What next for public education?---KC spent the bucks that were "needed". Results = squat.

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Cato Institute March 1998


Lessons from the Kansas City Desegregation Experiment

by Paul Ciotti

Paul Ciotti lives in Los Angeles and writes about education.

Executive Summary

For decades critics of the public schools have been saying, "You can't solve educational problems by throwing money at them." The education establishment and its supporters have replied, "No one's ever tried." In Kansas City they did try. To improve the education of black students and encourage desegregation, a federal judge invited the Kansas City, Missouri, School District to come up with a cost-is-no-object educational plan and ordered local and state taxpayers to find the money to pay for it.

Kansas City spent as much as $11,700 per pupil--more money per pupil, on a cost of living adjusted basis, than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country. The money bought higher teachers' salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.

The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.

The Kansas City experiment suggests that, indeed, educational problems can't be solved by throwing money at them, that the structural problems of our current educational system are far more important than a lack of material resources, and that the focus on desegregation diverted attention from the real problem, low achievement.

-- (lars@indy.net), February 04, 2002


This report is four years old. Maybe someone has more recent data that show that the money was well spent?

-- (lars@indy.net), February 04, 2002.

LOL, quit trying to change the subject, asshole. We're talkin' 'bout Enron here.

-- (fascist repug scum@won't face.facts), February 04, 2002.

fascist repug scum,

If you want to talk about Enron, there are plenty of other threads on that subject. Feel free to join in.


If you are suggesting that more money only makes education worse, then you won't have to worry about that. The closest thing to more money for education in Dubya's new budget is a huge allotment for "smart" bombs. Now that the entire country is under the guidance of Dubya, most school systems will probably do about as well as the school systems in Texas did while he was their Governor.

-- Going from bad to worse, (that's @ "what's next".), February 04, 2002.

Maybe they picked the wrong city to conduct this experiment. Is Kansas City a good representation of other average cities?

-- (Kansas City folks @ jus. plain dumb?), February 04, 2002.

Effective education requires an engaging, knowledgeable teacher, attentive, motivated students and adequate physical plant. How to increase the supply of the first two of these ingredients is a problem not easily reduced to formula. As in most situations where massive, gratuitous spending is applied to problems without their having first been well defined, any amount that ends up going toward the essentials is by accident.

After composing the above, I looked more closely at the policy analysis and was struck by the following passage:
"It was less traumatic to concentrate on what Benson called the "easy expensive" things (new buildings, new equipment, busing plans) than to tackle the "difficult inexpensive" things that really make a difference in children's lives--appointing qualified principals, supervising instructional practices, developing a curriculum, providing incentives, hiring good teachers, and firing bad ones."

-- David L (bumpkin@dnet.net), February 04, 2002.

In 1995 Seattle Public Schools brought in a new superintendent. He was a retired Army General.

John Stanford.

He was the best thing that ever happened to our schools. He was involved, he was at the schools on an almost daily bases.

He spent time with individual kids who had big problems. We would find him walking through our schools and he would stop and talk to everyone, kids, parents and teachers.

There had been a lot of violence in the schools, especially the middle schools where it looked like something out of a hollywood movie showing the kids out of control. Teachers and security people were posted in the hallways where they attempted to control the out of control kids.

My oldest daughter had been harassed and hit with a gym basket by some little gangbanger wannabe one day, for no particular reason except that she was shy and mellow and "nice", which apparently offended this little shit. Nothing was done about it, I went to the school and was not allowed to speak to her mother or confront the girl. She received no reprimand or punishment. As a matter of fact, her mother threatened to kick my ass for complaining about it. I took my Daughter out of school and home schooled her for 1 1/2 years until I found a school which was part of the system but had been created in 1970 by home schooling and Montessori parents and teachers. They had struggled for decades to survive and was still going on. Teachers and administrators are called by their first names, parents can teach classes, desks and chairs were supplemented by overstuffed chairs, couches and big pillows on the floor. My youngest took mechanics in kindergarten. There were less than 15 kids per teacher, kids learned each subject at their own speed and there were absolutely no report cards or tests, not even state tests.

I met General Stanford at the school one day, introduced myself and explained to him what had happened to my daughter.

