Susan Pendergrass

Two college towns, about 300 miles apart. Both are proud to have their state’s flagship university. In addition to their college students, there are undoubtedly professors and other campus staff with students in the local school district. But Fayetteville, AR, can also boast about having the seventh-best high school in the country (according to the U.S. News & World Report rankings released last week), while Columbia, MO, will have to settle for the 2,532nd best.

At Haas Hall Academy, a charter public high school in Fayetteville, 100 percent of the students took at least one AP exam, and 95 percent received a passing score on the exam that could be translated to college credit. At Rock Bridge Senior High in Columbia, just 44 percent of students took an AP exam and only 38 percent received a passing score. A high school in a college town with fewer than half of their students enrolling in college-level coursework. Hmmm.

Are the students in Fayetteville smarter than the students in Columbia? I don’t think so. Here’s the difference: Arkansas doesn’t use charter schools as punishment like Missouri does. They have charter schools in urban, suburban and rural settings. Missouri only has charter schools in two failed urban districts.

I’m sure that Haas Hall Academy offers a challenging curriculum that isn’t a good fit for every student. But students are welcome to take on that challenge, if they so choose. Students in Columbia are stuck in a public-school system designed in the early part of the last century—draw a circle around a school and everyone in that circle has to go to said school. I’m completely convinced that if a school like Haas Hall Academy opened in Columbia, it would end up with a waiting list like the one in Fayetteville. Too bad Missouri legislators won’t allow it.


About the Author

Susan Pendergrass
Director of Research and Education Policy

Susan Pendergrass was Vice President of Research and Evaluation for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools before joining the Show-Me Institute. Prior to coming to the National Alliance, Susan was a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration and a senior research scientist at the National Center for Education Statistics during the Obama administration. She earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University.