Monday, March 5, 2007

Learning

Just in case you haven't heard already, I have backed off of my earlier position on vouchers.

At the last debate before the primary, I mentioned that I support school choice, including charter schools and vouchers. After that debate, I had a great many conversations with folks who are deeply involved with education in our city. I learned a lot very quickly, and I've become convinced that vouchers are not the right choice for Kansas City.

No doubt some will say this shows flaws in my leadership. But I disagree. I think the opposite is true. The worst leaders are those who refuse to admit when they're wrong, those who trudge forward with bad policy despite all the evidence suggesting they ought to go the other way.

I talked about this in a recent interview with Governing magazine:
Nobody — presidents, mayors, city managers — ever says "I could have learned from this mistake." You'll see the cops stop a car full of teenagers and there'll be some kind of altercation and the next thing the cops empty their revolvers into the car. And the chief of police will say "That's a textbook case. We handled that perfectly." And ordinary citizens say, "That can't be true."

If you never, ever acknowledge mistakes then it's not possible to learn. In the political environment, it is a huge deal to say, "Actually we should not have built the stupid damn arena" or "we shouldn't have paved the road with this kind of asphalt."

I don't know why. I acknowledge mistakes. I tend to say "I screwed up." To me it just seems absurd not to.

It's important, though, to keep this in perspective.

Vouchers were never a central component of my campaign. All of the "controversy" has centered on one sentence I said at a 90-minute debate.

But with regards to the key issues in the mayor's race, those areas where the next mayor can have an immediate impact on education in Kansas City, I've been absolutely consistent.

Indeed, regular readers of this blog might recall that one of the first entries I ever did was about education. And it wasn't about vouchers. It was about the tax incentives that the mayor and City Council have been handing out to politically connected developers for the last eight years, and how these payouts have harmed all of this city's school districts.

16 comments:

David said...

now that that is over with, let's talk about improving mass transit!

Imani Malaika said...

Is mass transit really more important than fixing the sewer system? There is a possibility of an EPA lawsuit, not to mention the property damage when people's homes get flooded due to the CSO.

If mass transit is such a huge issue, people should think more about improving the housing stock in the central city so there won't be such a huge need to commute. I just don't understand the sense of urgency about it.

Funk's new position shows that he is willing to listen to his constituents, a thing of beauty to see!

Kristi in Midtown said...

As someone who has used both private and public education in this city the school system is failing miserably I think we can all agree on that. It is failing due to a lack of accountability and bloted administration and what appears to be an untouchable teachers union. It bites big time! My son is now in private school we make MANY sacrifices to do this and live in an apartment that is literally famlling down around around this to make it happen. His private education costs 1/3 what the KCMOSD spent to educate him and it is far superior and they even do special ed for far less than the public district spends. Why and how do they do this? because they have to to be viable and competitive. Competition is what drives a free market and the public school monopoly fails miserably and adding money only fuels this inefficient fire. Surely an auditor could understand that. Please check out the link below:

www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-298.html

I really am excited by your candidacy and know that vouchers are not terribly "PC" but please consider this carefully. I'm looking forward to continue volunteering for you and if you want to talk with me further I'll be in to drop off more work to Mary Lu this week -

Smiles and best wishes

Little Miss Chatterbox said...

I have to say that I think school choice and vouchers are the only way education in America is ever going to improve. Kansas City desperately needs it and I'm very disappointed that you folded on this issue so quickly.

The main people who are against school choice are the teacher's unions and bureaucrats who don't want to lose their power. I'm disappointed that their voices seemed to drown out those of average parents in KC.

Little Miss Chatterbox said...

I also agree wholeheartedly with Kristi's comments.

Imani Malaika said...

Waiting until semester grades come out is too late. When the 1st homework assignment is not in or on the 1st failing grade, the parent & teacher should conference. If a student doesn't grasp an academic concept, they should not move forward in that subject until they get it.

that "free market" bite is just speculation when it comes to schools. That has not been proven. Parents know that vouchers pay for only part of the tuition. They cannot afford to pay the balance.

