ebyKansas City plans to close almost half of its 57 public schools this summer.

Archived Story

John Eby: In Kansas City, some schools are out forever

Published 4:29pm Thursday, June 17, 2010

Superintendent John Covington’s overdue “Hail Mary” to shut 26 schools at once and delete 700 of his district’s employees, including almost 300 teachers, has been unfairly compared to New Orleans.

The Big Easy was forced to rebuild its schools from scratch after a natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina, almost five years ago.

The rightsizing of Kansas City, by comparison, has been characterized as an entirely man-made disaster, if not on the scale of the never-ending Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Some factors include white flight, forced desegregation, teachers’ strikes and revolving-door leadership.

Covington is the 26th superintendent in 40 years.

From 75,000 public-school students in the 1960s, the district has dwindled to 17,000.

The constant that hasn’t changed is that students still aren’t proficient in basics.

Sad-sack K.C. is usually mentioned in the same breath with Detroit.

Surprisingly, given my expectations reading education stories, money was not blamed as a problem.

In 1985, a federal judge ordered Missouri to pay $2 billion to atone for decades of unconstitutional treatment of black children.

The district splurged on a six-lane indoor track, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a mock court with judge’s chambers and a jury deliberation room and recruited Russians to teach fencing.

One of the elementaries closing sounds like it shouldn’t have been open. Built in 1914. Warped gym floor. Termite damage. Needs repairs.

Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a public-school advocacy group, says we should not be depressed because “some of the most exciting
things happen when people … are willing to try new things. As bleak as it is, that’s where you find the seeds of improvement.”

Succinct satire: @BPGlobalPR is a mocking Twitter account launched May 19 which within a week had 10 times as many followers as the official Biggest Polluter (BP) feed. “The good news; Mermaids are real. The bad news: They are now extinct.” Or, “We’ve created something that will affect your children’s children. Can YOU say the same about YOUR life?”

There’s a book called Twitterature, which condenses literary classics into glib tweet form.

Even bird-brained journalism, @FakeAPStylebook (“When writing about Heidi Montag, please don’t”).

Who knew such creativity inhabited 140 characters?

Humbling dice: Sports Illustrated asked a Wizards forward, an LPGA golfer, a Nationals pitcher and a Rams defensive end about “Exile on Main Street” and mostly stumped them.

The golfer at least knew it was an “album before my time,” but the three men guessed a gentleman’s club or a play. We probably won’t see any ads on ESPN touting the remastered 1972 Rolling Stones classic with 10 new tracks.

Chris Haney, 59, died in Toronto June 1. He was Montreal Gazette photo editor on Dec. 15, 1979, when he and Scott Abbott, a sportswriter for The Canadian Press, created the Trivial Pursuit board game at Haney’s kitchen table they sold to Hasbro for $80 million. They met covering the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.

Quips, quotes and qulunkers: “I would love to just spend a lot of my time venting and yelling at people, but that’s not the job I was hired to do. My job is to solve this problem, and ultimately this isn’t about me and how angry I am.”

- President Obama in a CNN
interview that aired June 3

•••
“The federal government simply doesn’t have the know-how or equipment to cap the gusher; it would be a bit like asking BP to administer the Medicare program. Yet it’s not clear that the public fully appreciates that reality. Disapproval of Obama’s handling of the spill is steadily rising as a chorus of political and opinion leaders – from loyal Democrat James Carville to Washington veteran David Gergen – has smacked him for a supposedly listless and ineffective response. It’s mostly an unfair rap … it was congressional, not presidential, pressure that forced BP to make its live images of the underwater oil flow available to the public … neither Obama nor his senior team made regulatory rigor at the Minerals Management Service a top priority; MMS Director S. Elizabeth Birnbaum, an Obama appointee, resigned May 27 after reports of poor management … damning for a president who ran, in part, on the promise of a more competent government.”

— June 14 Time magazine cover story, which for me answered a nagging question since that May 11 image of executives from BP, Transocean and Halliburton testifying before a Senate committee. Turns out Halliburton performed the South Korean-built rig’s cement work. Obama, by the way, called their public finger-pointing a “ridiculous spectacle.”

•••
“I have always had this view about the modern education system: we pay attention to brain development, but the development of warmheartedness we take for granted.”
— the Dalai Lama on how we can teach our children not to be angry

•••
“I think at the end of the day that the law will change, and ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ will go away.”

— Gen. Colin Powell on ABC’s “This Week” on the possible repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” which he helped implement in 1993

•••
“You have the honesty of Abe Lincoln and the charm of the guy who shot him.”

- comedian Dane Cook to “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell, who left the show after its ninth season finale May 26

•••
People who work night shifts pay a price in disrupted sleep patterns and an increased risk for several types of health problems, including obesity, heart disease and cancer, according to a study released June 8 by Washington State University’s Spokane branch.
That was close: Time almost tricked me into reading about soccer with more than 30 pages on the World Cup in South Africa, which means Soweto’s back in the news.
Michael Eillott of Liverpool, recalling the improbable quarterfinal success of North Korea against Portugal, nearly sucked me in with his description of 1966 as “that summer long ago between Rubber Soul and Revolver.” Surely you remember the 2006 Cup in Germany, won by Italy.
$26 billion: What the U.S. has spent propping up the 119,400-troop Afghan National Army.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm”: Larry David’s comedy returns to HBO in 2011 for an eighth season, and TV Guide Network June 2 started airing previous episodes, although their creator admitted to Time magazine he has “no idea” where to find the channel. Republicans “always irk me, that’s a constant.” He’s not bothered by friends looking for guest spots because “I don’t have many.” And, David said of threats Comedy Central received over a “South Park” episode, “Thank God I haven’t come up with a funny Muslim premise. Because I would probably have to do it.”
31: Percent of Americans who say the country needs a third political party.
More obits: Actor Dennis Hopper, 74, died May 29. Actor Gary Coleman, 42, died May 28. He started as Arnold Jackson on “Diff’rent Strokes” at 10 for eight seasons. Edward Uhl, who died May 9 at 92, was the father of the bazooka.
13.2 million: Estimated number of people who will die from cancer each year by 2030 – double the number who died from it in 2008.
Anniversaries: CNN, 30. YouTube, five. Today, more video is uploaded in 60 days than all three U.S. television networks have created in 60 years. That’s 2 billion views every day.
Roman Catholic dissidents who want to open the priesthood to women and to ditch celibacy march on Rome June 8.
Reformers blame the male-dominated church structure for decades of priest pedophilia cover-ups.

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