Are KC public schools on the verge of a breakthrough? Full accreditation within reach

November 25, 2018


Charlie Shields is the president of the Missouri State Board of Education. So he’s got a lot of pull when it comes to the plight of Kansas City Public Schools.

The district’s challenges center on one question: When will Kansas City Public Schools regain full accreditation? As of now, they exist in the netherworld of provisional accreditation. The district is half-in, half-out.

So when Shields speaks on this matter, people listen. And here’s what he told me on the radio a few days ago:

“They’re headed in the right direction,” Shields said of the district. “My hope is after we get the (annual performance report) scores back the first of February that we will be able to move them next spring to full accreditation. That’s a big transformation that’s taken place over a number of years.”

Talk about a “wow” moment. Shields’ remarks were significant, and they suggested that he’s confident the district is on the brink of a breakthrough and that it could come years before even the most optimistic forecasts.

Last November, Superintendent Mark Bedell said the Kansas City district was still years away from its accreditation goal. That came after he had received a round of disappointing test results.

“I told school board members,” he said, “that we are probably three or four years away from what I would deem a fully accredited school system that would have accreditation with sustainability.”

Achieving full accreditation would represent a breakthrough not just for district educators, but the entire city. The lack of a fully certified district has undermined this town’s image for decades. Long-timers remember all the stories about inadequate school resources, federal court orders, tens of millions of dollars spent on new facilities and still, utter failure when it came to attracting white students.

They will recall the long battle to achieve full accreditation that involved magnet schools and dramatic changes in curricula and a revolving door of superintendents that seemed to halt progress at every turn.

We went through all that, and all we’ve got today is the ugly half-loaf that is provisional accreditation.

Shields called Bedell a “dynamic leader” doing a “fabulous job” while facing enormous challenges that only begin with kids coming to school on empty stomachs. If the scores released Feb. 1 clear the bar, “the board would be inclined to give full accreditation,” Shields said.

If that happens, businesses looking for new homes would surely take another look at Kansas City. So would top-flight teachers eager to put down roots in a first-class district. Enrollment might well climb, achieving another long-sought goal.

But don’t pop the corks yet. Legislators and educators have rejiggered these assessment tests that matter so much for four years running. That means the goalposts keep moving on leaders like Bedell. Scores often drop the first year of a new test.

Still, Margie Vandeven, who was just rehired last week as Missouri’s education commissioner, told me that Shields wasn’t being overly optimistic in his remarks.

The district just needs to rack up the points.

“What a great day that will be in Kansas City if that should occur,” she said.

And just maybe it will come this spring.

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