Not one third of Kansas City’s elementary students read at grade level.

Texas recently refused almost a billion dollars from the federal government to improve its school system. Texas has suffered the lowest graduation rates in the nation with the worst racial disparities.

Houston schools superintendent wrote at the time; “I have 100,000 kids in Houston who don’t read at grade level”.

Georgia education officials recently ordered investigations at 191 schools across the state where they found evidence of tampering on answer sheets for the state’s standardized achievement test.

The list of inner city schools struggling to educate the children of those who could not get to (or for reasons of loyalty, love, or ethics) decided not to, escape to the suburbs where the schools still function is long.

My old high school, Edison, built in 1922, graduates less than 50% of its students, its sister school across town has graduated less than 30% of its students for five years running.

As a nation, we know that high school dropouts have a far greater chance of preteen pregnancy, years of costly incarceration and leading dysfunctional lives that they pass on to their children (who will repeat this cycle).

25% of America’s graduating seniors are now functionally illiterate, and U.S. graduation rates are among the worst in the world.

Today, many states are increasing their percentage of spending on juvenile justice and criminal justice while maintaining or reducing spending on education.

New York and California have been spending about $250,000 per year per juvenile in their juvenile justice systems. MN has reached the half a billion dollar mark for maintaining its prison system this year after five years of double digit growth.

We are spending more on prisons than on schools and we are getting more accomplished criminals than good students.

Which is what Pliny meant when he said 2500 years ago;

“What we do to our children, they will do to our society”

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I have posted what I think to be two well written perspectives of this issue. Please share your comments.
New York Times
Board’s Decision to Close 28 Kansas City Schools Follows Years of Inaction
Published: March 11, 2010

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Like so many other public school parents, Reshonda Sanders felt confused on Thursday as she tried to comprehend why nearly half of the schools here, including her own alma mater, are to close for good at the end of the year. As the mother of two high school students, she was well aware of the district’s struggles.

Ed Zurga/Associated Press
Kansas City, Mo. officials will close about half of its schools.

Kansas City to Close Nearly Half Its Schools (March 11, 2010)
Room for Debate: Does the Size of a School Matter?
“But even so, I thought, Could they be serious? Close almost 30 schools, all at once?” said Ms. Sanders, 34. “That’s devastating for us. How did it get to be this bad? What were they doing for years and years so that something like this happens just like overnight?”

In her bafflement, Ms. Sanders is not alone. In the wake of the Kansas City school board’s decision to shutter 28 of its 61 schools, many people were left scratching their heads. While school closings as a result of demographic change and tight budgets are commonplace across the country, rarely does a system lose half of itself in one sweep.

The sudden move suggests a depth of dysfunction here that is rarely associated with Kansas City, a lively heartland town with a reputation for order. But a closer look at the school board’s recent history reveals a chaotic, almost nonfunctioning body that put off making tough choices and even routine improvements for generations. Experts said that in the board’s years of inaction is a cautionary tale for school districts everywhere.

“This is extraordinary,” said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a research group in Washington. “The school board was dysfunctional for years. There was very poor governance for a long period of time, and it was like a revolving door with superintendents.”

Mr. Jennings also said the board was plagued with “a general unwillingness to face the facts” of the chaos it created.

Students have been leaving the Kansas City public schools in droves. Close to 18,000 students exited to better suburban districts or charter schools in the last 10 years alone. The student enrollment is now 17,400 children, who are mostly black and impoverished.

And achievement levels in the schools are abysmal: Fewer than a third of elementary students in the city schools read at or above grade level. And in most of the schools, fewer than a quarter of students are proficient at their grade levels.

Faced with a $50 million deficit in its $300 million budget, the district decided to close the schools. The plan also calls for the elimination of 700 of 3,000 jobs, including teaching positions.

Education experts praised the new schools superintendent, John Covington, who was hired in April from the Pueblo, Colo., school district where he was also superintendent, for pushing for change. A former principal and teacher, Dr. Covington spent months researching and writing the Right-Sizing plan, and managed to win a 5-to-4 majority from the board.

Previous superintendents had failed in similar efforts to downsize the district.

