Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mayor's Education Summit - Brave Idea - Can We Pull It Off?

One of Kansas City's greatest civic concerns is the education of children in its urban core. For the past several decades, parents of school-age children in Kansas City, Missouri have struggled with either finding schools they like, or moving to the suburbs. Much of the growth of Johnson County can be attributed to the perception of educational opportunity.

Despite the prominence of education as a civic issue, Kansas City's mayors have been granted a "free pass" on getting involved. The Kansas City, Missouri School District is not under the governance of the Mayor - it is an entirely separate beast. "Not my problem" has been the general attitude of city government toward education in Kansas City.

Mayor Funkhouser was elected to eliminate politics as usual in Kansas City, and this is one area where he is making some progress. He is working on putting together an educational summit in January to find areas where the community is "on the same page" about education. "It is time to stop talking about the city this, the schools that, it's time to get on the same page," Funkhouser said.

I've been involved in some of the early planning for this summit, and it's important to keep in mind that this is a community issue - not a KCMSD event. Education in Kansas City's urban core comes in many forms - there are private schools, charter schools, home-schoolers, and religious schools. Students, parents and teachers are obviously interested in the issues, but so are employers, real estate developers, unions, police, suburbanites, etc.

Wouldn't it be great if we could draw people from all over our community and find five or so areas of agreement on urban education in Kansas City?

It's almost sad that we are at such a fundamental stage, but we are. Already, I can see that there are those who want this forum to be a referendum on Mr. Amato, or a sales job for the community schools idea. Already, I can see that some people want the whole thing to be about the KCMSD - and I think that would be misguided in a half-dozen different ways.

Education in Kansas City's urban core is a community issue, and, if this education summit is going to be more than just another "bitch and defend" session about the KCMSD, it needs to draw in the entire community.

I hope that every community-spirited individual in the Kansas City metro region puts a tentative "save the date" note on January 15, and starts thinking about education in Kansas City's urban core. Mayor Funkhouser could have washed his hands of this issue, but he's trying to accomplish something positive. It is an issue for the Mayor, and it is an issue for all Kansas Citians.

Labels: , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we ever want to be a world class city or a city that works for regular folks, if we ever want to achieve racial justice and harmony, we have to get education right.

I don't care who's to blame. The past is past. I want the situation fixed.

Here's hoping that everyone leaves their egos at home and comes looking for a solution so we can move this city forward and stop losing to Johnson County.

8/23/2007 8:47 AM  
Anonymous lw said...

I am hoping for a new era as well. For the positive future of Kansas City, we need it.

8/23/2007 10:04 AM  
Anonymous missspider said...

How is the Mayor going to change a school system when he has no enumerated or implied power to change policy or procedure in the school district?
Isn't the school board already a "task force" of sorts mandated to ensure students receive the best education possible? IMO - the Mayor's task force as duplicative.

This not so clever ploy to divert constituents' attention from the fact that he has made no substantive accomplishments and numerous political missteps since his inauguration is not going to work on me. Sorry Dan, I’m not drinking this batch of kool-aid!

8/23/2007 12:04 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Thank you, Missspider for that dose of nastiness. I really wasn't sure how somebody with a hate-filled mind would find a way to criticize an effort to help support education in the urban core, and you managed to put my mind at ease.

I'm certain that you have an ugly conspiracy in mind to explain away the fact that both the school district administration and the school board are on record supporting the summit.

I'm certain that you have a spite-filled way of explaining how it makes sense to criticize the Mayor for not accomplishing anything while criticizing him for trying to accomplish something.

Really, it's okay, Missspider, nobody's going to try to get you to drink any kool-aid. You are waaaay too smart to fall for anything as hokey and foolish as civic engagement. Please stay on the sidelines and offer up your bitter wisdom.

8/23/2007 12:24 PM  
Anonymous travelingal said...

How does Lincoln Prep and Sumner do it? Where do their kids come from? They're surely one of the biggest success stories in the whole KC area, even surpassing most of the dreaded Jo Co schools in achievement. Seems like you have a good model right here in the area. I'd sure investigate their story when trying to improve other KC schools. I can't help but wonder if you took the faculty and administration of Lincoln Prep or Sumner and handed them the students from one of the other KC schools for a few years, what kind of difference there might be.

You might be interested in this article on the history of Lincoln and Sumner, and good luck !

8/23/2007 1:04 PM  
Anonymous travelingal said...


"How DO Lincoln Prep and Sumner do it..."

I hate it when I make a blatant grammatical error, especially when writing about education.


8/23/2007 1:18 PM  
Blogger KC Sponge said...

We have to get the schools right, along with our community services. The mayor has a right and an obligation to improve his city services - especially education - and we should support this mission and come together to get things done. No matter his intentions, no matter the implicit restrictions there are now, engage in every opportunity to make this city a better place to live. If you dont want to, then complain - or move away - or better yet, watch in silence as we all do it for you. It'll give you time to find something else to complain about.

