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Kansas City Loses State Accreditation

The Kansas City, Mo., school district, which was thrown into leadership turmoil late last month when Superintendent John Covington resigned abruptly to take a new position in Michigan, will have its accreditation revoked by the state in January.

The Missouri State Board of Education voted unanimously today to take the action, which it explained in a press release:

"While this decision was an extremely difficult one for our board to make, we believe it is the right one," said Peter Herschend, president of the State Board of Education. "This action may feel like a set-back for the district, but this decision is not totally unexpected. We will work closely with the district's leadership and staff and continue efforts to improve student achievement. Our work requires a laser-like focus on classroom instruction."

Commissioner [Chris L.] Nicastro indicated the department will be working with KCMSD and the community to identify a process for providing immediate assistance and monitoring progress. She will bring a recommendation to the state board at its December meeting.

By state law, an unaccredited school district has two full school years to demonstrate a sustainable level of academic progress. Should this not occur, the district will lapse and the State Board of Education must intervene.

The state action was exactly what some observers in Kansas City feared would happen after Covington's announcement that he was resigning. He will run an educational authority in Michigan that will oversee the state's lowest-performing schools. The former superintendent instituted major changes in his short tenure in the 17,400-student Kansas City district, including cost-cutting initiatives that closed more than two dozen schools. Those actions won him praise, and for a short time, before learning of Covington's new job, district leaders were scrambling to find a way to keep him from leaving.

It's not clear that the state board's accreditation decision would have been different had Covington stayed. Kansas City met only three of 14 academic standards needed for state accreditation this year. In 2010, the district had met four standards, so the academic trend in the district was already heading in a negative direction.

However, a leadership vacuum can't be helpful as the district attempts to recover its academic standing. And in the meantime, Missouri law allows students in an unaccredited district the right to transfer to another school system. However, a challenge to the law is currently tied up in court.

In a statement, the Kansas City district leadership said that as it teaches its students to "be resilient and bounce back from setbacks," the district will do the same.

"Student achievement remains our top priority and we will couple with this, a focus on restoration and recovery of our accreditation status," said interim superintendent R. Stephen Green.

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