The Kansas City Public Library

Reading Between the Lines (Part 3)

Part 3 of a 4 part series.
Part 1
Part 2

Advocates for charter schools argue that since charter schools do not have attendance boundaries as strict as district schools, they are better for transient families. Children of parents or guardians who frequently move—as a high number of parents and guardians living in the KCMSD are likely to—can remain in the same school, thus not interrupting the child’s learning progress and providing him or her with a consistent school environment and social groups.

Charter schools are not incapable of providing quality education in urban and economically disadvantaged areas. Other cities have produced multiple successful charter schools that manage to function autonomously from district supervision. Post-Katrina New Orleans used the disaster as a way to start over, building a network of charter schools in the state-managed Recovery School District and the separate New Orleans Parish School District, which now enrolls 61% of school-aged children. If test results are the main indicator, then the schools have shown significant improvement from 2002 to 2009, as math and reading scores among fourth and eighth graders have nearly doubled (Color Lines).

New Orleans opened its first charter school in 1998, around the same time a crop of charters popped up in Kansas City and in St. Louis. Ten schools in New Orleans have contracts with Educational Management Organizations (EMOs), which are for profit and nonprofit companies that implement specific educational philosophy and curriculum. While many charter schools do employ EMOs, most charters in Kansas City, New Orleans and St. Louis use home-cooked educational management, which—like schools run by EMOs—have extremely mixed results. As much as the EMOs claim their systems work wonders for schools, non-profits like KIPP can run a successful program in one city but fails to produce results in Kansas City. Even within the Kansas City area charter schools run by for profit EMO, Edison Learning, Inc. (the largest for profit EMO), have been shut down within a matter of years—like KCMSD’s one attempt to run a charter school in Westport High School—while some remain open and struggling like Derrick Thomas Academy yet Allen Village School is able to meet adequate yearly progress.

Those who refuse to give up on charter schools despite 12 years of relative failure believe that most Kansas City charter schools have not yet employed the right kinds of management systems. For profit EMOs currently manage five local charter schools while only one school contracts a non-profit EMO. Kansas City charters popped up during the late 1990s and early 2000s when for-profits and home-cooked curricula were most the most popular methods. However, from 2002-2008 many non-profit EMOs popped up and developed different school management strategies that have demonstrated great success in other metropolitan areas, but Kansas City charters were still testing out their home-cooked and for-profit strategies at this stage. It would appear that many of Kansas City charters have not yet revised their old methods, nor have they looked to the successes of other charters for inspiration (KCPT).

Another complaint that school district sympathizers have against charter schools is that despite having open enrollment they are able to remove students that underperform or are behaviorally disruptive and deposit them back into public schools. While some charter schools do offer special education services they have been accused of expelling poorly performing students when MAP testing time rolls around. These accusations are based mostly on rumors, but some teachers in Kansas City have observed a trend.
The fact that charter schools provide a choice for children in the Kansas City, Missouri School District is a positive notion, but the current number of public schools (both charter and traditional) in KCMSD meeting state standards can only provide quality education for slightly over 15% of school-aged children (Kauffman Foundation) residing in the district. However, even those that get a choice may not be able to make it past the lottery for a good charter school.

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