Consultants for Kansas City schools temper expectations

The consultants hired by Missouri to recommend ways of improving Kansas City schools are tempering expectations — noting that improvement is possible but there is little precedent for a dramatic turnaround.

The State Board of Education heard a progress report Monday from the consultants as it prepares to decide on Tuesday whether to grant the district provisional accreditation. The district has been unaccredited since January 2012.

State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro has recommended that the Kansas City School District remain unaccredited.

Missouri law gives the state Board of Education broad authority to intervene in unaccredited schools. A change to provisional accreditation would limit the state’s intervention and would spare the district from potentially having to pay the costs of students who choose to transfer to other public schools.

In August, state education officials announced that they had awarded a $385,000 contract to The Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust to analyze the Kansas City district and make recommendations for turning around troubled schools. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said the contract was being funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Hall Family Foundation in Kansas City.

The consultants said Monday that they are conducting interviews and focus group sessions and expect to make preliminary recommendations in January. A final report is expected in February. They said no urban districts are producing great results for all their students, though there are pockets of success around the nation.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have great examples of districts creating dramatic turnarounds,” said Bryan Hassel, the co-director of Public Impact, a Chapel Hill, N.C.-based education policy group hired as a consultant by the CEE Trust.

But he added: “A district of Kansas City’s size, with concentrated effort, could see substantial improvement.”

The Kansas City district has about 16,500 students.

On Monday, state Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, sent a letter to the State Board of Education urging it to grant Kansas City schools a temporary, provisional accreditation until next summer. He said that would allow time for the Legislature to consider modifying the 1993 state law that requires unaccredited districts to pay for students’ transfers to other schools.

More than 2,600 students in the unaccredited suburban St. Louis districts of Riverview Gardens and Normandy already have transferred to other schools this year under the provisions of that state law. The Normandy district is facing financial troubles partly because of the costs of the student transfers.

Nicastro has recommended that the state provide an additional $6.8 million for Normandy schools this year. That would need approval from Gov. Jay Nixon and the Legislature.

Silvey, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he opposes a “bail out” for Normandy and also for Kansas City if student transfers were to continue there.

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