Twenty-nine out of 61 Kansas City, Missouri, schools will soon be shuttered in a desperate bid by the struggling school district to stave off bankruptcy. At the same time, close to one-quarter of the city's school employees will lose their jobs.Sounds bad. How can this possibly be laid at the door of conservatives, I wonder?
The number of students in Kansas City's public schools – 18,000 – would indicate that it is a small town. But there's not much that's small about Kansas City. In fact, the core of the city, which is Missouri's largest urban hub, has nearly half a million residents, and the broader metro area is home to approximately 2 million people.Hmmm, need to dig a bit deeper…
Yet for decades its public schools have been in crisis and have haemorrhaged students.
For 26 years, Kansas City was under the largest court-ordered desegregation plan in American education history. At first this provided an opportunity to improve the system, injecting $2bn into local schools. But over time the benefits unleashed by the case were undermined by opposing demographic and political trends: Kansas City was bedeviled by white flight; and, eventually, it saw a near-total exodus of the middle classes, of all colours, into suburban school districts, charter schools and private schools.‘We turned Missouri schools into diverse paradises, and you ghastly people responded by leaving!’
A few years ago, eight schools went so far as to secede from the school district, joining a suburban district that provided more resources to students.Instead of indoctrinating them in progressive and politically correct policy, they taught things like reading, writing and arithmetic!
By the time the desegregation case ended, in 2003, the city was no longer discriminating against African American students; but at the same time it was increasingly unable to provide quality public school education to any student.Hurrah! We won the battle! Oh, wait. It seems we lost the war…
*sigh* What to do, what to do…?
In many ways, Kansas City represents the depressing end-point I warned about last week in my article on California's education cuts: a setting in which those with options have exercised them by opting out of the state school system, leaving the rump public sector both shrivelled and denuded of influential supporters in the community.Damn those options! Damn them, I say! If only people weren’t free to choose.
If there are lessons to be learned from Kansas City's dismal experiences…Oh, this’ll be good…
… they are about the importance of holistic thinking: of looking for ways not just to desegregate schools but to preserve integrated, economically diverse urban cores; of providing middle-class families with reasons to continue using public services; of building up the notion of common community again so that the public sector flourishes rather than withers.OK, anyone want to translate that into English for me?
I mean, I don’t see any answers there, or even any proposed solutions. Just a wish that things would be different, and so fit in with Sasha’s wonderful future school system.
Absent this, Kansas City might well represent a glimpse of a depressing American future: one in which those with resources opt out, en masse, from any and all public services, leaving the public sector to stumble drunkenly from one crisis to the next, a miserable-looking shadow of once-great glories.Come up with some solutions, then, Sasha. Your grand ideas haven’t worked. Is it back to the drawing board for progressives?
Watch this space…