One week later on the local news, he was at the Middle school she had been at, telling of the zero tolerance policy on violence he had just instated in the schools. It showed on teenage boy who complained that his mother would not like it if he were to be kicked out for hitting. The General told him that he (the boy) had best not hit anyone then. Parents were told that it was their responsibility to teach their children to behave in an acceptable manner, and to encourage their children to learn. Parents were finally given a say, their concerns were listened to and he would personally get back to them with a solution to problems.

Limits were set and strictly enforced at the same time positive reinforcement was given for accomplishments. Parents were given the opportunity to learn and earn a GED.

John Stanford held huge rallies downtown at the beginning of the school years, thousands came, more thousands every year. Schools were set up for specific needs, such as one for the multitude of students who were learning English as a second language. They were taught english, at the same time they continued to learn in their native language so they would not fall behind in the rest of their subject. When they became proficient in english, they were integrated into the rest of the school system. He understood you cannot teach a few children who do not understand english in the middle of a class of those who know it and are learning another subject. Principals were fired outright for actions which had been ignored for decades, teachers also, some were put on probation or demoted. Too many decades of incompetence and corruption had dumped inadequate teachers and incompetent teachers on generations of students who graduated illiterate.

Emphasses was finally placed on learning instead of mob control. Students who disrupted classes were removed. No longer would teachers have to spend most of their time trying to control a few who disrupted classes, preventing the majority of students from getting their education.

All of those "social programs" which had done nothing but make excuses and blame everyone but the children for their behavior, had basically taught kids that the world had to stop and kiss their asses if they acted up.

There were a lot of screaming and protests from these students and their parents, but the entire city full of citizens, even those without children, cheered and drowned them out.

Parents were basically told that they were the parents and they were to teach their children how to behave in schools or they were not welcome there. Rules were sent out, parents were required to sign agreements to abide by the rules and to teach their children to do the same thing.

John Stanford was a guest speaker on education, invited by President Clinton at the 1996 Democratic national Convention. Although had he been invited by the RNC he would have been welcomed with open arms, as his methods and goals were more conservative in nature than the liberal ideas which had destroyed our nations schools for decades.

He did not play favorites, he did not lower standards for any social or racial group. The rich preppie football star received the same discipline as the gangbanger son of a single welfare mother. They also received the same respect from him when they earned it. The man was colorblind, fair, honest, firm, yet empathetic. He was strait forward and clearly stated what was expected expected by everyone, including himself. He loved our children. They loved him. They respected him. He did not demand respect, he earned it. The parents loved and respected him, the teachers loved and respected him. He spent 12 hour days, worked with the state, the legislature, the governor, the city governments. He fought for funding, he worked with industry to help prepare students for the workplace, he put his heart and soul...and eventually his life into our children.

Here is an excerpt from his book "Victory in Our Schools"

Students wanted a push One of Stanford's themes as superintendent was the importance of setting high standards for all children. One of the district's strongest moves in that regard was to change the graduation requirements. Instead of asking for only a 0.83 grade-point average - less than a D - for seniors to graduate, the requirement was raised to 2.0, or a C average, starting with freshmen in the class of 2001.

Before we announced our decision to require a C grade-point-average for high-school graduation, I asked students in almost every school I visited what they thought of the idea.

In one of the high schools a group of students gathered around me in the hall. "Don't do it," one of them counseled. "I wouldn't make the cut!" A few others nodded. But the majority disagreed. "I think you should do it," one of the girls advised me. "If we knew those were the requirements, then we'd have to do it." "Yeah," another girl added, "we might not like it, but we'd have to do it." Another one weighed in, "It would make us work harder - and that's probably good." These students wanted us to push them to achieve.

That's what we have to do for everybody in public education because people rise to the level of expectation we hold for them. We must challenge our students to take the hardest courses, to turn every assignment in on time, to raise the quality of their work consistently. We must challenge our teachers to raise every student up to grade level, to find alternatives: ways of teaching the children who are failing, to raise every student's performance, even those who are ahead, by 10 percent each year. We must challenge our principals to set lofty visions for their schools - standardized test scores averaging in the 60th percentile, a dropout rate below 5 percent, zero incidents of violence.

We must challenge parents to send us their children ready to learn, having eaten and slept soundly, having done their homework, having acquired the belief that school is all-important. And we must challenge our communities to help us in this job of public education; we must challenge them to give us their support, to volunteer in schools, to come in and share their expertise, to ask a teacher or a principal, "How can I help?"