8/23/2007 7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does Lincoln do it?

Mostly by being a selective school in the first place. If you're able to choose the best students in the district and prevent those who don't do well from attending, it becomes a lot easier to perform well on standardized tests and have a great academic record like Lincoln does. That's not a complaint or criticism, its just to say that the Lincoln model cannot be replicated district-wide. It is irrevocable proof that the racist idiots or those Bell Curve fools who say that urban and black kids can't learn for some sort of biological, ingrained reason are just plain wrong, in addition to being racist fools. But we have to find a way to reach the kids who don't self-select and aren't already succeeding at some level if we're going to fix the schools. Lincoln has some great teachers but so do all of the other schools. Teachers aren't always the problem (or even often the problem) - its the school structure, administrative issues, and mostly social issues from far outside the school that make it more difficult to succee in the educational environment.

And while I commend the mayor for doing this, why does it take six months to schedule it? Just curious - maybe there's a good reason, I am honestly asking, in the hopes that Dan can provide an answer.

8/23/2007 8:57 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Here's my two cents.

I'll try to be brief on this subject, I'm quite opinionated.

First, school systems that function the best are ones where parents are engaged with their schools and their kid's studies. That's how you truly fix the problem. Period. End of discussion. It's a law of nature.

You fix that, that will fix everything else over a relatively short period of time.

Change the cirrculum? Change the teachers? Swapping deck chairs on the titanic, say I.

But if we all agree that this is the case, we then begin focusing on the gazillion single Moms working two jobs whose hearts are in the right place, they just can't afford the time.

And focus on the grandmother trying to raise her daughter's children.

And focus on the parents whose child's school isn't in the neighborood, or on/near a bus mass transit route - and they can't attend parent teacher conferences.

And let's focus on the well-meaning parents who just don't know how to, or the importance of, being engaged, because their parents never were engaged with them.

Theat's how you fix the schools, and (HINT HINT) a lot of the things I did or could have talked about above can be directly influenced/controlled by the city.

Second, I hope this summit isn't going to be a townhall format or worse, multivoting. I read Joe Miller investigation in California and cringed.

We need focus on problem identification, then pull the regular folks in to solve the problem. If you take my advice, you already have the problem identified - so spend your time understanding the barriers to Parental engagement and how to remove or duplicate them.

Regular folks don't have the experience set to ID the problem, but they have the experience and skills to solve it.

And I really don't want to be lectured on "the wisdom of the people". The wisdom of the people elected George Bush TWICE.

Anyhoo, I have lots more to say on this, but I'll shut up for now.

8/23/2007 9:04 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Well, one more point, actually. Even if we ID the problem correctly, any problem and any fix is going to take some serious time. Like 5-10 years of time. For two reasons:

- The underlying problems will take a long time to fix

- it will take that long for people to begin trusting the school system again.

I can't tell you how many times I've been in Charlie Hoopers and at neighborhood gatherings in Dan's neck of the woods (in Brookside) and heard people talk about the trust issue, and that it will take an act of God to give them the confidence to take their kid outof parochial school and put them in the public school.

As a matter of fact the trust issue, according to the education experts I know, may have already killed the public schools. Many experts say that KCMO and the other 11 or so districts are DOA - and we're on a clear track to have just charter schools.

8/23/2007 9:21 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Fair question, anonymous. When we first started talking about this, we were looking at doing something in October - now we're into January, and we don't even have a firm date yet.

The truth is that the delay comes because schedules are hard to coordinate. Funk and those of us who volunteered to work on this wanted to make certain we were getting appropriate input. If I had been given dictatorial powers and an unlimited budget, this thing would have happened last weekend and the results would be in by now. And they would most likely reflect my own thinking on the issues . . .

There's another huge town hall meeting going on around the time we wanted to have ours, and there wouldn't be sufficient facilitators. So we're then looking at November, but the Holidays start to intrude. Besides, we want to do a first class job of communication on this - make certain that the invitation gets to a broad range of people. We need to design, print and distribute a bunch of stuff, and allow people time to respond. We want to avoid the fact and appearance of it being the same old crowd - we really do want people beyond the group that shows up at school board meetings. How do we get the home-schoolers?

When I first got involved, I thought the event would be done by October 15, and we could start doing the follow-up soon after. I was wrong.

It's an interesting challenge to do something like this without being dictatorial or being paralyzed by wanting to make sure everything is absolutely above reproach. Obviously, we're going to be criticized no matter what we do. So I think we want to do what's best, and try to produce some helpful results.

8/23/2007 9:29 PM  
Anonymous missspider said...

I apologize, Dan, if my sincere opinions and criticisms on this matter ignite such rage within you that you accuse me of being “spite-filled”, “bitter”, full of “nastiness” and a possessor of a “hate-filled mind”. It was not my intention to make you appear so defensive - or do you usually lash out at those who disagree with you?

