Putting Performance on the Map

This report IFF found that 88 percent of students in District and charter public schools within the Kansas City, Missouri School District (KCMSD) boundaries did not attend a school that met Missouri state standards for academic performance.

Executive Summary

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.

Key Findings

  • 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 they deserve.