Sunday, August 10, 2008

Should Brookside Secede from the Union?

In the comments to my bit of McCain/Hilton fun, a commenter tossed out this bit of wildly off-topic but engaging thought provocation - "Can/Should the Brookside area schools separate from the KCMSD?".

It's tough to have a conversation about the Kansas City Metropolitan School District. First, there is sooo much misinformation out there. To some (mostly those from the suburbs who have little personal experience), the entire district is a catastrophe of corrupt administration, incompetent teachers, uncaring parents and unteachable students. For others, the KCMSD represents a source of political power, both as a potential springboard to other offices and as a fiefdom for those who prefer to remain in place. Still others look at the KCMSD as employment - an employer in labor negotiations which are intensifying to the point of a possible strike.

It's easy to respond to the suggestion of a Brookside secession with a quick and dirty charge of racism. Or, at least, class bias. Let's get the first class kids off the Titanic now, and God bless the souls left behind.

But that easy response may not be entirely fair. As the KCMSD administration and board have failed to provide a consistently good - heck, even a consistently decent - education to all (or even a majority) of their students, it's been fair to lose faith. Sure, it's a wonderful thing to hold hands and believe that the School District can turn around and accomplish great things, but when will we see accreditation? Is that so much to ask? If it isn't, then let's have it. If it is, then who can blame people for looking to jump ship?

And who can blame the teachers for wanting to improve their pay and working conditions?

And who can blame the administration for under-performing when the board chops off the head without explanation or apparent reason?

And who can blame the Board for reacting with micromanagement when their constituents blame them for problems they oversee?

And who can blame people like my commenter for wanting to throw up their hands and try to improve the educational prospects of at least some of the children at the screaming intersection of all of these conflicting interests?

This is the point in a typical blog post where I put forth my brilliantly thought-out, morally uplifting and shockingly practical solution . . .

I don't have one. Sorry. And that "sorry" is truly, deeply sincere.

I do have a couple thoughts, though, about secession as a solution. It's not going to happen. Victor Callahan was able to muscle through a secession plan for the Independence schools because they are, after all, in Independence, and nobody bothered to strongly oppose him in Jefferson City. After he did such a terrible job with the legislation, creating an ongoing litigation debacle that ought to leave him begging forgiveness from his better peers, I doubt that Jefferson City legislators are going to be eager to hear about more poorly thought-out half-solutions to what everyone knows is a bigger problem.

The solution doesn't lie in Jefferson City. The solution, if there is one, must be found in Kansas City. I like to think that we took a step toward that solution when we elected Airick Leonard West to the School Board, but you're fooling yourself if you believe that was enough.

Even he doesn't think that was enough. Go look at his website - or, more accurately, the website of Kansas Citians United for Educational Achievement.

If you want to go ahead and work for a break-away republic in Brookside, I admire your willingness to think about the possibility of improving educational outcomes for at least some of our students. I really don't think it's going to work, though, and I think that we can take what we have and improve it.

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28 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan -

A more or less objective piece. Thank you.

At present, I, too, am unconvinced that the "Brookside breakaway" is the answer. But the breakaway solution needs to be on the table. Hell, all potential solutions need to be on the table.

Unfortunately, aside from West, no other Board members are offering solutions or out-of-the-box thinking. A few weeks ago Joe Robertson (KC Star) wrote a thought provoking piece about the disparity between KCMSD's administrative costs (increasing) and the student population (decreasing). Robertson asked Marilyn Simmons (current Board pres) to articulate how KCMSD will improve. Her response: "Brighter days are ahead."

For 30 years we have been fed this same generic, non-responsive response. Why should anyone believe that "[b]righter days ahead"? Does Simmons have a plan? She sure hasn't articulated one. There is a vacuum of ideas.

Admittedly, apathy is high among parents. But, at a time when a decreasing few can afford private tuition, solutions such as a breakaway start to sound quite appealing.

8/10/2008 2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do kids growing up in Brookside REALLY go to public school anyway? Most of the people I know that can afford to live there can afford to send their kids to a private school, or at least to Academy Lafayette.

Anyone looking for solutions should start by thinking about the next election. Airick does a good job. How about electing five more progressive members that will think about what's best for the children. Simmons, Ragsdale, Burnett, Smith, and Pelofsky are all up--haven't they had their chance? Not all of those five are problems, but nothing would signal a new start like some new blood on the board.

8/10/2008 4:03 PM  
Anonymous travel said...

