Audacious or Modest? Hopes for Funkhouser’s Education Summit

I’m supporting Mayor Funkhouser’s Education Summit, but I feel I ought to explain myself. Really, after dozens of blue-ribbon panels, grass-roots movements, concerned citizen gatherings, neighborhood committees, business roundtables, and academic colloquia, what possible good can yet another gathering of people talking accomplish? What new thoughts, what new programs, what new ideas?

Haven’t we talked things to death, while flaws in our education system continue to breed crime, dampen economic development, and divide our community? Didn’t the KCMSD just hire a new Superintendent to come in and make his own changes? At first blush, it is an insulting and arrogant waste of time for a bunch of well-meaning people to meet in a room somewhere, wring their hands and produce a vision of what “we” (meaning “they”, of course) ought to be doing.

At first blush, perhaps, but the state of education in Kansas City ought to provoke more than one blush. We all ought to be blushing.

Simply stated, the hope I have for the Summit is that it could get our community to agree on a few ideals related to education, and foster a dialog across the dividing lines we have built up.

Is that hope too modest? Is it simply a waste of time that our community might gather, at considerable expense, and agree on some ridiculously obvious sentiment like “K-8 education in Kansas City should provide the tools for additional learning” or “High Schools in Kansas City should be free of crime and violence”? (I’m just tossing those out there – I have no idea what a Summit might come up with.)

Or is it too audacious? Can one event really break down the “us vs. them, I’ve got mine” attitude that seems to permeate our “system” of education here? Each of us raising children comes up with our own solution to the problem of how to get the education we feel is best for our circumstances, and doing so requires decisions and actions we might not otherwise undertake.

And then, we are forced to defend our choices. We become an interest group. Support Charter Schools. Support Catholic Schools. Support Home-Schooling. Move to the suburbs. Raid the savings for Pembroke or St. Paul’s. Support Afro-centric schools in the District. Insist on bi-lingual education for children of immigrants. We all love our children, so we decide what is best for them under our circumstances, and we make the best of it.

It’s like we’re all forced to find our ways through an incredibly complex obstacle course, where we have to make trade-offs based upon our own values and circumstances. We all find our own individual paths through the thicket of options, like a corn maze.

What if we, together, lowered the walls of the maze? What if we could acknowledge that the people who send their kids to Charter schools share values with the people whose children attend private schools, and that those of us whose children went to KCMSD schools are not guilty of intellectual child abuse? What if we focused on some commonalities instead of distinctions? What if we walked away from a day together and understood each other better, and even respected the interests and perspectives of “those people”?

Is that even possible? And, if it is possible, what meaningful good could come from it?

By my support of the Summit, I’m saying that I believe it is possible. I think (I know) that the vast majority of people in each camp are good, sincere people wanting what is best for children. And I believe in my core that good builds upon good, just as bad brings more bad.

How does that translate into meaningful good? I have no idea, other than to reduce hostility between the camps (which, in itself, would be an achievement). But maybe someday homeschoolers gete invited to participate in Lincoln’s Science Fair. Or a suburban district supports a bond issue for the KCMSD. Or district kids are welcomed to one of Pembroke’s dramatic productions of a play they are studying.

I don’t know exactly what good could come from increased ownership and caring about the education being received by others in our community, but I feel certain that some good would come from it – perhaps the beginnings of something transformative.

Ironically, I recently participated in an email exchange with a group of people concerned about education, and one of the participants asserted as a fact that charter schools perform significantly better than traditional public schools. I pointed out that the data are conflicting on that point, and he, in turn, directed me to a summary of about a hundred studies on the issue, with conflicting results that shockingly corresponded to who was paying for the study. The undeniable truth is that Charter school advocates will cherry-pick whatever data will generate more support for Charter schools, and traditional school districts will find data that shows the Charter schools are resource-robbing underachievers.

That right there is the problem. Seeing such bought and paid for spinning leads to cynicism, and a lack of trust. My inherent lack of trust is the currency I use to purchase my absolution from caring or getting involved. If the problem is hopeless, and the data are all unreliable, then I am justified in my refusal to work toward solutions or change.

