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With Reforms and Improvement, Kansas City Regains Accreditation

  • Kansas City Public Schools has won full accreditation from the Missouri State Board of Education, culminating years of work to regain that status.

    “This is a tremendous accomplishment for our students, our staff, our families, and our community,” superintendent Mark Bedell said in a news release. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Schools can’t do it alone. Thank you, Kansas City, for believing in us. Together, we’re building a school district that works for all families.”

    Missouri state education board president Charles Shields cited Bedell’s leadership in the district turnaround, saying the superintendent had won the support of the civic and business communities.

    “He built confidence that there was a solution,” Shields told the Kansas City Star. “He had a strategic plan. He built a team. We ended up with a really high-functioning school board. But I think most importantly, he stayed. And he stayed committed.”

    The district had struggled with accreditation issues for more than two decades. In 2000, Kansas City became the first school district in the country to lose accreditation, acquiring provisional accreditation two years later. But, in 2011, the state board of education voted unanimously to withdraw the district’s accreditation, effective January 2012. The school system has held provisional accreditation since 2014.

    Upon his hiring in 2016, Bedell authorized a comprehensive audit of instruction, finance, human resources, transportation, and food service. The audit was conducted by the Council of the Great City Schools and resulted in 126 recommendations grounded in research on how some urban systems improve faster than others.

    Fully half the recommendations were aimed at instructional improvement—from staffing to accountability to English learner education, and more. The superintendent developed a strategic plan that embraced many of the recommendations.

    In 2020, the Council reviewed the Kansas City school system’s progress and concluded it merited becoming fully accredited.  

    In its report, the organization noted how the district has partnered with business, foundation, and community groups on such projects as its middle-college program and others to strengthen academics.

    It also credited Bedell’s willingness to be evaluated annually on metrics linked to the goals set in the district’s strategic plan. “This seemingly simple step is critical to a district’s focus on the attainment of its goals, especially its academic goals,” the report noted.

    The Council also found that the improvements in Kansas City “stack up favorably” with other big school systems. “In fact, the district is improving at a rate that is surpassing the performance of other big city school systems,” the report said, noting that “the district has demonstrated stability in its direction and leadership that bodes well for its continued progress well into the future.”

    In recent years, the district worked to show sustained progress on various performance measures, including attendance and graduation rates. Four-year graduation rates improved from 68.7 percent in 2016 to 77.8 percent in 2021.

    The state education department also took note of continuity and consistency in leadership by Bedell and by the school board’s “ongoing focus on goals, policy and budget.”

    The Kansas City district has a diverse student body of about 14,128, with about 54 percent Black, 27 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent white. Approximately 22 percent of students receive English language learner services and 100 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

    Missouri did not issue annual performance reports the past two years and did not measure some metrics, such as attendance, because of the adverse impact of the pandemic. But state education officials stated they found merit in the district’s other achievements.

    Council Executive Director Ray Hart believes the state’s decision to fully and immediately accredit the Kansas City school system is a landmark in the history of the district.

    “The relentless and skilled leadership of superintendent Mark Bedell; the focused governance of the board of education; and the dedication of teachers and staff made this happen and have all the determination needed to make more progress on behalf of the city’s children,” said Hart. “The lesson for urban educators everywhere: Improvement in urban public education is doable; don’t give up.