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Gamaliel of the Heartland

Metropolitan Congregations Metro Organization for United for St. Louis Racial and Economic Equity

Response to CEE-Trust Proposal to Reform Kansas City Public Schools

Introduction Metropolitan Congregations United and MORE2, the two faith-based groups which comprise Gamaliel of the Heartland are concerned about the suggestions laid out in the CEE Trust proposal as they dont address the educational needs of the children of Kansas City or other troubled districts throughout the state. CEE-Trust also did not involve the community sufficiently in the process. We recognize that our schools are in need of transformation, but this must be done in a sustainable and strategic way to guarantee equal access with the input of parents, educators and students. These reforms must focus on educational and instructional practices. Many reforms-du-jour these days seem to be structural, in areas that dont seem to make much difference to children! If we want to serve children better, we need to focus on proven strategies that improve instruction. CEE-Trust and its partners advocate for a specific portfolio model approach to wholedistrict education reform. Often called market-based or corporate reforms, the approach endorses a shift from public school systems into systems of schools. By this they mean the dissolution of traditional, centralized school districts and their replacement by a network of independently operated charter schools with significant building-level autonomy. This freedom to operate is provided in exchange for increased accountability based on specific student performance indicators (most often standardized assessment scores and graduation rates). Universal access is replaced by a focus on universal choice, with parents and students positioned as consumers in a competitive marketplace of schools. The proposal does include preschool for all, which has been found to be effective for reducing disparities and should be a part of a sustainable transformation plan. Our review of the proposal created by CEE-Trust for Kansas City public schools (which may be expanded to include other troubled districts throughout our state) finds that there are major issues with the portfolio model and that there isnt sufficient evidence to support claims for such reforms. We briefly discuss our concerns with such arguments below and then suggest an alternative sustainable transformation model that Kansas City schools would benefit from. Five Strategies of Reform Promoted by CEE-Trust and its Allies 1. Centralized Control of District Policy and Decision-making

In this proposal, CEE Trust suggests opening Community School Office (CSO) that would report to the State Commissioner of Education. The Executive Director of the CSO would enter into a performance agreement with the state, through which he or she would lead the CSO and oversee all of the schools.i Such consolidation of control over the schools has not been shown to produce positive outcomes. A 2010 article in the journal Educational Policy, found that centralizing authority under the office of the mayor or a state entity may create a reduction in minority representation in elections and opportunity to participate in school decisions.ii Furthermore, there is no strong evidence that districts that have switched to more unilateral control have boosted student achievement as compared to those that have retained an elected school board.iii

2. A Competitive Systems Model: Aggressive School Closures and New Charter Expansion A cornerstone of market-based reforms is the rapid expansion of independently-operated charter schools and the corresponding dismantling of the traditional public school sector through closings. CEE-Trust advisor Andy Smarick is an outspoken advocate of school closings, and all-charter districts.iv However, research does not support either strategy as sure-fire ways to improve academic outcomes for students. Increasing use of Charters In their report, CEE Trust recommends that the CSOs enter into performance agreements with non-profit organizations (e.g. Educational, or Charter Management Organizations) to operate one or more schools within the community. There would be a multi-year transition period over which an increasing number of schools would become independent from the KCPS. The rapid expansion of charter schools destabilizes and puts financial strains on traditional school districts while providing few benefits, particularly for the highest needs students. A report released in October 2013 by Moodys found that a growing number of mostly urban school districts are facing significant financial stress as a result of expanding charter sectors.v These financial stresses impact all facets of traditional public systems, squeezing out programs in art and music, crowding classrooms and shortchanging students. Despite the nationwide explosion in the numbers of charter schools, there appears to be no inherent advantage and perhaps a disadvantage in utilizing chartering for the purpose of improving student outcomes: The most comprehensive studies to date on charter schools have been conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. The most recent (2013) analyzed outcomes of charter school students in 70 percent of the nations charter schools, finding that 37% of charter students performed significantly worse on math tests than their public school peers, while only 17% did better. vi Charters serve fewer of the highest need students than regular public schools. This inequitable access is evidenced through a study by Miron and colleagues (2010) noting that charter schools run by education management organizations (as recommended by CEE Trust) were less likely to enroll children with disabilities and English Language Learners than the neighboring district.vii There is also evidence that school choice has increased segregation among schools.viii As Frankberg, et al found, black students in charter schools are far more likely than their counterparts to be educated in intensely segregated settings.ix Charter schools arent a silver bullet, and many are failing children. Last year in Ohio, of the 17 charter schools that failed, 9 only stayed open for a few months, making students then have to search for new schools.x Our district should not be a testing ground for such experiments.

