Stephen Green took the stage at the Paseo Academy September 30 with some sunny news about the Kansas City, Missouri, Public Schools.
"Today, I am proud to say that the state of your Kansas City Public Schools is much stronger, undeniably healthier, that our level of achievement is rapidly increasing and, for the first time in a decade, we are graduating students that are college-, career- and workforce-ready," said the superintendent in his state-of-the-district speech. "We are truly making it better."
"Much stronger"? That might be a stretch.
KCPS is making improvements - just not as rapidly as Green suggests. The district remains far from full accreditation.
It's understandable that the superintendent wants to cast the most positive light on his school district. It was only a year ago that he had to deliver a somber speech on the same stage, right after KCPS lost its accreditation.
Much more recently, though, was his September 4 presentation to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Green and fellow administrators traveled to Jefferson City that day, hat in hand, hoping that the state's top education official could be swayed into fast-tracking the district back to at least provisional accreditation.
No such luck.
DESE Commissioner Chris Nicastro told Green September 26 that she wouldn't recommend that the full Missouri Board of Education grant any kind of accreditation to KCPS.
There's not much chance that Green was surprised. Missouri recently adopted new education standards that measure a school's progress in various areas over time. Missouri School Improvement Program 5 (MSIP 5) guidelines call for consistent improvement for at least three years, particularly for unaccredited districts.
Nicastro found that even combining the old MSIP standards with the new ones, KC's schools hadn't hit accreditation standards in two of the past three years. When the district did hit the standard (during the most recent school year), it reached only the provisional accreditation range - a low bar to begin with. Worse, 70 percent of the district's students were not proficient in each academic area that the state evaluated.
The state also seemed to call out the district for touting its improvement in 2013, an uptick that builds only marginally on what Nicastro called "extremely low results" the prior two years.
Green's presentation to Nicastro, obtained by The Pitch
through a Missouri Sunshine Law request, does its best to reinforce the notion of improvement. But the data don't support his case. He cites improvements made in areas such as math and communication arts, but none of those core areas reached state standards.
Other areas in which the district wanted to demonstrate improvement, such as school attendance, don't necessarily lend themselves to academic achievement. Just because a school reports more students sitting in a classroom doesn't prove that those students are learning anything.
Green was joined by superintendents of neighboring school districts, all of whom wanted to support his efforts to restore accreditation. This was less about helping a fellow colleague than protecting their own interests.
The Missouri Supreme Court last week heard arguments in a case trying to strike down a state law that allows students from unaccredited school districts to transfer to nearby accredited districts.
Green's district stands to lose the most if justices find that the law passes muster. KCPS would have to pay for those students to go to other districts. And the accredited districts that would absorb a raft of incoming students face their own challenges; such a directive is mostly without precedent and could prove chaotic.
What if, for example, the Center School District, in south Kansas City, which has a current enrollment of 2,500 students, ends up having to take 500 KCPS students? Is there even physical space for that?
Most education observers say the law is on the side of allowing students to transfer, and they expect the Missouri Supreme Court to rule that way. After all, it's hard to argue against allowing kids to improve their education prospects.