.
Williams-Green, a Lincoln College Prep graduate who is a senior and debate standout at Emporia State University in Kansas, argued forcefully that mayoral control was the best way to “press the reset button.” The district has languished too long, she said. “There are too many promises and not enough promise-keepers.”
Wash, who graduated from Central High School and now is a senior and debate partner to Williams-Green at Emporia State, had the state control position — possibly the most difficult to promote. He made a good choice by citing the experience of the New Orleans, which has made huge strides in public education after its schools were put under the control of a state-formed “recovery district.
Wash’s acknowledgement that Hurricane Katrina provided Louisiana with the opportunity to start anew with the New Orleans schools prompted a high school debater to ask a memorable question: “Must we create a mess in order to call in the janitor?” To which Wash replied, correctly, “We already have a mess.”
Gabe Cook, director of Debate-KC, scored a point of his own when, in his opening remarks, he referred to a previous school district superintendent who “cut and ran” and left the district with, among other problems, “a gutted debate program.” That would be John Covington, who made debate programs a casualty of his budget cuts, and who left to take a job in Detroit just before the Kansas City Public Schools became unaccredited.
About 175 persons attended the debate, held in a lecture auditorium at UMKC’s Royall Hall. The Kansas City Star’s editorial board co-sponsored the event. To learn more about Debate-KC, a non-profit urban debate league, go to http://debatekc.edublogs.org.