Kansas City Schools
My grade school, William Cullen Bryant, closed this year. The hundred year old building was in disrepair, the playground crumbling and the old concrete stairs downright dangerous. Worse still, the school’s children failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, especially in math and communication skills. How could such a thing to happen in a lovely, wealthy neighborhood still graced by beautiful homes and parks?
There was a time when prominent families with names like Gage, Christopher and Cooke sent their children to Bryant. Most went on to tony Southwest High, a few to private Pembroke or Sunset Hill schools. Everyone understood the power of education, or rather, that education was power.
Somehow, as time went by, we forgot. Rankling among school board members and a superintendent’s office with a revolving door allowed the public schools in Kansas City to sink below average. Less that 50% of students graduated from high school and fewer still went on to college.
Many of the buildings stood half empty. Less than a third of elementary school children could read at or above grade level. Thousands of parents opted for private or charter schools for their children, willing to work two jobs or take a chance their lottery number would be drawn. Our public schools spelled failure. We wasted some of our greatest resources, our children.
Today, Kansas City finds itself on the cusp of change. Aided by a dynamic new superintendent, John Covington who presented mountains of information regarding demographics and lack of achievement, the school board voted to close twenty eight schools and fire seven hundred people including two hundred and eighty five teachers. That process alone saved 50 million dollars, money that will be spent on much needed improvements.
Many problems still exist. We need to identify quality teachers, improve teacher student ratio and lessen tensions over teacher tenure but our local teacher’s union appears to be on board.
As a nation, we have strong people driving a fresh new campaign to improve our schools and turn mediocrity into excellence. The Department of Education has set aside and is distributing 4.3 billion dollars in President’s Obama’s program, Race to the Top. Kansas City has just received 13 million of those dollars. The goal is better teachers, better facilities and better equipment, better standards and better criteria.
Compared with other world countries, United States schools rank twenty fourth behind such countries as South Korea, China, Japan, Belgium and Austria. No Child Left Behind, though not a roaring success, did one important thing. It focused our attention on test scores that lead us to recognize how many of our children can’t read or write. It should be obvious that education is the path to world leadership.
PS: 13 million United States children live below the poverty level. Until we fix education, we can’t fix poverty. Albert Einstein once said the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limit. If we don’t take steps to revamp and improve the education of our children, we belong in the lesser of Einstein’s groups.