Dan - I suppose that comment was about me (mostly those from the suburbs who have little personal experience), but I can read the papers and I do know people who sent their kids to the district. I have lived in the area for 30 years and it's no big secret what a mess the KCMO schools are.

That aside, I do have substantial business experience and a business could not function as the KCMO school district us. It needs to be treated like a business. Fire the bad teachers. Vote out those on the board who are unproductive or worse yet counterproductive. Expel the students who cause trouble and not for 2 days, for the semester. Set MEASURABLE goals. Hire experts who have SUCCEEDED in turning around failing schools. Above all else, let everybody in the district, employees and students, know what you are doing ahead of time and do it. Don't cave to charges of racism. Help those kids who want help. Involve the community in the effort and coerce them to at least try to attend public schools for a semester or two instead of private schools.

I don't know Airick but from what I've read, he's a good guy, the kind of guy that you all need.

You all know that it is going to take drastic action and community involvement and not just fencing lessons to turn this district around.

And, if you don't like what I said, I don't really care. It's the truth.


I don't know Air

8/10/2008 4:23 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Travel -

Truly, you were not the person who was in the back of my mind - though you do comment on his blog! ;-)

And I don't dislike what you said, either. I don't agree with all of it, but the main point I'm trying to make in this post is that we're too quick to condemn others for what we view as their biases, or for saying what they think.

8/10/2008 4:49 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

All of the criticism from the suburbs, I think, is truly merited and earned. What other conclusion could one objectively arrive at given (1) the billions - literally billions - of dollars invested in this and nearby school districts, and (2) the chronic condition of our schools.

I mean really - we'll hear a litany of excuses but it comes down to Billions invested, nothing returned. Period. With the huge opportunity lost - the opportunity the children of the KCMSD lost on getting a decent education, and everything that goes along with that.

One perfectly reasonable approach is to break it up. That's a potentially easy way to eliminate the bad apples.

The only hitch is that a break up could easily result in the creation of an east side island(s), where the schools would not have money and social assets to leverage.

So, I say to the people that want Brookside to break away - why don't you include students and areas a mile, or two, or three, east of Paseo?

Create a Brookside district that also includes people that might not necessarily feel welcome at Foo's.

If every highly motivated area in or adjacent to the KMSD that has the energy, assets (social and otherwise) decided to break way and take with them another area (and commit to lift up that area) that didn't have so many assets, we might get somewhere. That may take less time and be less expensive that trying to fix the monstrosity.

I know the sit is way more complicated than that, and that what I offered is not the answer, but it's food for thought.

8/10/2008 7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The KCMSD needs Brookside more than Brookside needs KCMSD.

8/10/2008 7:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do kids growing up in Brookside REALLY go to public school anyway? Most of the people I know that can afford to live there can afford to send their kids to a private school, or at least to Academy Lafayette.

Academie Lafayette is a public school. It is just not run by the district because it is a charter school. Brookside Frontier Math and Science is another public charter school close to brookside. So there are already options for public schools that are not under the control of the KCMSD.

I mean really - we'll hear a litany of excuses but it comes down to Billions invested, nothing returned.

Nothing returned huh. I believe Dan's kids went to KCMO schools, so did Funk's. I know many kids that are doing well in KCMO schools. The schools have their problems, but I would put my kid up against yours any day. So take our "nothing returned" and f-you mainstream.

Talk of Brookside succeeding does nothing but show how uninformed the original commenter was. Why bother succeeding when you already have the charter school law. Non district run schools have popped up all over Kansas City. Some work, some don't. If you want your kid to go to a public school that is not run by the KCMSD, you can do that today.

If Brookside wants another non-KCMSD public school, don't waste your time succeeding, just open up ANOTHER charter school.

8/10/2008 10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

zzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!! I'm sorry were you posting something interesting?

8/10/2008 11:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As long as it doesn't hurt schools in the urban core. They need to be focused on first.

8/11/2008 3:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mainstream - I like your idea. The new Brookside district could include an eastern section as well. That may be a fair outcome. But, what is not fair is a continuation of the status quo.

Travel - Darn good points.

8/11/2008 8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Banneker is another charter school opening up in Brookside.

Actually Brookside has more NON district public schools than it does district run public schools.

If you want your child to go to public school not run by the KCMSD, you have plenty of choices in Brookside.

In reality Brookside and many other neighborhoods have ALREADY succeeded from the district by opening up their own charter schools.