Last time I checked, reasonable minds can differ.

8/23/2007 9:54 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Missspider - Well, yeah, sometimes I do unload on commenters who push my buttons. Also, I've seen your name attached to nothing but negative comments, here and elsewhere. Finally, you came here and described something that I've been working on in good faith as a "not so clever ploy" and a batch of kool aid.

I have lots of commenters who disagree with me - probably a majority of them, most days. I usually appreciate differing opinions - they sharpen my own thinking, change my mind sometimes, and give me a chance to restate my points. But when someone comes here and offers absolutely nothing but snark and obviously illogical cynicism, I'll tell them so.

I'm happy to differ gently with reasonable minds. Unreasonable minds who come here and call me a participant in a not so clever ploy and a server of kool aid get the treatment you got.

8/24/2007 7:55 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

I would like to second everything mainstream said in his/her first post. As someone who grew up in a family of educators, and who almost became one myself I can say that family engagement is almost the only issue. We can make small gains or losses with other policies, but if parents aren't involved the whole thing is built on sand.

I would disagree with one thing in mainstream's second post, though. I think 5-10 years is probably too optimistic a view on fixing things. School trust might be rebuilt in that kind of time, but it will likely take a generation or two before we see societal change.

8/24/2007 8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, the wisdom of the people only elected W ONCE, but that was more than enough.

I can't accept the idea that the schools are a lost cause. I know they are bad. I know it will take years to fix them. I know that even if we fix them, it will take more years before people believe they are fixed.

But we have to try. We cannot just accept that inadequate education is just the way it is and some things will never change.

Everyone in the metro would benefit if the entire population were better educated.

We cannot just write off those who cannot, for whatever reason, attend private or charter schools.

8/24/2007 8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So how do we transform the summit into something more than a one day event and make it the start of a serious effort to get the community involved in the schools for the long haul, not just whenever we elect new school board members or when we switch superintendents every couple of years?

8/24/2007 8:55 AM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Jim, thanks for the clarification, I think you're right. And you did a better job at what I meant to do - set people's expectations realistically.

Even if we nail the issue, it's going to be a long road.

Also, I did not mean to say we should give up on the districts, it's just that we need to solve this problem with our eyes wide open, with pragmatic expectations and an honest assessment of the challenge ahead.

Dan, here's some additional unsolicited advice - you may be considering all this but I'll say it anyway.

I would really like to encourage you to defer to education experts wherever possible on the design of this summit, inside and outside of the school systems. Use the implementation and planning team that your serving on to apply additional common sense and execute.

Allowing residents to speak their minds isn't going to make any progress. I'm not dissing the opinions of residents, but we already have all that imput.

Also, encouraging anybody to provide their casual thoughts, or respond to ideas without time for thoughtful consideration, will only create unsuccessful, unimplementable distractions.

What will make progress is clear, experienced and talented educators and a clear collaboration and buy-in from the school districts on the process.

With an eye out on what the city can actual do to help things.

With a lot of people with the valid opinion that this summit will be a waste of time (and they are somehwat justified) -- it's in everybody's interest to involve professional problem solvers that have experience with this.

And if it means a delay the summit, then delay!!! - this problem isn't going to be solved in the next few years anyways.

Hope I don't sound lecturing, I don't mean to.

However, I suspect a cutesy, state-of-the-art techy multivoting-like town hall meeting in the making, and I'd like to discourage that.

Let's go for some good old fashioned problem-solving.

8/24/2007 10:43 AM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Hmmm. Just read the Front porch, and guess were going with a 500-person 21st Century Townhall.


Well, with 500 people we're bound to get some good ideas.

I guess.

You know, Dan, you could make me feel a little bit better about all of this if you were to say to me

"mainstream, this is a first meeting on an ongoing, proactive involvement of the city in partnership with the school board. The real results, innovation, gains and ideas will occur out of the ongoing process we'll begin and establish on that one day in Saturday. Oh, and mainstream, of the things we'll talk about, we'll have a definite focus on how those things, that the city conrols, can really come into play to solve the problem"

Hearing that, I'd feel better.


8/24/2007 4:21 PM  
Blogger Stephen Bough said...

Sen. Victor Callahan is certainly involved in the KCMO schools despite not having any direct power over them (first he got a law passed that would allow kids to opt out of under-performing schools, then he went door to door to get people to sign his petition). Surely the mayor can try to come to a solution besides "we quit."

Another post on this blog said "all politics are local." Nothing is more local than the neighborhood school. "Regular folks" in KC MO and in the KC School District want to improve education. It is almost criminal that the level of education provided to KC School District students is so low and the drop out rate is so high. You know the mayor of DC is catching crap, too, for attempting to improve his town's school district.

I wish Funk (and Dan) good luck. I may not be a fan of Funk (I do like Dan), but I want our City (and School District) to grow and improve.

8/25/2007 1:36 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home