By Katie Boody
I assume we are all still reeling, hurting or recovering from our beloved KC Royals' Game 7 loss Wednesday night to the San Francisco Giants. In response to my co-founder, Carrie Markel’s analysis of how the Royal’s recent playoff success has paralleled the trajectory of urban education “reforms” in KCMO, this blog post intends to extend upon the conversation.
You see, The Royals didn’t emerge wholly unknown in 1985 to #TAKETHECROWN. They had been on an upward trajectory for a decade previous to their World Series berth. Dean Hybl notes in Sports Then and Now, “After making the playoffs seven times and finishing no worse than second during a 10-year stretch from 1976-1985 that culminated with their World Series Championship, the Royals went into a nearly three decade tailspin.” That’s right, it took seven trips to the playoffs before the Royals ultimately succeeded.
1969 - The Royals are formed
1971 - The Royals have their first winning season
1971-1985 - The Royals continue the upward trend of winning seasons, entering the playoffs and ultimately winning the World Series.
1985-2013 - The Royals endure a long period of stagnation and consistent underperformance.
2014 - You know the story: Wild Card, Playoffs, World Series...
However, KC Schools didn’t follow the same upward swing. In 1965, Southwest High School had 2,489 students enrolled and had a student receive a perfect score on the SAT. "The senior class included a National Merit scholar and eight finalists, an all-state basketball player, and the city record holder in the 50 yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly swimming events,” wrote DESEG (desegregation) attorney for the plaintiffs and former KCPS Board Member, Arthur Benson. Shortly after these successes of the mid sixties, white-flight took a hold and decades of decline began.
“The result was that in the thirty years after Brown v. Board of Education the enrollment of the Kansas City Missouri School District declined by nearly half, and the percentage of students who were white fell from 75% to 25%.”
Our urban landscape had changed. As white and middle class families left for the suburbs, they took their tax base and property values with them. The early 1970s was the beginning of the tailspin. DESEG ensued, and was followed by a revolving door of superintendents, reform efforts, curriculum overhauls, bevies of out-of-town consultants, Board of Education politics, etc. In the words of another KC educator, we’ve experienced “reform fatigue.” We’ve endured so much change that it’s impossible to reflect on what initiatives/leadership styles/curriculums were actually promising.
Unfortunately this “reform fatigue,” has led to a lost faith in our schools and students. We’ve created a culture of “bad JuJu” that arguably prevents good work and action being taken. A 2011 strategic plan from the EDC includes discussions of the “giant gorilla in the room-- lack of quality public schools,” which is preventing KC from reaching the status of a “top tier city.” This negative culture toward public schools can become toxic.
It’s not unlike the jeers and jests at the Royals' expense over the last two decades. For most of my youth, it was known that Royals games are a thing you go to because tickets were $7 and throwing peanut shells on the ground was fun. However, every Kansas City child that grew up in the early 1990s also knows that we secretly cherished the George Brett baseball cards that came with stale bubblegum in silent hope of some sort of Messianic return.
I wasn’t sure we still held that hope for KC schools until something akin to our 1971 Royals season began to take place . . . little wins. Hale Cook parents and community demanded the reopening of a KCPS school, Midtown Community School parents opened an RFP process to reopen a public school in midtown, KCPS partnered with Academie Lafayette. We’re nowhere near the pennant, or the crown, but we’re beginning a slow build. The curse of "bad juju" can be overcome. Just look at the outcry for our “boys in blue” these last few weeks.
We need solutions that honor [school systems' and cities'] complexities.
It may take another decade for the Royals to “Take the Crown.” Realistically, it will also take more than a decade for us to turn our urban school system around. But we can do it if we unite and decide to work and do this together, one small win at a time.