“He put a mountain of information out there with statistics, and people finally understood what was happening, even if they didn’t like it,” said Duane Kelly, who has been a school board member for 10 years and voted in favor of the closings. “It was time.”

The local teachers’ union agreed. “We have buildings that are half empty,” said Andrea Flinders, the union president. “We recognized that schools needed to be closed, but the board wasn’t willing. This board is different.”

If the schools had fallen into bankruptcy, as was predicted before the closings, the state would have seized control, and made changes as it saw fit.

In 2006, the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based coalition of the nation’s largest school districts, produced an extensive analysis of what was going wrong in the Kansas City schools. It concluded that the board wasted too much time on administrative trivia, its instructional program lacked “cohesion and forward momentum” and it had “no machinery” for intervening when students fell behind.

The council included advice in the report on how the schools could fix themselves, but little if any action appeared to have been taken as a result.

At times before Wednesday night’s vote, the board’s meeting threatened to fall into chaos, with members trading insults, not following rules of order and even crying. An angry audience shouted its general disapproval.

“This is too much, too fast,” said a parent, Carmen Edwards, after the vote.

Nakisha Eubanks, a mother of three students, said: “I don’t want my kids in this district, going through all this disruption. But I can’t move, and I don’t have transportation. So, this is it.”

Minneapolis March 8, 2010

Don Samuels, Chanda Baker, Sondra Samuels: As the teachers union digs in, it’s students who suffer

On a personal level, union leaders such as Education Minnesota President Thomas Dooher no doubt care about our schools, teachers and communities. We all know many wonderful teachers in Education Minnesota’s ranks. They are our relatives, neighbors and friends.
Yet on issue after issue, Dooher stands defiantly in the school entrance, horn in hand, blocking any innovation that would lift black children from north Minneapolis out of the endless cycle of poverty and failure. Many leaders within the black community, including us, will not stand politely by and allow such injustice at the hands of Education Minnesota to happen any longer.

Only 34 percent of the Minneapolis district’s black students graduate from high school in four years, compared with almost 70 percent of whites, according to the latest state figures. Last year, only 8.6 percent of black students were proficient on state science tests, compared with 61.4 percent of white students.

Despite the crisis in our urban education system, Dooher publicly stated that he would rather lose hundreds of millions of dollars for our public schools than give up union positions on issues like performance pay and alternative teacher certification — strategies that President Obama supports for closing the achievement gap.

Well, Dooher got his wish last week, when Minnesota failed to become a finalist in the Race to the Top program and secure up to $250 million of the $4.35 billion competition. Make no mistake: Despite the public statement that “we’re obviously disappointed,” Dooher achieved his goal.

To their credit, almost 90 percent of Minnesota’s school districts and charter schools, as well as 28 union locals, including in Minneapolis and St. Paul, supported the president’s innovations, but it was not enough to override the state union’s opposition.

What is the union leader’s next target? Dooher opposes another proven innovation touted by the president — the alternative teacher certification bill under consideration in the Minnesota Legislature, which would widen the pool of qualified candidates entering the field from different paths and attract more minorities into the teacher ranks.

Minnesota has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation, and we believe alternative teacher certification is one of the missing links as to why Minnesota’s urban core schools have not yet realized the success of many of their counterparts in other cities. Students trapped in consistently low-performing schools have been robbed of their right to a high-quality education and effective teachers. If the Legislature passes alternative teacher certification, it would open the pipeline to programs like Teach For America, which recruits top-notch teachers into high-needs classrooms.

Although Dooher has claimed otherwise, a growing body of extensive reputable research from the Urban Institute and others indicates that Teach For America teachers are as effective as veteran and fully certified teachers. On behalf of our struggling students, we need these talented individuals leading our kids to academic success.

We tout our predominantly white suburban schools as some of the best in the nation, which they are. Yet today the African-American, Hispanic and immigrant families living in north Minneapolis and many other neighborhoods in the urban core have few, if any, choices to send their children to quality schools that match our high-performing suburban schools.

