Building Teacher Quality in the Kansas City, Missouri School District

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a report on the Kansas City, Missouri School District's (KCMSD) teacher policies, finding that the combination of a restrictive bargaining agreement, misguided state laws and historically poor district management have led to a system that has prioritized the interests of adults over the needs of students.

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a report on the Kansas City, Missouri School District's (KCMSD) teacher policies, finding that the combination of a restrictive bargaining agreement, misguided state laws and historically poor district management have led to a system that has prioritized the interests of adults over the needs of students.

In partnership with the Urban League of Greater Kansas City and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, NCTQ studied both city and state laws and regulations, comparing them with those found in NCTQ's 100-plus district TR3 database (www.nctq.org/tr3). NCTQ also spoke with teachers, principals, parents, administrators and union leaders, to see how policies play out in practice. The study is the latest in a series by NCTQ, examining the reasons why districts across the country have a difficult time attracting and retaining high-quality teachers and what they can do about it. The Kansas City study was supported by a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Additional funding was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

 The 50-page report is framed around five policy goals, pertaining to staffing, work culture (including teacher attendance), evaluations, tenure and compensation.

Underlying many policy obstacles in KCMSD are severe problems in record-keeping and data systems. Without improvements in this area, the district's capacity to implement meaningful and substantive policy changes is unlikely to improve.

To view the full report, including all of the findings and recommendations, go to www.nctq.org/KansasCity.

Among the NCTQ study's findings:

  • Principals have little authority over the staffing of their schools. The district assigns teachers to schools without consulting either principals or teachers. There is no relationship between the consistently high ratings given to KCMSD teachers and the chronic underperformance of students in the district. Only six teachers received an ineffective rating last year; but 38 percent of those teachers who were rated received an exemplary rating.
  • In difficult economic times, KCMSD's staffing approach is particularly problematic. Layoffs rules negotiated in the teachers' contract require that the most junior teachers be let go first, even when less effective peers with more experience can keep their positions.
  • Data systems, even relative to other school districts in the nation, range from nonexistent to dysfunctional, with the result that the district is not accurately reporting even the simplest functions such as tracking teacher attendance. Records turned over to NCTQ were rife with errors, for example, teachers were marked absent on weekends.
  • While KCMSD's has one of the longer instructional days in the nation, students are shortchanged by a shorter instructional year. The shorter instructional year is largely reflective of a state minimum that requires students attend school for only 174 days a year, more than a week less than the national average.
  • Although KCMSD deserves credit for exploring performance pay through various grant programs, it has done little to address underlying structural problems in teacher compensation. It spends 17 percent of its teacher payroll on rewarding teachers for obtaining master's degrees, even though research finds that teachers with master's degrees are no more effective than teachers without such degrees. The largest raises are reserved for teachers at the tail end of their careers, failing to appreciate the importance of incentivizing younger teachers to stay and invest their career in the district.

NCTQ's recommendations to improve teacher quality in KCMSD include:

  • Put all hands on deck to fix the data problems that plague the district, not just by investing in better technology, but retraining every employee in the district to understand the importance of data for making better decisions and holding all employees accountable for results.
  • Permit principals and their school hiring teams to determine which teachers work in their schools; Use performance as a factor in determining teacher assignments, whether when staffing schools for vacant positions or when deciding which teachers go when positions must be cut.
  • Improve tracking of attendance and provide principals with regular attendance reports.
  • Make student performance the preponderant criterion on which teachers are evaluated.
  • Develop a team of independent evaluators to validate principal evaluations and provide content-specific feedback on teacher instruction.
  • Redirect pay tied to degree-based compensation to a pay structure predominantly premised on a teacher's effectiveness, a demand for a teacher's skill and a teacher's willingness to teach in challenging environments; Raise the starting salary of KCMSD's teachers so that KCMSD compensation is competitive with surrounding districts.

 

The National Council on Teacher Quality is a nonprofit organization comprised of reform-minded Democrats, Republicans and Independents. The organization supports reforms in a broad range of teacher policies and seeks to lend transparency and accountability to the three institutions that have the greatest impact on teacher quality: state governments, colleges of education and teachers unions.