Are Charter Schools the School Transfer Fix?
When Stella Erondu moved to America from Nigeria in 1977, she was surprised to find the streets were not in fact paved with gold. Now the principal at North Side Community School, a charter school in North Saint Louis City, she feels that at least in education, they should be: “This is America. All over the world, people just beat themselves up to get here. . . . Then, you get here and children are stopped from growing.”
Erondu is referring to the lack of educational opportunity in the lowest performing school district in the state, Normandy Schools Collaborative. “If the public schools aren’t working, get alternative educational systems . . . or let them come to schools like mine so that we can take care of them,” she said.
The failing district is only five minutes from North Side, which earned a perfect score on the state’s annual progress report. Charters like Erondu’s have increasingly shown improvement, outperforming some traditional public schools. Yet, only children within Saint Louis City and Kansas City are allowed to attend Missouri’s charter schools.
Students should be allowed to cross school district boundaries and attend charter schools. There are several reasons why.
First and foremost, they offer the chance at a superior education. This is certainly true for North Side students, who come from an almost identical neighborhood as Normandy. Abandoned properties and condemned buildings line the streets. There is poverty. There is crime. But, at North Side, students are succeeding.
“They don’t know the names of their letters. They don’t know the sounds of their letters. They don’t know their shapes,” said kindergarten teacher Sonya Taylor of what she encounters in North Side students when they are just entering grade school.
But North Side has a strategy. “We have to start over, we have to start from age six months old . . . reading to them as if they were being read to in their younger ages,” said Erondu. From there, the school focuses intensely on communication arts and math. In 2014, 46 percent of North Side students were proficient in math, while only 21.5 percent of students at Barack Obama Elementary in Normandy were proficient—same population, different outcomes.
What’s more, charter schools actually want to educate these students. Last June, the Francis Howell School District refused to accept 350 students. Parents have had to resort to lawsuits in order for their children to return.
While it is true charter schools are able to open in unaccredited school districts like Normandy and Riverview Gardens, the student populations are much smaller than the Saint Louis and Kansas City districts. If students were able to cross district boundaries, charter schools may be more likely to open within these failing districts, as they could attract students from a larger community base.
Missouri should pave the way for educational opportunity by allowing students to cross district boundaries and attend charter schools. American streets may never be paved with gold, but that doesn’t mean roadblocks should stand between a child and a path to a quality education.
Brittany Wagner is a research assistant at the Show-Me Institute.