Furthermore, charter schools have a checkered history in Missouri itself, with failing charters making news in the last year in both St. Louis and Kansas City. School Closures CEE Trust also endorses school closings as part of a market-based accountability strategy. Under this theory, the lowest performing schools in a district will be closed each year, and new school operators will take over the schools until all schools in a district will eventually be high performing. Research shows, however, that closing buildings does little to improve student academic outcomes (and may even lead to lower scores), and has significant negative effects on communities and families.xi The Consortium for Chicago School Research, in a study of the impacts of 18 school closings in Chicago, found that student academic achievement went down immediately after the announcement of the closures was made, and that only 6% of students displaced by closures transferred to schools with significantly higher academic outcomes.xii A study of closing schools in New York City found that the dropout rate for students who attended closing schools spiked from 25% in the year that closure was announced, to 70% the year that the school closed.xiii 3. Increased Reliance on Provisionally Certified, Short-Term Teaching Staffs CEE Trust recommends that school leaders should have the authority to hire and fire teachers and decide how to use time and other resources. They state that principals would receive dollars and make budgetary decisions on staffing, compensation and nonpersonnel expenses based on their plan.xiv They are strong supporters of programs like Teach for America (TFA) and Teach Plus, which have shown mixed results at best, in improving student outcomes. They have also been found to be costly, and to contribute to high rates of teacher turnover.xv Students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of fully credentialed beginning teachers. xvi Constantly hiring and replacing beginning teachers who are more likely to leave than their fully certified counterparts consumes significant human and financial capital. xvii Many school systems fail to factor in the costs of high turnover of their teaching workforce. The National Commission for Teaching and Americas Future (NCTAF) found significant ongoing costs associated with high turnover. xviii 4. School Funding Reform

One important component of CEE-Trusts theory of reform relates to school funding and budget autonomy. CEE argues that funding should be decentralized, allowing individual schools or management companies to prioritize programs and services, contract with vendors and control costs.xix There is, however little or no evidence that budget autonomy actually improves either the equity or the adequacy of funding for schools. Bruce Baker, at Rutgers Graduate School of Education and an expert on education finance, finds that the

recommendation that the funding follow the child, according to Baker, is a boon to charter schools, but is not supported by evidence, and seeks to divert significant resources from schools with the highest demonstrated need.xx 5. Increased Use of High-Stakes Assessments

These reform strategies rely heavily on the ability to measure student performance, teacher and administrator performance, and school performance. Consequently, advocates of these reform strategies rely on standardized assessments for everything from evaluating, rewarding and firing teachers and principals, to determining resources offered to individual schools. There is no evidence to show that using test scores as a basis for these decisions is effective or reliable.xxi Indeed, a growing national consensus is forming around the notion that we have gone too far in our obsession over testing in schools. In early January, the reform-minded Chancellor of the DC Public Schools announced that she was establishing a task force to review the districts testing regime and help put testing in the proper perspectivexxii Researchers warn of basing teacher evaluations on their students standardized assessment scores. The error in the measurements is largewhich results in many teachers being incorrectly labeled as effective or ineffective and the incentives created by high-stakes use of test scores drive undesirable teaching practices such as curriculum narrowing and teaching to the test. xxiii Furthermore, test-based accountability can constrain great teachers, increase teacher turnover and decrease numbers of highly experienced and highly skilled teachers in the districts schools. xxiv

