Part 2: Highlighting Options Through School Accreditation
While Missouri Senate Bill 125 could lead to better options for students in unaccredited school districts, the bill focuses too much on districts and not enough on the individual school. Dale Singer, of the St. Louis Beacon, raises an important question in this regard, “Should entire school districts or just individual schools be accredited?”
Holding schools individually accountable for performance would change the fundamental structure of Missouri’s public school system. Instead of a special advisory board taking over an entire district, it could target individual schools that are struggling. In this way, state intervention under SB 125 could be more focused and efficient.
However, switching accreditation from districts to schools would benefit families in accredited districts as well, because it would illuminate their options. For example, there is a wide achievement gap between two elementary schools in the Raytown C-2 School District — Eastwood Hills and Blue Ridge Elementary Schools. If they had been evaluated individually and given letter grades under Missouri’s accreditation system, MSIP5, Eastwood would have received an “F” and Blue Ridge would have earned an “A.” Just a 10-minute drive separates these two schools.
Saint Louis Public Schools Board Member Katherine Wessling endorses a school accreditation system:
Given that most families would prefer to educate their children in the best possible environment that is closest to their home, the switch to accrediting schools rather than districts will give families better information and will also relieve concerns from neighboring districts that they will have to accept influxes of students with little warning or time to prepare.
Individual school evaluations and parent choice are the basis of education reforms in several other states. Ranked No. 1 in the country for school choice, Louisiana’s statewide Recovery School District (RSD) changed the fundamental structure of the New Orleans public school system. Every school in Louisiana is evaluated annually, and the RSD may take over schools with unacceptable performance scores. It can close schools, run them directly, or re-open them as charter schools. Additionally, Louisiana publishes these annual performance scores. This transparency facilitates school choice, particularly in New Orleans, where families can rank all their public and charter school choices in the city on one application. This targeted, market approach has doubled the percent of RSD students who pass the LEAP, Louisiana’s standardized test.
Evaluating public school systems by district obfuscates the reality of a school’s performance. Missouri ought to be asking how each individual school is doing. By holding each school accountable for its own accreditation, Missouri can more effectively meet the needs of every student.