Better educated people demand better wages. There is not a vested interest in having these students well-educated. Who would work for minimim wage and fill the jails? (since you don't want illegal aliens here)

What does the teacher's union have to do with it? You can't adequately teach a subject in 40 minutes a day in a class of 30 or more students. Try it - you'll see.

Funk made his decision based on what the PARENTS said. Just how many of YOU have actually talked with the parents this issue would affect?

Imani said...

In Kansas City, it is the PARENTS who are against school choice. This is who Funk listened to first to make his decision.

Regurgitating media sound bytes won't fix the problem. If the students don't do their work in public schools, they won't do it in private schools. Private schools are not equipped to handle the needs of these children. There are not even enough private schools to handle the influx of public school students vouchers would bring.

The students who cannot afford to make up the difference in tuition would have less resources to improve their schools.

This issue is not "over with". If your kids are in private school, I am sure you will make sure certain standards are met. The same should be true for public schools. But you abdicated your responsibility and just ran out on the situation. To me, that shows cowardice.

Imani said...

In Kansas City, it is the PARENTS who are against school choice. This is who Funk listened to first to make his decision.

Regurgitating media sound bytes won't fix the problem. If the students don't do their work in public schools, they won't do it in private schools. Private schools are not equipped to handle the needs of these children. There are not even enough private schools to handle the influx of public school students vouchers would bring.

The students who cannot afford to make up the difference in tuition would have less resources to improve their schools.

This issue is not "over with". If your kids are in private school, I am sure you will make sure certain standards are met. The same should be true for public schools. But you abdicated your responsibility and just ran out on the situation. To me, that shows cowardice.

Rev. Tony said...

I agree with kristi in midtown, as a resident of NW Independence Missouri the sooner this area breaks from the Kansas City School district the better.
I understand this is somewhat a separate issue, but to stay with the status quo, doing the same things over again yet expecting different results of course is a good indication of madness.
When given the opportunity of choice, I trust parents will do their homework and make the best possible choices for their children's education.

Sincerly,
Tony
amazinggraceministriesinc@yahoo.com

Kristi in Midtown said...

Imani - I am a parent this affects and from his blog entry I don't gather that he spoke with parents, just "people in the education field", It is the height of arrogance and cowardice to suppose that we removed him from public school because we weren't active in his public school or involved with his homework. I won't respond to that because you assume too much and quite frankly personal attacks are a sign of intellectual impotence. My husband I took a great leap of faith financially when we made this decision and we watched Lincoln Prep fail our daughter miserably. A 4.0 student with an full ride to college academically and athletically. Unfortunately she ended up in remedial math, science and reading. This district is failing young black children I find it a tragedy that the black community isn't more outraged.

But to be real - the mayor has no control over the school district. Different "state agency" and county revenue sources. I believe in choice that's my two cents.

I mani said...

Parents also have a responsibility to the school. This is what I was referring to. Being concerned about your own child is self-centered. They are part of the school and you have a responsibility to improve whatever school your child attends. Did you do all you could while in the public school? Be honest about that.

You also assume that people Funk spoke who work in education do not have students in the district. To me, it shows cowardice if you don’t get involved. Think about what I am saying without getting so defensive. Try to be objective and see your part in it. I know you have heard that if you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Some people call it apathy, but I strongly believe cowardice is at the root.

I call it as I see it - not trying to be PC.

You can do all you can to help your child individually, but they go to that environment everyday. Just like you cut your grass and pick up trash, the school environment is just as important and parents are just as responsible for that. Running away from problems is why KCMO is the way it is today. People run to the suburbs and pay taxes there, but drive into the city to work, dine, go to the Zoo, the Plaza, etc. Someone has to have the courage to take a stand and make a commitment to improving this city.


Don’t like the status quo – CHANGE IT!

I said: Don't move - help FIX it!

I-man-i M said...

Students in the Independence schools have the same problems that other students in the district have due to the poverty of the area. You'll find that students that went to Southwest high did better overall than other students in the district whose parents were not better off. Consider that it may not be the district so much as what the district has to deal with.

My daughter also went to Lincoln Prep. She now speaks 4 languages (French, German, Farsi and Hebrew), graduated from college and now lives in New York, working for an investment firm.

