Innovative schools doing nothing all districts couldn’t do with no evidence of increased student achievement

David DorseyEducation

Q. Is there anything innovative schools are doing that all other non-innovative schools couldn’t also be doing?

A. No.

Although not a direct quote, that was part of a Q & A discussion between members of the House Education Committee and Coalition of Innovative School District (CISD) chairman Bill Mullins during CISD’s annual report to the Legislature. Members from both parties asked the same question.

That exchange pretty much sums up how the innovative school districts law is not being applied as intended.

The law, which was passed in 2013 and amended a year later, was meant to allow a small number of districts (up to 57 statewide) to get relief from many state requirements in order to improve student achievement. Currently, there are only seven innovative school districts and they yet to provide any evidence that they have taken advantage of this legal authority and improved student achievement. I have shown both here and here in greater detail of how that has not happened.

I also submitted here that there was hope that the next annual report, the one that was just presented to the legislature, would show true innovation and an increase in student achievement. That hope has been dashed. The annual report shows the CISD doing more of the same – approaches and initiatives that could be done by any district. It is merely two pages of text with details of the short history of the CISD, how they are organized, and what they plan to do next. It even states “there are many schools and districts across the State who are very innovative in what they do, even more innovative than some of us.”

Here’s a sampling of CISD’s self-reported accomplishments:

  • Marysville is giving students the ACT Aspire test.
  • Fredonia is exploring a STEAM academy.
  • Blue Valley is focusing on social/emotional learning.
  • Hugoton is focusing on early childhood education – transitioning students from pre-K to Kindergarten.

Even the three waivers they received from the State Board (the law says nothing about needing waivers) could have been granted to non-innovative schools.

  1. Kansas City (USD 500) received a waiver to hire 15 non-traditionally licensed teachers in specific content areas.
  2. Concordia was given a waiver to use a different accreditation method.
  3. Marysville is allowed to use a different timeline for teacher evaluations.

Notice anything missing? Nary a mention of how any of what they are doing is improving student outcomes. Perhaps more distressing is that none of the committee members called them on that detail – even though the law states that student achievement is supposed to be part of the annual report to the legislature.

The innovative school district law and how it has been applied is an example of good legislative intentions gone unfulfilled. What was supposed to be an opportunity for schools to improve student outcomes by being exempt from many state laws that hinder the schools from doing just that, has become little more than a social club. In fact, several times during the presentation, they told the committee that they consider themselves a “think tank.” Now, KPI is a real think tank and we didn’t get into this work after failing to live up to a statutory mandate…plus we accept no government money.

It is this approach by the coalition along with the failure of the Legislature to hold the districts’ collective feet to the fire that makes it clear how the law has been compromised by an education bureaucracy more concerned about process than closing Kansas’ staggering achievement gaps.

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