December 7, 2007

Once Upon a Time in Kansas City

The second most important experiment in k-12 education took place in Kansas City during the years 1985 and 1997. Most education pundits have apparently never heard of what went on in Kansas City, for if they did, embarrassment and shame would prevent them from continuing to recommend the education policies they so frequently suggest.

My understanding is that humans learn best from stories, so I've cast the travails of Kansas City into a story. So gather 'round kiddies and prepare to be amazed at the wondrous tales I will tell. I've reserved the front row for the edubloggers. It's a long and winding story with many whiles and wends...

Once upon a time ...

... there was a great and prosperous kingdom known as America. Nearly all the subjects were wealthier than the people of the surrounding kingdoms, yet things were not perfect. One day a mighty dragon, known as LBJ, flew into the kingdom and decided to make the kingdom of America into a greater society, if you will. LBJ was a well-meaning dragon who toiled tirelessly to transform the great cities of the kingdom into paradises; however, unbeknownst to the dragon, he had been cursed by Merton, the god of Unintended Consequences, such that all the good the dragon did would turn out bad. And, so it did.

The dragon flew from city to city casting powerful magical spells which terrified the city folk of America and wreaked havoc on the cities. As a result, those that could flee the cities, fled the cities to hide from the spells cast by cursed dragon which were bringing terrible storms to all the great cities. Only those that could not afford to move from the cities stayed in the ruined and once great cities. When the great dragon LBJ saw the consequences he had wrought, he promptly flew to the closest volcano and cast himself into its bowels, never to be seen again.

Tthe great cities of America never recovered from the unintended wrath of the dragon. All the great cities were now impoverished and destitute. All the capable citizens had fled the cities, leaving only the incapable to fend for themselves. The incapable, being incapable, once again proved their incapability by failing to provide for themselves. The great cities of the kingdom reverted to poverty like almost all the cities that comprise the lands outside of the kingdom. Much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands ensued trying to rectify the conditions in the now impoverished cities--especially when it was learned that most of the people who remained in the cities were disproportionately the black and brown people who lived in the kingdom. The debate rages as to why this is so. No one knows for sure, but no one seems to be satisfied with the outcome.

One day a mighty elf-wizard named Clark visited the Kingdom. The wizard had been appointed by the once mighty king Carter, whose reign was thankfully brief. The wizard Clark was a very special wizard who did not abide by the wizard handbook that bound the wizards and prevented them from engaging in the black arts and doing much mischief. The wizard Clark, however, thought the Wizard handbook was merely a guideline, and not rules, per se, which he needed to follow so long as he was trying to do good. Clark was a very foolish wizard, but a very powerful wizard, as you will soon learn.

Upon seeing the turmoil that plagued the kingdom, the wizard Clark tossed out his wizard handbook and teleported to the closest city-the once great city of Kansas City to do some good.

Upon reaching the city, Clark sought the advice of a well-respected vizier who thought himself very wise. Unbenownst to the wizard Clark, the vizier was a charlatan who practiced the dark arts of Edukashun-- a discredited school of magic that was shunned by the other schools of magic because they failed to abide by the rules of magical inquiry. Its practitioners spouted all manner of nonsense in reckless disregard for the truth and never thought it necessary to substantiate their magical opinions. This was a very unfortunate development for the thick-skulled wizard Clark who had sought the counsel of the grand vizier, thinking him to be very wise.

The grand vizier was a very confident and convincing vizier in all matters of Edukashun. The vizier promised the gullible wizard Clark that by using the powers of Edukashun he would be able to restore the vitality of the once great Kansas City to its former splendor in five short years. The wizard Clark inquired as to the parameters of the Grand Vizier's plan. The canny vizier told the wizard that he could not provide specifics until he made a pilgrimage to the high holy land of Kozol in a distant kingdom, but that he was quite certain that the plan would require much gold to implement properly and that the wizard should start collecting as much gold as possible with all due haste. The wizard Clark bade the grand vizier farewell and set out on his quest to obtain the precious gold.

The wizard Clark may have been a mutton head, but he was still a very powerful wizard. He surveyed the lands surrounding the city of Kansas City and saw that the lands were full of hard-working, capable people and great wealth. He immediately realized he had found his pigeon and cast a mighty spell of taxation on the surrounding lands. The incantation enslaved these rich and greedy people and forced them to pay yearly tribute to the wizard. For the next twelve years the wizard Clark ruled like an emperor of yore over the people and managed to extract 2 billion dollars in gold from them and sent it to Kansas City to enact the Grand Vizier's plan.

The gold began flowing into the Kansas City coffers in the year 1985, the year the grand vizier returned from his pilgrimage to Kozol. The wizard, pleased with his spell of taxation and the riches that were flowing into the imperial coffers, summoned the grand vizier to outline his plan of Edukashun.

The grand vizier unraveled the large scroll full of the ideas he had obtained from the high priests of Kozol. Being a vain man, as so many of the practitioners of Edukashun are, the grand vizier selected a few of the most fashionable and faddish ideas from the scroll, read them to the wizard, and assured the wizard that these ideas would work miracles in short order. The wizard laughed a mighty laugh and showed the grand vizier the mountain of gold that lay in the wizard's treasure room. The wizard then informed the grand vizier that they had sufficient gold to implement all of the ideas on the scroll, and should proceed to due so with all due haste in order to restore the city of Kansas City to its former glory. And, that is exactly what happened.