But it is always much more fun to make big grandiose plans on blog than it is to actually do something.

8/11/2008 9:05 AM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Anon at 10:53 - Funk's kids did go to public school - Lincoln Prep. That particular school is great - and do you know why? They take applications and select from the applications. They intentionally get the best students. So of course it will be and is a fine school.

Every school system has a handful of great schools. That's not the issue - the issue is what kind of an education is provided to the poorest areas of the district.

The commenter who mentioned Charter schools is prescient - the more knowledgeable people I talk with expect the school district to be almost 100% charter over time.

Not a bad outcome, if the charter schools can provide a quality product and if high quality Charter schools will go east.

8/11/2008 9:38 AM  
Anonymous JL just looking for the three R's said...

To Anonymous (one of them anyway...) -

I am a Brookside resident and a charter school parent. While it may be true that the district in this part of Kansas City is de facto becoming filled with charter schools, I don't know that this is an extremely positive development. I am proud of my son's school (Brookside Charter) for making yearly AYP, but only Brookside and Academie Lafayette have done so. Most of the charter schools are not doing any better than the public schools they are replacing, and have FAR less oversight. The charter schools that fail (and there have been several) usually do so due to financial and administrative foul-ups. These foul-ups might be avoided if the charter schools had - dare i say it? - a governing board, like a district school board. Maybe the solution would be to create an umbrella organization to assist the charters with the aspects of running a school that exist outside the classroom. But right now, the charters are overall not a great option. And as good as Brookside was, this year I am putting my son in private school, because he needs more than they can provide.

8/11/2008 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brookside already has its own school district - it's called the Catholic Diocese.

8/11/2008 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brookside already has its own school district - it's called the Catholic Diocese.

When it comes to my kids, I'd rather take my chances with KCMSD than catholic priests.

8/11/2008 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the charter schools are good, but compared to what? The fact that the charter schools are better than the KCMSD does not make them "good" schools.

Try comparing the charter schools to the non-parochial private schools or, better yet, to the Brookside public schools circa 1970.

Even assuming that all charter schools are great schools (there is no charter high school in Brookside, by the way), other commenters are correct that most charter schools fail because of lack of oversight. Which leads one back to the argument for a Brookside School District.

Why would you charter supporters out there be against a Brookside School District?

Does no one else remember (or care) how great public education once was in Brookside?

I have not heard anyone articulate why Brookside public education cannot be great again.

8/11/2008 1:00 PM  
Anonymous bill said...

Try comparing the charter schools to the non-parochial private schools

Here is a comparison of Academy Lafayette to other public schools. You can look up other charter schools if you want.

other commenters are correct that most charter schools fail because of lack of oversight.

Every charter school has a governing board. Every charter school has a sponsoring University that has oversight of the schools. You don't just put a sign out saying you have a charter school. You have to have the oversight and sponsorship before the state will let you start one. So previous comments about over site are wrong.

Univeristy Academy is sponsored by UMKC. Academie lafayette is sponsored by CMSU. You can look up the other schools. Each school has its own board. Most have parent elected board members.

most charter schools fail
Do you have a report to back that up? I have never heard that. Google didn't seem to find any report saying that most charter schools fail.

Why would you charter supporters out there be against a Brookside School District?

The real question is why would you want to spend the effort making your own school district, when you can already make your own non-district run school TODAY.

I can think of only one reason. Charter schools must accept kids from all over the district. A charter school located in Brookside must also accept kids from across Troost. So are you wanting a public school that is not run by KCMSD or are you wanting a public school that excludes kids that live outside of Brookside?

Charter schools take care of the KCMSD problem. If you think kids that live outside of Brookside are the problem, then that is your sole reason for creating your own district.

8/11/2008 1:31 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Yeah! What he said!

Good points, Bill, thank you.

8/11/2008 2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill and Mainstream -

Do you believe the charter schools are as good as the non-parochial private schools or the Brookside schools circa 1970?

8/11/2008 4:03 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

If charter schools and other public schools were as good an non-parochial private schools, I would have to conclude that we were paying too much for our education.

Kids don't need stainless steel appliances and cloth napkins to get a good education. They need appropriately educated people who are good teachers. Pembroke vs. KMSD? Nahhh.

I don't think it's appropriate or even possible to compare private schools with public schools, and private schools don't necessarily comprise the better, most cost effective model.

