Locating Quality Schools in the Kansas City, Missouri School District
This is a time of momentous change for schools across the
country. Shrinking budgets and enrollments accompanied
by poor performance create challenges for the education
environment. The Kansas City region is not exempt. At the
end of the 2009-2010 school year, the Kansas City, Missouri
School District (KCMSD) closed, restructured or moved 23
elementary and secondary schools. Three new charter schools
opened in 2009-2010 for a total of 27 within the KCMSD
boundaries. In addition, teacher and staff lay-offs are frequent
occurrences and a number of KCMSD and charter schools
are experiencing sanctions related to low-performance.
In fact there are few schools, District or charter, that perform
at Missouri state standards. This leaves many children who
live in the boundaries of the KCMSD without the option of
a quality school. Putting Performance on the Map presents
important data on enrollment, capacity, location, and
performance in KCMSD and charter public schools, and
addresses the effect of the District's transformation plan on
students who live within the KCMSD boundaries.
IFF's fundamental belief and the premise of this report is that all
children living within the KCMSD boundaries deserve to attend
a school that performs at least at Missouri state standards in
the neighborhood where they reside. However, 88 percent of
students in the district attend schools, both KCMSD and charter,
where performance lags behind this state standard.
The methodology used in this report, developed by IFF in
2003, identifies which zip codes have the greatest need for
performing schools. Capacity in better performing schools in
each zip code is compared against school enrollment as
well as against the total school-age population. This determines
how well schools are able to serve students who reside in a
given zip code, as well as the potential to serve all children in
that zip code. These comparisons create service levels, the
percent of students who can be served by these better schools,
and service gaps, the number of students who cannot be
served by these schools. The service levels and service gaps
are then compared and ranked, and the five zip codes
with the greatest need are mapped to highlight geographic
concentrations of need in KCMSD.
The ranking of need in the district provides critical information
to inform community, policymakers, educators, parents, and
business leaders on the importance of prioritizing their efforts
to ensure that all students living in the KCMSD boundaries
have a seat in a performing school.
KCMSD schools performing at state standard (Level I)
can serve 2,704 or 15.4 percent of KCMSD students. To serve
all 17,517 KCMSD students residing in the district, the KCMSD
needs an additional 14,813 performing seats.
KCMSD schools performing between 50 and 99 percent of
the state standard (Levels II and III) provide 6,534 seats of
capacity, which when combined with Level I seats, create a total
of 9,238 seats that can serve 52.7 percent of KCMSD students.
Even with this additional capacity, the District needs 8,279
performing seats to serve all of its students.
Without the capacity in KCMSD's selective schools, the
District has an even greater need for performing seats.
Eighty-one percent of the need in schools that are open to
all students, 8,340 of 10,283 seats, is in five zip codes, 64128,
64127, 64130, 64110, and 64124, where the majority of
KCMSD students reside.
The majority of charter school students, 5,490, attend
schools that perform below 50 percent of the state standard
(Level IV). One charter school meets state standards (Level I)
and enrolls 479 students, and 2,518 students attend Level II
and III charter schools.
There are a combined 12,235 seats in Level I-III KCMSD
and charter schools. This is enough to serve 47.1 percent of the
26,004 students enrolled in KCMSD and charter schools, and
34.6 percent of the 35,337 school-age children in the district.
There are no non-selective high schools that meet state
standards, and there are only 564 seats in non-selective,
Level II-III high schools, all of which are in charter schools.
There is excess capacity of 4,500 seats in KCMSD's Level I-III
schools. Despite the restructuring of schools planned for
2010-2011, there will remain an estimated 3,462 seats of excess
capacity in these better performing schools.
The KCMSD plan, approved in March 2010, will affect 5,300
of the 17,500 students enrolled in KCMSD schools. The plan
creates a loss of 1,383 Level I-III seats by closing or restructuring
three Level I-III schools, including the absorption of Level I
Lincoln College Preparatory Middle School by Lincoln College
Preparatory High School. However, the majority of schools to be
closed perform below 50 percent of the state standard.
Observations and Action Steps
The KCMSD plan reduces the financial burden of underused
school buildings and attempts to address the challenge of the
lowest-performing schools. However, it also reduces the
number of seats in better performing schools and leaves empty
thousands of others.
Action Step: Fill empty seats in Level I-III schools and
encourage all students who are eligible to attend KCMSD's
two restructured selective schools.
The majority of charter school students (5,490 or 64.7
percent) are in a Level IV school. In many communities, charter
schools are a model that increases students' access to better
public schools, but many of Kansas City's charters have
existed for 10 years and are still not able to reach even half of
state standard. The Department of Elementary and Secondary
Education (DESE) and the charter school sponsors should
develop a strategy to close charter schools with consistently
poor achievement and consider replacing them with proven
or promising new charter models.
Action Step: Accountability measures should be taken to close
the lowest-achieving charter schools and replace them with
proven or promising new ones. Non-renewal of low-performing
charters should be considered by charter school sponsors and
facilitated by DESE.
Charter schools in Kansas City are not coordinated strategically
with regard to location and growth plans. Three-quarters of the
seats in charter schools in the 2008-2009 school year are located
outside the district's high-need zip codes. Charter schools should
be an integrated part of overall school reform efforts and/or
choice plans, including those led by the KCMSD itself.
Action Step: A strategy for charter school growth should be
developed by Kansas City education leaders. Charter schools
should only be approved by DESE if they can demonstrate how
they intend to fill a geographic need or a specific void in the
communities they intend to serve.
Given the number of low-performing charter schools, the District
may attract students back from charters if the transformation goals
are met and communicated to parents. By analyzing the role
and performance of charter schools, KCMSD can bring together
charter school sponsors to ensure that wherever possible the
goals of the District are aligned with charter schools.
Action Step: Use excess public school building stock to attract
local and national charter school operators – operators that
have proven performance records – to specific zip codes in
order to ensure access to performing schools throughout the
city. KCMSD could sponsor these schools, or work with existing
charter school sponsors seeking to replace charter programs
slated for closure, to ensure oversight and integration into the
broader District plans.
The KCMSD sits at a crossroads. After years of shrinking
enrollment and delaying difficult decisions, it faces a financial
crisis that is now being confronted by new leadership. But
as Putting Performance on the Map shows, the KCMSD faces
an academic crisis of equal proportion that demands equal
commitment and energy. Eighty-five percent of KCMSD
students do not attend a school that meets Missouri state
standards, and the need for seats in performing schools is
concentrated in five zip codes where over half of KCMSD
students reside but where there are no schools open to all
students that are performing at state standards. At the same
time, charter schools are not providing a better alternative to
poor-performing District schools, as they do in many other
communities. The majority of charter schools in the district are
failing to reach even half the state performance standards.
Putting Performance on the Map provides crucial,
community-level information that can help the KCMSD, charter
school sponsors and operators, and all education stakeholders
prioritize and chart a path forward – one that provides children
in every KCMSD neighborhood with the performing schools