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Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

Climbing up state's educational ladder

Thursday, April 18, 2002

They're celebrating in Kansas City today as the public school system there narrowly averted a state takeover planned in July. Slight improvements in test scores and the promise for better improvements in the months ahead convinced the State Board of Education to return provisional accreditation to the school system.

But behind the numbers remains a problem with the 35,000-student school district. Kansas City schools remain among the worst performers in the state despite $2 billion in state desegregation funds. By any definition, the new provisional status puts Kansas City on the lowest rung on the ladder.

I have long discussed the pathetic social experiment that failed in Kansas City. There remains this mistaken notion that throwing dollars after a problem will somehow provide a solution. By now we should clearly recognize that dollars alone will do little to improve academic performance. Granted, funding is part of the solution but it takes parental involvement and a premium on education to make a school system successful.

But Kansas City is not alone and the problem is not isolated to the urban school districts. Our region too has its share of problem schools that consistently lag behind others. But it's important for the public to realize just which students we're discussing here.

The brightest of the bright in virtually all school districts will always succeed. And these top ranking students continue to perform at above average levels regardless of the school district. That's true here and elsewhere.

What we're talking about is the lowest performing students. I've always questioned this approach but it's the path we've taken regardless. We put extreme emphasis on these underachieving students in our obsessive attempt to raise their level. I argue that this approach is misguided and virtually doomed to failure with few exceptions.

Low performing students will always perform at the lowest level. It's not dollars that will change this fact of life however. When there is no parental involvement and there is no emphasis on the value of education, high performance is nearly impossible. It seems to me the focus should be on raising the middle performers to the upper levels of achievement. But the state doesn't necessarily see it that way.

We cautiously commend Kansas City for this reprieve. We'll see what the numbers indicate come August when the next accreditation report is expected.



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