As for the Brookside schools in the 70's, that appears to be a thinly veiled attempt to gauge my age. I refuse to answer that question, and wouldn't anyways because it's not really relevant. If you want to say the schools could be better, that's one thing, but you cannot compare today to an earlier time, unless you do it by some objective measure like test scores, but even then you would need the assurance the testing and method was the same.

You can't do that.

Anecdotal evidence won't work either for obvious reasons.

8/11/2008 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

Do you believe the charter schools are as good as the non-parochial private schools or the Brookside schools circa 1970?

I wold say some are and some aren't.

The same goes with private schools. I would say that some charter schools are better than Penbrook and Barstow. Conversely, Penbrook and Barstow are better than some charter schools.

8/11/2008 4:42 PM  
Anonymous cares for kids and clergy said...

anon 11:46:

I hope you don't think that by avoiding priests you can prevent your child from being molested.
If you do, you should have your parental rights terminated.

8/11/2008 5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill and Mainstream -

If some charter schools are just as good, and in some cases better, than the non-parochial schools, then why do charter schools have a less than stellar reputation?

Admittedly, I know less about the area charter schools than you seem to. But I find it hard to believe that if the area charter schools were as great as you claim, parents would not flock to them. I know and have talked to parents with kids at Academie Lafayette. They are generally satisfied, but they will tell you that if they had the money, their kids would attend St. Paul's, Pembrooke or Barstow. So what gives?

8/11/2008 6:03 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

I did not and will not maintain that a charter school is better than a private school. I would actually contend the opposite - private schools on average are better than public schools.

You can get a better education at Harvard that you can at Penn Valley, right? And the Harvard education is "better" because with a lot of money you can do alot of things.

That's not the point. People on average don't need a Harvard education, what they need is a good education that is cost effective. Private schools will always be better because by definition, people who send their kids to private schools do so to create a superior environment for their children.

Remember Barstow and Pembrook et al will exist no matter how good the public system is - lots of people in the Blue Valley school district send their kids to private school.

8/11/2008 6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, it's Pembroke.

And the commenter who said most charters fail was correct. Most of the charter schools in KC have failed. There are only two successful charters. There are five times that many that have not only failed but closed.

Charters also are able to kick kids out whenever they want. So just because charters are funded by public money doesn't mean they serve ALL kids in the community.

8/11/2008 7:15 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

private schools on average are better than public schools.

It seems the facts don't back you up. A study in the New York Times states that public schools perform equal to private schools. Numerous other studies show the same thing. Private being better is an urban legend.

You can get a better education at Harvard that you can at Penn Valley, right?

Is Devry better than the University of Kansas? Devry is private after all and you stated Private schools will always be better because by definition.

And the commenter who said most charters fail was correct.

Can cite a study or report to back it up? Linking is pretty easy. I say you are wrong, please cite anything that can back up your claim.

Charters also are able to kick kids out whenever they want.

Damn, does anyone research anything before they post things? Charters ARE NOT able to kick kids out whenever they want. They must follow the same rules regarding discrimination etc.
A charter school is prohibited by law from discriminating in admissions and must accept every student who applies or hold a lottery if there are more applicants than the school can accommodate


There are five times that many that have not only failed but closed.

So you are saying 10 charters schools have closed in Kansas City. Please name all ten. I will give you a break, just name 8.

I believe there are only about 12 charter schools in Kansas City. I am certain that there have not been 10 charter schools that have shut down in the city.


but they will tell you that if they had the money, their kids would attend St. Paul's, Pembrooke or Barstow. So what gives?

I know more Lafayette parents than anyone here and I can say that is not the case.

This whole thread shows why our school system is in such a mess. People make accusations based on gossip and emotion. No one ever takes a second to look at the facts. People push an opinion as truth and never even try to back it up with hard evidence. When facts are presented they are ignored.

It almost reminds me of the KCMSD school board.

8/12/2008 1:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill -

Okay. Where do you intend to send your kid for middle school and high school?

8/12/2008 9:23 AM  
Anonymous Bill said...

Okay. Where do you intend to send your kid for middle school and high school?

Lincoln Prep., University Academy, hope the new Southwest is good.

I know people at University Academy that like it and they have good test scores and grad rate. Lincoln has good scores and you have to test in. So I am hoping it is ok. We can hope that the new southwest will make it.

I haven't looked at the available high schools very closely. But the pickings do get slimmer after elementary.

8/12/2008 10:33 AM  

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