The Kansas City Public Library

Reading Between the Lines (Part 4)

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

Charter schools were instituted to make the public schools more competitive and encourage them to step up their game by offering better curriculum and instruction and providing more opportunities to students in the Kansas City, Missouri School District by offering different educational options. The failed magnet plan designed to desegregate schools was also to foster a more competitive edge by allowing students to choose schools, however the charter school system is different in many ways: they cannot be selective, they have no racial or socio-economic quotas to satisfy, and the choice occurs on a much smaller scale without a large burden on the taxpayer. However, if charter schools succeed in their original purpose to inspire improvement in public schools then they should eventually become unnecessary if the public schools are able to provide quality education.

It is a sad fact that neither traditional public schools in Kansas City as well as the charter schools are consistently providing quality education for free. There are bright spots in both systems, but the majority of schools are unable to produce results with the currently prescribed metrics for evaluating education. When the Kansas City Public School District failed to produce results and make improvement despite a multi-billion dollar overhaul partially funded by taxpayers after a decade of patience the state turned to charter schools to provide children a chance at quality education. And though it is a much cheaper solution than the mess created in the 1980s and 1990s, it also has fallen short on its initial promise to provide quality education in the area.

Perhaps these schools need more time and better management since there is proof that charter schools in the area and in other municipalities can implement successful programs; but that plan takes more than waiting. Others suggest the solution lies in stricter guidelines for charters, or to shut them down completely and put the better performing kids that have fled to charter schools back into the KCMSD to boost test scores.

The problems facing urban education are complex issues that are extremely relevant to Kansas City. Cities with stronger schools are better able to attract competitive industries and budding companies, which will create more jobs for Kansas Citians and generate more tax revenue for schools, which will perpetuate a higher quality educational system. However, until there is more significant school improvement, industries will continue to look elsewhere. Big cities with quality schools like Raleigh, North Carolina are booming right now, but the growing trend of business parks in suburban areas also offer a lucrative alternative to urban development projects that flourish for brief periods but eventually fail. The answer could very well lie in the hands of charter schools, but until they prove their worth, the rest of the area will remain skeptical of their power to change the current state of Kansas City education.

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