I believe that a forum can break down that inherent lack of trust. Yes, we will definitely have intellectually dishonest partisans who will try to skew things to support their predetermined positions. But I share the faith that the VAST majority of parents and citizens are like me – we may have our biases and our cynicism, but we fundamentally want what is best for the children in our community. If we come together and have a frank and honest dialog, we may or may not agree on everything, but we can begin to destroy that inherent lack of trust that absolves us from thinking that the “other side” is working in good faith, and absolves us from working toward solutions.

Experts have had their say. We’ve had those seminars, colloquia, roundtables and committees. I think Funkhouser’s Summit can do something different than what we’ve done in the past. I might be wrong, but I think it’s worth a try.

23 Responses to “Audacious or Modest? Hopes for Funkhouser’s Education Summit”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Danno,
    It doesn't matter how great the schools are if the kids don't have good support at home–to me, this is a vital part of any effort to better the system. There are many reasons why kids don't receive a good start and continued support at home (e.g., parents too busy working hard to simply put food on the table, parents who don't really think schools is important, kids moving from place to place and school to school, substance abuse by the parents, etc.). This rings true no matter where they attend school–it is not unique to the KCSD. Plus, too many kids see little hope in working hard in school to accomplish something–they perceive that other options are much easier and immediate.

    Until we do a better job of helping these kids before they are old enough to attend school (and outside of school once they are there), I see little hope. However, I don't think there is any proven model for making enough of an impact with parents. In some of the more successful districts, there are good programs that target the at risk kids in an attempt to help them make it to school regularly, provide tutoring early on so that they can catch up, follow up during the summer so that they don't backslide, etc. Even with these efforts, the kids who start off behind often don't make it up. As you know, my lovely bride is on the front line where she works and sees this over and over. She is often frustrated because all kinds of services are provided or availble but the parents just don't give a rip. In other instances, mom is overwhelmed with trying like heck to get a couple of kids to school, another one to daycare, and then make it to her job. There is no time to make school much of a priority. Probably the most common thread we see for the under-achieving kids here, however, is drug usage by the parents. The kids almost always are far behind when their parents are substance abusers. They are absent more often, they don't eat regularly, they move from place to place and school to school, etc.

    The problems of the KCSD are overwhelming. Another summit to talk about things can't hurt, I guess.
    wkb

  2. Hyperblogal says:

    KCSD problems all start in the home. Wherever you have excellent schools you have involved parents. Without that you can talk all you want and nothing will change.

  3. Dan says:

    No, no, no.

    At least IMHO.

    Blaming the parents is an easy path, and ignores the reality of the situation. Sure, there are too many drug-abusing parents, WKB, but does sending their children to a hopeless school provide those children with a way out?

    Hyper – I agree that some of the problems of the KCMSD happen in the home (though not all). Does that mean we write off the schools? Does that mean that every child who cannot afford private or Catholic school, or who isn't chosen for a charter, should lose all hope?

    What about helping parents, too? Have you read about the Harlem Children's Zone?

    Hopelessness doesn't work for me. Does it work for you?

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am aware of many programs around the country aimed at helping parents, getting kids to school, making sure the kids are fed, etc. In order for us to solve the problem (instead of putting occasional, expensive band-aids on it), we must do something about those who are having the kids. Unfortunately, the problems at home are difficult to solve no matter where the school buildings are located. This is equally true here in the burbs.

    I know of the Harlem scheme in general and I saw a news story on it some time ago. My recollection is that one of the significant goals is to make the schools gatherinig places for the neighborhoods. There are other programs around the country designed to make things safer, foster family involvement, etc.

    I still firmly believe that it all starts at home. The kids who do well almost always have good support at home and are ready to learn when they arrive at school. The schools and teachers can only do so much. It is too easy to blame them instead of the families that want someone else to take care of the problem. Yes, the kids deserve a good education–but we need to make sure the parents step up. There are no easy fixes here–and we can't ignore the fact that education simply is not a priority for many folks.
    wkb

  5. Anonymous says:

    Will Gloria be paid for working on the project?

    IF she is being paid, whether through the event budget or through a contract with the consultants who will be paid for out of the budget, then what we have is the mayor going hat in hand to rich contributors asking for cash that will end up in his household account.

