Kansas City school experiment

A favorite theme of the left (and of teacher's unions!)
is that the academic problems of youth largely stem
from inadequate funding of public schools.

I have no doubt that there are some school districts suffering from inadequate funding.
I also have the strongest possible suspicion that in some cases
the problem is not so much inadequate funding but misdirection and indeed corruption
in the spending of the funds they school districts do receive.

But let's skip over that.
What if a minority-heavy school district received vast increases in funding.
Would it help academic performance?
Well, as it happens, that was tried, in Kansas City, Missouri, in the late 1900s.
Let's take a look at that experiment.

Money And School Performance:
Lessons from the Kansas City Desegregation Experiment

by Paul Ciotti
cato.org, 1998-03-16

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.



All the money spent in Kansas City brought about neither integration nor higher levels of achievement. The lessons of the Kansas City experiment should stand as a warning to those who would use massive funding and gold-plated buildings to encourage integration and improve education:

  1. The political realities of inner-city Kansas City made it impossible to fire incompetent teachers and principals and hire good ones.
  2. Because the community regarded the school system as much as an employment opportunity as an educational institution, less than half the education budget ever made it to the classroom.
  3. School superintendents found it hard to function because every decision was second-guessed by the court-appointed monitoring committee; the attorney for the plaintiffs; and the state of Missouri, which was paying most of the bills.
  4. Because the designers of the Kansas City plan assumed that inner-city blacks couldn't learn unless they sat in classrooms with middle-class whites, the district wasted exorbitant amounts of time and money on expensive facilities and elaborate programs intended to attract suburban whites instead of focusing its attention on the needs of inner-city blacks.
  5. By turning virtually every school in the district into a magnet school, the Kansas City plan destroyed schools as essential parts of neighborhoods, fractured neighborhoods' sense of community, and alienated parents.
  6. The mechanism used to fund improvements to the school system (a federal desegregation lawsuit) deflected attention from the real problem--the need to raise black achievement.
  7. The ideological biases of local educators and politicians, and the federal court, made them reject solutions that might have worked, such as merit pay, charter schools, or offers by private schools to educate students in return for vouchers.
  8. Because the district had no way to evaluate the performance of teachers and administrators, promotions couldn't be based on merit.
  9. The desegregation plan created inverse achievement incentives--the district got hundreds of millions of extra dollars in court-ordered funding each year but only if student test scores failed to meet national norms.

School Reform that Money Can’t Buy
by Charles Chieppo
governing.com, 2011-09-27

After spending billions, Kansas City's schools are as dysfunctional as ever.
Urban education needs reforms that encompass accountability and performance.

When Kansas City's public schools were stripped of state accreditation last week for the second time in just over a decade, it was the latest installment in a more-than-25-year train wreck that reads like a case study in how money alone won't fix what ails urban education.

In 1985, federal district Judge Russell Clark found that the school district was unconstitutionally segregated. Over the next 12 years, he ordered the state of Missouri and the district to spend more than $2 billion—more than eight times Kansas City's 1985 school spending—to fix the problem.

From 1985 until Judge Clark recused himself from the case in 1997, Kansas City spent more per-pupil on a cost-of-living-adjusted basis and had the lowest student-teacher ratio of any of the nation's 280 largest school districts.

The district built 15 new schools and renovated 54 others. One had an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room. Others featured a planetarium, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary and a model United Nations with simultaneous-translation capability.

Despite all this, by the time that lavish spending on school facilities ended in 1999, the percentage of African-American students in the city's schools had risen from 73 percent in 1985 to 80 percent, student performance was no better and the achievement gap between white and minority students hadn't narrowed.


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