What happens when Missouri schools fail?

By Emily Iles

Missouri’s Annual Progress Report for school districts comes out this week, and one of the early statements is that the Kansas City School District hasn’t made up any ground and is still on its way to being the third unaccredited school district, behind St. Louis Public Schools and Riverview Gardens.

Briefly, the APR data looks at several tests of how well a school is performing, like attendance, MAP scores and graduation rates. Out of 14 standards, school districts generally meet 8 or 9 standards to be considered fully accredited, and 6 to hang on to provisional accreditation.

KC is one district that looks well on its way to losing accreditation, which is a euphemism for failing. Losing accreditation means that the state takes over the district, and that WILL happen in a few short years unless KC can achieve 6 or more of the 14 standards. Graduating from a district that has failed makes getting into selective colleges and universities difficult if not impossible. But more than that, the district has failed to educate a generation of kids by the time they go through all the phases of losing accreditation and then begin a journey back up.

Once a failing district is turned over to the state, as we’ve seen in St. Louis Public Schools, there’s no guarantee that schools will get better overnight. This year, SLPS raised its score by 2 points, but its not out of the woods yet. What happens then? What happens to those kids who are zoned to a failing district?

Well, for right now they keep attending school in that failed district. A Missouri Supreme Court Case says that according to state law, students in failing districts have the right to transfer to a nearby district. However, neither this case nor state law mandates that nearby districts receive those transfer students.

I don’t want to paint a completely sour portrait. Some schools are doing well: Center School District leaped from 8 “points” last year to 13 this year.

Many things are working for Center, a district of 2,500 students with some of the same socio-economic stresses as the Kansas City and Hickman Mills districts, administrator Sally Newell said.

Center recently joined a growing trend of pushing eighth-graders into algebra I before high school, and there were some doubters, Newell said. But when the state’s end-of-course exam results came back earlier this summer, 78 percent of algebra students scored proficient or advanced — well above the state average of 57 percent.

“Everyone saw our eighth-graders rock that end-of-course exam,” Newell said. “And you think, if they can do it, everybody else better step it up.”

Franklin Elementary School also got props this year for exceptional MAP test scores. This school stands out to many because they’ve actually lengthened their days with before school study clubs that have gotten kids and parents involved.

Franklin Elementary and Center School District show that public schools serving low-income and minority students can absolutely make gigantic strides and improve the success rate of their students and the district. I wonder what lessons Kansas City public schools will take, if any, from these schools. They made dramatic, sometimes unpopular changes that don’t resemble the status quo in public schools – and they got results.

I wonder what happens when schools don’t get better. What if they continue to fail after state-takeover? Is there a status of super-unaccredited?

The press release about Wyaconda School District is an interesting answer to that:

The Wyaconda district has been classified as unaccredited for the past two years, due to lagging academic performance.  Because the district failed to regain accreditation within the two years allowed by state law (Section 162.081), the district will “lapse” on June 30.  The State Board of Education is required to assign Wyaconda’s students elsewhere.

The same thing happened to Wellston. There are a host of poorly-performing districts now poised to join St. Louis and Riverview Gardens as failed districts. Will they all be taken over by the state, or will some of them “dissolve” like Wellston and Wyaconda? SLPS lost its accreditation 3 years ago. Is it possible that SLPS students could be reassigned?

Questions like this beg a legislative response that gives students access to accredited schools and Charter school alternatives (remember, only KC and STL city are authorized to have Charter schools). We need reform in Missouri that doesn’t punish students along with the school district for lack of performance.

Should we let public schools continue indefinitely, and should they be able to refuse to make changes that have been shown to work for other districts? Should we still prohibit Charter alternatives across the state, even in districts where the only public school option has failed?

If you’re answering ‘NO!’ to any of those questions, call and make sure your legislator feels the same way.

SOURCES

http://www.libertytribune.com/2010082610467/schools/schools/simply-the-best.html

http://www.kansascity.com/2010/09/12/2218285/this-week-is-the-real-test-for.html

http://www.kansascity.com/2010/09/12/2218283/center-school-district-makes-big.html

http://dese.mo.gov/news/2008/wyacondadissolved.htm

http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/article_ab3bef7b-92fa-52ae-8a96-34cc234b12f3.html

Emily Iles
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