Tuesday, November 15, 2005

channel 41's big investigation

Last night I did something I rarely do: I watched the news. I lucked out, I guess. Channel 41, our local NBC affiliate, was airing a big woopty-doo investigation of the Kansas City School District.

I heard about this investigation back in September. That's when district officials sent teachers an e-mail informing them that the station had filed a Sunshine Law request for the e-mail address of every teacher in the district. In the memo they reminded the teachers of district policy that no one is allowed to talk to the media without first getting permission from Central Office.

In last night's report, the NBC reporter made a big deal about this, saying that their report offered information district officials "don't want you to know." He added indignantly that district officials blocked the station's domain name from their e-mail system.

Channel 41 got a few sympathy points from me here. It's a crime how hard it is to get information out of the school district. When I was working for the Pitch, it got to the point where I had to CC the lawyer for New Times (which owns the Pitch) on every info request I made of the school district.

But then it's hard to blame the district for playing interference when the info winds up in lazy and dumb reports like this.

OK. Maybe I'm being unfair. The district has a real challenge with regards to school safety, and they don't always meet it. Case in point: Early this year a kid got his throat slit at Central High. From what I gathered on the gossip chain, the alleged assailant had snuck an Exacto blade into the school. Worse, the blade bearer is rumored to have been transfered to Cedntral from another school after being kicked out for violent behavior, but the administrators and teachers at Central were not informed of this, nor of the student's history of mental health problems.

On the other hand, KC school officials are so vigilent about safety that schools like Central feel more like prisons than places of learning. Plus, as Superintendent Taylor said in the news report, the school system has to provide an education to the city's kids. Presumably this includes the so-called problem kids.

So the issue is much more complicated and difficult than Channel 41's report would lead us to believe. The reporter continually harped on the district for allowing students back into schools after they'd done something violent, such as threatening or pushing a student.

But what then? Where do the presumably bad kids go? Do they just disappear? Are they sent to jail? Do they walk the streets? What?

I have some real problems with such simplistic thinking.

Worse, the reporter didn't even try to get at what might be causing the violent behavior they were raising alarms about. For instance, they mentioned instances of arson at Southeast High. But they said nothing about how notoriously wretched that place is as a place of learning. Nothing about the high rates of turnover in that school among teachers and administrators. And certainly nothing about the racist block-busting and white flight that shaped that school's history.

And it really bugs me that the story package was billed as a "School Safety Survey." If you read the actual survey results, you see this is a deceptive title. Out of 24 questions, the survey offers just four on safety. Really, it's sort of a fishing-expedition survey, with a wide range of general questions.

Indeed, if you read through the answers you'll find hints at a much more dangerous violence in the KC school district, a cognitive violence that, in my humbly radical opinion, is nothing short of dehumanizing.

The 20th statement in the survey was "I feel the Kansas/Missouri Assessment is an accurate measure of a student's ability." Eighty two percent of the respondents disagreed, and only ten percent agreed.

This was by far the most decisive response to any of the statements in the survey.

This tells me that the professionals who work most closely with our community's children day in and day out are in almost unanimous agreement that the fundamental basis of our educational system is intrinsically flawed.

That's where the investigation needs to go.

Fix that and I would argue that safety will become a non-issue.

But that wouldn't win sweeps month, would it? The fear associagted with the prospect of violent black kids is a much easier sell.

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