    Bribery, nepotism, wrong.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Dan, in your way-to-long post you never laid out exactly what the summit was going to do to solve the problem.

    The most I could get from your post is that people will be able to understand themselves better? I'm not sure how that is going to improve things.

    What exactly is the summit going to do?

    And if it takes more than two short paragraphs to answer, don't bother.

  7. Anonymous says:

    What is the City Council doing about this?

  8. One of those who were thrown away says:

    12:11

    It is now and has always been a fundraising opportunity for the Funkhouser household. Gloria and or one or more of the kids will get paid for working on the project, and then Funk will be hired to speak at other events put on by the Washington-based consultants who he is bringing in to run this one.

    I was there when this idea came up, so I know.

  9. Dan says:

    WKB -

    You're absolutely right about the multi-faceted nature of the problem and the inadequacy of expensive bandaids. But if we wait until we solve the problems of drugs, poverty, teen pregnancy, crime, racism and class bias before we undertake to provide adequate schools, we're never going to make any progress. I have the utmost respect for your knowledge and good faith, but I think we have to start changing, or trying to change, where we are.

    Anonymice 7:43 and 10:11 – you are dreaming up problems that don't exist. And, 10:11, I don't recall any sniveling cowards in our first discussions on this topic. Are you sure you were there? If so, blow the top off this scandal! Come on, do it for the good of the community! Use your name and make your accusations in public! I'll back you up 110% if what you're saying is truthful.

    Anonymouse 12:11 – I hope the summit would come up with points of agreement on education in KC. That's just me – if you want to get involved and articulate a different vision, do so.

    Anonymous 4:59 – I imagine that some will get involved, and some will sit on the sidelines and naysay, but only time will tell.

  10. inafunkaboutthefunk says:

    There you go again Dan. What has the Feckless Funkhouser accomplished in the last 2 years and change that would lead you to believe he has the answers to such a long standing and complicated problem such as the demise of the KCMO Public School System?? Not that this problem can be solved by any one person or even a group of people, but Feckless Funk, oh come on! He has shown almost a total lack of regard for the Council people, a relatively small group, do you you really think he has the ability to coordinate such a large scale meeting and/or to get the very same people who have run the School District into the ground and stolen the lives of the children entrusted to it/them and produce a worthwhile, new innovative and positive result??? Again, oh come on! Time and time again, the Feckless Mayor has shown himself to be unprepared, staffed with clueless and equally feckless people, amateurish in dealing with the media and almost totally clueless and narcissistic when it comes to listening to the ideas of others and achieving consensus.

    Sorry for again being the naysayer Dan… but when you pst something like this, someone needs to step up and make the case for what is realistic. No need to create a false sense of the possibility that something positive can come out of almost anything the Funk has been associated with or associates himself with in the future… especially but not limited to things that require listening and achieving consensus… not two of his strong points, wouldn't you agree?

  11. Dan says:

    Inafunk -

    Once again, you come with the Funkhouser attacks. That's certainly your choice and you are entitled to it – go ahead and bask in the warm glow of your hate.

    But, really, you're mistaken that your naysaying accomplishes anything. It won't dissuade such people as Crosby Kemper and James Nutter, or lots of other reasonable people who have participated in our community in a fashion that goes beyond posting pseudonymous comments, from participating in this important effort. Stay home if you like.

  12. Do you see me? says:

    I appreciate your willingness to put your support out there, Dan. But as I understand it, this summit is for Kansas City, which has 14 school districts. If this is a summit about KCSD, then forget it – because I think the other 13 districts, charter schools, and private schools (including parochial schools) have to stand up and be accountable for their role in how the KCSD functions. If the summit is going to be real, honest, and open, then that issue will be on the table. If this is just going to be a bash the KCSD and all their parents – brutally bashed by your other readers – then this is just a going to be a modern techno lynching.

  13. inafunkaboutthefunk says:

    Dan, are you contending that Jim Nutter SR is still supporting the Funk?????

    You are truly dreaming….

    P.S. It isn't about hating the Funk. He's a lost cause and a proven detriment to the Municipal condition. On this blog, it's about countering your Pro-Funk posts… many of which, like the Nutter comment defy reality.