Robert Browning said, "Let your reach exceed your grasp, or what is Heaven for?" and he was right. We must set high goals for the people we lead. We must make sure they have the tools to reach them. Then we must love them all the way there.

From the book "Victory in Our Schools: We CAN Give Our Children Excellent Public Education," by Maj. Gen. John Stanford.

Editorials & Opinion: Sunday, November 29, 1998

John Stanford's striking leadership and character

THE tears will not stop. Many parents, teachers and children are crying today because of everything John Stanford gave us.

Seattle's dazzling, well-loved school superintendent died early yesterday morning. A community is grieving.

Stanford gave us leadership unseen in this town for years. He gave us strength through his stunning, positive attitude. He gave us a new sense of the possibilities of public schools, the heart and soul of this and any city. He could have gone off to a leisurely, monied, sunset career. Instead, he gave himself to the city's children.

From the moment Stanford arrived in September 1995, it was clear he'd never be a caretaker or status-quo manager. He was a change agent, a non-educator who would apply a business model to the clunky bureaucracy of public schools. He was the two-star Army general who talked unabashedly about loving children. "Love em and lead em" was his personal motto - and he did.

He charged into Seattle with a long list of bright ideas. Usher in an era of reading, he said shortly after his arrival. Make principals CEOs of their own buildings and give them money to control their destinies. Let different schools be different. Create an international school for bilingual students and others, a curriculum designed around the study of world language and culture. Establish a professional-development program to boost teachers and principals. Insist on a policy of zero tolerance for violence.

Stanford touched many people, not all directly involved in public schools. Before he got sick, Seattleites chatting to outsiders or newcomers talked about the energy and hope one man infused into the community.

Stanford and Don Nielsen, the school-board vice president who became a close friend, often talked about a narrow window of opportunity, a one-time chance when the school board, the superintendent and an innovative teachers union aligned like a rare constellation of stars to create a model urban school district. They aren't finished, by any means, but the systems are in place. They were on their way.

After all John Stanford gave us, the forward momentum cannot be allowed to dissipate with his death. The question now is what to do with what he started. No matter who replaces him, there will always be a sense of an opportunity lost and a nagging question of what if - what if he had lived long enough to finish the job?

Critics said Stanford was more public relations than successful leader. It's true that many changes made in the central bureaucracy were still working their way into classrooms. He was a master at using the bully pulpit. But those who believe it was all p.r. failed to see his real gift of leadership.

Test scores, especially at elementary and middle schools, rose during his tenure. The achievement gap between minority and white students narrowed. He implemented the city's return to more neighborhood schools. Anecdotal evidence showed some white, middle-class families giving Seattle schools a second look. The city began to pass levies by strong majorities.

Stanford would be the first to admit his efforts were still a work in progress. He had much more to do:

Teachers are still harried by classes too large and trouble-plagued. A few ineffective principals still run schools. Poverty and single-parent families are an ever-present educational challenge.

Three years ago, this page recommended Stanford as the best of three finalists for this job, observing: "A strong leader with executive-level administrative skills is needed. This is where Stanford jumps ahead of the others. He has a powerful presence. He's a terrific communicator. His self-assurance and can-do attitude inspire confidence."

After three school years and a valiant fight against vicious leukemia, Stanford seems so much more than those words.

In his final months, Stanford discussed life's challenges with a district employee. The supe told the staffer that the character he brings to each trying situation now is the character he builds for tougher situations in the future, such as fighting for one's life. There he was - teaching and leading to the end.

In an interview several months ago for the Virginia Mason hospital magazine, Stanford revealed a haunting fact. He was healthy most of his life and rarely missed a day of work. So when leukemia first began to drain his energy, he didn't bother to seek a doctor's advice. By the time he did, 37 percent of his blood cells were leukemic. That means he worked for the schools until his strength ran out - and then he worked some more.

The loss of John Stanford is enormous, but he leaves a legacy of accomplishment, hope and love for the city's schoolchildren.

For now, his death will dramatically alter the psychology of this community. His leadership, public service and numerous gifts were that profound.

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company

-- Cherri (
jessam5@home.com), February 05, 2002.


John Stanford sounds impressive. I am sure he had some major enemies among the local establishment. How have Seattle schools fared since his death?

-- (lars@indy.net), February 06, 2002.

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