Kansas City may be the least appreciated Great Education Improvement Story out there--at
least on the Kansas side of the Missouri River. As noted in 2011, “restructuring their high schools into small learning communities in 1999 improved
graduation rates from 48% to 81% by 2005. Getting students into the right math courses and focusing on the quality of instruction boosted math proficiency
rates from 7% in 2003 to 53% by 2008. The percentage of students reading proficiently nearly doubled over the same time frame. College enrollment rates
doubled, from a quarter to nearly half of the graduating class during the same period.”
To continue the trends and share the work with other metro districts, PREP-KC was formed in 2005. The Kansas City,
Kansas superintendent that kicked off the reforms, Ray Daniels, is a founding board member. Working with input from leaders in business, higher ed, and
K-12, PREP-KC founder Susan Wally is bringing college and career preparation to scale in bi-state urban KC by working with 6 school districts serving over
60,000 children and young people. Each district partner was selected because demographics showed very high percentages of low-income students, students of
color, and English language learners.
After an analysis of the most significant gaps in students’ preparation and knowledge, PREP-KC developed and implemented 3 key strategies for significantly
improving student outcomes:
. The PREP-KC team works with math faculties to increase the rigor of math instruction and prepare more students to complete advanced math courses
during their high school years. In the Center School District, scores on the
state’s high school math exam have gone from 13.6% students scoring Proficient or Above (2009) to 47.8% (2012). PREP-KC launched a Khan Academy pilot
and also works with its partner-schools to measure the numbers of students completing college-prep math courses and develops and implements
early-college math courses for a growing number of students.
. PREP-KC’s on-staff Workforce Liaisons design and support career exploration events throughout the school year in partner high schools. To do so they
engage professionals from over 200 businesses (450 professionals) to volunteer for customized career events, including Career Jumping (school-based
“speed dating” events for students and professionals) and customized work site and campus visits. During the 2012-13 school year PREP-KC created nearly
4,000 individual student experiences for urban high school students. Teachers and principals are asking for more because of the powerful positive
impact on students’ understanding, aspirations and motivation.
Accelerated Career Academies.
PREP-KC supports 6 Academies across a number of its urban high schools, each with higher education and business partners. The career themes of the
Academies are aligned with the KC region’s high-need, high-paid workforce opportunities, and include; Healthcare, Bioscience, Engineering,
Business/Finance, and Supply Chain/Logistics. Students, mostly first-generation college-goers, are expanding their school day and summers to include
training at business sites and on college campuses, and will leave high school with workforce credentials, early-college credits, and a plan for their
career pathway. These cohorts of students are also contributing to a college-going culture in their high schools, and employers are interested in these
students as they seek a diverse and well-prepared workforce.
To track the impact of these college and career preparation efforts, PREP-KC populates a web-based data dashboard to analyze trend lines over multiple
years of implementation. These trend lines can help school leaders, as well as funders, see the impact of their leadership and philanthropic investments.
One key measure of progress is the number of urban students who graduate from high school with early college course credits. In Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS), data from their 4 large high schools shows that in 2009, 12.6% of
the senior class graduated with college credit; in 2012, 39.8% graduated with college credit.
KCKPS benefits from a long serving board and homegrown leadership. Superintendent Cynthia Lane has been in the district for 25 years. Lane helped create early college opportunities for all students. In a recent blog she highlighted a woodworking shop that was converted
to a “Word Shop” at Washington High School where she “found the room filled with teenagers engaged
in writing. Yes, I did say writing! Teenagers choosing to be at school, on a beautiful spring evening, to write poetry!”
Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS)
, in Missouri has struggled. In 2011, the 16,700 student district was stripped of its accreditation. The same
month, Dr. R. Stephen Green, President and CEO of the Kauffman Scholars program, was appointed interim superintendent. Eight months later he was made
permanent. They claim to have “met 19.5 percent of the standards needed for accreditation.”
The Buzz platform
, and a powerful vision for student-center learning, was piloted in KCPS before Covington and Esselman took their show to the Motor City.
A visit to Wyandotte High School a dozen years ago convinced me that it was
possible to convert a big bad high school into a good college prep school. Small learning communities, a solid core curriculum, a relationship-based
advisory, and lots of peer instructional feedback made a big difference. PREP-KC was, in part, formed to share these practices with the metro area.
Sumner Academy of Arts and Science
is a college prep magnet school and the top high school in Kansas, according to
U.S. News and World Report
. Lincoln College Preparatory Academy is the equivalent on the Missouri side.
The region’s leading performing arts school is Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts.
Ewing Marion Kauffman School
is a traditional college prep charter school supported by the Kauffman Foundation. University Academy is a K-12 college prep charter school started by the former CEO of
Helzberg Diamonds and the former CEO of H&R Block.
and Red Bridge are elementary Expeditionary
KIPP Endeavor Academy
is led by Jake Schmitz who came from YES Prep.
started in a church basement 16 years ago. Today it is a top college prep K-12 charter school.
is a college prep Catholic high school featuring work studies that subsidize the tuition and boost student efficacy.
KCPS also features two dual language schools and two public Montessori schools in the area.
Impact & Innovation.
Seven months ago Munro Richardson left the Kauffman Foundation to co-foundmyEDmatch, a startup committed to Making Better Education Matches between teachers and
networks/districts. Since launching a beta site in February, they’ve attracted 10,000 teachers.
There are 223 Teach for America corps members in KC. Two thirds of the alumni are working in education and three are leading schools. In addition to TFA
the Kauffman Foundation supports entrepreneurship, innovation, and STEM education.
KC is a pilot city for Google Fiber, an ambitious effort to demonstrate the benefits of high speed Internet.
Within the 180 “fiberhoods” selected by the Mayors on both
sides of the river, Google provides 1 gigabyte Internet for $70 per month--it’s free if you pay the $300 connection fee. For $120 per month you get 200
channels of HDTV with DVR (who knew Google was into TV?). They have just started wiring schools and public buildings. To sweeten the deal, Google is
piloting Chromebooks for $10 a month for fiber customers. Austin, TX and Provo, UT are next on the list for Google Fiber.
Imagine the learning opportunities with connections 100 times faster than is common today. A new generation of apps will develop with gigabyte technology.
Google claims they want to move the web forward, make it more affordable, and more ubiquitous. Folks like PREP-KC are exploring how Google Fiber can be
leveraged to improve classroom instruction.
KCKS demonstrates that a thoughtful and comprehensive improvement strategy applied over time can yield impressive results. Every city needs a best
practices capacity like PREP-KC. Imagine the 24/7 learning potential when every community benefits from gigabyte connections.
The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.