  14. inafunkaboutthefunk says:

    By the way, you don't have anything to point out where the Feckless Funk got people together and achieved something positive… do you? And please don't state that he brought people together to elect him Mayor… because the Orange Revolution is dead. And you can ask Ed Wold, Ruth Bates, Big Jeff Simon and yes, even Jim Nutter Sr. about that!!! All of the above by JN Sr. have made a public statement and walked away from the Funk. Or is Ed Wolf still supporting the Funk… let's see how far into La La Land you are willing to go in public.

  15. Hyperblogal says:

    My neighbor was an English teacher at Northeast High School… two years ago she had 100 students… on parent teacher night she had 9 parents show up for their conference. That kind of support from the home is not conducive to learning and just what should we do to correct it?

  16. Anonymous says:

    What's the objective of the summit, and who is summitting?

    I don't get it.

  17. Dan says:

    Do You See Me -
    The whole point is inclusiveness – no, this is NOT solely about the KCMSD. Notice that I mentioned several of the other constituents in my original post. Education in Kansas City is the problem for ALL of us, and homeschoolers, private schoolers, Catholic schoolers, and suburban schoolers all share the issue of how to achieve the best education for all of us.

    As for my commenters, some of them are incapable of positive thought. Inafunk and a couple of the anonymice exist in a negative world, and they're part of the landscape. People like WKB and a few others, though, are interested in helping create a better system. There are enough good people out there to make a difference.

    Inafunk – have you caught on to the fact that I'm not bothering to answer your questions? You're a useless blast of negativity that is neither accurate nor well-intentioned.

    Hyper – Great question!! What can we do to support and expand that group of 9 parents? Some of them were probably working – can we adjust hours of parent meetings? Some of them might not have had faith that the school would spend their time well – how can we improve that perception (and avoid making it accurate). Finally, how can we support the 9 families that are trying to gain a good education in our school district? Should we write them off as collateral damage, or should we get engaged to support them?

  18. Hyperblogal says:

    The conferences were held over three days…. one all day and two other evenings. You cannot concentrate on the 9 when the 91 are disruptive. My teacher friend, after 20 years, gave up after that year and took early retirement. She would call parents about missing homework or lower efforts or behavior issues and nothing would change. She loved teaching and is now doing so in a prison in St. Charles Missouri… While I've never said it was hopeless.. this is an extremely complex problem that has as its roots cultural differences and abject poverty. One cannot expect the schools to educate and do intensive social work without a huge infusion of funds and truly dedicated people. One cannot teach English and deal with abuse and neglect. Changing the home life of these kids would be a monumental task.

  19. inafunkaboutthefunk says:

    Inafunk – have you caught on to the fact that I'm not bothering to answer your questions? You're a useless blast of negativity that is neither accurate nor well-intentioned.
    ========

    My post is exacting, accurate and you refusal to address the issues/items I brought up is yet another example of your inability to deal with the truth.

    Jim Nutter Sr. supporting the Funk????? OH COME ON!!!

  20. Dan says:

    No, Ina, it was unworthy of response.

    And, yes, Nutter is on board for this. You're simply wrong, blinded with your hatred..

  21. Anonymous says:

    Nutter isn't "on board". If he was "on board" it would not have taken two years to raise the money for the event.

    Nutter is NOT OPPOSING the summit.

    There is a difference.

  22. inafunkaboutthefunk says:

    And, yes, Nutter is on board for this.
    ======================

    I personally know JN Sr. He is no longer with the Funk. I suppose we can wait until the next election and see who he backs… in the last election, JN Sr backed Glover in the primary and Funk A Dunk in the general. I can't wait to see your spin when JN Sr. is funding anyone but Funk.

    So get with it Dan. And try to write about things other than Funkhouser where at least you can keep your dignity and not have to descend in this alternate reality that you share with the Funk.

    But it's your blog and your nickel. So enjoy tugging on your own chain :)

    I wonder what TKC thinks about the current state of the Nutter-Funk bond?????

  23. rey rey says:

    Q: What is the best way to pretend you care and want change? A: Hold a summit that won't change a thing.

    All fluff and emotionalism and headlines. No action or plan.

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