Does KC Have the Worst School District in the Nation?

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Missouri School District could be the worst school district in the nation. That's what Kansas City Mayor Sly James says he learned from the Secretary of Education on a recent trip to Washington, D.C.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told James that Kansas City's 40 percent graduation rate for high school students is by far the worst in the nation.

James is proposing a plan in which control of the troubled district would be taken over by a mayor-appointed committee. The proposal got a sympathetic ear from Duncan.

"(Duncan) said we need to push mayoral control. That's the only system that's going to work and gain control of this system. His words, not mine," said James. "That he believes in it... because school boards are not working. They're not accountable to anybody, and everybody in this city wants somebody they can blame when things go wrong. So, that would be me."

"Secretary Duncan's experience in Chicago is very analogous to what we are doing here," said Mayor James' spokesman Danny Rotert. "He took over as CEO, appointed by a mayor to run the city's of Chicago's school district."

Rotert says Duncan had first hand experience in what the mayor was trying to achieve.

"He was familiar with the turnarounds that a strong mayor system on the school district can actually make and so he was able to give the mayor advice on how to proceed," Rotert said.

Duncan pointed out Kansas City's 60 percent drop-off from grades nine through 12. That means kids who failed to graduate from Kansas City schools.

"What was a little bit eye opening is how the Department of Education in Washington also knows that and is looking at KC and is aware of the problems that we have here and is concerned, frankly," he said.

Rotert says Tuesday's meeting confirms the mayor's point that blame for the district's failings needs to stop and the takeover needs to start with Mayor James.

"But somebody needs to be held responsible for these kids academic performance," he said. "If we cant find anybody else, if nobody else is raising their hand, let it be me."

Rotert says the mayor's office is finishing the draft of the mayor's proposal to deliver to lawmakers in Jefferson City. Several of them have already expressed doubts that the mayor's plan to take over the district is a good one.

"We have to recognize the biggest detriment of educational achievement in this city and other urban environments is the zip code in which you live," said James. "We have to find ways to affect those environments if we're going to affect outcomes in school rooms that are different."

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