I also made sacrifices to make sure she was educated. But I also was a presence in her school, active in the PAC, visited with her teachers and principal often, and supported her academic and extra-curricular activities. I left no stone unturned.

Citizens have to be held accountable for their lack of political will. You are also responsible for making sure that public school funds have an impact. That is why it is "public" and not part of the "free market". Privitizing education does not absolve the public of this public trust.

I-man-i M said...

Again, I ask what is your committment to improving the situation? Have you worked with and talked to other parents in the district and organized to make an impact?

Rev. Tony said...

I-man-I M wrote,

“Students in the Independence schools have the same problems that other students in the district have due to the poverty of the area.”

Also…

“Consider that it may not be the district so much as what the district has to deal with.”

These are two important points, and to some degree are verified by the latest 2000 census that show 40% of the homes in the NW area are rental property, and it is sort of a vicious cycle to be sure. Families with children, a parent working two entry-level jobs to keep the utilities on and have very little time left for involvement in their children’s education.

According to realtors in the NW area, the question of the Kansas City School district is always a concern with home sales in this area, more so families with school age children. But again, for economic reasons there is little choice in the matter. And if by chance these parents are able to improve themselves, go back to college and improve their financial lot invariably they move from the area.

Victor Callhan has introduced Senate Bill 221, addressing this very issue of annexing the territory of the Kansas City school district that is located in the City of Independence and the City of Sugar Creek to the Independence School district. I am not sure what the current status is of the bill.

One statement I am slightly confused by from I-man-I M

“Being concerned about your own child is self-centered”

Perhaps better stated if the word “only” were to be inserted? “Only concerned about your child”

Just my two cents worth!!

Sincerely,
Tony
amazinggraceministriesinc@yahoo.com

I-man-i said...

Funny how no one is responding to the questions I am asking: what have you done to improve the school district? What parents have you talked to or organized with to work on problems in the district? What is your level of involvement? If all you do is complain, you are part of the problem. The administration will be accountable when we hold them accountable.

Not being able to keep the utilities on may not have as much to do with not having enough time for the children. It may have more to do with not being able to do homework in the dark! (Or not cooking, or taking a hot bath, moving frequently due to lack of rent money, or being too cold at night to sleep b/c the heat is off . . . )

I am not looking for any of you to agree with me. All I am doing is standing up to the soundbytes that do nothing to improve the situation. When I listen to "dittoheads" and realize that they swallow that "free market" party line b/c it removes any suggestion that they might have to actually get up and do something out of some sense of social responsibility.

You have more power in this sense than a mayor can ever have!

Kristi in Midtown said...

Imani - I very much agree with you that poverty is a HUGE issue with the status of the district. My husband and I individually and corporately the last 15 years have been to the school borad meetings, written the letters, been involved in the PTA's, room parenting, helping with read-a-thon fundraisers, play-ground comittees, mentoring fatherless boys, talking to teachers 2-3 times a week not just about academic progress but about attitude and charchter building of our children. I have seen alot of very gifted teachers pull up stakes and leave because their classrooms are micro-managed. There is tragic brain-drain going on with the teaching staff. Congratulations that your daughter is doing so well. Ours has also found her feet but it saddens me that she got such a nasty reality check in college we all (teachers, my husband and I and herself) really thought she was out and ready to rock the world. I want my son to have the best possible opportunity so that he is equipped to serve others. There are a lot of disadvantged people in this city who need to be served and while my husband and I can do our part it is important to me that kiddo has the best training to do his part. I love midtown, i love the diversity of people and thought. I'm sad that other people, especially young single mothers don't always have the same choices and resources that the rest of us do, I would like for them to at least get a chance for a leg up to improve their child's education, many of them can't afford the time my husband and I have had to be so involved. I've been working towards school reform since I was 15 years old and helped my husband try to launch a recreational center for inner-city youth only to meet resistance from the school board and some of the city council. We have been involved and continue to be - but at the same time we aren't cowards, just realists.

Imani - I like you passion for your ideas had we met on the street or in the work place you'd be a good friend if for nothing else your ability to argue is fun . . . Thanks