Education Minnesota’s hollow defense of the status quo is a cynical, morally bankrupt agenda, which focuses more on protecting the adult members of teacher unions than protecting the interests of the state’s most vulnerable children. Dooher has become the last holdout for the failed status quo, one that has yielded no significant change to the achievement gap over the last three decades. His commitment to thwarting real reform has blocked every bridge that spans the racial and socioeconomic performance gap.

Other related works; Preparing for Prison? Inner-city Schools and the Extended Reach of Criminal Justice

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  1. The arithmetic in Kansas City is simple: They have 17,400 kids in 61 schools. That is just 285 students per school. Small schools are excellent for most students but are terribly expensive to operate. Kansas City will cut their utility bills, security costs, maintenance, etc., by half. Average enrollment per school of 285 students is way below the urban average in the US. For comparison, Seattle public schools average 460 students, San Diego 600 per school, and Memphis 525. Kansas City is simply trying to bring their numbers more in line with other cities, and more in keeping with their budget. The closures will be extremely painful but keeping the schools open will lead to bankruptcy.

  2. The only scientifically tested and proven to be successful reading program, designed specifically for Black at-risk functionally illiterate inner-city disadvantaged students is the ” Bridge Cross-cultural Reading Program”; which incorporated an experimental design as well as formative evaluation, which was conducted to assess the teachers’ and the students’ responses to the program..Bridge is a sophisticated intervention program designed to teach Black, culturally-different, non-mainstream students reading skills by starting them in their familiar dialect..The reading program is based on a synthesis of research from linguistics, learning theory, and communications theory..The reading program was designed to boost the students’s “sense of control of the environment in the classroom..The 1966 Coleman Report defined sense of control in the following manner: For children from disadvantaged groups, achievement or lack of achievement appears closely related to what they believe about their environment; whether they believe the environment will respond to reasonable efforts, or whether they believe it is instead, merely random or immovable..
    Children from disadvantaged groups assume that nothing they do can affect the environment, it will give benefits or withhold them, but not as a consequence of their own actions (Coleman, 1966)..The most critical educational problem confronting educators, researchers and policymakers today, is how to break the vicious cycle of the cumulative deficit; how to close the Black-White test score gap..This study has the potential for providing schools with effective methods for improving the Standard English reading skills of functionally illiterate, unmotivated, culturally-different students at the middle and high school levels as demonstrated by standardized achievement test scores..
    The Bridge Reading Program also has the potential of providing the schools with a means of increasing the students’ motivation levels and changing their attitude toward reading..It has been apparent for sometime that Black, culturally-different children are not achieving successfully in this country’s public school systems..It is well documented in the literature that, as Black children proceed through school, they fall behind the national average at all grade levels on academic measurements..The longer they remain in school the further behind the national average they fall!!

    The current trend in public education that calls for accountability for educational outcomes and setting national standards based on what all students are expected to learn (measured by standardized tests) makes the Bridge research more relevant today than ever..Teachers throughout the country, in predominantly minority schools, are faced with the task of educating Black, culturally-different, non-mainstream students who tend to be disinterested, unmotivated, bored, and often hostile toward the academic activities of the schools..When faced with low achievement test scores on the part of the students, administrators and teachers tend to blame the students, the parents and the Black community for the schools’ inability to motivate and teach these students..The schools continue with Business as usual” while Black students fall behind national achievement norms on all academic measures at all grade levels!!
    The Bridge Reading Program clearly showed that, for four months of instruction at each grade level (7-12), the experimental group had a mean gain in excess of the normative level..The experimental group displayed a mean gain score in grade equivalency scores of 6.2 months for 4.0 months of instruction..The control group using the schools’ remedial reading programs, displayed a gain score of only 1.6 for 4.0 months of instruction..The results of the teacher questionnaire (formative evaluation) indicated that the students found the Bridge Program highly enjoyable and easy to follow and understand..Teachers consistently reported that the behavior management section of the program was extreme effective in keeping students on task and they experienced fewer discipline problems in the classroom..This program, was not allowed to be released to the school districts in the country, due to its use of African American Vernacular English, even though the students completed the program in Standard English..The Bridge Reading Program was designed Gary Simpkins, a Black Harvard graduate..”Between the Rhetoric and Reality” Lauriat Press;Simpkins&Simpkins,

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