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When First Things First was launched in 1996, the District faced an uphill battle. Students' performance on standardized achievement tests was well below the national norm. Curriculum-based assessment scores in math, reading, social studies and science were even worse. You will find challenges facing any urban district: insufficient funding, large numbers of at-risk students, declining enrollment and teacher shortages.
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation introduced District leaders to the Institute for Research and Reform in Education (IRRE) – the architects of, and technical assistance providers for, First Things First. After reviewing the model, District leaders believed First Things First could be a vehicle to synthesize and expand their efforts to improve student performance. The District, IRRE and the Kauffman foundation participated in a series of joint planning sessions. Based on these discussions and the District's plan, the Kauffman Foundation agreed to invest in the initiative's development, implementation and evaluation.
In 1997, the Kansas City Kansas (KCK) Public Schools thought big: they decided to implement First Things First in all 43 of their schools. As the first schools to sign on to First Things First, they also took the biggest risk.
In a crucial early decision, KCK chose to phase in First Things First over three years. The district started with Wyandotte High School and its feeder middle and elementary schools because it had the lowest student performance and biggest attendance issues; success there would quell fears throughout the system. Washington High School and its feeder, elementary and middle schools came on line in the second year, and Harmon and Schlagle High School clusters in the third year.
The evaluation of First Things First indicates early, significant success. This success is credited to the adoption of a comprehensive school reform model, strategies to introduce stakeholders to the model, and three key partners who shared accountability and District supports, such as shifting resources and restructuring personnel. Also fundamental to the initiative's early success was a firmly established commitment to evaluate the effort and assess and refine strategies along the way.
In 2000, the First Things First reform effort received a significant financial boost when the Kauffman Foundation awarded $9.6 million to the school improvement effort in spring 2001 – the second largest grant ever awarded by the Foundation.
First Things First Abstract
(Link to Manpower Demonstration Research Corp.)
History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 02-Jan-2012