Profiles of Successful Districts Omit Significant Challenges In addition to promoting these specific strategies, our review of the proposal for Kansas City Schools found that it leaned heavily on case studies of two specific school districts. The descriptions of these districts, New York City and New Orleans, however, failed to balance successes with widely identified challenges also arising in each district. New York City New York City is cited as a model for the use of market-oriented reforms. The report alleges that assessment scores increased during Chancellor Joel Kleins tenure because of the shift to mayoral control, and increased school choice. However, New York was already outperforming other large cities before these reforms were implemented, and New York Citys gains have generally been at the same pace as those in other large cities, or slightly lower from 2002 to 2011,xxv under Klein. Increases in student test scores were finally revealed as a mirage in 2010, as New York State acknowledged that problems with tests had artificially inflated student scores.xxvi

In addition, as in other cities, charter schools in NYC serve fewer students classified as English Language Learners or who are very poor.xxvii According to research conducted by Bruce Baker for the National Education Policy Center, charter schools enjoy significantly more funding on a per pupil basis than the citys traditional public schoolsanother red flag for the overall efficacy of charter schools, but also for claims that school systems employing these structural strategies can in fact be successful without additional funding. According to Bakers work, this underserving of the most vulnerable students results in NYC charter schools receiving nearly $2,500 more per-pupil support than the average funding for traditional public schools for the same grade levels.xxviii Increased choice in NYC schools has relied as well on massive investments from private philanthropy and investors, which challenges system-wide efforts at equity and may not be sustainable. Bakers work in New York has found that while spending in NYC charter schools varies widely, the most well-endowed charters receive private funds allowing them to spend as much as $10,000 more per pupil than other New York City schools.xxix New Orleans The proposal cites the New Orleans school system as a model for reform, but again, some key information has been omitted from the profile. While New Orleans student achievement appears to have increased, a closer look reveals that the massive change in the demographics of the district were not factored into school outcomes. Due to displacement from Hurricane Katrina, the population of New Orleans has become wealthier, older and more White and Latino, making comparisons problematic and perhaps misleading, according to an Indiana University study. xxx Additional concerns around the accuracy of reports of the New Orleans resurrection include the large number of selective-admissions charter schools, and high rates of expulsion and suspension of students from the citys charter schools. In 2010, a federal lawsuit was filed charging that New Orleans schools discriminate against students with disabilities. Charter schools in the city have a poor record of providing services to students with special needs.xxxi This is not a model to replicate in Kansas City.

Faith-Based Recommendations for Successful Schools:

1) No to CEE Trusts Proposal for Kansas City Schools The reform proposals offered in the past from CEE-Trust, Public Impact and their partner organizations have little track record of success in improving student outcomes. 2) Yes to sustainable school transformation for all children in Kansas City and in other troubled districts throughout the state

A) Give Kansas City more time one more year In 2012, faced with the disaccreditation of the Kansas City Schools, the districts Superintendent and School Board worked together to develop new strategies and a plan to turn the struggling district around. Only a single year into its implementation, the Superintendents plan appears to be having a positive impact. DESE officials themselves have said that it takes two or three years to effect real change, they need to listen to their own advice and give Kansas City a chance. The current improvement plan for Kansas City incorporates an emphasis on Wraparound services to meet the social, emotional, physical and academic needs of the students. The plan also emphasizes Social/ Emotional Behavioral supports and trauma-informed care which has demonstrated to be successful in other schools and we believe will be highly successful in Kansas City. Furthermore this plan mandates professional development for all teachers to improve instruction and learn new interventionsxxxii. We believe that these are steps in the right direction for Kansas City schools and that with a sustainable transformation plan, that Kansas City schools can properly serve the needs of all our children. B) Use widely accepted principles to fuel lasting reform for all districts A study by a coalition of community-base groupsthe Coalition for Excellent Public Schoolsin 2010 developed a framework for school improvement that mirrors many of the components of the Superintendents plan. This transformation must be done with the community involvement, as research shows that this is the essential to sustainable reform in low-performing schools.xxxiii. A national group of community parents and youth called Communities for Excellent Public Schools, have compiles the Sustainable School Transformation Proposal from which we draw ideas for this proposal. Their plan offered a comprehensive approach that takes into account the unique challenges and strengths of schools, and puts involved parents, students and teachers at the center of developing and implementing a transformation plan. This plan would include three key elements for success:

