The Post-Dispatch published a great article today about Confluence Academy. These successful charter schools have seen enrollment skyrocket, so that now nearly 2,300 children attend the three schools. You can see why the St. Louis Public Schools feel so threatened by charters. They’re getting really big:
Confluence is now larger than many public school districts nearly the size of the Clayton and Affton districts.
The interesting thing about this situation is that nothing is preventing SLPS from running its own Confluence Academy. This is a good time to review Caroline Hoxby’s remarks about charter schools. She points out that charter schools are not doing anything that it’s illegal for public schools to do. Nobody ever said traditional public schools couldn’t imitate the best charters, or pioneer their own innovations. They just don’t do those things.
So if SLPS really wanted to replicate Confluence Academy’s success, they could: teach Spanish to kindergartners; spend extra time on reading; offer more opportunities to study chess, poetry, and African step-dance; and teach a different character value each month. (At Confluence, this month’s value is compassion.) But SLPS isn’t looking for innovations like these, because in the past, its students have had no other school to choose. It didn’t need to attract students and show results.
Maybe SLPS will start trying new things as it faces more competition from charters. But even if it doesn’t, at least families will have options besides SLPS.