"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Friday, July 30, 2010

A Paradigm Shift in the Kansas City School District

You may or may not be aware of the new classroom structure being tried in the Kansas City, MO school system. When classes begin in just under a month, classes will begin with two weeks of testing, and then students will be grouped by ability, not age.


Kansas City, MO schools need to try something new. Test scores have been failing for years even as huge amounts of federal money have flowed into the district. The district has gone through two BILLION dollars from a desegregation settlement...with nothing to show for it in terms of increased student achievement. Read this excellent analysis on the history of Kansas City, MO schools and the collapse of the school district and system:


This report delves into the myriad of problems facing this district over 30 years and illustrates throwing money or mandates at failing schools doesn't work. Race to the Top is not the answer for failing districts. It will cost the states money they don't have to institute the mandates. It's a bureaucratic nightmare. So what is the answer?

Kansas City hopes it has found a solution grouping children according to ability. I applaud the KCMSD's approach to teaching its students by this new method. Denver has tried it with success, and school districts in Maine are beginning the process of ability grouping. I have some experience as a parent with this approach. When my son was attending an oral deaf school, he was grouped with kids with similar abilities. As a parent, I was satisfied my son was placed where he could be most successful. A school should ensure a child achieves success at the rate he/she is able. A child who is failing will become frustrated and give up. This pattern is replayed year after year and the child falls farther and farther behind. By the time middle school comes around, the student has probably lost any interest in learning. Then districts are in the warehousing mode with these students, rather than educating them.

The most important two sentences in the eschoolnews.com article reads:

But backers acknowledge that implementation is tricky, and the change is so drastic it can take time to explain to parents, teachers and students. "If the community isn't sold on the effort, it will bomb", said RichardDeLorenzo, co-founder of the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition, which coaches schools on implementing the reform.

Why are these sentences so important? If you read through the original 800 page Race to the Top document prepared by the Department of Education, it is clear parents are never considered to be an important "stakeholder" in student progress. In Missouri, the original Race to the Top state proposal never listed parents as important stakeholders; instead, it was superintendents, teachers, principals and union representatives who are most important in your student's educational life. I have great hopes for the KCMSD plan, as these educators are aware of the profound responsibility parents have in the their children's educational progress. This approach is a "team approach" which is necessary for success.

I wish the school district, parents and students well. I hope it works. I understand the social and emotional skill levels are particularly important to address in elementary school. It appears the groupings will only occur in the subjects of math and reading. Children will still be with their peers for social learning. Perhaps NOT "teaching to the middle" in core subjects will be of great benefit to both remedial and gifted learners.

I remember when the director of my son's school told me, "If a child is not succeeding, WE need to do something different to reach that child. It is OUR responsibility to help that child succeed". I hope the KCMSD is turning the corner and these kids will receive a diploma that's worth something.

And guess what? It won't cost the state of Missouri $150 Million it doesn't have to try what the Department of Education wants us to buy into. It also lets the local district make the decision to do what it believes it needs to do to turn around disastrous scores and failing students. Two billion dollars of federal money and mandates, expensive buildings and swimming pools haven't helped Kansas City students. I hope this latest round of educational reform is the ticket out of mediocrity for these kids.

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