James V. Shuls, Ph.D.
One criticism I often hear when I talk about holding schools accountable and empowering parents is that schools can do little when they are facing obstacles such as student poverty and parents who are not involved. These critics suggest that attempts to grade schools or evaluate teachers somehow denigrate the teaching profession and unfairly point fingers at educators for poor student achievement. In short, it is a poverty and parenting problem. This refrain sounds a bit like James Carville: “It’s the [parents], stupid.”

I completely agree that poverty and family life have a tremendous impact on a student’s success in the classroom, but this does not mean that a school cannot improve a child’s circumstances. Across the country, and even here in our state, we are seeing examples of schools that are changing lives in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

IFF, a nonprofit that helps many charter schools in Saint Louis acquire facilities, recently released this video on KIPP Inspire Academy (KIA).

IFF- KIPP Inspire Academy from IFF CDFI on Vimeo.

IFF argues that KIA is having a positive impact, not just on kids, but on the community. In the video, Saint Louis Mayor Francis Slay says that he is seeing the benefits of KIA spilling over into the Fox Park neighborhood.

KIA certainly has a long way to go to reach the level of achievement of some Saint Louis County schools, but they are making great strides. Their success illustrates that we should not downplay the impact a great school or a great teacher can have. In fact, rather than denigrate them, evaluating teachers and schools based on their ability to improve student achievement recognizes their important role in protecting the future of this country.

We cannot put education reform on hold and wait to fix the issues of poverty and society, issues that have flummoxed mankind for literally thousands of years. Instead of waiting, we need to recognize schools that are making a difference and increase quality options for parents.

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.