In short order the school district of Kansas City was transformed into the most lavish school district in all the Kingdom. 15 new state-of-the-art schools were built and 54 existing schools were renovated in Kansas City. The schools contained such amenities an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room; a robotics lab; professional quality recording, television, and animation studios; theaters; a planetarium; an arboretum, a zoo, and a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary; a two-floor library, art gallery, and film studio; a mock court with a judge's chamber and jury deliberation room; and a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability. The Kansas City School District was spending nearly $12,000 per pupil, more than any other school district in any of the great cities of the Kingdom.

According to the grand vizier's plan, these new facilities would magically make it possible for the students to learn, which they were prevented from doing in their old decrepit schools. Once the school facilities were fixed, the grand vizier began the most ingenious part of the plan. A million dollar advertising campaign was started to attract students from the surrounding lands. These were good students who had learned much using the primitive techniques that failed with the children of Kansas City. The priests of Kozol believed that these children possessed magical auras that would charm the less-able students sitting next to them, so the idea was to lure these magic children to Kansas City through the fancy new schools so that the magic of their auras could be harnessed to further the grand vizier's plan.

The magic aura students were offered a free bus ride to and from Kansas City every single day to attend the schools and lend the children of Kansas City the power of their auras. If the child didn't live on a bus route, the King's personal taxi would be sent to transport these wondrous children. Once the magic aura students got to Kansas City, they could take courses in garment design, ceramics, and Suzuki violin. The computer lodestone school at Central High had 900 interconnected computers, one for every student in the school. In the performing arts school, students studied ballet, drama, and theater production. They absorbed their physics from Russian-born teachers, and elementary grade students learned French from native speakers recruited from Quebec, Belgium, and Cameroon. For students in the classical Greek athletic program, there were weight rooms, racquetball courts, and a six-lane indoor running track better than those found in many colleges. The high school fencing team, coached by the former Soviet Olympic fencing coach, took field trips to Senegal and Mexico. It was truly a magical time in Kansas City.

But the grand vizier's plan took no chances, for some of the high priests of Kozol thought that more was needed than the auras of the magic aura students to help the less-able students of Kansas City. So, the ratio of students to instructional staff was lowered at great expense to about 12 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the Kingdom.

The queen's royal necklace, worth $25,000, was exchanged for a pile of beads, blocks, cubes, weights, balls, flags, and other manipulatives to stock all the new Montessori-style elementary school classrooms in the district. In these classrooms, younger children took midday naps listening to everything from chamber music to "Songs of the Humpback Whale."

A bag of magic beans was also acquired so that all the working parents the district could be provided with all-day kindergarten for youngsters and before- and after-school programs for older students. No expense was spared.

In fact, so much gold was consumed in Kansas City that the school district was overwhelmed. Mismanagement and waste were rampant, but there was so much gold in the treasury due to the wizard's taxation spell that the grand vizier got everything he wanted. Yet, he was still not satisfied.

The surrounding lands were placed in much turmoil due to the heavy taxation they were forced to endure. The wizard was much despised, but he was far too powerful to be overthrown. The taxation persisted and the people of the surrounding lands were forced to tighten their belts, forcing the cancellation of field trips and extracurricular activities, the deferral of maintenance, the firing of teachers, and freezing of salaries. The decline in state revenue cost the neighboring Springfield school district $4 million, the hometown of the wizard Clark,--4 percent of its entire budget. As there was no slack in the budget, Springfield had to fire 19 employees; defer grouting the mortar on 100-year-old brick buildings; cancel public speaking classes; dispense with water safety courses; and beg for money to send students to the Civil War battlefield at Wilson's Creek, an annual trip that had been made for decades. The wizard Clark was not dissuaded from his plan with these tales of woe and instructed the grand vizier to continue on.

The high priest of Kozol had long believed that class sizes had to be reduced for performance to improve. To that end, the official class size in Kansas City was reduced to 22 per room in kindergarten and 25 in high school, though so many students cut classes in high school that the effective class size was often closer to 15. The high priest also believed that teachers needed their workload reduced. In some schools like Central High, teachers taught only three classes per day. Finally, the wizard raised increased teacher pay a total of 40 percent to an average of about $37,000 (maximum was $49,008 per year for Ph.D.s with 20 years experience). To put this in perspective, at the time, parochial school teachers were earning an average of $24,423.

All of the grand vizier's plans had been faithfully implemented. The wizard ruled over the transformed school district, running interference for anyone who would try to prevent his plan from being brought fruition. The high priests of Kozol smiled upon their creation with the smug countenance that only they can achieve. They predicted a very happy ending for Kansas City. All that was needed was enough time for the creation to finish cooking. It cooked for twelve long years. The wizard remained steadfast the entire time.

But you'll have to wait until Monday to read the conclusion to the story. Think you can guess the ending?

(Go to the Conclusion.)


nbosch said...

I cheated, I know the end of the story and there is no happily ever after. I live in a KCMO suburb. Good story so far, you're holding my interest.

Anonymous said...

LOL and crying at the same time since I to, though not a resident of KC, know the answer.

Robert Talbert said...

I cheated:

nbosch said...

Thought you might be interested in the continuing fallout. This from Kansas City Star today.

CrypticLife said...

I've known the ending for awhile, and it's truly sad. It would be nice if simply throwing money at education did improve it.

Incidentally, Ken, one of the recent posts on my blog mentions the series with palisadesk's class management. It's good to see you back.

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Ah, when we moved to the area and looked at the school statistics, we decided to move to the faraway Outer Suburb in the land of White.

The great Knight of the family travels afar to the mythical land of KC each weekday and gives them a pile of gold annually that amounts to 1% of his income, yet gets no vote in their little kingdom. (Whatever happened to "NO taxation without representation??) But 'tis a small price to pay for safety and good property values, methinks.