1- A strong focus on school culture, curriculum and staffing The focus must be on creating safe and inclusive school communities that are grounded in the belief that all students can achieve at high levels. Schools must feature a challenging and engaging curriculum that prepares all students for higher education, meaningful work and civic participation. A schools academic program must be comprehensive and research-based, and supported with the necessary resources. 2- Wrap-around supports for our students As critical as good teachers are to improving student achievement, students cannot learn to their full potential when they are hungry, exhausted or ill; when their parents cannot support them at home, or when they feel unsafe or disrespected in school. A comprehensive turnaround plan must also assess and address student needs and organize both in- and out-of-school supports necessary for them to succeed academically. Students should be engaged in the process of determining what supports are needed and how they can best be provided. 3- Collaboration to ensure local ownership and accountability Families, students, communities and school staff must play a meaningful role in designing and implementing a school transformation plan. The first step should be a comprehensive assessment of each schools individual strengths, challenges and the impediments to student success. The assessment should incorporate a rich process that is explicitly aimed at developing a coherent transformation plan that addresses the schools specific circumstances. When all stakeholders are invested in the transformation plan, they are more likely to hold each other, as well as the school and district accountable for its successful implementation. Finally there must be an ongoing monitoring of the transformation process, including clear accountability milestones, and the flexibility and resources to address challenges as they arise. Such a collaborative and inclusive process, comprehensive instructional and school culture reform, and coordinating services to meet student needs- to transforming low-performing schools is what our state needs. This set of approaches allows flexibility, while still requiring dramatic and comprehensive action. It also increases accountability by creating community ownership of the reform plan and establishing clear interim milestones and goals for the transformation. Conclusion We believe that sustainable transformation will happen only when students, parents and communities are brought to the table to help shape a unique and locally-owned plan for improvement.


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Bulkley, K (2013). Review of Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. iv Smarick, Andy. (2010) The Turnaround Fallacy, Education Next. v Charter Schools Pose Growing Risks for Urban Public School Districts, vi Center for Research on Education Outcomes, (2009). Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States. Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), Stanford University vii Miron et al. found in Houser, J. (2012, 7). School Reform and the mind trust Proposal: Another Look at the Evidence. Center for Urban and Multicultural Education, Indiana University. viii Howe, K. a. M., David. (2012). How Recent Education Reforms Undermine Local School Governance and Democratic Education: National Education Policy Center. ix Frankenberg, G. Siegel-Hawley, G., Wang, J. (2010, p. 4) Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards. The Civil Rights Project, UCLA


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Brown, E. January 23, 2014. DC School System Forms Task Force to Study Student Testing. The Washington Post

Mathis, W. (September, 2012) Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking: Teacher Evaluation. National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado, Boulder. Retrieved from: xxiv Weiss et al (2013) xxv Houser, J. (2012). School Reform and the Mind Trust Proposal: Another Look at the Evidence. Center for Urban and Multicultural Education, Indiana University. xxvi Houser, J. (2012). xxvii Baker and Ferris (2011). Adding Up the Spending: Fiscal Disparities and Philanthropy among New Yorks City Charter Schools. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.

xxviii xxix

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Kansas City Public Schools, 2014. Kansas City Public School Plan, Continuing the Path to Excellence xxxiii Anthony S. Bryk, Penny Bender Sebring, Elaine Allensworth, Stuart Luppescu, John Easton, Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons for Chicago, Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, 2010 in Communities for Excellent Public Schools (2010) Sustainable School Transformation Proposal

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