Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri's Plan to Fix Its Failing Schools Falls Flat

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri's Plan to Fix Its Failing Schools Falls Flat

Article excerpt

Missouri's proposed plan to fix its lowest performing schools is as empty and vapid as an October without the Cards in the World Series.

The state's flawed strategy was recently outlined in a presentation given to the state Board of Education, as policymakers prepare to fulfill their obligations under the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. Under that law, the state must identify and take action to fix schools with ultra-low achievement, as well as high schools with low graduation rates and any school that routinely produces weak results for particular groups, such as low-income, minority, or special education students.

The good news is that ESSA unlike its heavy-handed predecessor, No Child Left Behind is intentionally silent on what specific interventions Missouri must use for such schools. This flexibility allows for a variety of evidence-based approaches.

The bad news is that the Show-Me State appears poised to squander this critical opportunity.

Consider its proposed handling of the most persistently failing schools. Missouri says it will focus on "revised needs assessments," "greater evidence for intervention selection," and "fidelity of implementation." And its list of strategies includes things like "systems reviews," "technical assistance" and "regional school improvement teams." Those are pretty words but also vague, unimaginative and unlikely to turn around many failing schools.

Missouri leaders should go back to the drawing board and embrace three demonstrably impactful strategies: charter school expansion, a state-led "turnaround district" and state-driven but district-based solutions, such as school receiverships and innovation zones. All of these satisfy ESSA's requirements and have succeeded elsewhere.

Missouri has a comparatively small charter sector, but it's growing, having almost doubled in size in the last decade. And the state would be wise to expand it further in its efforts to turn around its worst schools. Charters are a proven strategy for transforming students' lives, especially in urban areas, where research has found that charter schools have produced more than a month of additional learning days for all students, leading to stronger performance for students of color and special education students, compared with traditional public schools. …

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